As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity!
Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.
I’ve already posted recipes for goose sausages, lake trout sausages, salmon sausages (with beef fat). With two deer in the freezer, venison sausages were the natural thing to do next, and I might very well come up with more than one version. Today’s venison sausages are made with beets.
Beets contain a flavor compound called geosmin that’s responsible for their earthy taste. In fact, the word geosmin comes from “earthy smell” in Greek. This is the same compound that you find in red wine with earthy notes, and fish with a muddy taste (more on this here). I couldn’t find a list of the flavor compounds in venison, but in my sausages, the smell from the beets serves as a subtle reminder of the deer’s natural habitat. While you can’t really pinpoint the beet flavor in the final product, you do taste something that complements the flavorful venison meat.
Since I’m spending a week at the IBM food truck for the SXSW festival in Austin and don’t have a kitchen to work on my own recipes, let’s turn to Watson to make us something. (If you wonder what a food truck created by IBM looks like in the field, check out this article and video on Engadget.)
When I introduced the Cognitive Cooking technology, I explained how computers could be creative, and create novel and tasty recipes. It’s worth noting that rather than making all the decisions by itself, our technology engages in a dialog with the users, with repeated back-and-forth interactions between people and the computer. Yes, a machine can be creative, but more importantly, it can help humans be more creative themselves.
The Russian beet salad that James Briscione created is a great example. We started with beet as the main ingredient, and naturally chose Russian cuisine for inspiration, due to beets’ long association with Eastern European cuisine. James decided to make a salad, because this was sufficiently vague that he could have more flexibility in the preparation and the plating. The system came back with the following list of ingredients: beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, parsley, red wine vinegar, butter, white beans, pickles, prunes, black pepper (no margarine this time ;)). Sure enough, these were all very Russian. But did they really all go well together? We certainly hadn’t seen a salad quite like this anywhere else.
I have a confession to make: I’m not very fond of beets. I can enjoy beet juice in cooking, and I’ve made the occasional beet risotto and beet pasta, but eating the vegetable whole tends to be too much for me. Luckily, farmers’ markets have been providing less earthy alternatives to the common red variety, such as the widespread golden beet. And now that the first frosts have officially marked the end of the green vegetable season, I find myself looking for more root vegetable recipe ideas.
Just like with the sweetbread and chanterelle tarlets, I am using a custard base. To that I add the salty, acidic taste of Bulgarian feta, which can stand up to both the bitterness and sweetness of the beets. Gathering the four basic tastes in one dish, this is a good introduction for beet-skeptics!
Golden beet tartlets
Yields 8 tartlets
16 oz small golden beets
13 oz pâte brisée
4 oz heavy cream
2 oz Bulgarian feta, crumbled
1 egg yolk
black pepper, ground
- Without peeling them, season the golden beets with salt and wrap them individually in foil. Place into a dish and cook in a 350 F oven for 1 1/2 hours. Let cool.
- Peel the beets and cut into halves or quarters, depending on their size.
- Roll the pâte brisée and cut eight 4 1/2″ discs. Line eight tartlet molds with greased parchment paper. Transfer the discs to the molds and prick with a fork. Cook in a 350 F oven for 15 minutes, then remove the tartlets from their molds and reserve.
- Whisk the heavy cream, feta, egg and egg yolk with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Pour enough of this custard into the tartlets to cover the bottom. Arrange the beets on top, then fill with custard to the rim. Bake in the oven for another 15 minutes. Finish under the broiler for 1 minute and serve immediately.