Monday, March 31, 2014

The Winter Cooking Issue

My rescue kitty, Ember, "helps" me de-stem
cilantro leaves for salsa as I sip an
"appletini" made with spiced rum
and homemade apple confiture
When the temperatures plummet for weeks at a time, I turn to the stove for warmth.  Not to heat my house, but to boil and braise, bake and roast, simmer and sauté my way through the frigid season.  I put on my favorite music, tie an apron around my waist, and start stirring, mixing, spreading and folding ingredients together to form sweet and savory dishes that warm my heart and nourish my soul.

I keep the temperature quite low in my 150-year-old farmhouse in Baltimore County, Maryland, in order to save money; just barely 63 degrees during the day and a cool 49 at night (I am snuggled beneath a down comforter and flannel sheets all night, after all).  During the day, when I’m not conducting research at the Library of Congress or the National Library of Medicine in Washington D.C. on behalf of my longtime employer, I huddle at the computer in my home office wearing several layers of winter leggings, wool sweaters and thick socks.  But after only a few minutes in the kitchen on any given Sunday, with Celtic or jazz or even symphonic melodies blasting from my stereo, I gleefully shed the layers and dance from sink to stove to cutting board and fridge.  I am in my “happy place” when I’m cooking, and the glow emanating from my body as I slice and dice is an easy indication of the sheer joy I derive from this pastime.

Here, then, is a pictorial compendium of the foods I have been preparing these past few months to soothe my psyche and fill my stomach.

Butternut squash lasagna was a
good way to ward off an
early December chill
Wrapping dough around the
apples and pumpkin before
baking gives the gallette
its own edible "pie plate"
In early December I made a tasty lasagna using butternut squash instead of meat, courtesy of Food Network magazine. The result was quite good, but was a laborious process for not many fewer calories than a meat version.  For dessert I baked a rustic apple-pumpkin gallette, also from Food Network, which paired the two late autumn foods to fine effect.

Ripe persimmons, fresh ricotta cheese
and ruby pomegranate seeds combine
with arugula to make a gorgeous salad
In early January I found myself with leftover persimmons and kumquats, quite a few of both, actually.  I adore persimmons, having grown up with a persimmon tree in northern California, so I buy a whole case of them every autumn when they come into season.  Now, however, the holidays were over and I still had several left.  I searched the internet for dishes which incorporate persimmons and found a delightful recipe for a persimmon-ricotta salad at What'  I also discovered a heavenly "winter sangria" of pureed persimmons, mangoes and triple sec stirred into red wine at

Fresh kumquats were a perfect
sweet-tart note in this super-rich
dark chocolate  bark recipe
from Martha 
Low-fat ricotta tart with kumquats
was melt-in-your-mouth delicious
By the middle of January I'd unearthed ways to use up my remaining kumquats in luscious, yet calorie-conscious desserts.  First, Martha Stewart gave me decadent chocolate bark with fruit: in this case kumquats sliced razor thin and sprinkled on melted, sugar-free, extra dark chocolate I ordered from Another recipe utilized kumquats to wondrous effect in a velvety, lowfat ricotta tart.

Baked eggplant is enhanced
with fresh pomegranate seeds
As a portion of the stuffing is
scooped from inside the gourd,
I made sure to scrape out
some tender squash, too
To precede these delightful treats, I served slices of baked eggplant in a heady yogurt sauce tinged with saffron strings, and made a colorful "three-pepper" salad of match-sticked bell peppers, onions, and slivered parsley leaves tossed with a dressing of sesame oil and rice vinegar (only 93 calories per cup, according to! For another winter meal that month I stuffed acorn squash with ground pork, chopped carrots, celery and leeks seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic, rosemary and ground coriander (only 190 calories per cup), and served the gourd alongside roasted broccoli and a carrot-avocado salad.

Lean pot roast is tenderized
with soy sauce and sherry and
flavored with Asian spices
Fresh Shiitake mushrooms are
poached and tossed with
mache rosettes in a Dijon
mustard vinaigrette for this
hearty winter salad  
At the end of January I prepared a chuck roast with an Asian twist, courtesy of Wegman's supermarket menu magazine, which is published quarterly and sent to me in the mail because I am a regular shopper there.  Braised in soy sauce and sherry and seasoned with fresh ginger, ground cinnamon, star anise and garlic, the succulent beef was perfect with a poached mushroom salad, also from Wegman's menu magazine.

Lean stew meat is cooked with
bacon to add flavorful depth
Carrots and onions are simmered
in brandy before being added
to the meat
February's cold, snowy days cried out for my all-time winter favorite: Julia Child's original beef bourguignonne, a classic French peasant dish that, while no more than an elaborate stew, is so time-consuming and complex that I only have a chance to make it once a year.  For this unctuous recipe, I spent all afternoon in the kitchen, entertained by my favorite music, while I prepared the individual components that eventually combined to form the savory finale.

I have a giant metal "tea ball" which
I use for my bouquet-garni instead of
cheesecloth.  So much easier!
Once the carrots and onions are
added to the meat, the whole thing
is drenched in red wine and put in
the oven for a couple of hours
First, lean stew meat is sautéed in bacon fat for richness, then cooked with onions and carrots in burgundy and broth. To that, a bouquet-garni is added of fresh parsley, bay leaves, thyme, cloves, peppercorns, allspice and garlic and the whole thing is put into the oven for two and a half hours. Meanwhile, I blanch, peel and score a cross-hatch in the root ends of thirty or forty tiny pearl onions and sauté them in butter.  More broth is added and they simmer with a little sugar (I use Splenda) and salt for almost thirty minutes.  The third step is to sauté a pound of fresh cremini mushrooms in a little more butter, add some sliced shallots and grind in some black pepper.

Tiny pearl onions (I used red ones!)
are browned in butter and sugar
Meaty cremini mushrooms are
sautéed with shallots before
all the ingredients are combined
into a luscious stew
Once the beef comes out of the oven, I extract and de-fat the jus, then mix in a classic buerre-manie and pour the thickened sauce over the meat.  Finally, the onions and mushrooms are combined with the stew meat and the whole thing simmers on the stove awhile.  Served in wide, shallow soup plates and accompanied by a fine Pinot Noir, the mouthwatering stew is akin to a little slice of heaven on a raw winter day.  There is just nothing like it.

Cubes of butternut squash combine
with white wine to make
surprisingly hearty soup
Roasted tomatoes add a smoky
note to vegetarian chili
By the end of February, I was ready for some chili. I opted for a vegetarian version, utilizing butternut squash as a stand-in for beef and adding fresh-roasted and canned tomatoes, lentils, kidney beans and black-eyed peas, as well as white wine, tomato paste and chopped basil, parsley, minced garlic and lots of cumin powder.  I finished that hearty meal with Dulce de Leche cheesecake, a decadent but surprisingly low-calorie treat from the Splenda website, which called for low-fat cream cheese and half a can of dulce de leche (caramel sauce) in a graham-cracker crust.

I inherited my mother's prize
Le Creuset cookware and I swear
nothing beats it for making chili
The recipe for this gorgeous Dulce
de Leche cheesecake can be found
At the beginning of March I used the last of my persimmons to make a vegan vanilla persimmon-banana pudding from and topped each serving with Chia seeds for a satisfying crunch.   Now, it's time to start thinking about bright spring dishes -- pasta primavera comes to mind, that wonderful combination of barely blanched spring green beans, asparagus, baby peas and morel mushrooms, tossed with sautéed cherry tomatoes, lots of garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil leaves, and served over whole wheat spaghetti with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Good thing I love my exercise classes as much as I do my cooking!
The ingredients for Pasta
Primavera highlight
spring's early bounty
"I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food." ~ Erma Bombeck

1 comment:

  1. very nice beautiful pictures an nice Video clips. the trip was very well written out great job Lynell