Monday, August 30, 2010

In the (Mango) Zone

I am pleased to announce that I officially joined a sort of club tonight. It's not so elite as having climbed Kilimanjaro but, for me, it was a fairly giant step into a culinary landscape I never planned to boldly tread. Simply put, I entered the Mango Zone.

Chef Sandra Gutierrez
It happened at my neighborhood Fresh Market, an upscale, mostly organic grocery store whose produce department  --  if you squint or just skip glasses altogether  --  typically displays a Monet-ish palatte of robustly splattered color. I had the idea while driving home that I would try making Sandra Gutierrez's Green Mango Salad and felt sure this was the one place on my route where I could count on finding a truly green, truly hard mango.

They had a nice display of blushingly tender mangos, but Sandra made it clear that was entirely wrong for this crisp, lime-drenched delight. I asked an employee if she would check in the back for green ones, ideally with little or no give. She looked at me like I was insane and patiently explained in a loud, clear voice -- did I look deaf, too? -- why the ones on the shelf were clearly superior.

A nice fellow who resembled a manager must have sensed a vibe of slight irritation -- not allowed at customer-friendly Fresh Market -- and instantly appeared with an offer to check again. Returning empty-handed and chagrined, he set about inspecting each available mango for minimal ripeness, a task I could tell worked against his every instinct. He offered the one least likely to appeal to anyone else.

I put it in my basket happily, grateful not only for his effort, but also the realization that I was one of them: cooks who seek out seemingly odd ingredients that really prove worth the hunt.

This particular quest was a big deal for me because, until I took Sandra's wonderful Latin Street Foods class last week, I would have placed mango in the same dreaded category as fennel -- a concept that stunned several tablemates last May at our inn in Mexico City when I bypassed the slippery slices on the fruit tray and eyed my morning juice glass with suspicion.

While the mango I bought was not ideal -- a tad too ripe, it lacked the pale color and did not slice as cleanly as the ones she used in class -- the result was indeed worth making a fuss. I even rewarded myself with seconds.

Since Sandra's first cookbook is due in Fall 2011, I think it unfair to quote her recipe. I tweaked it a bit to suit my pantry, but I suppose the basic ingredients speak for themselves. Williams-Sonoma at Southpoint, which presented her well-attended class, pledged to have her back when the book is published by UNC Press. Until then, you can follow her blog at or on Twitter, @sandralatinista.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Okra: Take it outside

They were gorgeous, damp with dew and gowned in a barely perceptible floss. In the lens of the camera, they nearly spoke out loud:  All right, Mr. DeMille. I'm ready for my close up.

If only they had been as tasty as they were beautiful, I'd really have a reason to talk even those who claim to hate okra to try it grilled. Unfortunately, while these specimens were an eyeful, they also were -- like Norma Desmond after the advent of talkies -- a mere spectre of what they were at summer's peak. While the discovery didn't lead to anything so tragic as a body in the swimming pool (we don't have one), it was a clear a signal that the days of perfect summer produce are drawing to a sad close.

I've since heard similar concerns from home gardeners, and Tim got the word this morning from some of his favorite farmer's market vendors. The vagaries of this summer's extended heat, humidity and intermittent rain have taken their toll on what normally would be still-bountiful garden beds.

It won't stop me from trying at least one more batch of grilled okra this summer. While these beauties were deceptively stringy, this simple method of grilling has a way of transforming the pods into a delectable mix of crispy surface and meltingly tender interior goo -- known by the uninitiated as the slime that seeps from sliced okra when cooked stovetop. Also, if you're lucky enough to find a nice mix of green and purple pods, they retain their colors, while the purple ones fade to green when sauteed.

2 pint containers of fresh okra (about 1 lb.)
2 tbsp. olive oil
coarse salt, fresh cracked pepper
10-12 wood skewers, soaked in water

Rinse and pat dry okra; place whole in ziptop bag. Add olive oil, salt and pepper. Seal bag, pressing out air, and roll in hands to evenly coat pods. Set on counter at least 10 minutes or until you're ready to start grilling.

Thread pods onto pairs of skewers, which makes them into easy-to-flip planks, leaving any excess oil in the bag. Grill over medium-high heat about 10-15 minutes, turning every few minutes, or until nicely charred and tender. Sample one for seasoning then serve immediately.

After dinner, call your mother and demand to know why you were never served okra as a child. If you don't like the stem ends, your dog likely will. Just remember, okra provides a high fiber experience.

We usually use the gas grill, but this really is best over charcoal. It can be cooked on an indoor grill pan but, unless the weather is awful, there's really no excuse for not taking it outside.

Tiny tomatoes

Tim found these tiny tomatoes at the market this morning. Started with bean-sized dice of zucchini and red onion, sauteed until nicely carmelized, then added rinsed black beans and tomatoes. Splash of red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, serve. Gone.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do try these at home

Chef Paco Cardenas at
the San Miguel market
Back in May, I was standing in a cooking school kitchen in San Miguel de Allende, thinking how lucky I was not only to be on a great vacation but also to be among a small group of travelers who signed up for a market tour and cooking demonstration by Paco Cardenas, owner of SMA's esteemed Petit Four bakery.

I watched with delight as he tranformed items just purchased from the local market into savory nibbles. While matching the market's aromatic abundace would be difficult at home, Paco encouragingly told us the recipes all would be reasonably easy to recreate.

I have tried a few of his recipes since we returned home; in fact, I've made his delicious (and shockingly simple) salsa verde several times, including this weekend. The thing I most wanted to try, but kept putting off, was homemade tortillas.
The tortillas he made for class were nothing short of a revelation. Light and toasty, warm and tender, they made even the best store brand taste like paste. To be honest, we had delicious fresh tortillas in many places during our trip, and each time we were amazed. Paco warned, however, that shortcuts, like using instant masa, would deliver disappointing results.

He was right, of course. The handmade tortillas I made tonight -- from instant masa, but the brand specifically recommended by no less an authority than Diana Kennedy -- were memorable only because I finally did it. They were too small and a bit too much like flatbread. I scorched my comal, meaning I'll have to scrub and reseason it. Despite all this, it was fun, and I'm fairly certain I will be more successful next time.

I'm hopeful for advice from the source and am eager for any tips I gain elsewhere. The dough was too wet and I think I added too much dry to balance. Using my new tortillas press was simple, but peeling the thin dough from the plastic wrap and quickly laying it onto the comal is tricker than it looks. And they cook very quickly.

In a way, it's like using a wok: You really need to have everything organized and ready to rock because it's all over and done with in a flash. I got so carried away tortilla-ing that I completely forgot about the avocado, cilantro and lime I intended to put on the table.

We used these charmingly odd little tortillas to wrap beef fajitas -- no particular recipe as I make them a little differently every time. I keep the veggies on the side -- this time, grilled nopales (catcus paddles), red bell pepper and red onion -- because Graham prefers his without.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Not my cup of tea

As a devoted iced coffee consumer, I'm fairly particular about iced tea. I like it but don't drink it often. I don't like it overly sweet and I especially don't like it with mint. Still, when Tim came home with a free bag of delicate lime basil from a friendly seller at the farmer's market, who recommended it with brewed iced tea, I decided to give it a try.

Using my coffee maker and six bags of Celestial Seasonings Green Tea to 12 cups of cold water, I added about 1/3 cup (loosely packed) lime basil leaves to the carafe. The aroma while brewing was amazing. When done dripping, I took the carafe off of the heating plate and let the leaves steep another 15 minutes. I then strained it into a pitcher with about 2 cups of ice cubes and 3 tablespoons agave syrup.

Once well chilled, I poured a glass for Tim and garnished it with a pretty sprig of basil. He declared it tasty and refreshing. I tried it, too, and declared it all his.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

More fruit for dinner

The New York Times today published several stories on the wonders of watermelon. Kim Severson looked at why bigger is now longer automatically better in the world of "personal-sized" melons and posted a good-humored video on how to pick the perfect one. Even more interesting to me -- given last week's adventure with Marcella Hazan's luscious cantalope sauce for pasta -- was Eric Asimov's recipe for Watermelon and Pancetta Risotto.

The fact that I had all of the ingredients -- well, half the recommended amount of pancetta but plenty of rich, homemade chicken stock -- and that a reader responding to Asimov's posting wished for a photo of the dish, I decided to embrace the challenge. It is similar in most regards to other risotto preparation, except of course for the star ingredient. The melon cubes, which impart a lovely pink stain, look a great deal like diced tomatoes, which might inspire good hosting fun with unsuspecting dinner guests.

Since the recipe is easy to follow, I have just a few tips. First, to avoid soupy risotto, pour off any watermelon juice that collects -- directly into your mouth. Second, use the full amount of pancetta. Lastly, be sure to check seasoning before serving. It really benefits from a generous sprinkle of salt.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

For Mrs. Imogene Orme

Somewhere in my house, carefully tucked away in a place so special I can no longer remember it, is a red ribbon from the Indiana State Fair. Actually, there are two of them; the first one, circa 1987, is framed alongside a photo of a stunned me pointing to my victorious peach-apple butter – second only to an entry by Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana.
It was a momentous day, to be sure. I had first wandered into the Home & Family Arts building a few years before, where I stood amazed by the jewel-like jars of jelly and meticulously arranged preserved foods, which made the over-decorated wedding cakes and sagging cookies look pathetic. I counted the annual haul of oversized and ruffled blue ribbons draped over dozens of entries from said Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana – and still recall the particular grandmotherly script she used to fill out each card. I may have experienced my first foodie pang standing before those old glass cases, wishing for a ribbon the way some young women wish for diamonds.
My first winning entry was a grand moment, but it was not my last. The next year I earned one for oven-dried tomatoes. These intense, chewy morsels are nothing like shriveled were-they-ever-real-tomatoes you find heaped in dusty piles at some food marts. They still had a leathery bend and richness that not only lent a certain umami to cooked dishes, but tasted like veggie candy.
It has been years since I’ve made them, but confronted this week with an abundance of garden-fresh Romas, I decided to try again. They came out so good I could not help but eye the citrusy, green Zebra tomatoes Tim snagged at the farmer’s market. They didn’t hold their color as well as I had hoped, and I was a bit heavy handed with the pepper, but the flavor is agreeably complex.
All you need is a rack to allow good air flow – I used one really meant for cooling cookies – and several hours of patience. I’m sure Mrs. Imogene Orme of Brazil, Indiana, wherever she may be, would agree it’s worth it.

Roma tomatoes, or whatever smallish varieties you like
Olive oil (I use Pam olive oil spray)
Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
Additional herbs (optional)
Set oven to 250 degrees.
Lightly coat rack with olive oil and place over foil-lined baking sheet. Slice tomatoes lengthwise; I usually get three slices out of a Roma, but a small one may yield just two. Arrange on rack and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper – add other herbs, too, if you like – then a light sheen of oil.
Place in slow oven and ignore for at least three hours. Don’t be surprised if it takes longer. They are done when mostly dry but not crispy. You may want to pluck out the more done ones and place the juicer slices back in the oven.
Cool completely and store in sealed container in refrigerator. Saunter back to the kitchen now and then to open the container for another whiff of their heady perfume, created by clever you. Insist that others sniff, too, and likewise marvel.
Remember, these are the real deal: Don’t soak in hot water before using. Just slice (or not) and add to about anything. Eat often. Make more.

Dream a little Dreamsicle

Several weeks before launching this blog, I found my idea of a perfect looking-for-like-minded-you posting. This doesn’t happen often, since as Graham will readily tell anyone, he has weird parents.
The solicitation, if I may call it such, was not for run-of-the-mill romance. It was not for folks who like to get frisky in the kitchen. It was for foodies who can follow directions – at least the first time – and test recipes bound for a cookbook, with the tantalizing promise of being included in a list of testers. Since the only way my name is likely to appear on the cover of a bona fide published cookbook is with a Sharpie, this sounded quite appealing. I replied immediately pledging my culinary troth, and was soon after rewarded with a recipe for spring rolls.
I had never made spring rolls before, assuming that was something better left to the experts at favorite restaurants. Like crepes, the first one may be messy, but then they get better. Trust me, if you can diaper a baby, or recall rolling things in college, they’re simple. 539
Weeks went by without another test recipe appearing. I fretted if my feedback was too bossy. No one like that on a first date. But then, finally, a dreamy invitation appeared.
This time I was asked to test a recipe for blood orange sherbet. Since the glamorous fruit is out of season, I was assured that any juicy orange would be fine. I’m sure I’d be promptly fired from this unpaid job if I share the recipe now, but you can count on me to announce when “our” book is available from your favorite seller.551 553
While I’ve never made sherbet before, I suspect this is a fairly traditional technique. Ingredients were simple to obtain and delivered an encouraging look and aroma at each step. It took longer to set in the freezer than I expected, but the results were delicious and reminiscent of those summery ice cream treats of childhood, Dreamsicles. 570
I garnished each serving with a twist of orange, though gilding this lily really is not necessary. To my surprise, Graham declared it almost too rich, which makes me think a blend of whole and low-fat milk might suffice.  Still, he savored every spoonful, saving just the creamy cling for his patiently waiting pups.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blame it on genetics

Can there be a scientific explanation for why I hate fennel? Thanks to Ben Young Landis for alerting me to this interesting report:

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mmmmmm, Marcella

005 A few weeks ago I observed, and delightedly got involved with, a lively debate on Dorie Greenspan’s Facebook page about an intriguing pasta recipe whose sauce included cantaloupe, cream and anchovies. I could hardly imagine the  combination and was determined to try it.

A few days later, after warily eyeing my full 2.8 ounce jar of imported anchovies, I decided to check back to see if I was really supposed to use it all. I was amused to see that Marcella Hazan, whose beloved name had been invoked in reference to her version of pa008sta with cantaloupe, had politely dismissed the heavy infusion of anchovies, saying they would be “so assertive they would knock the melon off its dainty perch.”

I immediately searched online for the recipe and, when I could not find it, went to the source by posing a question on her Facebook page. She replied quickly, noting that the recipe is on page 105 of her 1986 classic, Marcella's Italian Kitchen. Still available in paperback, but apparently not in most local bookstores, I borrowed a copy from the library. Tonight, after finally making the recipe, I will go online and order one to keep.

I dare not quote the recipe here, but I concur with her own assessment that it is both “simple” and “elegant.” It calls for 3 cups of cantaloupe cut in a small dice. I started with an amazing heirloom variety, juicy and brilliant in color, but needed to add a wedge from a more standard melon. Graham helped with the chopping and stirring, not to mention the eating and sighing.

I’d wager that most people who tested it blind-folded would never guess that cantaloupe is the key ingredient, but since such a particular focus group is not readily available I’ll share that Tim said it reminded him of017 sweetly tender butternut squash.

We served this with slices of mixed, lightly salted heirloom tomatoes. Amazingly, there is a small portion left, but Graham smartly claimed dibs for tomorrow’s lunch. Not a problem, as I will definitely make this again.

That looks good enough to eat

My brother David is a photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he does a lot of food shoots. He says their eggplant parm was especially good:

Sunday, August 8, 2010

If it looks like bacon, but it’s not…

A few weeks ago, Tim fell victim to some digestive distress that we at first attributed to locally-produced bacon. You can imagine – unless perhaps you are vegetarian – how fulsome that distress and its broad implications truly was. On the bright side, the malady was later sourced to those luscious, plump-yoked duck eggs he had bought with such enthusiasm at the farmer’s market. Sadly, we buy them no more.

While we all can consume bacon with wild abandon again, the experience did get me thinking about turkey bacon. I was once a big fan of the famously lean other white meat but, some 20 years ago during pregnancy, which also made made weak at the sight of red meat and canned dog food, I ate some and swore to do so never again.

Still, with a slightly guilty conscience over eating such fatty goodness as nitrate-rich bacon, I decided today was the day to try turkey bacon again.

The sight of these uniformly fake-fat-streaked slices is a bit of a surprise when you first unwrap the package, which smells as much like bacon as a lighted match in a public bathroom smells like air freshener. While I usually cook real bacon without extra fat, I figured a drizzle of canola might be a good idea. It was. These peculiar planks only faintly sizzle when cooking, do not markedly change in shape or color, and exude none of the elixir that makes sautéed onions taste like candy.

Still, I remained optimistic. The lack of shrinkage was, after all, providing a bountiful yield. I dutifully cooked it all without sampling, think what a feast would we have at brunch, where the menu included blintzes topped with lingonberry preserves.

Graham picked up a slice and eyed it warily. “These look like Gimel’s snacks,” he observed, gamely taking a bite. It was one of those missed Kodak moments. After finally swallowing, he politely asked, “Would you mind if I don’t eat these?” Gimel.7.3.10

I did not mind. I ate a few dismal strips and Tim tried one. They now are exactly what Graham suggested: dog snacks. And to quote  Gimel, “Arrrrr-ump-arrr.”

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A better grilled cheese

I am becoming a great fan of my comal, the once-lost and now-treasured traditional skillet from San Miguel. It is beginning to take on that dark shimmer that implies I know what I'm doing with it. With care, it should soon turn a lustrous black and be as perfectly non-stick as grandma's skillet -- if I had a southern grandma, which I didn't.

I used it today to made quesadillas, which are essentially grilled cheese sandwiches of an even more southern variety that, for me, provides the added of appeal of remembering one's vacation as one chews. You can use essentially the same ingredients, too; in other words, whatever sounds good or you need to use up. Start simple, as below, but do go wild. It's your kitchen, who will know? We served ours with fresh corn from our neighborhood market.

canola oil
small flour tortillas, 2 per serving
shredded Mexican-style cheese
sliced ham
salsa (such as Newman's Own Peach)
chopped cilantro
crema or well-mixed sour cream

Lightly coat comal or heavy skillet with canola oil and set over medium-high heat. When hot, place two tortillas on surface, wiggling to coat. Turn after 15-20 seconds or just golden. Top with a generous handful of cheese, a slice of ham, a drizzle of salsa and a little cilantro. Fold in half and press lightly. Flip after 15-20 seconds or until nicely browned -- don't walk away as they can burn quickly. Remove to plate when done. Top with crema and a little extra salsa and cilantro.

Drizzle a few drops of oil on comal, if needed, and repeat until everyone is full.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Feh … Feh… No. I Just Can’t

There are very few foods that I simply will not eat. There are, of course, a few I was glad I didn’t know what they were until after I tried them, and may not knowingly consume again.

Despite their efforts to playfully sneak some into dishes where its distinctive – nay, wretched – flavor may be masked, Tim and Graham know that the mere mention of the word fennel is enough to twist my face into a mask of disgust. Even now, just thinking about it, my jaw aches at having to support every disapproving muscle.

Like Voldemort, he who cannot be named, I prefer that even the full word not be spoken in my kitchen, lest some sticky haze settle over it the way a dust cloud always hovers around poor Pigpen’s feet. I generally opt for just “feh,” an apt Yiddish term that signals due displeasure.

I do allow the plant to be grown in the garden, but only because I like the way its dark fronds flutter in the breeze. However, like people who sell magazines door to door, and large bugs, it is not permitted past the threshold.

This is on my mind today because I read Alexandra Guarnaschelli’s characteristically luxurious prose, which described the “spicy chicken sausage filled with fennel” she made breakfast. A smell so foul, especially first thing in the morning, makes me think of nothing so much as morning sickness.

While many admired chefs sing its praises, especially those of Italian lineage, I will not be persuaded. I dread the idea of it being served at a friend’s table, where I would feel obliged to eat it and nod with woozy approval. At restaurants, I cut short any waiter’s enticing description as soon as he utters the word. I waste hours trying to come up with appropriate substitutes when confronted with a gorgeous (albeit fennel-filled) dish featured on the pages of a glossy magazine.

Simply put, it hate it and all its kin: anise, licorice, Thai basil; even distant cousins like cloves reside like wary squatters in my spice rack. So, if I unwittingly toss back a slug of ouzo and do not gleefully shout “oopa!” you’ll not only know why – but also understand that my curdled words are actually this urgent plea: “Call poison control!”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Please don’t just sit there; Come on and sing!

Checking Twitter last night to see if there was news in the world, I found my mind rushing back to the summer of 1981 – one of the best seasons of my life. Just 22 and weeks away from getting engaged, I had been selected for a Pulliam Fellowship at the Indianapolis Star. Unlike many of my fellow Fellows, I was not chasing fires or seeking scandal at city council meetings. I wound up in the Arts & Entertainment office, where I reviewed concerts and movies, and gave my parents in New Jersey much to talk about by interviewing aging celebrities who were rolling through Indianapolis on the summer theater circuit.

Among the most charming – and the one that most impressed my dad – unquestionably was Mitch Miller, who died Sunday night at age 99. Briefcase and umbrella in hand, I remember walking from The Star offices across downtown to his swanky hotel, where he chatted with ease about his popular ‘60s sing-a-long show and the many artists whose careers he helped launched.

When he walked me back to the elevator to leave, he noticed that my eyes were glued to two tall glass canisters filled with amaretti cookies. Draped in their familiar pastel paper wrappers, they were as pretty as they were tempting. “You like?” he said, playfully tugging my briefcase from my hand. He dashed over to the canisters and dumped as many cookies as would fit into my bulging bag. “Enjoy!” he said instructed cheerfully, pointing at me as if he held his magic baton, as I stepped into the elevator and back into the reality of a summer downpour.

I returned to the office drenched, but the prized cookies were as crisp and fragrant as my memories of them today.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Cook, Therefore I am … Happy

Over the past year or so, via Facebook and Twitter, I have become virtual BFFs with a host of culinary luminaries. I have acquired them gradually and gratefully, like a favorite pan or spice enjoyed with genuine appreciation. I read their posts with interest and am as surprised when they respond to mine as when I was asked to dance at junior high socials.

Indeed, late last night I heard from one of my favorites, Amanda Hesser of Food52 and the New York Times, who encouraged me to post to her blog a spontaneous recipe using golden beets I whipped up in January and sent to her on a giddy whim. I was speechless – literally, since Tim was asleep, Graham was busy gaming, and the only food I make that generally interests the dogs is biscuits for Hanukkah. I can’t help but imagine a cosmic connection to have received such an auspicious endorsement on the day I launched this blog.

Tim – also an eager cook who specializes in braising (a la Molly Stevens and Susan Spicer) and making friends at farmer’s markets – initially mocked my social media overtures. When a friend request to Barbara Kafka resulted in a prompt “Tell me about yourself” reply, he doused my excitement with a media specialist’s dry assessment that her staff, or worse, an auto-reply, had in fact greeted me.

Since then, I have connected – real-time and with relevant, thrilling responses – with several chefs and food writers whose work I truly admire. Folks associated with the New York Times – Amanda, Melissa Clark, Sam Sifton – have been especially generous. Melissa shared her Tweet-referenced kale pesto a few weeks before it ran in the Times. Even Mark Bittman, whose much-admired smartphone app I won in a contest, only to discover it is not supported by Android, wrote back to say one is in development. Like any choice ingredient I could not use, I gave it to a friend.

I am lucky to have several local foodies to follow as well. Kathleen Purvis of the Charlotte Observer, Andrea Weigl of the News & Observer, and Laura Leslie – Raleigh-based NPR statehouse reporter who writes the Overworked Foodies blog – provide much inspiration.

Some bloggers/Tweeters have achieved Cher-like fame in our house, including Marcella – who recently chimed in on a discussion that referenced her on Dorie’s Facebook page, and who in turn showered her grandmotherly charm on me. I’ve also managed to befriend two bona fide food stars I met during a recent trip to Mexico: Paco Cardenas of San Miguel de Allende, with whom I took an eye-opening market tour and cooking class, and Ruth Alegria of Mexico City, who described in rapturous turn-by-turn detail the best way to walk and eat your way through her favorite market.

I don’t imagine I’ll ever touch their culinary contributions, but for someone who left home knowing only how to make Rice-a-Roni Spanish rice with ground beef, cooking has proved to be my most enduring and satisfying hobby. Cookbooks and magazines are stacked by my nightstand; kitchen-related gifts are always welcome; dining out and trying new foods is (almost always) a joy; no vacation is complete without visiting a local food emporium. I’m sure the regulars at the Superama in our Mexico City neighborhood wondered why the gringa was happily snapping photos in every aisle, but I had a blast.

I will write about that adventure soon, but for today, though not really seasonal, here’s the creamy golden beet recipe with nutty parmesan that piqued the interest of my No. 1 virtual BFF.

1 bunch medium-size golden beets
olive oil, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
¼ cup cream cheese
¼ cup half-and-half

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Scrub and trim beets, leaving a bit of the sprouted end. Save greens for other use (and don't forget to use them). Arrange beets on large sheet of foil; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Close parcel and place on baking sheet. Roast about 45 minutes or until tender.

While roasting, let cream cheese and half-and-half sit out about 15 minutes, or whenever you remember, to reduce chill.

When beets are just cool enough to handle, peel skin and cut into chunks. Place in food processor and whirl until fairly smooth. Add cheeses and half-and-half and blend thoroughly; add a pinch of salt if needed. With proudly beet-stained hands, garnish with an extra dusting of parmesan and serve immediately.

NOTE:  Also delicious with red beets or chioggias. If you have a teenage son, consider making a double batch.