The other day, narya and I were talking about the late winter cooking blues and how we handle it. Seems we both look to fruit recipes to help us make it to the time of fresh spring ingredients.
I start making a lot of recipes with lemons – Chicken Piccata (recipe below), Lemon Nut Pork Chops (recipe here), lemon desserts
I always think that Chicken Piccata is going to be a nice light dish until I reread the recipe and remember it always takes more oil and butter than I think as I go along. Oh, well, not every meal has to heart healthy, LOL
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp basil, crushed
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat
- 1 tbsp butter (more as needed)
- 1 tbsp olive oil (more as needed)
- 1 lemon, sliced into very thin slices*
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp fresh snipped parsley
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
Combine breadcrumbs, basil, zest, and pepper in bowl. Mix ½ tbsp oil and garlic together. Coat both sides of chicken with oil/garlic and dredge in breadcrumbs. Over medium-high heat 1 tbsp ea. of butter and oil in skillet, add chicken and cook 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken – keep warm – add lemon slices to pan, sauté 30 seconds, add water, parsley and juice, boil for 1 minute, spoon over chicken.
*Scrub well before slicing.
From narya, her Strawberry and Chocolate Cake:
This is such a hard time of the cooking year for me: the farm share people want to give me onions, carrots, root veggies, and potatoes (and spinach), but potatoes don’t do all that much for me and most of the root veggies are brassicas. I love a lot of brassicas—kale, broccoli, and cauliflower in particular—but they are offering things like turnips and parsnips and cabbage. I have discovered that I cannot eat any brassicas in their raw state, and that some of them will fight me even if I cook them first. I like purple potatoes, and sweet potatoes can be used with a lot of Asian spices, but, again, there’s only so much I can eat. Two other things have helped this year: I froze a lot of corn that I par-boiled then cut off the cob, and I roasted a lot of tomatoes and froze those. I’ve been hoarding them a bit, because we still have so much of winter to go.
For an excess of potatoes, I make gnocchi. I use the Lucky Peach recipe (archived here: https://web.archive.org/web/20170722084123/http://luckypeach.com/how-to-make-gnocchi/ ). I’ve used all kinds of potatoes, including purple and sweet: that means I end up with purple or orange gnocchi. I currently have some of the types of potatoes he recommends, and I will likely turn them all into gnocchi this weekend. Here’s the important part: if you’re going to go to the trouble of making gnocchi, make a LOT of it. After you boil them, you can spread them out on cooling racks and freeze them (don’t do this in lumps—you have to spread them out), then bag and freeze the frozen gnocchi for a later meal. Thaw them spread out, too, rather than in a lump. I also save the skins and roast them till they’re crispy. I don’t want to throw away anything I can use.
Still: brassicas and potatoes and onions and carrots. Then again, dessert makes everything better, so let’s go there.
I always get a bunch of frozen fruit from the farm share (or the grocery store if need be), especially strawberries. Keeping in mind that I eyeball a lot of things, here’s my favorite way to use them. I start with Smitten Kitchen’s easy chocolate cake (link to recipe here) and I hack it in the following ways.
Hack number 1: Fruit and Frosting
First, take a bunch of frozen strawberries (cherries work too), and throw them in a saucepan with a little sugar and some lemon rind if you have it; cook it down. (This week I started with well over a pound, but I divided the results in two and froze half.) Let it simmer for awhile (half an hour?) on low, then scoop out the berries with a slotted spoon and reduce the liquid even further, until it’s very thick and syrupy. Get out your mixer and make frosting with some of the cooled fruit syrup, confectioner’s sugar, and a little butter; you’ll need more sugar than you think, especially if you use a fair amount of the syrup. Why do I make the frosting first? Because it’s easier to make in a mixer than by hand, and then I don’t have to wash the beater—there are no raw ingredients that can hurt you. If you make the cake and then the frosting, you have to wash between, because of the eggs and flour. If you don’t like this much frosting, you can make a simple glaze with the strawberry syrup and some confectioner’s sugar. Strawberry frosting makes everything better. (Powdered dried fruit will also work!)
Hack number 2: More Fruit!
Mush up the strawberries and add them to the cake. If I’m ambitious, I’ll pull out my mini food processor, but not always. I’ll note that it can be hard to taste them in this hack; the chocolate is pretty strong, so if you are looking to taste the fruit, go with hack 2.5.
Hack number 2.5: Fruit Filling
Mush up strawberries and possibly a little of the syrup with cream cheese and use that as a filling for the cake. Put half the batter in the pan, put the strawberry/cream cheese mixture in, then put the rest of the batter on top. This does work better if you puree the fruit a bit. Use a pastry bag or a plastic bag with a corner cut off, rather than trying to spread the mixture. You can add an egg or a little cream or milk if you need to make the filling more spreadable, but not too much.
Hack number 3: Other ingredients
Go ahead and use two eggs. I am not going to use a yolk for this and have a white sitting around. For the cocoa, I use a combo of King Arthur three-cocoa blend and a little bit (maybe 10 grams) of King Arthur black cocoa. I also added a little baking powder (half a teaspoon?), to make up for a lack of acidity for the baking soda. Cocoa powder is something I tend to buy in bulk, because it’s so useful and it lasts, so I usually have several varieties sitting around.
Hack number 4: Liquid
I rarely have buttermilk around. I have used sour milk; yogurt plus water; water; milk; yogurt plus water plus whatever’s left of the strawberries and/or syrup. . . you get the idea. It can affect the rise of the cake, but I guarantee you that for this kind of casual cake, a flatter cake that is slathered with strawberry frosting will still make everyone happy. I also add good-quality chocolate chips sometimes—be aware of that when you test for doneness, as a chocolate chip might make you think it’s not done when it is.
In addition to chocolate and berries being a classic combo, I find that the sweet taste of spring fruit helps mitigate the endless slog of brassicas and potatoes that is the winter farm share.
So that’s how we get past the winter cooking blues. I also start making slaws – jicama slaw and coleslaw – anything that is fresh and crunchy helps. Sidenote: I just talked to a friend in LA who said that everything is so very green there now that the storm had passed and I was a little jealous. Then I remembered in the fall I planted over 60 new bulbs, so I have that to look forward to.
What foods get you through those last days of winter? Do you get bored with winter fair around this time, too? What are you most looking forward to enjoying as the weather warms?