Pickled Beets and Eggs: A “Ruby Slippers” Recipe

Sometimes I feel sorry for the poor beet, growing as it does beside the ever-popular carrot and a row or two away from the universally-embraced potato. Despite their jewel-toned hue (or maybe because of it) they just don’t seem as, well, adaptable as other produce. They don’t get invited to the vegetable soup party — unless you count borscht in that company — nor are they eaten raw on summer veggie platters. Roasted, they make a fine addition to salad but, like a dinner guest who’s had one too many glasses of Merlot, tend to take over the meal and make it all about themselves.

The Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of pickling beets, however, makes the most of this veggie’s strongest characteristic. Put aside, for a moment, the fact that I like just about anything that has been pickled. For the beet, the practice of pickling adds a pleasant vinegar twang and sugary sweetness that complements the earthiness of this root crop. Depending on the type of beets you use, it also results in a lovely deep-red pickling liquid that, when introduced to a hard-boiled and peeled egg, creates a little kitchen miracle: the pickled egg.

Growing up as I did not far from Pennsylvania Dutch country there were two dishes that epitomized summer to me: the three-bean salad, and pickled beets and eggs. It is probably no coincidence that both incorporate vinegar in rather liberal amounts. Once upon a time this quick preservation method was perfect for this time of year — it discouraged bacterial growth and seasoned summer produce at the same time.

Refrigerate up to two weeks in a glass container

Refrigerate up to two weeks in a glass container

I make this dish at least once every summer and every time I’m surprised by the two camps that form around it: those who love pickled beets and eggs, and those who simply do not. Maybe it’s a vinegar thing, or maybe it’s that red eggs are somehow just a little too strange to be embraced by the masses. Being the professional marketer I am, I took this on as a branding challenge. Maybe the pickled egg just needs a new name. I figured “Ruby Slippers” might be just the ticket to a “try.”

I also experimented a little with different types of beets. Pickling with traditional red beets turns hard-boiled eggs a lovely red-purple color. Golden and candy cane beets produce a pinkish egg.

I’ll fess up and share that, like the ill-fated New Coke of the 1980s, the “Ruby Slippers” were not a hit with the little girls in our house nor with some young playdate friends we had over. But we served these on two different occasions and both times, more “mature” guests asked to take some home (oh, how I love those who admit to loving a pickled egg!).  So I stand by the “love-hate” comment and ardently hope that my daughters’ developing taste buds will, in time, allow me to add this back in to a more regular summer menu rotation. But for now, the “Ruby Slippers” are all mine…but I’ll share if you want me to!

Pickled beets and eggs

Pickled beets and eggs

Here is how I made ours, with a strong nod to the John Hadamuscin recipe on About.com.

Pickled Beets & Eggs

8-10 beets (any variety, but red beets make the most vibrant eggs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled, cooled and peeled

Wash and trim the beets, rub with olive oil and roast them in tinfoil packages (3-4 beets per package) at 400 degrees for approximately 1 hour, until tender.

When cool enough to handle, peel the beets under running water and slice into 1/4-inch rounds or wedges. Put the beets into a large glass bowl or divide evenly into several 1-quart canning jars or another large, glass container (a clean glass vase or two will work)…in total, you’ll need to hold about a gallon. Plastic containers will stain, and metal imparts a slightly tin-y taste.

Distributed the sliced onions among the containers with the beets.

Make the pickling liquid by bringing the sugar, cider vinegar, water and salt to a simmer in a large sauce pan.  Add the cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon sticks and remove from heat. Pour the pickling liquid over the beets. If using more than one container, distribute the spices as evenly as you can.

Add the eggs to the containers with the beets and onions and allow to cool slightly before covering and refrigerating for at least 8 hours.

The beets and eggs will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Serve the eggs whole with beet slices and onions, or for a great presentation, halve or quarter the eggs. Or slice the eggs into rounds and serve over a salad for an interesting twist.

Serves: 6 – 12 depending on how many eggs per person your crew eats

Kid rating: one-half star. Both daughters tried the “Ruby Slippers.” Daughter one couldn’t get past the first bite, and daughter two took an adventurous second bite before calling it quits. They aren’t big vinegar fans — yet — so in a way this didn’t surprise me too much. But if your kids like pickles and vinegar dressings, I can only imagine these would be a hit.
Parent rating: four stars. You can dial up or dial back the sugar to make these more or less sweet. I prefer mine on the less-sweet side. The onions retain a nice crunch and are great paired with sandwiches or in salads. The beets really shine in this preparation too. Make a couple extra beets and eggs because SOMEONE is going to ask for a doggy bag.

Cucumber and Lemon Zest Tea Sandwiches

Let’s face it. Sick days are no fun. Especially when you’re three, and at home with a tummy ache.

Daughter 2 may have preferred following me around today to being at daycare, but sick is sick. She’s usually a good eater but I could tell nothing sounded good today. So when, after nap, she asked if we could have a little tea party I wholeheartedly endorsed the idea. Tea sandwiches (a sneaky way of getting food into the child) and a little watered-down orange juice were just the ticket.

Can we have a tea party? Can we?

Can we have a tea party? Can we?

We kept it simple but added a lemony twist. “I love lemon!” she told me as we made these.

Sick or not, our cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches are just the thing for a quick pick-me-up. And when made with a garden cucumber that has chilled in the refrigerator they really do taste like summer!

Assembling our sandwiches

Assembling our sandwiches

Serve on their own, or with some other quick sweet and savory goodies for a real tea party tower of treats.

Cucumber and Lemon Zest Tea Sandwiches

8 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed if you wish
2 – 3 tablespoons salted butter
Zest from 1 large lemon
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

Spread a thin coating of butter on one side of each bread slice. Zest the lemon over 4 bread slices so the zest is evenly distributed among the 4 slices. Arrange the cumber slices evenly among the other 4 bread slices and sprinkle with salt to taste. Pair one lemon-zest bread slice with a cumber-covered bread slice to make a sandwich. Cut diagonally to make 2 triangles, and then cut those triangles diagonally again so that each sandwich ends up in 4 triangles. (Hey — you can cut yours any way you’d like…squares, rectangles, or leave ’em whole!)

So summery

So summery

The real art is in the presentation. Daughter 2 asked for them on a pretty platter we use for tea parties and I was more than happy to oblige.

Serves: 4

A platter of cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches

A platter of cucumber and lemon zest tea sandwiches

Kid rating: four stars. The first bites were heaven, for daughter 2 and for me. But in the end her lack of appetite won out and she only ended up eating about half a sandwich. Daughter 1 will likely be jealous when she gets home though!
Parent rating: four stars. My idea of tea party fare leans toward smoked salmon (which would have been FANTASTIC on these, with a little dill!) or curried chicken. But these were just so fresh, and nibble-able, that I kind of wished we had reasons for tea parties more often.

Savory Bread Pudding: Spanakopita Reinvented

Was there a full moon this past Monday? No? Can someone explain, then, the clean dinner plates, clearing the table without being asked, and daughter 1 offering to rub my back while — her suggestion — I sit on the couch watching cooking shows?

Yea, that’s what I thought.

And the meal that inspired this astounding display of benevolence: a simple and savory bread pudding incorporating the traditional favors of a Greek spanakopita. Genius.

Genius because I’ve wanted to do a bread pudding for a while and this meatless-Monday version packs protein with veggies in a kid-friendly format. This was also made with ingredients we had on hand which was even better. Both girls pitched in to make it and played so nicely with one another for the hour it baked that I still feel mysterious and magical forces must have been at play. There is no other explanation.

There were eggs to beat and cheese to crumble and this seemed to get both of them pretty jazzed up to help. Lined up at the kitchen island, whisks in hand, they both pitched in and, once in the oven, they played nicely with one another for the 45 minutes it baked.

Cracking eggs

Cracking eggs

Whisking eggs

Whisking eggs

I’m a big spanakopita fan as it is, but sometimes the effort of working with phyllo/filo dough and spreading the melted butter on layer after layer is a show stopper, especially on a weeknight. This version came together in about 20 minutes even with my helpers “helping” and required less than an hour to bake up to a nice golden brown.

Adding the milk

Adding the milk

Cheese hands!

Cheese hands!

I’m not tempting fate, but spanakopita bread pudding night is going down in the annals of kitchen history as a very good evening indeed. Definitely worth repeating, and here’s how you can make yours:

Approximately 3 cups of slightly stale 1-inch bread cubes — we used Sunday’s leftover sourdough bread, but half of any hearty artisanal loaf will work
4 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup low-fat milk
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 – 2 scallions, sliced (whites and greens)…we used 1 scallion, but I think the onion factor could have been dialed up
8 ounces frozen thawed chopped spinach (if you have fresh, wilt it in a hot skillet first and use about a cup, chopped)
1 tablespoon melted butter for buttering baking dish

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees. Butter a 13″ x 9″ Pyrex baking dish with melted butter and put to the side.

Mix together the eggs, milk, feta, scallions and spinach and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour mixture over bread cubes and allow bread to soak in the liquids — at least 10 minutes but you can prepare up to this point and place the covered baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

Bake the spanakopita bread pudding for approximately 45 minutes or until the tops of the bread cubes begin to brown and the casserole begins to bubble. The center should be firm and springy — no hints of raw egg. For a little more browning turn on the broiler and broil on high for no more than a minute or two, watching continuously to avoid burning the top of the bread pudding.

Remove from the oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and cut the bread pudding into generous squares.

Serves: 4

Spanakopita bread pudding just out of the oven

Spanakopita bread pudding just out of the oven

Kid rating: as daughter 1 said, “ten stars.” So much for my five-star rating system but trust me, I’m thrilled. Daughter 2 “loved it” and daughter 1 added that it was “super good” and “tastes a little like a pizza.” Hmmmm.
Parent rating: five stars. Like I said, mystical and magical forces at play. This is going to become a go-to recipe in our kitchen. Serve with a light cucumber salad, some olives…or even as a side dish with grilled chicken or fish.

From first bite to last....

From first bite to last….

...every morsel devoured

…every morsel devoured


Sausage, Chicken and Shrimp Gumbo with Okra: Seasonal Produce At Its Best

My first gumbo-making attempt came in college, in a friend’s kitchen, and involved a recipe clipped from the newspaper, piles of onions and peppers and shrimp and more than a little naïvety about what we were getting ourselves into. The result was, as I remember, quite good and somehow I also recall — in a warm, fuzzy and nostalgic way — feeding a large and extremely happy crowd that evening. Maybe it was the wine, but I’d like to think that at least some of that happiness was as a result of a wonderful gumbo.

That particular recipe, now yellowed and dog-eared in a binder that I seldom reference but can’t throw away, took some Northern liberties with this Southern regional dish. But I’ve since figured out that gumbo authenticity is a matter of taste. There are as many “true” gumbo recipes out there as there are cooks in Louisiana.  There are all-seafood versions, ones with chorizo and chicken and no shellfish, ones heavy on the red bell pepper and okra, ones that steer clear of okra…and they are all good. At the end of the day, it’s really up to you to adjust based on what you like.

Okra, freshly picked

Okra, freshly picked

We made a version recently that was clearly tweaked for the younger crowd in our house and it turned out being one of my favorites. I’ll admit up front to omitting what many think of as crucial to this dish: we steered clear of the cayenne, the chorizo and andouille, and did not include any real “hot” factor. But the milder spices and sausage I chose simmered and flavored this version so well that daughter 1 declared the broth “delicious” when served over white rice. Our version, which is a riff on a gumbo recipe on Epicurious that I adjusted for quantity and spiciness, is heavy on the veggies — many of which came from our CSA pick-up — and includes okra, chicken thighs, and gets a smoky hit from kielbasa. We finished it with a couple of shrimp quickly simmered in the stew before serving. Serve it with some Louisiana hot sauce on the side for anyone who wants to dial up the sizzle factor.

Gumbo in the pot

Gumbo in the pot

Here’s what went into our gumbo:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 – 4 bell peppers, chopped (we used a combination of green and purple peppers)
3 medium onions, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly-choppped thyme leaves
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine (we used a Sauvignon Blanc)
2 cups chicken broth, homemade if you have it
2 8-ounce bottles clam juice (or 2 more cups chicken broth)
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
4 – 6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch cubes (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
1 12-ounce package of kielbasa sausage, sliced into rounds
2 cups fresh okra, sliced (or use a package of frozen, thawed sliced okra)
1/2 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (or more — up to a pound — if you like shrimp)
2 cups hot white rice, cooked, for serving (basmati or Calrose are great…but any medium- to long-grain variety will work)
2 tablespoons freshly-cut parsley
Hot sauce, passed separately

Start by making a roux. Heat vegetable oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the flour and stir to incorporate. Stir the mixture frequently over medium heat until the flour begins to cook and takes on a medium brown, toasty color. Be careful not to burn the flour or you’ll have to start over…burned roux will ruin the dish.

When your roux is the color of a cup of lightly-creamed coffee, add the peppers, onions and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and the onions are starting to brown — between 5 and 10 minutes. There will be a lot of veggies in the pot so you won’t get tons of browning, but the flour-coated onions will start to get a little crispy at the edges. This is what you want.

Stir in the salt and then add the thyme and bay leaves. Pour in the wine, chicken broth and clam juice and stir well to incorporate. Add the tomatoes and their juice, crushing the tomatoes one-by-one as you add them (if you don’t mind the mess, just squeeze them in your hand over the pot until they are broken into large pieces). Bring to a simmer.

Add the chicken and kielbasa and continue to simmer until the chicken is cooked through — 10 – 15 minutes.

Add the okra and cook through until tender — another 10 or so minutes. The okra will begin to thicken the gumbo.

At this point you can turn down the heat and allow the gumbo to simmer, with frequent stirring, on very low heat. The flavors will continue to blend but the okra may lose its bright-green color. Or, you can press forward — it’s almost ready, and the wonderful aromas may have your family camped out in the kitchen.

Add the shrimp during the last 5 minutes of cooking. The gumbo is ready when the shrimp are pink and cooked through.

To serve, place a large scoop of rice in a bowl and top with the gumbo. Sprinkle with freshly-cut parsley and pass hot sauce on the side.

Serves: 10 – 12

Parent rating: My husband and I are splitting the difference and giving this three-and-a-half stars. I really liked it and found it nicely balanced even without the spice. He likes the zing of andouille and cayenne and found it to be too mild. So hard to please everyone!
Kid rating: Also three-and-a-half stars. Leftovers were not quite as popular as the novelty of the first serving, but daughter 1 tried — and liked — shrimp. Both girls got good servings of veggies mixed in with the rice they like so much. I’ll keep tweaking this recipe and eventually everyone will be as happy as I remember being the first time I made gumbo.

Zucchini Carpaccio Salad With Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing

This was one of those shot-in-the-dark dishes that, through the miracle of presentation and some phenomena that must have included the stars and moon aligning, made it past the lips of BOTH daughter 1 and daughter 2 (who asked for seconds!) and left me, frankly, both surprised and giddily smug.

The definition of a seasonal vegetable here in the Northeast, zucchini are ridiculously prolific for two short months before retreating to greenhouses and other warmer climes. They are wonderful when harvested small — a pound at the most — and are tender with a pleasingly bitter finish.

Sautéed, fried, stuffed and baked, in a bread or gratin or strata…nearly all preparations call for baking a zucchini, and they can all be lovely. But there is one presentation that, I think, really allows the zucchini to shine for what it is, and that is thinly sliced and raw, with a simple dressing and even simpler adornments. A carpaccio.

It is here that I must pause and share that, despite the tasting rule, daughter 1 VASTLY prefers cooked veggies to raw. Other kids gobble up crisp carrot sticks. Not her, but dump them in a pot of boiling water and she’s a happy camper. This week alone I had to toss two Zip-Lock bags of fresh carrots and cucumbers that came home, uneaten, from school lunch.

So I wasn’t holding out hope when I served raw zucchini. Cooked zucchini rarely gets a second look, so why would its ugly step-sister the zucchini salad get invited to the ball? Why indeed. But this dish, like Cinderella, will get invited to the palace for keeps. Give it a try: it might be your Cinderella dish too, and who couldn’t use a little happily ever after these days?

Imagine this salad on your summer table

Imagine this salad on your summer table

1 small to medium zucchini (approximately 1 pound)
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons basil, thinly sliced in a chiffonade
Approximately 1 ounce of Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved from a wedge of cheese using a vegetable peeler

Start by thinly slicing the zucchini — I used an inexpensive mandolin that makes even slices quite quickly. Liberally salt the zucchini slices and place them in a colander to release a little moisture. After about 30 minutes rinse the zucchini, pat dry with a clean tea towel, and arrange overlapping slices on a serving platter.

Make the dressing by combining the lemon juice, olive oil and pepper into an emulsion and pour over the zucchini. Top with the cheese shavings and sprinkle the basil chiffonade over the finished dish.

Really, it’s that simple.

For variety you could add some toasted pine nuts or walnuts — two of my go-to salad additions — for crunch, or try a different cheese (I think a mild blue would work nicely with the zucchini).

Serves: 4 – 6

Parent rating: five stars. This is such a nice balance of flavors if properly dressed and so easy to make with ingredients that are fresh and abundant this time of year. I was thrilled the girls enjoyed it too.
Kid rating: four stars. Daughter 2 had two helpings and daughter 1 managed to eat three zucchini slices, which is more zucchini than I think she’s ever eaten, zucchini bread included. I think the cheese helped, but she even told me the next day that she liked the dish. We’ll try it again soon with more zucchini from the CSA.

Raspberry Parfaits: Changing the World One Dessert at a Time

If you’re going to change the world, why not start with dessert.

There are few things tastier than fresh, seasonal raspberries. Except fresh, seasonal raspberries that you pick yourself the same day you eat them. Tart, juicy, and somehow the perfect foil to a sultry summer evening.

So many possibilities....

So many possibilities….

And when you get a little tired of experimenting with kid-friendly produce at dinner I recommend this trick: try dessert instead. I talked it up from the second I picked up the girls at daycare. “Guess what, guys? I’ve got fresh raspberries, and I think we should make parfaits tonight for dessert. But only if everyone eats dinner and puts on their listening ears ALL NIGHT LONG.”

“What can we put in our parfaits, mom?”

“Let’s see. What about…fresh whipped cream?”

“Whipped cream!?!?!?!!!!!”

Applause, whoops and cheers erupted in the back seat. Whipped cream is big with the under-six set.

To be fair, fresh fruit is hardly a hard sell. And, both girls did a very good job with veggies during dinner. But parfaits still seemed like the right thing to do.

And so, despite some predictable malfunctioning of those listening ears (“I must have forgotten to turn them on….”) we spent the time between bath and bedtime not reading a story, at least not this evening, but making this super simple summer treat. We even got to talk about raspberry picking and how berries are such a special treat because they are only ripe on the local bushes for a week or two every summer. And it always seems like that perfect berry — the one that is bigger than the rest, and at the peak of ripeness — is the one furthest from reach. I’ve even got the thorny scratches to prove it.

Red, ripe raspberries

Red, ripe raspberries

1 pint heavy cream
2 – 4 teaspoons confectioners sugar, depending on how sweet you want it
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Graham crackers, animal crackers, or other cookies of choice
Fresh raspberries (approximately 1 1/2 cups should do it)

Beat cream with a hand blender in cold metal bowl until soft peaks form. Sprinkle in the confectioners sugar and beat until just incorporated. Add vanilla and beat until just incorporated. Do not over-mix or the cream will start to separate.

To assemble the parfaits, place a heaping spoonful of whipped cream in a bowl or glass, crumble a couple of cookies over the whipped cream, and top with approximately 1/4 cup berries. Add another spoonful of whipped cream and a couple more berries, and garnish with a whole cookie.

Easy! And sooooo good.

You can try adding some grated orange zest to the whipped cream, or a chocolate curl or two. But hey, that just might be gilding the lily.

Serves: 4

Whipping the cream, in the sink (easy clean-up, just in case)

Whipping the cream, in the sink (easy clean-up, just in case)

Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. Not too sweet, very fresh. It’s not quite ice cream…but pretty darn close!
Kid rating: five stars. They would have licked the bowls if they could. Hey wait…they did lick the bowls. Yum.