Changes, resolutions & looking back

A chef is a person who cooks food, for one or for many, savory or sweet, professionally or at home. I am a trained chef, a person who loves to cook—any time and for any excuse. I find all kinds of food exciting and I hope in this column I will be able to share some of that excitement with you.

January is the month for changes, resolutions, for looking back and ahead at the same time. To eat “healthy” is a losing New Year’s resolution. Every time you use the word healthy in a recipe you lose people’s interest. They begin to think about horrible childhood vegetables: hard nasty carrot squares, peas so overcooked they turn gray and mushy, and other childhood vegetable horrors. The key is to make yummy delicious food that happens to be healthy. It should be seasonal and fun to prepare.

January is a surprising month with very different seasonal fruits and vegetables. Winter vegetables are starchy (potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips), rooty (carrots and parsnips), dense (winter squash and beets) and sometimes bitter. A huge group is the cruciferous family including broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. The high point of the January menu is citrus, like the many types of oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemons. No one is overly excited about a parsnip or a turnip, but a Key Lime Pie or an Orange Up-Side-Down Cake is a January treat.

January foods include butternut squash, carrots and potatoes in creamy soups and chowders; salmon prepared with citrus and potatoes; and winter fruits in cakes and crumbles. They can be easy to prepare and last several days. A seafood or potato chowder with biscuits or corn bread is a filling meal, warm and definitely winter comfort food, yet this can be low-calorie, healthy and seasonal food as well. This month’s columns will have recipes emphasizing winter foods with recipes and tips to easily create a few great dishes.

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Farmer’s Market Winter Roasted Vegetable Soup

2 carrots, cut into bite-size pieces

1 sweet bell pepper, any color, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 large white or yellow onion, large dice

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2 red potatoes, cut into bite-size cubes

1 15 ounce can white beans, well drained and rinsed

4 large mushrooms, sliced (optional)

2 garlic cloves 2 teaspoons canola or olive oil

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 14 ounce can, no salt added, diced tomatoes

1 quart (32 oz.) no salt added vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1 and 1/2 cups Kale, shredded (may substitute Swiss Chard)

Directions:

Chop Kale like spinach and steam until soft. Add with stock/broth 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 Tablespoons dried parsley salt and pepper to taste Preheat oven to 425ºF. Spray a rimmed sheet pan, line with parchment paper, spray again. Toss vegetables ….carrots through garlic….. in oil and spices. Mix gently. Spread vegetables in a single layer on the sheet pan. Roast vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring them halfway. Pour the canned chopped tomatoes evenly over the roasting vegetables, top with thyme sprigs and roast an additional 15 minutes; until the tomatoes and vegetables have turned slightly golden brown. Remove thyme stems. Transfer vegetables/tomatoes mixture into a large soup pot or dutch oven. Slowly add vegetable stock. Season with black pepper and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes and all the vegetables are completely cooked. Add steamed Kale or Swiss Chard and simmer for an additional 5 minutes until the Kale has wilted. Add chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste Stir to combine , simmer 5 to 10 minutes to warm completely and remove from heat. Serve warm. Serves 6. The technique of roasting the vegetables eliminates the time consuming chore of cooking all the vegetables separately, retains more vitamins and minerals and increases the flavor! Cutting the vegetables the same size will ensure even cooking. You may substitute or add any other seasonal vegetables. Using chicken broth instead of vegetable broth will change the flavor but it is still good. Add any other vegetables you may enjoy.

Very Good Brussels Sprouts – Two Versions

Traditional Brussels Sprouts:

1¼ pounds Brussels Sprouts, trimmed

6 slices bacon, cooked completely and crumbled

½ large red or white onion, peeled, sliced into half rings

½ large red sweet bell pepper, diced

1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence, or spice of choice, as parsley, thyme

Or use 2 Tablespoons lemon juice and no spices

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Coarse black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. Trim Brussels sprouts to remove any damaged or loose leaves. Trim bottoms if needed, cut in half lengthwise; for larger sprouts, cut into quarters. Cook sprouts in boiling water until barely tender, 5 minutes. Drain, Set aside. In a large skillet cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon, drain on paper towels. Crumble. Leave 1 Tablespoon bacon grease in skillet, add olive oil. Heat to medium. Add onion and red bell peppers to pan and saute, stirring often until onions, peppers are soft, but not browned, 5 minutes. Reduce heat if needed. Stir in salt, coarse black pepper and Herbs de Provence. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring and tossing until sprouts are tender and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Add crumbled bacon and toss. Serves 4 to 6.

Spicy Southwestern Brussels Sprouts: Prepare Brussels sprouts as in the recipe above except do not add Herbs de Provence or any other seasoning. Substitute 1 teaspoon red chile powder. Mix 2 Tablespoons chile in Adobo sauce, (chop the chiles) with 2 Tablespoons water. Add to the cooked onions and peppers with the brussels sprouts and cook, stirring and tossing until sprouts are coated with sauce ,tender and warmed through, about 5 minutes. Add crumbled bacon and toss. Serves 4 to 6.

Irish Soda Bread

Preheat oven to 375ºF

An 8 or 9 inch round cake pan, lined with parchment paper lightly greased, or a sheet pan sprinkled with corn meal

4 cups all-purpose flour or 2½ cups AP flour and 1½ cups whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon baking soda (high altitude use 1½ teaspoons)

1 to 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 cups buttermilk

¾ cup dried cherries, cranberries, currants or golden raisins soaked in hot water to soften, then drained, or omit

¼ cup very soft or melted butter

Directions:

Whisk dry ingredients together Add dried softened fruit if you chose Stir in buttermilk to form a biscuit type dough Knead on floured surface for 1 to 2 minutes Shape into one large round or 2 small rounds Cut an “ X “ into top with a sharp knife Brush with melted butter. Bake for 35 minutes at 375ºF 45 to 55 minutes for larger loaf Remove from oven. Remove from pan. Brush with additional butter while still warm for a softer crust. Cool on a wire rack Yield, 1 large or 2 small loaves Try adding ¾ cup multi-grain cereal for a multi-grain taste, texture. Irish Soda Bread is always baked with excised “X” on the top. This part of a medieval superstition of “letting the devil out”. In reality, this allows the bread, which is very dense and has limited rising ability, to rise as much as possible. This bread is richer and sweeter, if made using the whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour combination. The crust will be soft and easy to slice if you rub/brush the crust with melted butter immediately after removing from the oven. To slice, cut the loaf in half, then placing cut side down, slice the loaf to desired thickness.

Mediterranean Salmon Pasta

2 cups uncooked multigrain or wholewheat penne pasta (16 oz. pkg.)

2 cups fresh broccoli florets

1 Tablespoon olive oil, or oil from sun-dried tomatoes

1 pound salmon, cut into pieces

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced (or you may substitute your favorite veggie)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 medium green onions, sliced

8.5 ounce jar sun-dried tomato slices or halves, packed in oil cut into julienne slivers

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped or 1 Tablespoon dried Basil leaves

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1 cup reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta (without salt added) as directed on package, adding broccoli florets for the last 3 minutes of cooking time. Drain. Set aside. In a large skillet, heat olive oil, over medium low heat, add salmon, saute 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until salmon is tender. Remove salmon and set aside. In the same skillet, increase heat to medium high, cook and stir in garlic and mushrooms (or your favorite veggies), and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, onions and basil. Cook 1 minute longer. In a two cup glass measuring cup, mix cornstarch and broth until smooth. Add to vegetable mixture in the skillet. Stir for 1 to 2 minutes until sauce is thickened. Stir in cooked pasta and broccoli. Add salmon. Cook and stir until completely heated through. Serve with grated parmesan cheese. Serves 4. This recipe is very versatile.

A few possible changes: Eliminate mushrooms, replacing with cauliflower florets, cooked with the broccoli & penne pasta. Add sweet bell peppers to garlic. then the sun-dried tomato & onions. Replace penne with any other shaped pasta, wheels, macaroni, etc. Replace penne with spaghetti or linguine. Cook broccoli separately. Replace salmon with cooked shrimp, chopped ham or rotisserie chicken, or eliminate meat/seafood entirely. Replace salmon with artichoke hearts, fried okra bites or eggplant.

Winter Fruit Up-Side-Cake or Scottish Duff

Cranberry Pecan, Orange & Orange Pineapple

Cranberry Pecan: 

For the topping

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1- 1/2cups fresh or frozen cranberries, no need to thaw

1/2 cup pecans, toasted lightly and chopped, or use pecan pieces

1/3 cup sugar (May use light brown or white granulated sugar)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease bottom and sides of an 8 or 9 inch square glass baking pan with butter. Spread cranberries evenly in pan, top with pecans. Sprinkle sugar over all. Set baking dish aside.

For the cake : This is the duff … a light, thin almost cookie like cake

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

1 large egg

1/2 cup white granulated sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Whisk egg and 1/2 cup white sugar, on medium speed of an electric mixer until mixture is pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce mixer speed to medium low and gradually add flour and then salt. Mix well on low speed. Pour melted butter, in a slow steady stream, mixing until smooth. Slowly pour cake batter into baking dish, covering cranberries & pecans. There is very little batter, spread it evenly over fruit. Bake in 325ºF oven until golden brown and a knife inserted in the cake center comes out clean; about 40/45minutes. Remove from oven, transfer to a wire cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of baking dish to loosen cake, and invert on to a cake plate or serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cuts 9 pieces.

Orange & Orange/Pineapple Up-Side-Down Cake Variations: Preheat oven to 325ºF. Grease bottom of an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish with 2Tablespoons butter. Cover bottom of dish completely with light brown sugar. Spread 1 small can drained crushed pineapple over sugar. Top with slices of 3 or 4 peeled and sliced oranges. Pour batter over pineapple/oranges and bake 35 to 45 minutes until cake is golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool a few minutes on wire rack. Run a knife around sides of baking dish to loosen cake. Invert on to a cake plate Orange Up-Side-Down Cake : As above omit crushed pineapple. Blood oranges are beautiful in this cake. You may need additional orange slices. Tip: A good quality vanilla cake mix works well and will make 2 cakes— you will need to double the fruit topping!