Winter

ImageSweet potatoes are having their moment—at least according to my favorite New York Times reporter, Kim Severson. It seems their new fame is largely due to the popularity of sweet potato fries.

These fries (mostly deep-fried like regular potato fries) have popped up on both upscale and chain restaurant menus all over the country in the past couple of years. I am one of those willing victims who eats these things; but more often I roast them at home in the oven using the recipe I created for Fast, Fresh & Green.

But I’ve long been a fan of sweet potatoes cooked many different ways—especially any method that allows them to caramelize a bit, like slow-sautéing. So I thought this week I’d make some slow-sautéed sweet potatoes and share that recipe here, in honor of the humble tuber’s new (but hopefully not fleeting) fame.

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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.

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butternetchipotlesoupI'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point in the last several years, ginger butternut squash soup became America's #1 vegetarian soup of choice.

Ginger butternut squash soup is everywhere. Google it, and you'll get hundreds of recipes (I stopped counting after the eighth full page load). Every vegetarian cookbook has a recipe for it. It's the go-to soup for Thanksgiving holidays and dinner parties, and 9 times out of 10, it's the only vegetarian soup available at cafeterias and supermarkets food courts. I've seen brawls break out in Trader Joe's as people frantically try to scoop up as many cartons of butternut squash soup as possible.

I understand the love. I made my first pot of ginger butternut squash soup about 15 years ago from a vegetarian cookbook I bought right after we moved to North Carolina. It was a revelation: creamy, refreshing, soothing. I have made that soup so many times, the recipe is etched in my brain along with my telephone number and birth date.

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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.

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teabiscotti.jpgFor the last two weeks I have had an intermittent problem with my furnace.  I have a wonderful technician, but it was a difficult thing to figure out. Did I mention that it is Winter in Maine and even with a back up heat source it is imperative to solve it and solve it fast.  The elusive part arrived this morning and Tony quickly came out yet again to my house.  I asked him to come in and have a cup of tea with me as I always do and explain what he did to my furnace. I hoped that he would reassure me that it was fixed once and for all.

He is the kind of guy that insists on taking his boots off so he doesn't make a mess no matter how many times you tell him that it is fine because you have three dogs that always have wet paws. Today I placed a thick cotton rug at the door knowing that would make him feel more comfortable and indeed he came in for tea without any excuses. I poured a nice cup from my morning pot and went to get the banana bread that I had baked yesterday – only I couldn't find it anywhere! I looked everywhere and then decided that I better pick something else to give him before I started looking like I was becoming senile or worse yet, getting a case of cabin dementia.

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