Sunday, December 12, 2010
When I think of beets, three things come to mind:
1. Beet, beet, sugar beet beet, sugar beet...
(Oh yeah, you know you remember this from Sesame Street, too. And OMG, how old is that video? Also, be sure to watch until the end to see the creepy guy say "Sugar!")
2. Just beat it, BEAT IT, beat it, BEAT IT, no one want to be defeated Showin' how funky strong is your fight!
Here's the thing: one of my favorite parts about loving to cook is using ingredients that I think I don't like and trying to transform them into something delicious. I'm a firm believer that an excellent chef can make anything taste good, and I often eat and enjoy foods that I thought I didn't like when dining in nice restaurants. There are a few exceptions to this rule though. One - nothing will ever make raisins taste good. They're rotten grapes and they're just gross. Two - offal. There's a reason it's pronounced awful. And while I know it's just meat and I do believe that it could be prepared to taste absolutely delicious, I do not have any desire to eat organ meat, dine on a cow's tongue, or munch a pig's poop chute. (Chitterlings, anyone???)
Interesting thing is, I don't know anyone who likes beets. I take that back - my dad loves beets, but he also eats beef tongue and puts ketchup on cottage cheese, so his taste buds are clearly faulty. As for the rest of the population I've come into contact with, the common reaction to beets usually involves a gesture of sticking one's finger down their throat with some gagging noises thrown in for good measure. I always thought I was in this anti-beet camp, but realized recently that I didn't really even know what they taste like. I imagined they taste like dirt, but when was the last time I had actually eaten a beet? Had I ever eaten a beet?
I had a recipe for Chocolate Beet Cake with Spiced Creme Anglaise, and I realize that hiding beets in a cake is not exactly giving them a fair chance, but cake is generally delicious, and since my goal was to transform a food I didn't like into something delicious, this recipe seemed to fit the bill. I mentioned what I was planning to make to Larry and he wrinkled his nose until I explained that beets were traditionally used in red velvet cake - so chocolate beet cake isn't really that adventurous or exotic. Still, I was intrigued.
The first step was purchasing fresh beets. This process pretty much confirmed my theory that no one likes beets because I had to go to four different grocery stores to find them. When I finally did locate the beets, I felt seriously conspicuous. Have you ever held a bunch of beets before? It resembles some sort of undersea monster, its tentacles grasping at everything within reach as I attempted to bag my catch. All eyes in the produce section were on me as I wrestled the giant roots into a plastic bag and I could imagine them all thinking Oh, so THAT'S who actually buys beets.
To make matters worse, since I had been to three other grocery stores, I already had all the other ingredients I needed, and the beets were the only thing I was buying. I could just imagine everyone envisioning me going home to eat a solid diet of boiled beets. Mmmmm...
The beets were just as frightening when I unbagged them at home.
I took a whiff. They smelled like dirt.
I took the beets outside to take a few pictures. The veggie-eating beasts were immediately intrigued. They gave them a thorough olfactory inspection. Smells like dirt, they concluded.
Then they tried to eat them.
Hey, these things smell like my feet!
I took the beets back inside to prepare them for boiling. Besides smelling like dirt, they had rough scab-like skin and truly terrifying roots. Beets are scary.
I washed and cut into the first beet. It was like cutting into organ meat (see my thoughts on that, above!). I cut off the beet greens and threw them away. I'm aware that the greens are edible, but baby steps here, people. The root is scary enough, and besides, greens don't usually go well with cake.
Then I cut off the taproot. This is the part that was straight out of a horror movie. Do these not look like severed rats' tails?
I finished butchering all the beets. They still smelled like dirt though.
I threw the beets into the pot and the water immediately turned blood red. Blood red dirt-scented water.
The beets boiled for 50 minutes.
When they were done cooking they still smelled like dirt.
Next it was time to pick the scabs remove the skins.
Naked beets still smell like dirt.
Then into the food processor.
Once the beets were pureed I actually got brave enough to take a taste.
They tasted like dirt.
But I mixed up the cake batter (which was a gorgeous magenta color!) and poured it into the pan and hoped for the best. Surprisingly, the batter tasted like chocolate (with a hint of dirt, but that wasn't enough to keep me from licking the bowl and beaters clean).
And the cake? It was delicious. We invited my mother over for dinner on Tuesday night and I served the beet cake dusted with powdered sugar and over a pool of spiced creme anglaise. It had a slightly earthy flavor, but I think I was ultra sensitive to it since I had been cooking with the dirt-scented bastards beets all day. The next day I didn't even notice the earthy flavor in the cake, and if I hadn't baked it myself, I would've had no clue that beets were in there.
Would I make this cake again? It was truly delicious, but I have several good chocolate cake recipes that don't involve butchering/boiling/peeling/pureeing beets - and that part was very time consuming. Also, my kitchen is still covered with red splatters. Would I eat beets again? I'm not signing up for that any time soon and I don't have any plans to cook them again myself (though I do have two left over in the fridge), but I would try them again if prepared by a skilled chef.
Conclusion: Beets are scary and they taste like dirt. Chocolate cake is a good place to hide them.
Despite the fact that this is a cooking post, I figured a tale that a) repeatedly states that beets taste like dirt, and b) uses the phrase "poop chute", was not appropriate for posting on Vicious Dishes.