The Virgin Cook Pops Her Cherry With a Bloody Mess

By Missy & The Universe via Flickr

I admit it. ​I have no clue how to cook food that tastes good. I'm practically a cooking virgin. 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.

Wait, is that a beet or my thumb??
​Get the recipe and read about my bloody mess, after the jump. 

I swear it's just beet juice, Officer!
​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. 

Ta-da! Goat Cheese and Beet Salad.

I placed a handful of baby mixed greens on a plate, spooned on some chevre crumbles, diced beets and candied walnuts and drizzled a touch of the balsamic over the top. It looked...almost edible! The beets were tender and acidic, the goat cheese pungent and salty. This dish has the perfect balance of salty and sweet, crunchy and smooth. It tastes as good as its Cheesecake Factory equivalent and at a fraction of the price.

Now, if I could only arrange for a crime scene cleanup crew to scour my kitchen after every time I make it...

Click through for Donna's beet salad recipe from  

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i thought this was porn.

chef you know who!
chef you know who!

Try roasting the beets in their skin, easy to peel and not so messy, better flavor than boiling. Patience on roasting the nuts on the stove, you were almost there!

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