We have an almost primal urge to move with the seasons. While you can find any food you’d like any time of the year in this global marketplace, peaches and Popsicles don’t satisfy us under the low January sun any more than a bowl of hearty beef stew on a sweltering July evening. It feels right to crave coziness during long winter nights. Scandinavians call it “hygge,” pronounced “hoo-gah.” We might call it cooking like our grandmothers cooked, comfort food, but not the predictable pot of chili or bowl of mac and cheese. More imaginative, please, but still comfortable.
“Even the gourmet cooks of the world don’t want to make complex dishes every day. People want recipes that are sophisticated and delicious, but not cumbersome to make,” says cookbook author and blogger Lee Clayton Roper. She shares uncomplicated ideas for entertaining with a growing legion of fans through her website and blog, A Well-Seasoned Kitchen.
Roper’s mother Sally sparked her passion for making cooking and entertaining uncomplicated and accessible, inspiring more time around the family table. In 2009, she and her mother co-authored the critically acclaimed A Well-Seasoned Kitchen, a treasury of more than 180 recipes, creative menus, and poignant memories of cooking and entertaining together. Roper’s second cookbook, the award-winning Fresh Tastes From A Well-Seasoned Kitchen.
Fresh Tastes took the concept of quick and easy recipes with readily available ingredients to the next level.
“We’re all focused on eating healthily with more local ingredients. That naturally leads you into cooking seasonally,” she says.
Seasonal eating in January?
“Think about how foods grow,” Roper advises. “In spring, you’ll find young, leafy, tender, green vegetables. In summer, you’ll want lighter, cooling foods like watermelon and sweet corn.” The warm colors of root vegetables like carrots, butternut squash and potatoes feel right in the crisp autumn air. Cold- weather crops like beets and potatoes that take longer to grow continue into winter “when we crave warming foods, literally and figuratively,” she laughs.
Enjoy Foods at Their Peak
Cooking seasonally simply means choosing ingredients that are in their growing season at the peak of their harvest, which means they’ll be at their peak availability and peak flavor,” Roper explains. “The flavor is at its best, the color and beauty are best, and the food is also healthier.” Peak season also means foods are at their lowest price.
Seasonal eating can be combined with staying as local as you can. “I find that the less distance food must travel, the fresher it is,” she says. “The shorter time period from when it was picked to when you eat it, the better it is.”
Let the grocery guide you to the foods
Look at what is piled high and on sale in the front at the grocery store,” Roper advises. “Those are the foods that are most abundant and freshest. In the fall, you see pumpkins and acorn squash. You won’t see those on sale in June. Whereas in May, you’ll find green beans because they’re coming into season.”
Winter foods include: Beans, black and white truffles, mushrooms, carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, spinach, chard, mustard greens, radicchio, butternut and acorn squash, fennel bulbs, apples, pears, nuts, artichokes, olives, capers, white asparagus, shellfish, shrimp, ginger and curries.
Months with an “R” are best for oysters and shrimp, and indeed, a plump winter oyster is far superior. Lamb tends to be available in spring when our thoughts turn to leg of lamb and mint jelly.
Let the food guide you to the recipes
Most recipes can be adapted to the ingredients on hand. If a recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, try substituting roasted tomatoes. “Roasting concentrates the flavor so that even a less flavorful tomato works,” Roper says. Baby spinach can fill in for arugula. Wild-caught snapper is available in the winter and can take the place of other firm-fleshed fish in baked recipes or in a fish picatta. “If a vegetable soup calls for zucchini and there are other vegetables in there, just leave it out. You won’t miss it!”
Choose an apple pie recipe on a cold, snowy day instead of baking a peach pie—unless you’ve preserved wonderful Palisade peaches back in August either by freezing or canning. Then, by all means, enjoy that peach pie.
These recipes are from Roper’s cookbooks, Fresh Tastes and A Well-Seasoned Kitchen. The latter was co-authored with her mother, Sally Clayton.
Lee’s mom’s version of this classic dish is somewhat of a hybrid between bouillabaisse and cioppino. The former typically has a fish seafood-based sauce, the latter a tomato sauce. This recipe has both. Once you have your mis en place (ingredients prepped, measured and ready to go), you can have this dish on the table in less than 30 minutes.
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup (1 large) chopped green bell pepper
1 cup (1⁄2 large) chopped yellow onion
1 cup (about 3 large stalks) chopped celery
11⁄2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 pounds sole or flounder fillet, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 3⁄4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes*
2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 cups water
2 cups dry white wine
3⁄4 cup clam juice
1⁄2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s)
1 bay leaf
Pinch or two of saffron
1 pound fresh crabmeat, rinsed and drained
24 small hard-shelled clams, scrubbed, tossing any opened shells (see notes)
24 PEI fresh mussels, scrubbed (see notes)
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh basil
*When fresh tomatoes aren’t in season, for more flavor substitute 1 15-ounce can, drained
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic. Sauté 5 minutes or until pepper and onions begin to soften. Add the fish and sauté
Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, wine, clam juice, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, oregano, salt, bay leaf and saffron. Bring to a boil. Gently stir in crabmeat. Add clams and mussels, reduce heat to medium-low (a low boil, slightly above a simmer), cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until shells open. Discard any shells that don’t open. Stir in basil and serve immediately in shallow bowls.
PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels are farm-raised and don’t require much cleaning. Wild mussels may be muddy, with long “beards”—the tendrils that hold them on to rocks and piers. Scrub wild mussels vigorously under cold water, tossing any with broken shells or that fail to close tightly.
Keep the clams and mussels on ice in the refrigerator until just before cooking. Make sure to check frequently and drain off any water from melting ice, as they will drown in fresh water. As you clean them, check to make sure the shells are all closed. If any are open, tap on the shell and it should close. If it doesn’t close, throw it away. Also throw away any broken shells.
Roasted Tomato and Arugula Salad
Serves 6 to 8
8 plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1⁄4 cup plus 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon chopped garlic
8 cups baby arugula leaves
8 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella
1⁄2 cup pitted Kalamata (or other type) black olives, cut in half if large
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Trim bottoms so they can sit upright. Gently squeeze out seeds. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary, thyme and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Drizzle 4 teaspoons of olive oil over the tomatoes. Roast for 45 minutes. Set aside to cool.
While the tomatoes are roasting, prepare the dressing: in a jar with a fitted lid, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, garlic, remaining 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 cup olive oil. Add fresh ground pepper to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using.
When ready to serve the salad, toss some of the dressing with the arugula and arrange on a large serving platter. Top with roasted tomatoes, roasted side up. Gently cut cheese into slices (and then cut in half if large) and arrange around the tomatoes on the arugula. Sprinkle with olives and drizzle with more dressing. Season with more salt and pepper as needed.
MAKE AHEAD Tomatoes can be roasted earlier in the day and kept at room temperature until serving. Balsamic dressing can be made several days ahead and stored in a closed jar in the refrigerator.
This fabulous meatloaf recipe comes from chef, author, columnist and lifestyle blogger Sally Schneider.
Her focus is on improvising, being resourceful and thinking outside the box (you can find her blog at improvisedlife.com).
2 teaspoons salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fresh or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 1⁄2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper 11⁄2 teaspoons paprika
1 1⁄4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1⁄4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
3⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3⁄4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1⁄2 cups (1 to 2 onions) chopped yellow onion
1 1⁄4 cups (3 to 4 ribs) chopped celery
1 cup chopped (1 to 2 peppers) red bell pepper
1 medium jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 1⁄2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1⁄2 cup whole milk
1⁄2 cup tomato purée
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 pounds lean ground beef
3⁄4 pound lean ground pork
1 cup fresh or panko breadcrumbs
3 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan with foil.
In a small bowl, combine the salt, thyme, black pepper, paprika, cumin, nutmeg, cayenne and white pepper.
In a large heavy skillet or sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, red pepper, jalapeño, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Stir in the reserved spice mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes or until the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of
the pan. Stir in the milk, tomato purée and vinegar. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes or until the mixture is thick (reduce the heat if needed to prevent burning). Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Add the beef, pork, breadcrumbs and egg whites to the cooled vegetable mixture; mix until well combined (I like to use my hands, which is why you need to cool the vegetable mixture). Scoop the mixture into the center of the prepared pan and shape into a loaf about 10 inches by 5 inches. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and cook an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers 150 degrees. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
MAKE AHEAD Meatloaf can be prepared but not baked earlier in the day, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Individual Plum Tarts
117.3-ounce package (2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 cup butter, melted
6 ripe but slightly firm plums
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus whole leaves for garnish
3 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄3 cup apricot jam
Vanilla ice cream, for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 puff pastry sheet until very thin.
Cut into 3 (6-inch) circles. Pierce the bottom all over with a fork. Repeat with remaining pastry sheet; you will have a total of 6 rounds. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and brush with melted butter. Set aside.
Pit plums and cut each into 16 slices (around 1/4-inch thick).
In a medium mixing bowl, combine plums, sugar, mint, lemon zest and cinnamon. Arrange on top of the pastry, placing the plum slices on their side, forming a pinwheel. Fold over edges of the pastry up to (but not over) the plums, to form a small rim.
In a small saucepan, melt the jam over medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat; brush lightly over the top of the plums with a basting brush. Bake tarts about 30 minutes or just until the crusts are done and the fruit is starting to bubble and get juicy (watch carefully so they don’t get overdone). Serve at room temperature, placing a small scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center. If desired, garnish with whole mint leaves.
MAKE AHEAD Tarts can be made earlier in the day, cooled, covered and kept at room temperature.
Apple, Walnut and Stilton Cheese Salad
1⁄4 cup raspberry balsamic vinegar*
1 1⁄2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1⁄2 cup walnut oil*
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
10 ounces mixed baby greens (spinach, arugula, lettuce)
2 large Gala or other red apples, unpeeled, cored and chopped
1 cup (6 ounces) chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 1⁄2 to 2 cups (6 to 8 ounces) Stilton cheese, crumbled**
*If you can’t find raspberry balsamic vinegar, use regular raspberry vinegar and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey. If you can’t find walnut oil, substitute olive oil and add a few more walnuts.
**There are 2 types of Stilton cheese: blue and white. Either will work in this recipe. If you can’t find Stilton, you can substitute Gorgonzola or other forms of blue cheese.
In a medium glass jar with fitted lid (an empty Dijon mustard jar works well), whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice and oil until well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss together mixed greens, chopped apple, walnuts and cheese. Just before serving, toss with just enough dressing to coat the lettuce (you may have some dressing left over). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Variation in presentation: if you want to have a more formal, individually plated salad, then instead of chopping the apples, core and slice them. Toss the greens with part of the dressing and divide among six individual salad plates. Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern over the spinach. Sprinkle the walnuts and cheese crumbles over the top. Drizzle with remaining dressing.
About Lee Clayton Roper and A Well-Seasoned Kitchen
A former cable television executive. Lee Clayton Roper and her husband divide their time between their mountain home and a Denver pied-à-terre. Her recipes and entertaining ideas have been featured in regional and national publications, including Woman’s World, The Denver Post, Colorado Expression, and Orange County Register. She has appeared on KWGN Daybreak, KUSA Denver’s 9News (Denver), Good Day Atlanta, Good Day LA, Good Day Colorado, and Vail TV among others. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and is currently president of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Colorado Chapter. Find her at https://www.seasonedkitchen.com
Kimberly Field thinks pressure canning and vacuum sealing are game-changers when it comes to seasonal cooking.
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