My Attempt to Embrace Winter

I’ll be honest, I really, really don’t like winter. I know that we are supposed to make the most with what each season gives but that is oh so hard when all I want to do is wear sweatpants and ten layers of sweaters and hibernate under a pile of blankets until daylight savings. I’ve been sleeping in a lot lately too, which is something I really don’t like. Generally my eyes enthusiastically burst open at the crack of dawn and by 6:30 I’ve showered and have a hearty breakfast in the works. Now it’s just a never-ending series of snooze-button pressings until the sheer embarrassment that I’m still in bed at 8:00 forces me into a wobbly standing position. Like I said, I really don’t like winter.

Over the weekend I went to the farmers market for the first time since mid-December. With memories of Christmas cheer, the hustle and the bustle to stock up on handmade crafts and Brussels sprouts stalks for the holiday table, I set out in the hopes of perhaps snagging some winter greens ore maybe even some pretty purple cauliflower. However, I arrived and saw almost nothing but mounds of potatoes and turnips. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with those items but at this point in winter, I am getting just a wee bit sick of potatoes. At this point, I just want a little freshness. 

Even the tiniest of hints.

I’m not asking for a sun-ripened tomato here, just something to let me know that the sun will be back around soon.


So after a miniature sulking session I decided that I would not give up. I would embrace winter, work alongside and maybe, just maybe, we could get through this thing together. With a little stroke of inspiration I scrounged up a hodgepodge of ingredients and concocted a winter salad that was able to bring some life back to my palette.

It’s a menagerie of root veg, oranges, salty olives, crunchy celery, and rich avocado, tossed atop a bed of quinoa and dressed with refreshing citrus vinaigrette. It’s invigorating in flavor the way the saltiness and sweetness seem to complement each other so well. You eat it thinking that it’s almost so wrong that it is totally and completely right. Olives and oranges? How would that work…trust me, it does.

If anything, this salad can at least bring a little brightness to the day just from its sheer autumnal and jewel toned hues: deep burgundy contrasted by the neon orange of the tangelo and rounded out with the limey pop of green from the avocado. Finally, a flurry of white goat’s cheese like a dusting of snow finished it off. This would be just as great on regular quinoa but the red quinoa seemed to enhance the “winter salad” feel. It comes together in as long as it takes to cook the quinoa and certainly is a nice break from all those potatoes.

Winter Quinoa Salad
serves 2-4
A few notes on the ingredients…as much as I would like to say that I roasted my own beets, I was too lazy. Plus, the ones at the grocery store looked a little sad. Instead I used these organic vacuum-sealed beets and actually found their flavor to be quite comparable to fresh. Good to know. I also used Minneola tangelos for their tart grapefruity flavor but navel oranges or even blood oranges would be fine. Finally, if you want to make this ahead of time, toss the quinoa, beets, oranges, olives, and celery with the vinaigrette and refrigerate and wait until serving to top with the avocado and goat cheese. It tastes best at room temperature.

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
5 baby beets, sliced (if you are cooking fresh beets here are cooking instructions)
2 Minneola tangelo oranges, zested, segmented, and juices reserved
¼ cup kalamata olives, quartered
1 rib celery, diced
½ avocado, diced
goat cheese crumbles, to serve

for vinaigrette
¼ cup fresh orange juice, reserved from oranges
¼ tsp orange zest
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions. While that is cooking, prepare the beets, oranges, olives, celery, avocado, and goat cheese and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until combined.

When the quinoa is finished, pour it into a bowl and let sit for about 5 minutes to cool some. Add about ¾ of the dressing ad toss to combine. Add the beets, orange segments, olives and celery and mix. Spoon into serving bowls and top with the avocado and the goat cheese and a drizzle of the remaining dressing.

Beet and Barley Risotto

Waking up Saturday morning, my heavy eyes flickering open to the new day’s light, I saw a glow through my window. No, it wasn’t the brightening orange of crisp autumn like a warm filter in my windowpane. It was something a little more…unexpected. I woke up to a blinding whiteness that casts iridescent glimmers across my walls. A frosty fogginess not much unlike the way heaven might feel. It was the morning light reflecting off a fresh 5 inches of snow. Yes, in Virginia we had snow in October, a sight I have never seen in 21 years of my life.

It ruined the Halloween plans of many yet caused a sudden bout of holiday spirit and I embarrassingly found myself humming Christmas music throughout the day. It was a day to wrap up in a blanket, sip a warm cup of tea, and cuddle up with the heater vent like it’s our last day on earth together. But above all it was a day where baking cookies was absolutely necessary and long, slow comfort food a must. It would have been a good day for something like this beet and barley risotto.

I like to think of this dish as the perfect way to celebrate the first frost. It uses up the very last of late summer beets and incorporates that fresh flavor before winter comes along and we are stuck in the long days of meat, beans, and potatoes. Yet its warmth, richness, and creaminess are comforting enough to take off a serious chill.

It’s as simple as any other risotto. While the beets idly cook away in the oven, the barley and onions take a nice bubbling bath in wine and stock, slowly soaking up the liquid until swelled and tender. The natural starches lend silkiness without a single addition of cream necessary.  But or course, a fine grating of parmesan cheese, folded and melted within, just adds that little extra touch of gooeyness. And finally, the beets are diced and stirred in, transforming the dish into mass if brilliant rubies. It’s topped with crumbled goat cheese, which melts into the risotto in pockets of tangy, cheesy sauce, and balsamic reduction syrup for a sweet-tart kick.

It’s one of those dishes where I couldn’t wait for leftovers the next day, and the day after that. It has this special way of filling up the heart with love and comfort yet its deceivingly healthy and full of vitamins and protein. It slowly heats you from the outside as you stand over the pot stirring away, loving each and every piece of barley in sight and then from the inside as the warm grains slide down the throat. A first-snow dish for sure.

Beet and Barley Risotto
adapted from imagalicious
serves 4

I know that some people are a little iffy about beets so this could also work with butternut squash. The same goes for the barley; if you prefer risotto with traditional Arborio rice, it’s perfectly fine to use that. My big tip for this dish is to start the beets way ahead of time. You never know how long they’ll take and if they are big like mine were, it could take up to two hours.

2 medium sized beets
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
1 sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
1 quart vegetable or organic chicken stock
½ cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

to serve
balsamic reduction (recipe follows)
goat cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the outside of the beets under cold water. Dry and rub with olive oil and salt. Place in a foil parcel and bake in the oven for about 90 minutes or until tender all the way through.

Heat the stock to a simmer in a saucepan. In a deep frying pan or pot, heat the olive oil and cook the onion along with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a minute more. Add in the barley and stir to coat and continue to cook for one more minute. Add the white wine and stir. Once the wine is evaporated, add a few ladlefuls of the warm stock and stir. Let the barley continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom. Every time the liquid is fully absorbed and things look dry add a few more ladlefuls of stock until all of the stock runs out. The process will take about 40 minutes.

When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and let cool slightly. Remove the skin and dice into fairly small pieces. Add to the risotto along with the Parmesan and stir until everything is bright red. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, place in a bowl and top with a crumbling of goat cheese and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

Balsamic reduction
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. brown sugar

Mix the two ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula until reduced by half and syrupy. Remove from the heat. Use right away or store in the refrigerator and reheat as needed.