Finding ways to stay fresh and interesting in the kitchen this time of year is a real challenge. We're tired of the heavy meals and all the sweet baked things, but the produce department is sparsely populated with bedraggled travellers from distant lands.
I don't know about you, but I could sure use a cold-weather pick-me-up, and each of these three recipes does the job.
Wonderful winter salad
With summer vegetables so far in our future, the prospect of keeping that resolution to eat more salads is daunting. I suggest you choose what tastes best right now.
If you are lucky enough to have leftover beets in the fridge, then use them here, but if they are new to your table, here's a great way to introduce your family to their sweet, earthy flavour. This fresh-tasting and satisfying salad is a special lunch for six. To toast the walnuts, place them in a dry frying pan over medium heat until you can smell their bittersweet aroma.
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. champagne or white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 medium beets
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded
1 large green apple, diced
1 head radicchio, thinly sliced (or 1 bag mixed salad greens)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
Stir together shallot, garlic, vinegar, maple syrup and mustard. Slowly add olive oil, whisking all the time, until dressing is smooth and slightly thickened.
Stir in salt and pepper and set aside. Wrap beets in foil and roast at 400 F for 45 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, simmer in water 45 minutes to an hour.
When cool enough to handle, rub off the skin and thinly slice the beets. Place them on serving plates. Toss together carrot, apple, radicchio and dressing and pile on top of the sliced beets.
Sprinkle walnuts over everything and serve.
Chunky homemade tomato soup
You just can't get enough soup recipes, can you? But if you don't have time to boil down the bones for a hearty potful, why not substitute this super fresh and super easy winter treat?
In July, I would definitely use fresh tomatoes, but this time of year, canned are perfect. Don't leave out the roasting step - it adds a wonderful depth of flavour.
For the herbs, substitute based on what's fresh. Oregano works well if you can't find marjoram; just cut the quantity by half.
Mint is another delicious option in this soup, and parsley, preferably Italian but curly if that's all there is, works great. Fresh thyme is usually easy to find, but if you can't, add 1/2 tsp. dried to the carrot-celery-onion mixture as it's cooking. This amount makes 4 large bowls.
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil (divided)
1 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram
1/4 cup whipping cream (optional - for cream of tomato soup)
Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet or in a big roaster. Drizzle about half the olive oil over the top and sprinkle on salt and pepper. Roast at 450 F for 20 minutes or until they are starting to take on colour.
Remove and cool just enough to handle. Coarsely chop. While the tomatoes are roasting, heat up the remaining olive oil in a Dutch oven and fry the carrot, celery and onion until tender and golden brown - about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add broth, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves, thyme, chopped tomatoes and reserved tomato juice.
Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stalks. Add marjoram and taste for seasoning. Add cream if using and serve with big crunchy croutons floating in steaming bowls.
Orange banana mascarpone parfait
Frozen fruit is a great option this time of year, but some desserts need fresh and there's just no way out. When berries are about as juicy as beef jerky, and you just can't face any more cakes, cookies or chocolates, give this a try for an instant hit of fresh sweetness. This is plenty for four, but scales up easily for a crowd.
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar, preferably super-fine or caster sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
4 large oranges (divided)
2 ripe bananas
Beat together mascarpone, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and juice of 1 of the oranges until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is fluffy and smooth; set aside.
Peel remaining oranges, removing every bit of the white pith from the outside. With a sharp knife, slice either side of each segment to pull out just the orange flesh.
Give the membranes left in you're hand a bit of a squeeze over the orange segments to get all the juice. Discard any seeds.
Thinly slice bananas and toss gently with orange segments. Divide among serving dishes. Top with dollops of the mascarpone mixture.
Serve with a crisp sweet biscuit of your choosing or a sprinkle of toasted sliced almonds on top, and maybe a couple of curls of orange peel for garnish.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.