How I Love Beets: An Ode to My Other Sister

I’m back!  I just made it through finals of my first year of my Masters, woohoo!  Slowly I am re-acclimating to a schedule where I can take more time for myself.  Don’t worry, I’ve been cooking delicious meals for myself in the meantime, but just haven’t had time to write them up.  To name just a few: pork tenderloin with greens and moist cornbread; homemade pizza with portabello mushrooms, chicken wine sausage, fresh basil and fresh mozzarella; and butter chicken (an Indian dish rich with spices, butter and curd).

At this point, this is a little outdated, but the meal was memorable enough to warrant an outdated post!  Also, I don’t have as many pictures as I would like, so this is a text-heavy post.  Over Christmas, I traveled west to spend the holiday with my sister, her family, and my parents at my sister’s home in Colorado.  Just like the other one, this sister is an imaginative, incredibly skilled cook.  She’s also rather practical as she’s often cooking with less time and for more people, including a few occasionally picky palates, aged 4, 8 and (sometimes) 40.  Despite those constraints, one thing that’s a given with her cooking is that each and every element of the meal is savory and rich and complex.

Together, Jessica and I made a parmesan risotto** on a bed of pureed roasted beets and garlic, topped with marinated grilled flank steak and garnished with caramelized onions and fresh dill.  We served this with a side of fresh, mixed salad greens and tomatoes.  Below is a picture of that meal.

**Note: Jessica just reminded me that the main cheese we used in the risotto was actually chevre, which gives a nice tangy kick that really complements the sweetness of the beet sauce.  I will update the recipe below.


The version Jessica and I made

So, a few months ago on a solitary Saturday night, I had a hankering for steak.  I debated going out and treating myself to a delicious steak at some fancy Minneapolis restaurant.  As much as I relish eating a good meal by myself at home, the solo Saturday night meal out on the town in not exactly my scene.  So instead, I went to the grocery store.  Steak, check.  Beets, check.  Brussel sprouts, check.  Applewood smoked bacon, check.  Arborio rice, check.  Lemons, check.  I threw a bar of dark chocolate in the basket and made a pit stop at the liquor store for a bottle of Pinot Noir.   This meal is my adaptation of the meal Jessica and I cooked over Christmas.

I made:

Marinated Flank Steak with Goat Cheese and Parmesan Risotto served over a Roasted Beet and Garlic Puree, with a side of Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Applewood Smoked Bacon.


A note about measurements

Part of the reason I enjoy cooking so much more than baking is because it’s not as precise a science.  A little more or less of that cumin won’t make your beans fail to turn out correctly, though it might cause some discomfort to your palate.  I am rarely exact in my measurement, but eyeballing hasn’t failed me yet.  The more you cook, the more comfortable you will become in trusting your own imprecise measurements and tasting your way to the right amounts.

A note about timing and pulling it all together

Overall from start to finish this meal will take about two hours to prepare.  I list all the recipes  in the order you should work on preparing them.  Here’s a general timeline of how to pull it together:

  • The first thing you will do is marinate the meat (for at least an hour).
  • Then start working on the beets, since this component of the meal takes the longest (roasting takes at least 40 minutes).  If you like, you can even make this part way ahead of time and reheat on the stove top right before serving.
  • Steam the brussel sprouts, and at the same time cook the bacon.
  • Finish the brussel sprouts and cover them while you start the risotto.
  • About 10 minutes before the risotto is done, start the steak. After you cook the steak you let it rest for about 5 minutes before cutting it.
  • Meanwhile, you can work on plating the rest of the meal.  Put a little beet puree on the plate and smooth it out.  Place the risotto on top of the puree and then garnish with freshly ground black pepper and large shavings of parmesan.  Add some brussel sprouts to the plate.  Finally, slice the steak against the grain and fan it out between the risotto and the brussel sprouts.  Enjoy!


Marinated Flank Steak:

  • ~1 pound flank or skirt steak.  Buy a piece big enough to satisfy you and the people you’re feeding.  For two people, a pound is sufficient.
  • ~1/8 to 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ~1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Oregano (1-2 tablespoons fresh or about ½ teaspoon dried oregano per pound of meat)

Combine the olive oil, the lemon juice, kosher or sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and oregano.  Let it marinate for at least an hour.  If you’re planning this with advance notice (unlike me, who made this meal in a fix!), marinate the meat at least overnight.

If you have a grill, by all means grill the meat.  If you don’t, you can cook it in a skillet (I prefer cast iron) on the stove top.  Cook it to your desired doneness. Once you’ve cooked the meat, let it rest for at least 5 minutes before you slice it.  This allows the meat to continue to cook a bit, and also ensures that the delicious juices stay IN the meat, rather than leak out onto your cutting board.


Roasted Beet and Garlic Puree:

  • 4-5 large beets, stem greens removed, peeled
  • 1 head of garlic, any loose skin removed
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • ½-1 cup Chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Throw the peeled beets and the whole head of garlic into a bowl and coat generously with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place the beets and the garlic on a large rimmed cookie sheet or in a large Pyrex baking dish.  Roast them for about 40 minutes, or until the beets are rather soft.  Keep an eye on the garlic so it doesn’t burn.

Remove the beets and the garlic from the oven.  Using a serrated knife, trim off the top end of the head of garlic (i.e. not the stem end).  The garlic should be extremely soft.  Squeeze the smushy, golden brown garlic out of the head and into a bowl (kind of like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube).  You will only need about half of this head for this dish, but this is a much more effective way of roasting garlic than doing individual cloves, as they will inevitably burn.  Save the remaining garlic for something else.

Cut the beets into smaller pieces, and throw them into a blender with the roasted garlic.  Add a small amount of stock to the blender and begin pureeing everything.  You want a relatively thick texture for this puree, so only add enough liquid to make the process easier.  Taste the puree and add more salt if it is needed.  Transfer the puree to a small pot (1.5 quart or smaller) to reheat it later.


Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Applewood Smoked Bacon:

  • As many fresh brussel sprouts as you would like. Sometimes they come in bags, but I don’t know the weight of those bags.  Imagine a large soup bowl.  For two people, you want at least enough to fill that bowl.
  • 4-5 slices of applewood smoked bacon (or whatever bacon you like the best), sliced into small, thin strips
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste

Inspect the brussel sprouts and peel off any outer leaves that look questionable.  Trim the bottom ends so that there is not an excessively long stem.  Then score the bottoms with an X to make the steaming process more efficient.

Using a steamer, steam the brussel sprouts until they are a vibrant green and tender, but not soft.  Remove them and run them under cold water to stop the cooking.  Cut them in half lengthwise from the scored stem to the top.  Place them cut-side down on paper towels so they can dry (this will help them brown effectively).

In the meantime, cook your bacon.  Use your cast iron skillet, and you can kill two birds with one stone (i.e. cooking the bacon and seasoning your skillet).  Once the bacon is crispy, remove it from the skillet and pour off the fat.  I have a small stainless steel bowl I keep in my fridge with bacon fat – a habit my mom kept which I disregarded until only recently.  It makes a great addition to a pot of pinto beans (you’d be surprised how much flavor comes from pork fat).

Turn the heat on your skillet back to medium high.  Add the brussel sprouts to the skillet and cook them in the bit of bacon fat left in the pan.  If you need extra fat, add a little olive oil.

Right before serving, mix the bacon back into the brussel sprouts.  Season to taste with salt.


Goat Cheese and Parmesan Risotto:

  • 4 to 6 cups stock (I used chicken, but you could also use vegetable or beef)
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1.5 cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine (like Pinot Grigio).  Some people use Vermouth instead, which is even more dry.  I just tend to keep white wine, and not Vermouth, on hand.
  • 4 oz plain chevre (goat cheese)
  • 1/8-1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • *Optional: ½ – 1 cup chopped fresh herbs (such as basil)
  • Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

*If you are making this risotto as part of this meal, I would recommend NOT using fresh herbs, since there are so many other strong flavors in the meal.  However, if you’re making it as part of something else, go for it!

First warm up the stock in a medium sauce pan or pot, and leave the heat on medium.

Heat the butter or olive oil over medium heat in a medium sized saucepan.  Once it is melted (butter) or hot (oil), add the onion and cook until it is translucent and soft.

Add the Arborio rice and stir until it is totally covered by the fat you are using.  Season with a little salt and pepper and then add the wine.  Allow it to bubble away and evaporate.

Start adding the stock, in ½ cup measurements at a time.  The trick to making great risotto is allowing the liquid to almost completely cook off before you add more.  You want a texture in the pot that isn’t totally dry (that will burn your rice) or too wet (like soup).  Keep the heat on medium-high and stir frequently, but not constantly.

Around 20 minutes after you added the rice, begin tasting your risotto.  You want an “al dente” texture: firm, slightly chewy, but not crunchy.  At this point, add the parmesan and stir.  If you have any fresh herbs that you like, feel free to add them at this point.  Stir everything together and cover the pot until you are ready to serve.

The version I made for myself


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2 Responses to How I Love Beets: An Ode to My Other Sister

  1. Annie says:

    YES YES YES!! love your notes and the directions that follow. roasted garlic and beet puree = genius. I’ll be making this for the fam later this week!

  2. david g says:

    Brava, brava! I can see you cooking and hear your voice. SOOO much better than Bon Appetit

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