Winter

pompotatoesWith cookies and cocktails flying everywhere the last month, I almost forgot to share this recipe for Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate Glaze. That would have been a shame because this dish, which I created a couple of months ago, has skyrocketed to the top of my go-to recipe list.

Creamy, sweet, red-fleshed Garnet sweet potatoes are roasted until caramelized then drizzled with a tangy honey and pomegranate glaze. Then they're dotted with ruby red pomegranate arils, toasted walnuts, and savory thyme for a highly textured, flavorful, and aromatic side dish.

Pomegranates are easy to find now due to their popularity at Christmas time. But don't delay, since their season usually runs from late October through the end of January.

I'm telling you, this is one side dish that can steal the show from an entree any night of the week.

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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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polentaCornmeal is a staple foodstuff in the cuisines of many cultures throughout the world, cooked in nearly similar ways. It can be found in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the South where it is known as grits. Cornmeal is made from the grinding of dried corn kernels that have had the husk and germ removed, which gives it greater shelf life.

Polenta, as cornmeal is known in Italy, came to popularity in Roman times when it was eaten as a basic porridge. Its origins as a peasant dish have now been displaced by its availability in high-end restaurants. It is very versatile and can be served alongside a variety of other foods, such as meats, stews, sauces, and fish.

With a nod toward tradition, in this recipe I serve the polenta with a mushroom ragù, a combination of two different varieties of mushrooms, oyster and cremini, sautéed and then simmered with mushroom broth from dried porcinis. But any available mushrooms can be used for this recipe.

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tortillasoup.jpgLet’s pretend for just a tiny moment that it has not been in the 80s here in Los Angeles over the past few days. We can also pretend that I did not lay outside in shorts and no t-shirt in the sun on a big madras print blanket with a book and three small dogs who insisted on standing on my back, butt and head. And let’s also pretend that yesterday I didn’t get home and fight the urge to run straight to the grill with a beer in my hand.

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Image I would like to say that I loved spinach as a kid, but I mostly detested it along with other vegetables like peas and Brussels sprouts. But now I adore them all. I remember my mom using the Popeye cartoon as an example of why I should eat spinach: so I would grow up big and strong. I'm pretty sure that cartoon was created as propaganda by a team of spinach farmers and mothers. As children, we are all genetically programmed to dislike bitter flavors. That is why kids don't like most vegetables. As we grow into adults our taste buds develop to appreciate and enjoy bitter and even hot and spicy foods.

This simple recipe for spinach is almost too easy for me to include here, but it's my favorite way to enjoy it. It begins with sautéing thinly sliced garlic and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. The spinach is added and cooked until it wilts. For a bit of crunch, I garnish with toasted pine nuts. The flavor of the sautéed spinach is hardly bitter. There really is no excuse to boil or blanch spinach. Doing so just removes all the nutrients and blackens the leaves. Try this side dish with a wonderful dinner and you will see how rewarding it is. I recently paired it with roast beef, mashed potatoes, and Côtes du Rhône wine.

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