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Friday, September 21, 2012

Tasty on a Budget: Cooking Ahead. (Warm Roasted Beet, Potato, and Fennel Salad)

Hello all,

So, I've got a big post on my experiences so far cooking for myself regularly (and on a small budget) coming, but I wanted to post this recipe before I forgot it, especially since I just polished it off and, after eating it for three and a half consecutive meals, the only thing I wish is that there were more of it.

As I think I mentioned in one of my posts from South Africa last summer, I can't really cook a one-person, one-meal sized portion of most things. My brain doesn't work that way, and the proportions come out funny. Additionally, I think the reality is that while I do quite like cooking, I don't have the energy to do it daily after getting home from work.

The obvious solution, then is to cook a large portion of something and eat it over multiple days, so that's largely what I've been doing. I've had successes and failures with this--I've simply made too much of some things and had them go off, and  learned that pasta with pesto stays reliably good in the fridge for days at a time, while pasta with red sauce can absorb any but huge quantities of sauce and wind up both bland and gummy.

I've also learned, though, that the siren song of pasta needs to be resisted. Not all the time mind you--I love pasta, after all, and would eat it for a good portion of my meals even if I was ordering everything I ate from gourmet restaurants. But as the substance of pasta is mostly pasta itself, which has a somewhat high carbohydrate-to-flavor ratio, if you're eating every day, and in the same configuration for 3-5 days at a time, it can get very dull. Part of the solution to this is to reinvigorate it by cooking up something new and flavorful to add in--when I get to my pesto post in a few days I'll talk more about that. 

Lately, however,  I've been trying to think of totally different approaches, dinners that would last a few days and be tasty main courses without any pasta, rice, or bread occupying a huge share of the volume. I needed something hearty and substantial, but with a melange of flavors that I wouldn't get sick of when it was eaten on repeat, and preferably healthy as well. Oh, and I had to be able to make it from ingredients that I could acquire cheaply, which meant any large pieces of meat or fish were out. With this recipe though, I think I struck gold.

Warm Roasted Beet, Potato, and Fennel Salad

Serves 3-4 as a main dish (especially with either a green side salad or something like seasoned rice), 6-8 as a side dish, or one hungry 22 year old for three days.

Ingredients (with my usual caveat--all measurements approximate)

Two large red potatoes, skin on, chopped into bite size pieces.
One large head fennel, shredded. (Reserve the greens, they're great in cold salads)
Three small (or two medium) red beets, trimmed but whole
2 cups chopped red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 strips of bacon, cut into ~1/2 inch strips.
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup roasted cashews, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

For the dressing:
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1.5 tbsp olive oil. 
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar.
1 tbsp caraway seeds (opt)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (opt)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a glass baking dish, toss potatoes and fennel with olive oil, salt, and pepper until combined.
3. Wrap whole beets in foil.
4. Insert potatoes, fennel, and beets into oven. Potatoes and fennel will take 35-45 minutes, beets 45 minutes-1 hour.
5. Add chopped bacon to hot dry pan. When fat begins to render off, pour off ~1 tbsp of it into a dish.
6. Add onion and garlic to the pan, and continue to fry until onion is translucent and bacon is slightly crisp (you don't want it to be hard for this purpose).  Remove from pan and set aside.
7. In a saucepan, combine the bacon fat with 1.5 tbsp of olive oil (you can use more fat and less oil if you wish, or vice versa) over low heat.
8. Add caraway seeds to saucepan and stir for ~1 minute.
9. Whisk in red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, sugar, and cumin. Add a pinch of coarse salt and a few twists of fresh ground black pepper,
10. When beets are cooked, remove from oven and peel (can be done with hands or a sharp knife) and chop into bite-sized pieces.
11. Add the beets, potatoes and fennel, onions and bacon, chopped cashews, and blue cheese to a serving bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and stir to combine.

(Addendum: If you're a vegetarian, just cook the onion and garlic in olive oil, plus a little piece of butter for flavor. Then, just double the olive oil in the dressing to compensate for the lack of bacon fat.)

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