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Pretty in Pink Week: Cold Summer Beet Soup


Due to market produce selection, it’s shaping up to be something of a pretty in pink week here in Wonderland. Beets…strawberries…grapefruit juice…purple potatoes (yeah, but close enough relations?). Even before I did the shopping, I was already gazing into the refrigerator to assess the inventory and dreaming in Pantones.

What I already had on hand due to the previous week’s cooking: three perfectly roasted beets; half a bottle of buttermilk; one cup of thick yogurt; one bunch of spring onions; a cucumber and some dill; plus a few remaining pickled ramps floating around in jar of brine that was so sweet and tangy and delicious it would be criminal to not put it to some use.

Cold Summer Beet Soup

I mention this because as soon as I saw the Šaltibarščiai soup recipe in Canning for a New Generation, I started in on the Googling and realized that I wouldn’t be able to make a soup a Lithuanian Bubby would recognize, but I might just come up with a tasty “inspired by” summer dish. Plan formed, I went to work with my knife.

Cold Summer Beet Soup
heavily inspired by Canning for a New Generation, internet research, and the contents of my refrigerator

1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or kefir)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup strained or Greek yogurt
1 cucumber, seeded and diced into small cubes
2 large cooked beets, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 spring onion, finely sliced and chopped a few times
2-3 T sweet pickle brine or rice vinegar (to taste)
2 T dill, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
black pepper

Really, once you’ve completed the knife work required (as indicated above), you’re pretty much done. Reserve some of the beet and cucumber pieces for garnish, if desired. Place all remaining prepared ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Cold Summer Beet Soup

Soup can be made in advance and kept chilled. Flavors meld, but also be forewarned that the beets will continue to bleed into the broth. By dinner last night, Brian was a little freaked out by the “Barbie corvette” tone the evening’s soup course had taken on.

Warmer Than Springtime


Sunshine: 87 degrees worth this past weekend, to be exact, triggering that desperate need for shoes that are not boots and a few new dresses free of olive oil stains. Yes, these are the signs, here in Mid-Atlantic Wonderland Kitchen, that we have finally shut the door and thrown the deadbolt on the chilly months and plunged into the humid swamp that will keep us cooking well into October.

Even more than all that, however, it was the scent coming from the bag of dill, cilantro, and basil that I had picked up at one of my favorite market stands that got me excited about the possibilities of the…new year? Yes, this time has always felt like much more of a beginning than that celebrated calendar change buried in a case of snow and ice. Trailing the smell of fresh herbs with every step, home I came with enough feeling of prospect that I snapped the first petite “market haul” pic of 2012:

market haul

See that cloth bag up there at right? My regular sister-in-produce Marie gifted me a few of those snazzy sacks sewn as part of a great initiative here in Baltimore, and I am hooked. You can learn more about the project here.

Once all these fine bits of produce were unloaded onto my counter top, my favorite game of “suss out the magic formula” began, during which I wracked my brain, my bookcase, and the internet for the perfect use of the assembled raw ingredients. This week’s winners?

Rhubarb Chutney

First off, the inaugural canning project of the season was successfully completed: Rhubarb Chutney. Thanks to a lovely, small-batch recipe I discovered through Food52, the exercise proceeded without a hitch. It’s sweet and tart and cries out to be smeared on grilled cheese sandwiches, served with fancy crackers and goat cheese, and probably tastes lovely with roasted fowl, if you’re into that sort of thing. Honestly, the only real usage challenge I anticipate will be to keep from eating all this newly jarred deliciousness immediately.

rhubarb chutney: process

I also snuck a few more flats of Mason jars and a gallon of apple cider vinegar into the house over the weekend, so this preservation adventure has only just begun!!

Ahem. Okay, back to the food at hand.

Spring Radish, Asparagus, and Potato Salad

1 1/2 lbs baby red potatoes, cut into 1″ pieces
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends removed and lower stalks peeled if necessary
1 bunch mild radishes, quartered

For the dressing

1 cup strained yogurt (I happen to have a lot of this on hand because I love its sour cream-like consistency and because I’ve been using the whey in fermentation projects. It’s easy if you have one of these. However, any thick yogurt will do.)
1-2 spring onions, finely sliced
2 tsp. chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste
sunflower seeds to garnish (optional)

Boil potatoes just until fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.

Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes, or just until tender crisp. Immediately plunge into an ice bath. When cool, slice into 2″ pieces.

Place the potatoes, asparagus, and radishes in a large bowl and set aside while you prepare the dressing. Combine yogurt, onion, dill, salt, and pepper and spoon dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Adjust seasoning and chill. Garnish with sunflower seeds before serving if desired.

celery soup

Cream of Celery Soup
adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups

I often find soups too heavy to start a meal with, especially in the warm months, but this one is truly light and appetizing. It works well served both hot and chilled.

Celery Soup

4 cups celery, diced
3 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 white boiling potatoes, cubed
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
2 T corn starch
2 T butter
scratch of nutmeg
1 T chopped dill
salt and pepper to taste

Place celery, shallots, garlic, and water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the white sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1/2 cup of the milk and, when the butter begins to bubble, add this mixture and stir for several seconds. Add the remaining milk, salt, pepper, and the nutmeg, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Reserve.

When the simmering time is complete, puree the soup and return it to the pot. Add the white sauce and the dill, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy hot or cold!

Along Came a Spider (Curds and Whey Edition)


Sometimes, a girl comes home from the market, decides what to do with her purchased produce and dairy, and discovers she doesn’t need a large quantity of yogurt, but rather a solid dollop of sour cream. No problem. Just grab a strainer (I have a semi-fancy one that sits in a container with a lid over top) and make yogurt cheese. You can accomplish the same straining with a few layers of cheese cloth over a bowl, but I’ve never attempted that method.

Okay, back to making the cheese.

Nothing irks me like coming home from the market and discovering I have almost the right ingredients, but not quite. Draining enough whey out of my homemade yogurt to make an acceptable sour cream or cream cheese substitute (or even just to get a nice Greek yogurt consistency when a batch comes out a little runny) offers that satisfying “Ha! Take that, life!” self-sufficiency that I so enjoy in the kitchen. Not to mention that it saves me from making an additional trip to the grocery.

So, when there are enough of those little glass jars of yogurt taking up shelf space, I pull out two while I’m still putting things away, pour the yogurt into the strainer, pop on the lid, and leave it to drain in the fridge–anywhere from a few hours to a day or two, depending on the consistency I’m going for and how soon it’s needed. The whey collects in the bottom container and you can just pour that off or conserve for some other use.

Some weeks it seems that my commitment to making my own yogurt is much stronger than my desire to actually eat it, but a fresh dish of yogurt cheese usually turns that around. This week I left a batch for a full 48 hours (okay, yes, I forgot all about it) and had a nice, thick base to work with. I added a pinch of salt, a chopped scallion, and a good dose of dill, and stirred it up into a spread that makes for a perfect savory toast topping. What would you add?

I think our porch spider got a whiff of my curds and whey…