Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Weather Outside is Frightful...

Hey... 

November is all a blur and whirlwind. While Americans were getting ready for Thanksgiving, and Canadians were gearing up for the Grey Cup, London was in the throws of Christmas. Yes, you heard right: I, myself, always thought the winter holiday was the preserve of December, but Britons start decking the halls in October, and restaurants all across the country hunker down for the assault of Christmas parties.

Hence the radio silence. Nevertheless, all is not lost; what is at its best in November is still around in December, and there is much to enjoy, despite the rain, snow and sleet.

Cabbage and Co.
The tender, flying saucer-like cabbages of summer are long gone, but the winter keepers are really the more versatile vegetables. Cabbage has always stuck around the winter scenery, pale, bland and not without its after-effects... However, cabbage is well deserving of a make-over, because it is a super healthy green with lots of cancer-fighting potential. For extra oomph in your plate, you can go for purple cabbage, but it is not a great keeper, so isn't always available throughout the winter. For real colour and pizzazz well into February, choose savoy cabbages and kale. Both have gorgeously dark green outer leaves that keep their colour and flavour even after a long and slow braise.

Root Vegetables
I consider the humble root the unsung hero of the winter table. We often relegate them to the rank of second fiddle, but they are the backbone of so many heart-warming comfort dishes: turnips, carrots, and daikon are indispensable in a hot pot, whether you serve it with meat or just stick to vegetables. Mashed potatoes are a favourite side dish, but if you look at what is happening in the catering world, chefs all around the world are mashing more than just spuds: celeriac, rutabaga/swedes, and parsnips are current stars on all the best tables.

And we mustn't forget about beets! Their iron content is vital to keep yourself energised during the dreary months, and the colour can only brighten your day.

Citrus
Even though out of season imported fruits and vegetables were very much a reality when I was growing up, the sight of massive cardboard boxes of Sunkist navel oranges and wooden crates of clementines from Morocco still conjure up the spirit of Christmas for me. Soon, we will be seeing blood oranges, Meyer lemons and key limes.

Mulled Wine
The first chill in November brought back memories of hot mugs of wine, but it still seemed a little too early to be breaking out the bottles of red and the mulling spices... Well, I guess I was wrong: my friends posted pictures of Montreal snowcapes, and all that comes to mind is the pleasure of walking in to the warm wafts of spiced wine after a vigorous session of snow-shovelling.

Traditional mulling spices are cinnamon (use sticks, not powder), star anise, clove, nutmeg or mace, and some citrus zest, but anything goes really. Any wine will do, though I would avoid an overly tannic red or a flat white. Add sugar to taste, and bring up to a gentle simmer.

If wine is not to your liking, you can always mull beer -a stout or a lager seem most appropriate- cider or even sake. To be enjoyed while curled up on the couch, preferable near a roaring fire.



Bon app'!



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