Thursday, February 3, 2011

Groundhog Day


Hard to believe that all the weather-predicting groundhogs foresee an early spring! I am quite certain that 'my' Miss Molly would disagree with them. February has arrived roaring like a lion (funny, how that expression is usually attached to the month of March...), and one is hard pressed to think of any locally available foodstuff. It is on blustery days as today that I am truly happy to have a full pantry and a freezer stuffed with summer memories.

Despite the dearth of local produce at this time of the year, there are still a few gems to be had.

Cabbages and Co.
2010 was a glorious growing year: all types of fruits and vegetable were truly blessed with ideal conditions on the East Coast, and it was most obvious in the abundant stalls at the market. It was an especially good year for the extended cabbage family. Cabbages of all sorts are still available, all are a good size and ridiculously inexpensive: green cabbages can be had for under 2$ a head, and will keep you and your family stocked up on cabbage rolls, coleslaw, and cabbage soups for quite a while. Savoy cabbages are usually a little smaller than green cabbages, but are still a good size: these are the coles I prefer to use for my cabbage rolls, but they are also delightful in stir-fries (cut into strips) or as a substitute for kale.
Quebec-grown kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are no longer available, their imported counterparts can sometimes be expensive, but if you keep your eyes peeled for sales, they can be had for a song. For more variety (in colour, flavour and shape), look out for rappini and Asian greens (bok choi, pak choi, choi sum, and napa cabbage) which can be used pretty much interchangeably.

Root Vegetables
Canada is pretty much self-sufficient when it comes to root vegetables. Although supermarkets do stock up on American imports of potatoes and carrots, there is really no excuse for it as Canadian producers usually satisfy local demand for them. There are, of course, a plethora of roots for the taking, even at this time of the year. Parsnips; rutabaga; beets of all colour; celeriac; and the usual suspects carrots and potatoes (both are also available in a variety of shapes and colours, so seek them out). There are a few other, less familiar root vegetables that tend to pop up at this time of the year, some are imported, and others are very much locally grown: jerusalem artichoke; parsley root; sweet potatoes and other yams... If you are unfamiliar with a root but would like to try it on your unsuspecting family and friends, try roasting them or adding them to a soup.

Leeks and Onions
Come February, I tend to check out my stash of locally grown garlic on a daily basis. By this time, the stash has dwindled down to a few heads, and I become the Scrooge of garlic: doling out the cloves with parsimony because I know that I cannot get my hands on any more. However, there is no shortage of local onions and leeks, my reliable go-tos at this time of the year. I will often double-up on either vegetables in my recipes, just to make up for the lack of garlic. Do not get me wrong, I do love both vegetables for their own unique flavours, I just miss garlic sometimes...

Winter Squashes
While it can be tempting to reach out for imported peppers and tomatoes at this time of the year, if all you want is a little dash of colour on your plate, winter squashes are here to help you out. A few years ago, it was rather difficult to find locally grown squashes once winter had truly settled in, however, these vegetables have grown in popularity, and local growers have jumped on the bandwagon. Roasted, baked, puréed into luscious soups, squashes are versatile and should become regulars in your kitchen.

Fruits
Although I can spend entire summer days eating nothing but fruits, I tend to eat more vegetables in the colder months -probably because I am loath to eat a cold fruit when I am already shivering under a woolly blanket! There are quite a few hot and warm treats to be made with fruits, many of which feature apples, a good thing considering that it is just about the only local fruit still available in the dead of a Canadian winter.
Citrus fruits still abound in February. Even though the clementines from Morocco are fast approaching their end, other citrus are coming into season.

Meat
It has become nearly impossible to distinguish seasonal changes in the meat department, but if you patronise a butcher shop instead of a supermarket, you might have noticed a few things. Winter is the time to stock up on wild meats. Although most feather game are quickly running out, large game are still in season for a little while yet. Game meat is often pricier than the more common chicken, pork and beef, but cheaper cuts can be had for a reasonable price, and are perfect for winter stews and braised dishes. The new flavours will be a welcome change, and are perfect paired with root vegetables. Bison, venison and elk can be used in any recipe calling for beef, whereas boar should be treated like pork.


Bon app'!


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