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A GOOD DINNER > Eat Winter! Week 3: Hot Spice for Cold Nights

Eat Winter! Week 3: Hot Spice for Cold Nights


We all crave a bit of heat on the inside, or rather for the insides, when it’s cold outside.  Which is why winter is the perfect time for soul-soothing, heart-warming spicy food. I lust after the kind of hot, fiery, wake-me-up and keep-me-excited intensity of Indian or Korean dishes as well as the gentle heat-meets-sweet of cinnamon, the vigor of ginger, the aromatic ease of cumin, and the subtle distinctions of sharp, smoky, and pungent you get from all those great Mexican chilli peppers.

I couldn’t wait, so decided to switch things around a bit in the Eat Winter! celebration calendar and focus this week on all kinds of piquant, piercing, and even just ever so slightly earnest spice on the tongue.  Where on the earth do you find your favorite spicy cusine?  Do you have a favorite peppery dish you love to do in cold weather? Or is there one spice that really gets you excited when the mercury drops?

Stay tuned for podcasts this week on great ideas on spicing up your cooking and your cocktails.

Braised Lamb with Garlic and Kale

It seems like everyone else got as distracted from their braising as I did.  Actually, I did a lot of braising but I haven’t managed to post about it.  And I’ve been so embarrassed about my total inability to take a decent photo. However, in the final days of braising week…

lamb braise

This is my absolutely favorite braise for winter.  And so easy, flexible, and packed with good winter nutrition.

First, the meat: lamb shoulder.  Shoulder from pig (Boston Butt), cow (chuck), lamb, goat – it’s all good for braising and braising is exactly what it needs to show its melty, tender potential.  I used shoulder chops this week and tossed the bones in the freezer for Scotch broth at some other date.  You can use a shoulder roast as well.  I’ve even used neck chops – the secret ingredient of Lancashire hotpot.

Next, the flavor.  Of course a lot of the flavor comes from the meat itself but it needs a little finesse.  Lots of garlic, rosemary, and sage does the trick.

And finally, the veg and beans.  Lovely, leafy, green vitamin-packed kale makes this dish something more than just another heavy, meaty winter braise.  And if you’ve got an eater who has refused kale before, try this.  You won’t recognize the vegetable.  Plus, I throw in a can of white beans when I’m lazy.  Dried beans go in at the beginning with extra liquid when I’m feeling more virtuous.

A recipe of sorts

1 pound lamb shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 cup water or white wine (of half and half)

10 cloves garlic, peeled but kept whole

1 large rosemary sprig

3 sprigs of sage

1 large bunch kale, stems and spine removed, then leaves coarsely chopped

1 can white beans, drained

Generously – and I do mean generously – salt and pepper the meat.  Brown in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add water or wine, garlic cloves, rosemary, and sage.  Bring to a vigorous simmer, reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for 90 minutes.  Check occasionally to make sure there’s enough liquid, add more if need be. Add kale and beans, and stir into evenly distribute.  Cook until kale is wilted and tender, about 10 more minutes.

You don’t want to drown the meat but you don’t want a dry pan – and there’s a huge range of liquid in between that will work just fine, so don’t worry about being exact.  That’s the glory of braising. You can serve as is, with rice, or even egg noodles.

Happy St. Wulfstan’s Day

Have all those New Year’s good intentions to eat more vegetables, up the whole grains, or cut fat and sugar already begun to elude you?  Turn your troubles to St. Wulfstan, patron saint of dieters and vegetarians. What’s his story?  In a quasi-mythical nutshell, having allowed himself to be distracted from his religious devotions by the wafting aroma of a nearby roast goose, Wulfstan vowed never to taste meat again.

Which is a good time to mention a site I quite like, and that’s saying a lot because I’ve never really liked much advice about diets and all the craziness it stirs up in people.  Second Helping, however, is like dieting for food enthusiasts.  How to get in shape and get healthy by learning to understand, appreciate, and like food rather than just using it.  And so many excellent stories and personal experiences rather than some dodgy method or other.  Russ Lane: smart founder after big transformations.

Food Fund Raisers for Haiti

Just want to get the word out on two events on opposite sides of the US to raise funds for Haiti.  If you know of other food related event to raise money for Haiti, please send them my way.


Saturday, 30 January 2010, 10:00-16:00, 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880

Please come to our cookbook auction and food festival to raise funds for the UN World Food Programme efforts in Haiti. Join our emcee Food Network’s Daisy Martinez as we silent auction personally inscribed copies of her new book Daisy: Morning, Noon & Night and dinner for four with her at New Rochelle’s Don Coqui restaurant. Other auction items include a signed copy of Julie & Julia, and books by Bravo Top Chef Judge and Chopped Host Ted Allen; gift certificate to the Institute of Culinary Education and Bravo Top Chef Master’s contestant, Chef Rick Moonen.

$7 Admission. Silent Auction. Live music.


Saturday, 23 January 2010, 10:00-2:00pm

Three locations: Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Gioia Pizzeria in North Berkeley, and Bi-Rite Market on 18th St. in the Mission (SF)

Come spend a little money on something sweet (or savory). In fact, come prepared to spend a lot!  We want to make big bucks for our brothers and sisters in Haiti, so our fundraising goal is $7,500. Can one little bakesale help make a difference? We think so!

All of the money we raise will be donated to Dr. Paul Farmer’s partners-in-health (PIH).

Eat Winter Week 2: Braising, Stewing, and Slow Cooking

braising pic

That’s the theme for the Eat Winter! week of 18-24 January

Winter is the perfect time to delight in very, very slow food.  That is, braising, stewing, and all other methods of slow cooking that allow you to make a meal and then read an entire novel, clean the whole house, or plan more dinner parties while it does it’s crazy magic in the pot.  Leave it alone and it will come home, bringing its saucy loveliness along.

Not to mention that when a braise is on the menu, you can sit and enjoy your guests, having put dinner on often hours before – rather than hiding out in the kitchen in the final moments of cooking frenzy and missing cocktails.

I also love slow, leisurely cooking for the sheer frugality of it.  Because it is the cheaper cuts that do best with hot, wet, unhurried methods, it’s a great time to support your local farmers or at least look to a better supplier for hormone-free and antibiotic-free meats, preferably grass fed.  While you may not feel able to fork out for high-quality meat in barbecue season, winter allows you a chance to try chuck, shoulder, neck, ribs, and other tough cuts that are the least expensive.

Get inspired by the empress of braising, Molly Stevens, with the latest podcast on braising.  And then report back with your experiments and enjoyments as well links to your own blog posts and pics for a chance to win a copy of Eat Feed Autumn Winter.

Eat, Sleep, Dream

pie crust

I don’t sleep much these days. In fact, I’m posting this at 3:37 am.

I have a daughter who is an eager breast feeder and a reluctant snoozer.  I have a big, lovable, needy dog who insists he can’t sleep in his own expensive dog bed and can only get warm under our covers – that is until his kidney issues force him to paw your head in heavy big-dog thumps to go outside again. I have an ordinary-size, lovable husband hooked up to a groaning CPAP machine. And I have two very sassy cats.  All packed into a rather petite house.

Plus I have what I call a loud head, though others might just say a lot on my mind.  This loud head is not so much voices from another planet as a running orgasm of ideas that I can’t shut down.  Always has been that way.  I am the last person you want around if the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man were taking over the city.

In my very early days as a graduate student, I couldn’t stop writing inside my head even after I’d turned out the lights and hunkered down for the night (or rather the remaining hours of the morning).  Until I developed zen and that art of pie crust.

Visualize a pie crust on your counter, rolling pin in hand.  Roll to twelve o’clock.  Now three o’clock.  Then to six … and on to … nine… back…to…tw…el…vvvvv.  Typically it takes a few more go rounds and bit of picking up the crust and turning to prevent sticking. (I’m a nut for details even in my sleep).  The repetitive motion is like counting sheep for culinarians.

Many years later, during a series of unfortunate events, I used to force my bed mate to play a variation on “going on a picnic” with me. But for each letter, the answer had to be really good.  Something clever and specific.  Not just apples, beets, candy, and a Danish.  But Alsatian onion tarts, braised lamb shanks, caramelized onions, and Dutch apple pancakes.  On really bad days (usually his) we’d go round twice.  When I’d had it though, I’d fall asleep mid-cant of green…gage…pl…zzzzz.

But dealing with the shock of my mother’s sudden death 18 months ago, sorting out so much paperwork and my own emotions while starting a temporary life in a city 5 states north, the loudness was kicked up several decibels and running ideas sprinted from one devastating and overwhelming thought to the next.  I needed to give my brain more difficult food problems to solve at night to keep it from veering off into derangement.

What is the most difficult element of cooking?  Architecture.  Not like tall food and stacked desserts but moving through the space of that room you love most.

I began to design kitchens inside my head. Having rehabbed our own kitchen over many years, we then found ourselves with a retro museum piece from 1980 in our rented digs for the year.  And I hate leaving things a mess.  So, I mentally moved walls, changed gas lines, added islands, tore down wallpaper, removed ceiling tiles, pondered several work triangles and considered every possible cabinet front.  I added work lighting, installed interior fittings in drawers, and imagined people arriving for dinner and how they would enter the space.  All inside the privacy of my own head.  Until eventually, sometimes while choosing door hardware or arranging my cookbooks on the shelves above the workspace, I … would … crrraaashhhhhh.

What works for me now is to create recipes until I zonk out.  Because if I don’t, I just brainstorm podcast program ideas until I’ve worked myself up and need to hop on the computer and start emailing guests and picking dates and digging into books and writing show notes and and and AND!

The recipe game works a lot at bedtime like it does any time of the day.  Pick an ingredient.  Something in season, something you saw on sale, something you need to use up in the fridge, something you know your guests coming on Saturday really love.  (Works especially well the night before the farmers’ market.)  Now brainstorm ideas for how to cook – roast, braise, slice, dice, puree – and what spices, herbs, or other fit the flavor profile.  Visualize yourself cooking it in the very circumstances you will have to – home late from work, nothing to do on Saturday, a big family wanting to get involved.  Consider the range of international cultures – would Parmesan help raise the salt and nuttiness? Is udon the right starch? What about a touch of cardamom to play of the Scandinavian heritage of the ingredient? Scroll through your memory bank of perfect restaurant meals with ingredient X or reminisce about that time a friend did it so simply with so little effort.

It’s magic somehow because just as you’ve sorted out a recipe, you are falling asleep, so you repeat it to yourself over and over so as not to forget in the morning.  And thus begins a delightful night of delicious food dreams.

You could also listen to Eat Feed.  One younger listener once told me that the lulling sound of my voice helps her with her sleep issues.  (Insert exclamation, question mark.)  I have to go roll some pie crust so I don’t stay awake worrying about the compliment.

How does food – literal, literary, or metaphorical — help you sleep at night?

Whither hot cereal?

Creamy Wheat(Just barely learning to use a camera)

I have several key breakfast memories from a childhood living with my grandparents.  Weekend waffles, home-made biscuits at the drop of a hat, and hot cereal all through winter.  Unlike most things from my working-class childhood, I have oddly hung on to these.

Of course, I don’t do them quite like I remember.  It’s real maple syrup, not a corn syrup mix. Local eggs. Butter, not shortening in the biscuits. Organic flour all around. And instead of Cream of Wheat with the dated icon, it’s now Bob’s Red Mill Creamy Wheat Cereal.

Or “hot cereal” as we call it around here. Since the cold blew in, I’ve been waking up every morning to a toddler’s pleas for “hot cereal” and realize my program for inculcation is working.  We tromp off to the kitchen with dogs and cats in tow, to boil water, whisk in the grain, flavor it with maple syrup, and then ice it with a mixture of cream and milk.

Life is good at 7:30.

But whither has hot cereal gone?  I can just about remember television ads for Malt-o-Meal as a kid.  And hot-potted my way through freshman year with those packages of instant flavored oatmeals.  But it seems like no one does a proper oatmeal or bothers with farina, even though it takes just minutes.  Cream of rye?  Cornmeal mush?  Not even on most radars these days.

Is it the demise of hot cereal due to not enough of us being raised by our grandmothers or because of some abstract association with gruel or is it something else?  What’s hot on your breakfast table or what’s in your cereal bowl?

Eat Winter Week 1: Bite Your Favorite

(Little secret:  I love winter.)

As I said last winter, “what I love most about this kind of weather is that it really makes you think about your food and turns everyone into just a little bit of a seasonal eater.  Most days you don’t mind driving out to get any old thing but when you have to walk several blocks in knee-deep snow, you really think about what you want, where to get it, and if it’s really worth it.  And then you’re so thankful that you tend to do something really special and often indulgent with it.”

Winter is definitely the thinking person’s time to cook.  One has to be more thoughtful, more careful, and, sometimes, when you don’t want to venture, more frugal and more creative by pulling together the bits of old cheese in the fridge, canned vegetables from the back of the cupboard, and whatever dried beans you haven’t yet used up.

But it’s also a time for the thinking person to develop inspired ways of working with ingredients a lot of people mistakenly think they don’t like.  Enter beets, greens, parsnips.  Nothing makes me happier than to hear from a dinner guest that they had no idea they actually liked some maligned, misshaped root.

This first week of Eat Winter is designed to get locavores singing the praises of their favorite market finds and to encourage others to have a bit of a look around at what you can get nearby.

It’s also a chance to do something original with those ingredients at their very peak right now, even if they come from far away.  It’s a time to treasure rarities.  I don’t eat citrus in summer, I don’t make it the default hand fruit.  Instead I look forward every winter to the few weeks when blood oranges, juice oranges, tangerines, and even Buddha’s hand are at their best.  Also, things like Stilton and other cheeses made especially good in winter by the spring and summer milk.

My passion is parsnips.  Living in New England last year, we ate parsnips from Vermont every week, many times a week.  Usually just cut into fries and roasted with a slather of olive oil and lots of kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper at 425F for 40 minutes.  (Don’t forget to stir every 10 minutes or so to keep the skinnier ones cut from the tapered end from burning.)  This is how you get the most out of parsnip.  It’s that double whammy of sweetness nurtured by the frost and then the roasting that ups the sugar again.

But I also made them into souffles for the book.  And if you’re in need of some audio inspiration, try last winter’s podcast on parsnips.

Feel free to get creative about what it means to be a winter ingredient.  Leave your cooking experiences as comments on the blog and link to your own sites to inspire everyone else.

Let’s get the cold weather cooking started!

Eat Winter – more simply

Or to put it simply

1)    cook what you like in winter

2)    see which themes it fits into

3)    drop a line on the blog bragging about it

4)    maybe win something

5)    have fun

Eat Winter!

I’m revelling in the season and marking the anniversary of our fifth year of podcasting with an “Eat Winter” Challenge Celebration. And naturally, I’m giving away prizes, inviting bloggers on the podcast, highlighting the talents of our listeners, and putting all my bundled-up energy to work making more people excited about winter food.

As much as I love a challenge, (and goodness knows I’ve had a few of them lately), I can’t bring myself to call “Eat Winter” that because it is the time of year I most enjoy being in the kitchen. And “Eat Winter” is not just about adapting and transforming what you find in a certain radius. It’s also about indulging in everything warm, cozy, inviting, delicious, green, frugal, and perfect about cold weather cooking. Like…

  • embracing cooking techniques specifically suited to colder months
  • treasuring far-away foods that are at the peak of their season in winter
  • discovering historical food traditions and the festivals that got our ancestors dancing around the fires on cold dark nights
  • going beyond Mediterranean cliches and finding inspiration in new food cultures that really know how to do winter
  • seeking out ingredients that are not just local but artisanal, handmade, free-range, fair trade, feel-good foods

…and not taking anything for granted the way you might in summer.

So, come revel in whatever approach to the season gets your home fires burning! We hope you discover something new not just about food but about your owns talents in the kitchen.

Here’s how it works:

Each week starts with a Monday post — in which I announce the theme for the week — and runs through Sunday night. (See all the themes in advance at the end of the post.)

At any point in the week, leave a comment on the blog with your recipe or just what you’ve been cooking. And tell the story about your experience! If you’re a blogger, be sure to leave a link to your site. You can comment a summary of what you made with another link to your site or leave the whole dish as a comment – up to you.  This is your show, too!

Each week, I’ll pick my favorite. It might be for the inspiration, originality, elegant simplicity, new conversion, problem overcome, effort, or, quite frankly, anything that stirs me about your passion for winter cooking. The winner gets a free copy of Eat Feed Autumn Winter or an Eat Feed canvas grocery tote and an interview on the podcast talking about the story behind your dish. Once spring arrives, I’ll pick my all-time favorite of the 10 weeks and award a copy of Jeri Quinzio’s Of Sugar and Snow: History of Ice Cream Making to get you thinking ahead to summer.

I’ll be sending out reminders in our newsletter, on the podcast, and on the Eat Feed Facebook page. So, consider signing up for one of them to make it easier, or just check back every Monday on the blog.

And keep an ear out for companion podcasts as we explore winter foods like beets and endive, spicey food cultures like India, and fun winter traditions like Iceland’s Bun Day.

And now for the themes…

Week starting

  • 11 Jan: Celebrate with your favorite winter ingredient! Is it beets, parsnips, greens, winter cheeses, citrus, or something else?
  • 18 Jan: Very, very slow food: Light the home fires and get braising.  Or crank up the Christmas present crock pot. Snuggle up with a good book and let dinner cook itself all day.
  • 25 Jan: Inspiration from cold climates like.  Think Iceland, Canada, Tibet, or Russia. New England, Calgary, southern Chile.
  • 1 Feb: Baby it’s cold, keep the oven on. Turn down the thermostat for the day and heat your home while you make dinner in that magic box.
  • 8 Feb: True love doesn’t mean unsustainable food.  Don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with out-of-season raspberries and strawberries being pushed by grocery stores! Explore your local wine and champagne makers, look for sustainable caviar from your own country, do fun things with beets and other surprising red foods.
  • 15 Feb: Hot spice for cold nights. What kind of quick, easy, stylish, or inspired dishes do you love to do when the herbs have died off and spices reign in the kitchen? Indian? Algerian? Korean? Mexican?
  • 22 Feb: Soups and stews. Couldn’t let you get away without it.
  • 1 March: March to the beat of your own ladle. Share whatever is on your table in this tougher transition week as winter begins to fade and spring is not yet here.
  • 8 March: Ah, the Irish. To get ready for St. Patrick’s Day, cook up something interesting with a potato or do something original with stout.
  • 15 March: Pickled, preserved, canned, salted, cured, dried and jellied. In the final week of winter, get creative with all those things either you or someone else put aside when they were at the peak of season. Now is the time for lover’s of salt cod, dried beans, pickled asparagus and homemade jam!  (And even canned tomatoes.)

To paraphrase the intro to Eat Feed Autumn Winter, unite your comrades, spark your imagination against the flint of your favorite ingredients, and warm your bellies with good food and good cheer as you eat and feed through the best season of the year.