The Virgin Cook Pops Her Cherry With a Bloody Mess

When I met my in-laws, I tried to bake a pie for the first and only time. I had this ingenious idea that if regular pecan pie tasted good, a pie made using cans of salted mixed nuts would be even better! The thing tasted like a lemony salt lick and looked like congealed baby poop. My poor relatives-to-be gagged down a mouthful just to be nice.

They're still talking about that pie -- mostly behind my back.

So for 2011, I resolve to learn to prepare dishes people will actually want to eat. Slowly, messily and with all of my successes and terrific failures laid out for the public to read. Think of it as Julie and Julia meets Food Network's Worst Cooks in America.

I thought I'd start with a "simple" beet salad from, figuring it would be difficult to screw up. By the end, my kitchen looked like a grisly crime scene straight out of a CSI episode. Get the recipe and read about my bloody mess, after the jump.       

I began by trimming a bunch of beets, which is far more complicated than it sounds. They're thick and hard to cut through. They stain everything -- hands, clothes, towels, pets. I cut off the root and greens, then slowly sliced (okay, sawed) through each beet and placed them in a pot of water. Tip: Whoever decided that chef's coats should be white was either an idiot or the very smart owner of a local laundry. Wear light clothing at your own risk unless you really need a new tye-dyed shirt.  

The beets started boiling after a few minutes, burping red juice all over my white stove. Welcome to Creative Cooking with Jack the Ripper! As my kitchen was repeatedly bloodied, I tossed the walnuts in a pan and cooked them for a few minutes. They never exactly began to toast, just to warm, so eventually I got bored and spooned the maple syrup in. Tip: Toss the nuts in the maple syrup for a few minutes on low heat and they'll caramelize more. (Of course, they may also get stuck together in a disgusting nutty clump reminiscent of The Great Mixed Nut Pie Incident of 2001.)

Whisking the OJ, balsamic and olive oil together was a breeze, even if the resulting "dressing" did look like diarrhea. Is it supposed to be that color? The beets fared better, with only a slight loss of color and flavor. Hey, at least they were decent enough I didn't have to fall back to Plan B: Trader Joe's precooked baby beets. After 25 minutes, the beets were done, my kitchen looked like a crime scene and I'd eaten half the maple-nut mixture. 

4 medium beets - scrubbed, trimmed and cut in half
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 (10 ounce) package mixed baby salad greens
1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat cheese

1. Place beets into a saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool, then cut in to cubes.

2. While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup. Cook and stir until evenly coated, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make the dressing.

4. Place a large helping of baby greens onto each of four salad plates, divide candied walnuts equally and sprinkle over the greens. Place equal amounts of beets over the greens, and top with dabs of goat cheese. Drizzle each plate with some of the dressing.

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden