Winter

Winter Squash

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by Matt Armendariz

squashcomp1.jpgWhite acorn. Red Kuri. Turban. Carnival. Names as colorful as the squashes themselves. And if you’ll excuse me for saying this, sometimes they look as if they landed on earth from outer space. No offense meant towards other galactic life forces!

Welcome, winter squash.

A few years ago I made it a point to familiarize myself with these hefty gourds. Until that point they were only gorgeous table decorations to me (trés gay, I know I know), and also made nice ammo during food fights. Then butternuts became the popular choice and began showing up everywhere. I wasn’t complaining, I love the sweet, nutty mild flavor they bring to stews, soups and purees. But then I began to wonder about the others, and in time began to learn that even though they’re awkward, fugly, and heavy, they really are wonderful and delicious. I look forward to this time of year.

Unlike summer squashes with their soft, edible skins, winter varieties must be peeled and cooked. But it’s really easier than you think.

Winter Squash Taste Test

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by Susie Middleton

ImageSometimes, you just don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Take my boyfriend, Roy, for example. I’m sure when he met me, he had no idea that one day he’d be standing around the kitchen island (which he built for me) with seven spoons and a heap of roasted squash in front of him. Fortunately, what I didn’t know (but suspected) when I met him, is that he’s a really good sport. Last Sunday, he agreed to do the winter squash taste test with me. Lucky him.

I dreamed up this little experiment after we found ourselves in possession of several different kinds of winter squash. I’ve loved taste comparisons ever since I was introduced to them at culinary school years ago. We did a lot of them at Fine Cooking, too, in order to recommend brands of chicken stock or canned tomatoes or olive oil to cooks. The worst taste test we ever did was butter. Tasting 8 different brands of butter in one morning will make anyone feel sick. The best? Bittersweet chocolate, of course. In fact, I’ve learned so much about flavor differences in both natural and manmade products over the years from taste tests, that I’m constantly urging other cooks to conduct their own at home.

Medley of Roasted Root Vegetables

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by Cathy Pollak

winterveg.jpgI came home from the market the other day and I had bags of acorn squash, butternut squash, parsnips and obviously the sweet potatoes and yams you see here.

When Fall hits, I immediately go into squash and root vegetable mode.  It's hard not to.  But there is something about yams and sweet potatoes that float my boat.  I wonder what it is...oh yeah, it's a potato...my kryptonite. 

So I wanted to roast these potatoes, which I could happily eat plain, but the family would want a dipping sauce.  I wanted smoke, I wanted sweet and I wanted tang. So I started playing around and came up with something we loved.  It had such a good flavor.  We had some the next day and it was even better. The flavors had melded together.

This is going to be a staple dish through the Fall.

Tuscan Kale with Blood Oranges: A Better Wintry Mix

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by Susie Middleton

kalesalad.jpgSince I require bright color to keep me happy, I make up for the weather with vegetables. One of my favorite color combos is deep green and bright orange. This week at the grocery I spotted big bunches of leafy Tuscan kale right across the aisle from a bin of blood oranges, and thought bingo! What a great combo—a truly colorful wintry mix.

Unlike many leafy greens, Tuscan kale doesn’t bolt (go to flower), so you can keep harvesting from one plant for many weeks. It’s even better in the kitchen, because it has a much silkier texture and a less mineral-y flavor than regular curly kale. It’s lovely in soups, pastas, and gratins, but makes a versatile side dish, too.

If you want to cook (or grow) Tuscan kale, there’s just one problem. You will have to memorize a roster of names this green goes by so that you don’t miss it. When I first encountered this kale a few years back, I understood it to be Cavolo Nero, or black kale. Now it seems to be marketed most often as Lacinato; though you will also see it labeled Dinosaur kale to appeal to kids. I just stick with Tuscan kale. The good news is, despite the name confusion, it’s relatively easy to identify this kale by its looks. The leaves are long, straight, and quite narrow—and they have a distinctive webby, bumpy pattern on them.

Finally...It's Bean Season

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by Russ Parsons

From the LA Times

fallbeans.jpgSome people mark the start of fall with an apple pie. Others start breaking out the big reds from their wine cellars. Me? I'm a bean boy.

All it takes is the first sign of a nip in the air or the first morning that smells like ocean rain and I drag my Dutch oven out of the cupboard and start a big pot of beans simmering.

It doesn't really matter that I know the next day may be back up in the 90s. In fact, that uncertainty even makes it a little sweeter.

That week of rain we had at the end of September? A Portuguese-style stew of white beans with shrimp and clams, given a final lift by chopped pickled peppers.

A week or so later, after the 100-degree temperatures had lifted? White beans braised with dandelion greens and served as a bed for crisp-skinned duck breasts (the leftovers, without the duck, were just as good a couple of nights later, with a few tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano stirred in).

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A Winter Dinner

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by Ann Nichols

hot-chocolate.jpgI do enjoy winter. Aside from the holidays, which can be as stressful and maddening as they are glorious, there is a natural exaggeration of the contrast between “outside” and “inside,” between the biting cold and isolation of a Michigan winter and the warmth and community to be found at home. There are very few experiences I prefer to that of coming into a warm house after spending time outside shovelling, sledding or taking a walk with the dogs; my body naturally melts into the ambient warmth, and (with a little luck) there can be hot chocolate or a cup of tea in my immediate future.

Its good to come in from the cold, but I can ratchet my pleasure level even higher if there is something delicious in the oven, scenting the house and promising good things to come. Winter is not about the quick, refreshing fruits and vegetable of spring and summer which often require just a knife and maybe a little kosher salt. Winter is a time for the slow, deep flavors that come from long cooking of root vegetables and cuts of meat too tough and complicated to be thrown on the grill. It is a perfect time for braising and stewing, which let you begin with tough (but flavorful) protein and thick, starchy vegetables and end with tender meat and vegetables as well as sauce or gravy infused with the flavors and scents of meat, vegetables, and the aromatics of your choosing.

Enjoy Your Winter Salads Because Spring Salads May Be Late This Year

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by Susan Russo

ImageI received some bad news at the supermarket the other day. After going to three stores searching for fresh fennel bulb and not finding a single one, I asked a produce manager if he had any. He told me that fennel was going to be sparse this season because of frosts in California that damaged many crops.

Seeing my obvious disappointment, he said, "But we just got some artichokes in. Do you like those?"

"I love artichokes," I said, feeling suddenly uplifted.

He walked me over to the next aisle, and pointing to the large bin of artichokes, said proudly, "Here they are! Take your pick."

It didn't look promising. The outer leaves of the artichokes were covered in white spots. Many had angry brown streaks running up the leaves. I picked one up and gently squeezed it. It was spongy instead of firm.

Arugula Salad with Shaved Fennel, Blood Oranges, and Crumbled Feta

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by Joseph Erdos

ImageBlood oranges are all over the markets right now. It's actually very surprising, because a few years ago I could not find a blood orange anywhere but in the city. In my local supermarket they've even started selling them in bulk bags. Last week I saw packages upon packages of blood oranges in the reduced-price produce bin and of course I bought them, because there was nothing wrong with them. That tells me that people don't buy them because they don't know what to do with them. I've made this Valentine's dessert with them. I eat blood oranges throughout the season just as I do regular oranges. I enjoy the unique taste: very citrusy but more mellow with the flavor of dark fruits like raspberries or blackberries. Plus blood oranges share the same beneficial antioxidants as dark fruits.

This year blood oranges haven't been as sweet as in the past, but they are great for use in savory dishes, such as this salad. I start with a base of peppery arugula and thinly shaved fennel. The final touches are slices of blood orange, crumbled feta, and toasted walnuts. The anise flavors of the fennel, the peppery arugula, and the salty feta are a very nice match for the blood oranges.

Eat your beets!

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by Joseph Erdos

ImageEat your beets! We've all heard that from our moms quite often as kids. Unfortunately it was more often canned beets that we were persuaded to eat. As a curious eater, I've come to appreciate beets in many different preparations. I especially love them roasted in salads. But have you ever thought of eating them raw? Sliced very thinly, beets and other root vegetables, make great salads. Yes, it's possible to slice them thin with a knife, but a mandoline does the job better than anything else to get paper-thin shavings.

In this beautiful salad I combine three different colors of beets, plus a watermelon radish, and add pomegranate seeds for additional ruby color. The radish adds a different type of crunch and hotness. The pomegranate seeds along with a squeeze of orange juice add sweetness and tang to the salad. A sprinkling of dill adds green color as well as herbal flavor. After trying this salad, you will be surprised to find how naturally sweet beets taste when eaten raw. They are nature's candy in both taste and color.

Blood Orange Marmalade

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by Susan Salzman

ImageAbout 6 weeks ago my friend Mary, emailed me to say that her blood oranges from her tree(yeah-she has a tree) were almost ripe and wanted to drop some off for me to enjoy. I was elated and anxiously awaited the bag.

One morning, upon arriving home from a yoga class, there on my doorstep, was HUGE bag of blood oranges and their leaves. I washed and dried the oranges and put them in a vessel and placed them on my dining room table. It took me days to figure out what I was going to make with them, but I wasn’t in a rush. I was merely enjoying their abundance.

 

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