Monday, February 11, 2008

A Winter Menu

Winter, I think, is the best time to cook. Outside, it’s cold and dark. But inside, the kitchen is warm and full of light. I look out the window and think: What monster is out there, hiding? An owl hoots. I might mistake it for a freaky creature, wavering in the shadows. But inside, there's only my wife drinking wine, warmed, illumined.

I look at her. I smile. Clearly, she's no monster.

In winter, food navigates the evening; a good meal lights the way--to good conversation and laughter. I cook, I eat, and I feel somehow brightened.

Funny, though, winter food leads you elsewhere too: into dark, wild realms.

I'm thinking of the moment I step into the kitchen to steal more wine. I've just shared a soul-satisfying meal with my wife--a roasted chicken, perhaps. I come back and the dining room's suddenly dark. There's my wife, waiting, suddenly naked. Clearly, she's feeling inspired. It's the food, the wine. Clearly, she's a monster.

Winter food does this too--it inspires the uncomplicated urge to make love.

In his novel, A Debt to Pleasure, John Lanchester writes:

"It is a common fallacy to assume that winter food should partake of the obvious associations evoked by winter: large viscid stews, unspillably thick soups, colossal puddings. One wants to be warmed, true, but one also wants to be reminded of better times; to feel the onset of dawn in the darkest hour that immediately precedes it."

This winter menu is intended to give a sense of warmth and light, even as it hints elsewhere, to secret, dark places.

I suggest serving the meal with a lightly cooked green vegetable (check out my recipe for Pan-Seared Summer Squash…)

Sweet Potato and Fennel Soup with Saffron

I've adapted this recipe from The Artful Vegan, a mostly inaccessible cookbook with a few stellar recipes. This is a model soup for Valentine's Day. It includes a few heady aphrodisiacs: smoky, sweat inspiring chipotle; expensive, potent saffron; virile, pungent garlic; and two alcohols, dry white wine and Pernod...

12 whole garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
Sea salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked in 1 tablespoons warm water
1 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 fennel bulbs, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/4 Arborio rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
7 cups fresh vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon Pernod
Fresh ground pepper

Place the garlic cloves in a dry sauté pan over high heat. Dry-toast until each clove is charred, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the chipotle chile, sugar, and charred garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the saffron and its soaking liquid. Add the white wine and stir to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the sweet potato, fennel, rice, 1 teaspoon salt, tomato paste, and stock. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the fennel is soft.

Puree in a blender.

Add the Balsamic and Pernod. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Serves 6-8

It takes more than four thousand manually harvested stigmas to provide a single ounce of saffron--the world's most expensive spice

Rack of Lamb

Rack of lamb is emblematic of the perfect winter dish: it is intensely warming, deep and satisfying, but it also hints towards a lighter time, to the Paschal lamb of spring. Rack of lamb is also wildly inspiring. I for one cannot eat rack of lamb without feeling charged, full of demonic lust. Lamb is often served with a dipping sauce. I prefer a small bowl of olive oil, mixed with a few aromatics.

2 (8 or 9 rib) racks of lamb, rib bones French trimmed
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Dipping Oil:

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
Sea Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper to taste. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 12-inch skillet over high heat until shimmering. Place the racks of lamb in the skillet, meat-side down in the center of the pan, with the ribs facing outward. Cook until well browned, about 4 minutes. Using tongs, stand the racks up in the skillet, leaning them up against each other to brown the bottoms; cook until the bottoms have browned, about 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the pan to the oven.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of each rack registers about 120 degrees for medium-rare or 130 degrees for medium, 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the rack.

Remove the racks from the oven, cover the meat loosely with foil, and let rest about 10 minutes.

Make the dipping oil. In a small bowl combine olive oil, lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, parsley, and a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.

Carve the rack, slicing between the ribs into individual chops.

Serves 2 awesome people, or 4 wimps.

Roasted Red Potatoes with Olive Oil & Fresh Herbs

Like the lamb this dish too points towards a better time. Fresh herbs and lemon zest brighten the potatoes, even as they intensify the flavor of the olive oil...

1 ½ lb small red creamer potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons fresh herbs—basil, thyme, and/or marjoram
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Sea Salt, fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cover potatoes with salted cold water by 1 inch in a 6-quart pot, then simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 6-8 minutes.

Slice potatoes in half. Toss potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a few pinches salt in a bowl. Spread potatoes in 1 layer in a large roasting pan, skin side up, and roast in middle of oven, turning once, until golden, about 20-25 minutes. Toss with remaining tablespoon olive oil, herbs, sea salt, lemon zest, and fresh pepper to taste.


jen said...

The mere thought of the food you were talking about inspired demonic lust.
I'm drooling.

Seth said...


You're not a vampire, I hope.

Ms. Jackson said...

That seems like an awful lot of garlic. It might counteract the love-inspiring ingredients.

Seth said...

Ms. Jackson:

The garlic is tamed, a bit, by the dry-toasting.

But garlic inspires virility anyway.

It kills those great lovers vampires, of course, but it's perfect for living creatures. And if you both smell like garlic what's the problem?

Ms. Jackson said...

No problem. I just wanted to be a smartass.

Steve said...

In the winter sometimes I'll crank the oven to "Broil" and then leave it open so I can heat my freezing apartment.

I get bored sometimes on the long nights, so I eat incessantly. I always gain about 10 pounds every winter. That's why I'm writing a piece on fasting now.