Winter vegetables

You may at this point be wondering if you’re ever going to get vegetables back in your diet, since the green vegetables shipped from California look not so good for the travel and/or questioning nutritional value after a week or more out of the field.  I hear ya and am here to pique your interest in vegetables to see you through winter.

I frankly do not understand why people buy cucumbers in the dead of winter, or heaven forbid dreadful styrofoam tomatoes.  Me, I’m not looking to recreate deficient summer salads.  So I leave the summer produce alone — see you later zucchini! — and reacquaint myself with winter staples.

Carrots.  Braised with water and butter, and then lift the lid to let the water evaporate and then — voila! — you have cooked carrots with just a bit of butter.  Add some thyme or other fresh herb, even parsley or cumin. Splurge on organic; they’re not expensive.  Adds color to your dinner plate, and they’re delicious (and nutritious!).

Cabbage.  Cabbage need not be vile.  Just don’t boil it and you’ll be fine.  I like it sautéed with olive oil and oyster mushrooms and maybe some pancetta.  Just quarter head, cut out core, and cut into thin strips. Savoy is good for this.  Napa cabbage makes an excellent cole slaw, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois Chicken Salad (sans chicken).

Parsnips.  Julienne them with carrots and roast in olive oil in a hot oven of about 400 degrees tossed in olive oil and thyme.  Fantastic side dish.

Broccoli rabe.  This bitter green survives the trek from CA well, and is just the thing for green leafy vegetables mid-winter.  (Contra swiss chard which is too delicate to not wilt one week out of the field.)  Braise it with garlic (natch!), olive oil and red pepper flakes and you have a very delicious and somewhat bitter green.  Add beans and/or sausage (andouille is what I like) and you have yourself a one-bowl dinner.

Escarole.  This green too survives the cross-country trek well.  It is also on the bitter side but not as strong as broccoli rabe.  It is a perfect foil for the fattiness of pork, as in pork tenderloin with prunes and escarole I made years ago.  Escarole does well braised with beans.

Potatoes.  Roasted.  Boiled.  In a gratin.  These are winter standbys.  And there are some good ones to be had, either a framer has them in storage or seek out some interesting varieties.  Or make soup.  It’s the easiest soup to make, and is a recommended starter soup to make as your first soup.  It is delicious, easy (you can simply use onions rather than leeks), and will build your confidence to trek further into soup-dom.

Sweet potatoes.  Yes, these are just fine scrubbed, poked, rubbed with oil and baked in a hot oven, and smothered in butter.  Even better is to roast them in wedges with olive oil and then some chipotle peppers near the end of the roasting time.  Or if you’re having a crowd, make my friend Deb’s sweet potato salad.

Winter squash.  I confess I am not a big fan of acorn, etc.  I find the texture too stringy and not welcoming, and the flavor, meh.  But I am fond of butternut squash.  Steam or roast wedges, and puree and stick into a quesadilla.  Or add maple syrup and butter and serve in a bowl.

Cauliflower.  A fine vegetable to eat in the winter, and shines in flavor when roasted.  If you’re feeding picking kids, put steamed cauliflower in a pan, dot with butter and lay on grated parmesan and heat until cheese is melted.  Adults like it too.  It makes a fine soup, either as the main ingredient, or as part of a vegetable soup.

Avocados.  These happily high-fat wonders have seem a resurgence (did they ever surge?) in popularity, carried on the shoulders by health afficienados.  They are good in guac.  Even simpler to cut up, sprinkle with lemon, and smush or place onto a piece of toast and call it breakfast.  And if you’re making a salad, they have a fine place there.  I like the bumpy ones from California, and avoid the smooth larger ones from Florida.

Celeriac.  If there is a farmer in your midst that stores, celeriac is a welcome relief.  A gnarly root crop related to turnip (at least taste-wise) it carries a cheery celery flavor too.  (Am not pausing to google to see if it is in fact what some refer to as “celery root.”  I don’t think it’s a common celery plant root.)  Grate it in your food processor or by hand (as I did when I –yet again — snapped off a crucial piece of plastic comprising the safety latch) along with a carrot or two and make celeriac remoulade.  (I prefer to grate it, and add wine vinegar to mayo.) I hear you can make a gratin with celeriac and potatoes.

And don’t despair.  Buy some citrus fruits, which are getting into their peak season now.  Have you tried a Cara Cara orange?  They will make you happy — sweet, juicy and very flavorful.  For dessert, try slicing them as follows: Cut in half from tip to tip.  Lay flat insides down on cutting board.  With blossom tips facing you east and west, cut the end, then make three thick slices and cut off other end.  Repeat on second half.  Serve on a plate for dessert.  I like mine room temp.

 

 

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Musings on books of essays with recipes

I think the first experience I had reading musings on food with recipes was Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking.  She wrote about her experiences living in a small NYC apartment up to feeding her young child.  And then after each essay, a recipe.  Like creamed spinach with jalapeno peppers, a classic in my book (literally).  Elizabeth David did that before her in a way, though I recall she wrote about food as part of the recipe/directions.

Then there was Nora Ephron who wrote her satisfyingly ascerbic memoir of her four-year marriage to Carl Bernstein.  Heartburn.  Ephron wrote about finding out about Bernstein’s affair that everyone in DC except her knew about, while she was pregnant with their first child.  And then there would be a recipe.  Her key lime pie is classic.  In every sense. As the Washington Post informed us, this is what she pitched at her wayward husband, though your guests may prefer it on a plate.

Most recently Ruth Reichl explored the form to good effect in her book My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that saved my life.  Good recipes and nice story telling.

Quick black beans and call it dinner

Dear reader(s), I have not been able to cook something new the past couple days because, ahem, a little critter decided to DIE in the kitchen after being mauled by my otherwise darling cat.  Now if the cat had actually done in that damn rodent — or the dog had gotten there sooner to do the deed — I would not have a problem.  My cat had the damn thing in his mouth and then decided to play cat-and-mouse and dropped the mouse.  Grrr. That’s where my problem started.  It scurried into the tiniest of holes under the kitchen counter and disappeared.  If rodents are vengeful critters — which I don’t presume — this one got his/her? revenge.  Died and is stinking up my kitchen.  I immediately bought an electric air purifier with a charcoal filter and am running it constantly, researched getting rid of the smell and how long it lasts, tried to order a product from the UK which did not reinforce the idea that we are a small world since it would take ONE MONTH to get to me.  Instead I ordered Fresh Wave — about 60 bucks worth in gels, spray and candle form.  All this to say, in the past couple days, I have reheated my split pea soup, and re-made the Asian shrimp, and gotten out of the kitchen pronto.  I am thinking of ripping up my cabinets and flooring to get to the corpse.  It’s a reminder when you think you’re having a bad day, remember it could be worse — there could be a mouse corpse in your kitchen.

What I’m trying to do with this blog is create and post whole dinners.  My theory is that while people like to try something new for dinner, the idea of finding three things to cook is daunting.  I know it is for me even with the best of intentions.  So for example I like the idea of trying David Lebovitz’ chicken with mustard, I’d have to think up sides.  Moving on . . . .

Here is a quick and easy black bean dish.  If you have some rice, you have a complete meal.  If not, it’s better than popcorn, probably.  I’m not a nutritionist, but just sayin’

Quick black beans, Cuban style

Ingredients:

garlic — couple cloves, minced

onion — 1 medium, diced

2 serrano chiles, or dried red pepper flakes

1 medium green or red pepper (green is more authentic, I don’t like green)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

oregano — fresh or dried

wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Saute garlic for one minute, and then onions in olive oil.
  2. Add beans, cook a while and stir occasionally.
  3. Add oregano and red or green pepper
  4. Heat through.
  5. A couple minutes before serving, stir in 1 T wine vinegar and heat through.

 

 

 

Split pea soup

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If you go to holiday parties in December, odds are you are going to see baked hams.  They show up at all parties — high-end to low-brow, culinarily speaking. (Contra Dorothy Parker:  “Eternity is a ham and two people.”)

At a party this weekend — that was pretty dreadful food-wise as it was pot-luck for non-foodcentric people — I asked the ham-bringer if I might have the bone at the end of evening.  See, the thought came into my head that with a ham bone I was on my way to split pea soup.  I bought a bag of split peas for a whopping 99 cents and was ready to roll.  Folks, I’m here to say there is not much more to making yourself some split pea soup than a ham bone and a bag o’ beans. Assuming of course you following Louise’s dictum of always having stock.  I was out of chicken, so I had some going in the stock pot yesterday, and then decided to make split pea soup from the fresh stock.

Here’s what I did (and I’d do it again, even ham-less, or especially ham-less!):

  1. Take your ham bone, and with a paring knife, get in there and cut off ham close to the bone.  Throw out the disgusting fatty pieces, and cut remaining into cubes, to make about 2 c.
  2. Pick over and rinse your beans, and put in a soup pot.  For 1 # beans, add 5 cups stock.  (Alternate directions below if you are — gasp! — stock-less.)  Put your ham bone in.  If it’s very large and protrudes greatly out of the liquid, do like I did and grab it and break in half at the joint.  That felt good!
  3. Bring to a near boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally for about 45 minutes.  Less time needed if your beans are fresh.  You won’t know that probably in advance, and I don’t dried beans move quickly in the supermarket.  But it does not matter — they will cook either way.image
  4. You can puree, but if you just cook long enough, until peas are very, very soft (which is what you want — you don’t want resistance from the peas when you eat it) the peas will mostly fall apart and thicken the soup.  I didn’t puree.
  5. Add in cubed ham, S&P, stir and heat gently.  Ladle and serve.  Voila!  Croutons or oysters crackers are good, but not necessary if you have that ham.

What to do ham-less:

Saute one chopped onion, a couple carrots and one celery stalk in olive oil.  Can add a thyme sprig with the stock.  You’ll probably want to run all this through a food mill at the end (or whir in blender).

To add creaminess, you can add a potato, peeled and cut up into large pieces with the peas (or 1/2 c white rice, which I won’t do most likely (white rice says to me: “empty carbs” and I would rather my empty carbs be of the chocolate variety).

 

Roasted carrots and parsnips with sauteed chicken

Here’s the thing about cooking with the seasons.  It is not only more delicious, it makes the whole endeavor easier, at least it seems to for me.

It being winter — by the calendar if not by ambient temps which are currently unusually high in upstate NY — carrots and parsnips are abundant.  A good carrot is a delicious thing.  Forget the bags in the supermarket and, yes, I am encouraging you again, to head to your farmers market.  I am hooked on carrots from Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Claverack, NY, which has carrots as sweet as can be.  Good raw and, for dinner, roasted.  I like roasted carrots with their cousin root — parsnips.  The roasting concentrates the flavor, makes a nice substantial (non-mushy) texture, and they’re simply delicious.  Here’s how:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel 2 carrots and 2 parsnips for person.  Cut in half, and then into julienne/mini-spears, by cutting each half in half lengthwise, and then into 3 or 4 strips lengthwise.

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Pour a T or 2 of olive oil onto a large baking sheet or pan, toss on your cut carrots and parsnips, S&P and, if you have it, a couple sprigs of thyme.  (Alternately, you could crumble on a pinch of dried thyme, or skip.)  Toss everything together with your hands or other utensil, and put in oven for 15-20 minutes, moving vegetables around with a spatula a couple times while they are roasting. These are forgiving and will not cause stress if you get concerned about getting everything to the table at the same time.  If they are done before the rest of the meal, you can turn off the oven and leave them in, and then remove and serve them warm-ish, even close to room temperature.

Then get to cooking your chicken breast.

Take a boneless chicken breast, cut into it horizontally to divide in half.  The fancy word for this is “butterfly” if you stop short of cutting completely in half.  Anyway, we’re looking for a half, so cut through.  It’s easier if you start from the thicker side.  Dry off and place on its own plate.  Season with a liberal amount of S&P.  Put a bit of flour on a separate plate.

Take out about 4 mushrooms per person.  I like crimini as my all-purpose, because they have more flavor than oh, plain button mushrooms.  A small shallot per person, or half large.

Get out your stock.  Chicken or turkey stock is good for this.  If you have not thought to defrost your homemade stock, stick the frozen container in a bowl of water for a few minutes, which will loosen the liquid from the container.  Then dump into a small pan and heat.  (Microwavers can do it their way.)  (I am not giving directions here for store-bought, but actually that should be fine to use here.)

Meanwhile, wash and thickly slice the mushrooms.  Dice and chop the shallot coarsely.

Heat some olive oil and butter in saute pan. Lay each chicken breast onto floured plate, turning on both sides and shaking off excess.  Put each piece of chicken, now thin, into pan and saute over relatively high heat for a couple minutes, flip over, and cook a minute or two, and then remove to a warm plate.  (I warm plates by putting on top of stove while oven is on.)

Add a bit more butter to (the same!) pan if dry, then put in shallots and mushrooms, S&P, and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring.  When done and mushrooms look like something you would want to eat, put in about 1/3 c. stock, raise heat and stir to reduce liquid by at least half.  Add a knob of butter and after you mix that in, return the chicken to the pan, and get everything acquainted with all that’s in the pan, stirring and moving for a minute or so.

Remove and eat with your side of roasted carrots and parsnips.  Delicious!

Dinner in half an hour!