Winter

ImageI'm not much of a coffee drinker but I love hot chocolate and I love tea. I enjoy the richness of hot chocolate, but sometimes it's a bit too much. I certainly couldn't drink it everyday. I have tried quite a few chocolate flavored teas and while some of them are pretty good, I've discovered a more satisfying solution. I make hot cocoa with equal parts tea and milk.

On the surface this might seem like a weird thing to do, combining cocoa and tea but it's really quite delicious. I learned from chocolate authority Alice Medrich that the fat in dairy products coats your tongue so the flavor of chocolate is sometimes muted in very creamy preparations. She said you can make cocoa with hot water, but I have found that tea provides an amazing addition of flavor. I like a little bit of milk to add some texture.

The result is a beverage that is richer and more viscous than tea and milk, but not quite as cloying as hot cocoa can be. In the Winter, I could drink it just about everyday!

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braisedfingerlingsIf you listen to conventional wisdom, you might think roasting is the only way to go when it comes to cooking fingerling potatoes. Now, I am usually the poster-girl for roasting (potatoes or anything else), and I’d like not to be burned at the stake for potato heresy, but I think fingerling potatoes are usually better braised or simmered, or, yes, boiled—any method that involves a little liquid.

I hate to generalize, because there are, in fact, many different varieties of fingerling potatoes. Fingerlings themselves aren’t a variety, but more of a type of potato, defined by their size and shape—small, knobby, and elongated. Their flavor is usually rich and concentrated, but the color of their skin and flesh, as well as their starch content, can vary quite a bit from variety to variety. (Popular varieties include Russian Banana, Purple Peruvian, Ruby Crescent, and French Fingerling.)

The varying starch level is why some fingerlings lean towards being fluffy and dry (like a Russet potato), while others have creamy or waxy flesh (like a Red Bliss potato).  Unless you cook with the same variety a lot, it’s hard to always know exactly what you’re getting at the store (or the farmers’ market) or how it will behave in the dry heat of the oven. While I’ve had bad experiences with Russian Bananas over-drying when roasted, I’ve never had a fingerling that wasn’t perfectly delicious when cooked with a wet-heat method.  

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From the LA Times

lentilsAs culinary fashion continues to wind inexorably lower on the luxury scale — from tournedos to beef cheeks, from foie gras to pork belly — it was probably inevitable that we would eventually come to lentils.

Representing the lowest and plainest possible food denominator since biblical times, when Esau traded his birthright for a bowl of soup made from them, lentils have always been regarded as a food you would eat only when you absolutely had to.

Yet look at a restaurant menu today or visit an upscale grocery and you'll find lentils that come in a rainbow of colors and bear an atlas of place names.

You'll find lentils that are reddish pink, canary yellow and pure ivory. Many chefs swear by the dark green lentils from Le Puy in France, but at Mozza, chef Nancy Silverton won't use anything but the tiny tan Castelluccios from Italy's Umbrian hills. You'll even find lentils called beluga, after the ultimate in luxury foods, caviar.

I've cooked with lentils for years, but in a dabbling way. When I could find Castelluccios, I used them, and when Trader Joe's stocked lentils from Le Puy at a great price, I'd buy them. But usually I just cooked whatever the supermarket had on hand.

But with lentils becoming socially acceptable, clearly a more organized analysis was overdue.

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lentilsoup.jpg In many countries it's tradition to eat good-luck foods in the first few days of the new year or sometimes in the last few seconds of the old one. People in Spain stuff their mouths with grapes as the clock counts down the last twelve seconds. In the United States, Southerners eat collards and black-eyed peas because they symbolize money. My Hungarian heritage is not without its new year's food superstitions.

To celebrate, we eat pork and lentil soup. Supposedly because pigs root forward, they are a forward-looking bunch of animals. Chickens are not since they scratch backward. We eat lentil soup because the little lentils resemble coins. So the custom of eating good-luck foods is all to gain prosperity for the new year. Believe me I'd eat all these foods all the time if it meant prosperity for the entire year.

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wintersaladNow that the fall has given way to colder weather, enjoying winter’s chill outdoors requires a well-insulated coat and good gloves. Indoors, the kitchen fights back the cold with a hot oven and good food ready to eat. The best winter food comforts our spirits and nourishes our bodies. Nothing does that better than a roasted vegetable salad.

In summer, a ripe tomato salad mixed with peppery arugula leaves and bits of salty, creamy Bulgarian feta can be a meal in and of itself. When the weather cools and a weakening sun denies farmers the heat they need to grow nature’s leafy wonders, we still hunger for salads but now it’s time to look to hearty greens and root vegetables to satisfy that craving.

In winter, walking through the local supermarket’s fresh produce section, it’s easy to believe we live in a one-season world. Vegetables and fruit that require summer’s heat are stacked high in the bins. But one taste and it’s easy to tell, these delectables have been grown out of season or traveled long distances to reach our tables.

Root vegetables like celery root, beets, turnips and potatoes grow well in the colder months. When roasted, their starches convert into sugar, coaxing the best out of these subterranean gems.

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