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SEASONAL PANTRY

Tips for starting off the new year

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 at 9:06 a.m.

The official winter holiday season will come to an end in a few days, with Epiphany on Sunday and Russian Christmas on Monday. But it is by no means the end of winter's celebrations. If you've spent time in New Orleans, you understand that the very first festivities of the Carnival season, which culminates a few weeks from now in Mardi Gras, take place on Twelfth Night.

Lunar New Year is coming up soon, too. Celebrations for the Year of the Snake will begin around Feb. 9 and continue for most of the month.

I love these post-Christmas holidays because they belong more to the commons, to those of us who celebrate them, than to the commercial interests that have largely taken over Christmas. And they offer a good option to what commercials are telling us, that now is the season of dieting. Spare me.

I love this time of year. We can already tell that the days are lengthening and we can feel in our bones that spring and its tender renewal is inevitable. Yet nights are still long and cold, a perfect time for cooking and long dinners with family and friends.

It's a good time to take stock of your kitchen and pantry, too. This year, I'll let go of several hot pads that are so worn they have to be folded in quarters to shield any heat. I'll also toss a two-year-old bag of ground cumin that accidentally got shoved to the back of the spice cabinet, buy some new tea towels, restock my favorite vinegars, take a couple of knives to the sharpener and clean out my freezer.

As far as the whole dieting thing goes, it is time it was turned on its head, don't you think? Here's my best advice: Eat more of the things that you know are good for you and source them from as close to home as possible. Farmers markets are filled with delicious vegetables and grass-fed poultry and meats. Make it a habit.

If you haven't already quit using margarine, now is as good a time as any; replace it with local organic butter. Information about the profound health benefits of butter finally went mainstream in late 2012, when CNN's website put it on their list of best foods, where it belongs. We are particularly blessed here in the North Bay, with some of the best butter in the country.

Don't waste calories on foods you don't enjoy but eat because you're in a hurry or bored.

“Enjoy every sandwich,” as late singer-songwriter Warren Zevon said to David Letterman during his final public appearance and performance.

Words to live by, don't you think?

If you have trouble incorporating winter vegetables into your diet, you might give this slaw a try. My grandson Lucas, who is now 11, has been eating it with gusto for years, and getting a kid to eat Brussels sprouts is pretty impressive. I make this in a Kitchen Aid food processor that has a very thin slicing blade, as I love the resulting uniformity of texture and also find that I can include the stems of the kale, parsley and cilantro, too, which are full of good nutrients. This recipe is quite flexible; you can omit ingredients, change quantities of ingredients or use a different dressing, such as ginger vinaigrette, if you prefer it to this creamy dressing.

Winter Cole Slaw

Serves about 10 to 12, easily doubled

]¾ cup homemade or Best Foods brand mayonnaise

¼ cup creme fraiche or sour cream

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon ground cumin

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

— Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon best-quality red wine vinegar, plus more to taste

— Tabasco sauce

1 medium green cabbage, cored

1 bunch Lacinato kale, rinsed and dried

— Handful of Brussels sprouts, trimmed

2 medium carrots (preferably yellow), trimmed and peeled

1 bunch radishes, trimmed

1 small red onion, peeled, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise

½ bunch Italian parsley, rinsed and dried, largest stems removed

½ bunch cilantro, rinsed and dried, largest stems removed

First, make the dressing. Put the mayonnaise, creme fraiche or sour cream and mustard into a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the sugar, cumin, several very generous pinches of salt and several turns of black pepper and pour the lemon juice and vinegar over the spices and sugar. Add a few shakes of hot sauce and whisk thoroughly. Taste and adjust for sugar and acid and correct for salt.

If you have a food processor, set it up with the thinnest slicing blade. This is the blade that sits on top of an extension, near the top of the work bowl. If you do not, make sure you have a very sharp chef's knife.

Cut the cabbage into length wedges that will fit into the feeder tube of the processors (if using a knife, simply cut the cabbage in half lengthwise). Set aside.

Trim the kale, removing any bruised spots on the stems but not the stems themselves. Cut the leaves in half crosswise and reserve the top halves for another use. Set the other half of the kale aside.

When everything has been prepped, begin to put it through the processor, beginning with the cabbage and ending with the cilantro. Use the pusher to gently press ingredients through the slicer. Transfer ingredients to a large bowl as needed.

(If you are not using a processor, cut the cabbage into very thin ribbons; do not chop it. Cut the kale leaves into thin crosswise ribbons and cut the stems into very thin rounds, no thicker than about 1/16-inch. Cut the carrots, radishes and onion into similarly thin slices. Remove the parsley and cilantro stems and chop the leaves. Put all the ingredients into a large bowl.)

Toss the sliced vegetables together until evenly combined.

Add the dressing and toss thoroughly.

Let the cole slaw rest for 15 minutes or so before serving. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days.

In recent weeks, Sebastopol's K & L Bistro has had a raw Brussels sprouts salad on the menu. I tried it for the first time out of curiosity and now I simply can't resist it. If it's offered, I get it. This recipe is inspired by chef Karen Martin's, though it is not identical. She roasts lemons and reduces the juice before she makes the vinaigrette, but I'm offering a simpler one here, so as not to discourage you from making this at home.

Raw Brussels Sprouts Salad

Makes 4 servings

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste

— Kosher salt

3 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

— Black pepper in a mill

— Small handful of Marcona almonds, optional

— Chunk of Vella Dry Jack, Valley Ford Estero or other similar cheese

Slice the Brussels sprouts as thin as possible; to do so, use a mandoline, a food processor fitted with the thinnest slicing blade or a very sharp chef's knife. Set aside.

Put the lemon juice into a medium bowl, add a few generous pinches of salt and whisk in the olive oil. Taste and correct for acid balance and salt, adding more lemon juice, more olive oil and more salt as needed.

Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and turn gently in the dressing. Season with several turns of black pepper and turn again.

Divide among individual plates.

Scatter some almonds, if using, on each portion. Use a vegetable peeler to cut several curls of cheese, scatter them on top and serve immediately.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts “Mouthful” each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM.

E-mail Jordan at michele@ micheleannajordan.com.

You'll find her blog, “Eat This Now,” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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