Winter

blackbeandip.jpgRed 28! Red 28! I like candy! Hut! Hut!

This Sunday is the 44th Super Bowl in American history. Despite its youth, it will be the largest food consumption event of the year, trailing only Thanksgiving. It isn’t a national holiday (though many would like it to be), but that doesn’t stop over 130 million Americans from treating it like one.

It's estimated that Americans will spend over $55 million dollars on food for the Super Bowl. What will all that money buy? Mostly snack foods -- more than 30 million pounds. Pretzels and popcorn get the most play, though chips and guacamole have gained yardage in the last few years. According the California Avocado Commission, over 50 million pounds of avocados will be sold in the days leading up to the Super Bowl, most of which will turned into guacamole and scooped up with 15,000 tons of chips.

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farrosaladWhen I first got married  I used to ask my husband if he wanted salad with dinner, the answer was usually "no." After a few years I wised up and started serving him salad without asking first. But often he didn't eat much of it, despite my raving "Have some salad! It's delicious!"  Lately I've hit upon a solution. I serve salad as a main dish, or pile everything onto it so it's an integral part of the meal. Main dish salads, if only someone had told me 12 years ago! 

During the Winter or whenever it's cold outside salads, either side salads or main dish salads are not top of mind, but they should be. Just as Summer is the perfect time for cold soup, Winter is the ideal season to try a warm salad. I like to start with a cooked grain like farro or quinoa then use seasonal fruits or vegetables and add some heartier elements too, in this case feta cheese and almonds. 

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salad-heroI’m perhaps one of the most happy-go-lucky kind of guys when it comes to food. I eat everything, enjoy a wide variety of foods, and can find something to eat just about anywhere I am. This ease disappears when I talk about pizza and my world view becomes nothing short of black and white. But only with pizza. Stay with me here.

I will eat the fanciest of hamburgers. I will eat the trashiest of hamburgers. In this case, I like the high brow and I can get down with the low brow, too. But pizzas? Forget it. I’ve spent half of my life consuming gummy, bready, greasy, gross pizza and I just won’t do it anymore. In fact, I haven’t in twenty years or so. Because once you taste a Neapolitan-style pizza (my personal benchmark) it’s hard to go backwards. There’s a balance of ingredients, a simplicity in its construction, and to me it gets no better. My apologies to my Chicago deep-dish pizza loving’ friends. I really mean that.

Anyway, when I tend to find my idea of pizza perfection I will visit regularly. It could be a bakery in Rome, a take-away window in NYC, or in this case my local pizza place in Long Beach called Michael’s Pizzeria. I’ve written about it before, and it’s one of my standard go-to places here in town. And for the longest time I refused to veer from their margherita pizza.

But one day a salad on the menu caught my eye, and now it seems to be the only thing I want to eat (in addition to my pizza). Picture this: winter root vegetables, pancetta, roasted pumpkin seeds and herb buttermilk dressing. It’s clean, flavorful, crunchy,  with a fantastic balance between the sweet & earthy and the tangy and salty.

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irishstewI feel compelled to get my final tastes of Winter under my belt. The cold days are perfect matches for braising meats, chowders and simmering soups.

This time of the year, I revel in the thought of a warm hearty dinner that's not too complicated. Winter stews are my perfect canvas for putting together some of my favorite ingredients, cooking them up, and transforming them into thick and rich savory blends of meat and vegetables. The bubbling pot warms my kitchen and even my house while the aromas whet my appetite for something good to come.

Since March is upon us I took the opportunity to celebrate the land of the Emerald Isle, nothing could be more appropriate than Irish Beef Stew. Now I'm no Dubliner, but beef stew made with Guinness and red wine are the perfect combinations to bring a little Irish luck into my life.

Personally, one of the best things about winter stews is the variety of root vegetables abundant this time of year. Peppery parsnips, crunchy carrots and potatoes in many sizes and colors are just a few of the choices available.

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ImageAs part of my resolution to eat more salad, I am trying to buy ingredients that can be turned into a salad without too much fuss. You practically need to buy tender salad greens every day so I've been buying crunchy vegetables and hardier leafy greens instead. On my shopping lists these days are daikon radish, carrots, celery, fennel and red radishes. Shaved thin, they all are great salad fixings. I also buy avocados, and some citrus fruit to gussy up my salads.

I made this particular salad one night when I wasn't hungry enough for dinner and I had very little in the house to cook anyway. I loved it so much that I keep going back to the store to buy the same ingredients so I can make it again! It's based on my very faulty recollection of the Grapefruit Jicama Salad from the Slanted Door.

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