Winter

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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ChrismaslimabeanstewOne of my new year's resolutions is to use more of the food stored in my pantry. My shelves are overflowing with packages of grains, heirloom beans, dried pasta, Asian sauces, jams, mustards, sardines, cans of tomatoes and more. My goal is to cook with something that is languishing in the pantry or my equally stuffed-to-capacity freezer, every single day. Yesterday I chose some Christmas lima beans to transform into a vegetarian main dish. Eat less meat and more vegetarian food! That is yet another new year's resolution.

Christmas lima beans are sometimes called chestnut lima beans. When uncooked they are beautifully speckled like a calico horse, and when cooked they are more uniformly brown like chestnuts--but they really don't taste like chestnuts, despite what you may have heard. They have a texture a bit like russet potatoes and a mild earthy flavor but none of the characteristic sweetness or dry crumbly texture of chestnuts.

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kiwimuffin.jpgJust when I thought fava beans had a lot of names, along comes the kiwifruit (kiwi) originally known as the Chinese Gooseberry. It's also known as the Macaque peach, the vine pear, the sunny peach, the hairy bush fruit, and my personal favorite, "strange fruit."

Call it what you will. Just make sure you eat these edible berries. The kiwifruit is the edible berry of the cultivar group of the woody vine Actinidia deliciosa and hybrids between this and other species in the genus Actinidia, which is native to Shaanxi, China. But who doesn't already know that?

Kiwis are grown in mild climates all over the world. Surprisingly, New Zealand is not the leading world producer of their famed fruit. The land of pasta, balsamic vinegar, and buffalo mozzarella is – Italy. Though I wouldn't recommend eating kiwi with any of the aforementioned foods.

Kiwis are both delicious and nutritious. With a flavor that tastes like a mix of citrus, grapes, strawberries, and bananas, a kiwi is both sweet and tart. Though the hairy outer skin is edible, I'd advise against eating it. That is, unless you really need the fiber – a kiwi's fiber is tripled with the skin on. If you do eat it, then have a new container of dental floss at the ready. You'll need it.

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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.

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blackbeansald.jpg As soon as the new year arrives, January becomes the month all about weight loss, getting fit, eating healthy, etc. We all put on the extra pounds during the holiday months by eating our favorite hearty comfort foods and then try to shed them as fast as we can. Just like everyone else, I too make a new year's resolution I don't quite keep. But this year I hope to follow through with my plan to eat more and more vegetables and a lot less meat. My way of eating during the winter months has always included lots of soups and stews that feature meat. But I'm finding that once I change the foods I eat and the techniques I use to cook them, that I can follow through with my plan. To achieve this, I try to think of the foods of summer, such as salads, grilled chicken and fish, and other recipes that remind me of healthier eating.

This brightly colored black bean salad not only reminds me of summer, but it also has the frugal sensibility of winter. The dried beans, once cooked, are combined with fresh vegetables that are available year round. For this recipe, I prefer using dried beans instead of canned, because they're more economical and I can control the flavoring of the cooking liquid as well as the texture of the beans. Most canned beans tend to be overcooked. This high-fiber salad is great for a quick lunch on its own or alongside a protein for dinner. It also works exceptionally well as a salsa for an appetizer when paired with baked tortilla chips. It's versatile, healthy, and flavorful. It makes for a great healthy start to the new year.

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