Heartier Fare for the Cooler Weather
Eating and cooking with the freshest food is the fulfillment of any chef worth his or her weight. And whether you are a master chef or a busy mom cooking for four, you want your meal to be delicious and nutritious. Fresh foods mean better taste, better nutrients, and of course a better meal. Stews, game meats, fruit pies, berry cobbler, pumpkins, squash, root vegetables and my favorite white and black winter truffles are at their best in the fall and winter season Think about it. If you are buying pomegranates in the summer, where were they picked? Most of us (at least those living in the US) know that that fall and early winter is typically the season for pomegranates. Most summer-found pomegranates are picked, packed and shipped to your grocery from a far-away location stored in a vacuum walk-in fridge. It boils down to a simple time factor. Fresh foods are those that are close to you. My quest to help you be the best chef possible, I’ve come up with a list of the best seasonal foods for the winter. You might even want to print out a copy and keep it handy this winter as you head out to select your groceries and create exceptional meals for your friends and family.
Cardoons look like celery, taste similar to artichoke and salsify. Look for firm, plump and white wide stalks. Cardoons can be fried, baked or prepared into a puree. I like to cook it, puree it and add it to mashed potatoes and serve with fresh meats, or add cooked cardoons to a mornay sauce and serve with your favorite fish.
Pomegranates are best at the end of October through mid November. They are great for juicing, add some star anise and ginger and serve with your favorite fish. Pomegranates are nutritious and contain a large amount of potassium and vitamin C. If wrapped and stored in the coldest part of your refrigerator, they can last up to 2 months.
Concord Grapes are available in late September through October. Great for juicing, sauce making, jams and jellies or just eating off the vine. They have a deep purple color and a strong grape flavor.
Cauliflower is an under-used vegetable. The flowering stalk comes from the cabbage family that is high in vitamin C. If wrapped tightly with plastic film wrap it can last up to one week. Excellent for risotto, eat raw, serve as a side dish or puree as a dip to serve at your next party.
Truffles – there are white, black, summer and winter truffles. My favorite truffle is the Italian white Alba truffle. It is one of the most expensive and is a hardest to find ingredient.
Make sure the truffle is firm, not mushy, and without worm holes. The rounder the truffle the better taste and that means they are usually aromatic. Wash them under cold water and carefully scrub them with a soft plastic brush until clean. Slice thinly and serve with salads and carpaccio. Making a truffle butter or oil is always a wonderful idea. They are also great with fettuccine and lobster.
Brussel Sprouts – I prefer to buy them on the stalk. The season is usually late August through March. Remove the sprouts from the stem. Cut them into quarters. Next place them into a hot sauté pan with a little oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown. Serve with your favorite meat dish.
Apples are wonderful from September through November. There are over a thousand different varieties. My favorite is the green granny smith apple. You can eat it out of your hand. Bake a delicious apple pie by adding ginger, allspice, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar and apple cider. It’s also very good when you prepare a simple green apple sorbet.
Pan Grilling -if you thought your Bar-B-Q grilling was over for the fall and winter season you’re wrong! You can grill on your kitchen stove-top. Place a cast iron grill pan over a medium heat, when the pan is hot brush your steak, fish, chicken or vegetables with olive oil. Season it with salt and pepper or your animal favorite rub. Place it into the pan for those great grill marks. Then, place a tablespoon of wood chips in the corner of the pan away from the food. Drizzle with a little olive oil and cover the pan. This allows you to create that authentic smoky flavor.
Kaffir is an Asian lime tree leaf that has a bright green color with a distinct shape that looks like two leaves joined together from end to end. It has aromatic citrus flavor. Great with fish or meats. You can also add it to your favorite stew.
Game Meats – there are many varieties that are wild and farmed. All kinds of sizes and types from rabbit to elk. There are modern-day sophisticatedfarmers that will change the animal’s diet to your specifications. For example, an animal that eats pinecones and bark off the trees will have an extremely gamy flavor. If the animal is on a special diet eating only dried berries, corn and organic grains it will have a less gamy flavor, choose your taste!!!!
Planking – what is planking, a new sport? Planking is cooking on wood planks to flavor foods such as vegetables, fish, meat and game birds. My favorite woods to cook on are cedar and elder wood. First soak the wood planks in sea water or salted water with your choice of herbs, garlic or onion. Soak overnight, so that the wood is water logged.
Comfort Foods are back! Stews, soups and casseroles to name a few. It’s back to the basics, the food your grandmother use to cook, meatloaf, braised oxtail, short ribs, macaroni and cheese, veal stew, beef stroganoff, lamb shanks and chili are wonderful ways to bring the family back to the table.
Preserving Foods – I prefer the traditional way using ancient techniques such as jarring, pickling, smoking, curing and salting. Preserving the foods of the changing seasons is a great way to be able to enjoy product not available in the markets during certain times of the year. Chutneys, marmalades, relishes, jellies, jams, pickled vegetable oils, vinegars, lemon curd, sauces and spice mixes are a few ideas.
Fresh Herbs are a wonderful way to add aromatic flavors and aromas to your favorite foods. When I am roasting or sautéing, I like to add it to the pan or use it in your salad, appetizer entrée or dessert. It’s a lot of fun to experiment. My favorite herbs are mint, rosemary, lemon thyme and marjoram.
Pumpkins – there are many different varieties. When choosing your pumpkin, make sure it has a stem that’s not dried out and that it is also firm and has no soft spots or worm holes. Pumpkin makes a great side dish, add a little honey and Szechwan peppercorns. Tip: it also makes a great soup and add some seafood to make it a meal
Master Chef Erik Blauberg