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Five good things for the winter cook

We’ve officially ended our “What’s Coming Up” feature, which appears in both the print Food section and on this blog, for the season. From April through December, we featured one produce item a week that was in season–ideally locally–and tips on how to shop for  and prepare it.

But as winter came upon us, it became a depressing exercise to dig up yet another root vegetable or winter storage favorite to put in the spotlight. There’s plenty of good eating to be had from winter squash, onions, parsnips and the like, but I am not sure how many times I could have typed, “Season to taste. Roast at 450 degrees until tender and caramelized. Enjoy.” before going crazy.

I can’t complain too much, because this winter really hasn’t been much of a winter (yet). But today is sufficiently cold and gloomy that I thought it would be a good time for a “things to get you through the winter” post. Here are a few things to turn to when you need to brighten up a gray winter day:

- Seed catalogs – These should be arriving in mailboxes of regular gardeners right about now, and if you’ve never ordered seeds before, head here or here to order one to be sent to your home. Even if you don’t garden, flipping through these often beautifully illustrated catalogs in the dead of winter is a treat. It gets me excited about the growing season to come, and all the great stuff there will be to put on the table. The hardest part is keeping your garden ambition in check as you compile your order.

- CSAs – Community Supported Agriculture groups are like an opportunity to buy a share in a farm’s harvest for the season. Many farms in our area offer them and are still accepting members. Many of our local CSAs are listed on this page on the LocalHarvest website. If you have a favorite farm near your home, ask if they offer a CSA.

- Roast chicken and root vegetables – Might as well get your fill of this simple, comforting dish before you start wanting to make room in your kitchen for asparagus, green peas and strawberries. It’s one of winter’s pleasures, and will make your house smell wonderful. It’s really as simple as cutting a bunch of winter vegetables into roughly 1-inch pieces, seasoning them with salt, pepper and maybe a few herbs, and placing them in a roasting pan with your whole chicken. If you absolutely must have a recipe, though, here‘s a good one.

- Bread – Look, you’re not going to be in a bathing suit for several more months, so ditch the no-carb diet and take advantage of the cold days to learn the joys of baking homemade bread. There’s nothing like a warm slice of fresh-baked bread with a little butter and honey, and it’s really a lot easier than you might think. If you’re looking to get started with minimal effort, try the famous “No-Knead Bread” recipe from Jim Lahey. If you want to learn more, I continue to hear praise for the 2007 book, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, which offers simple techniques for a wide variety of breads. In my own kitchen, I am a fan of George Greenstein’s Secrets of  Jewish Baker, which offers a number of wonderful bread recipes, adapted for various kinds of kitchen equipment.

- The freezer – The other day I was digging through my freezer and found the last batch of garden pesto I’d put away last summer. It was big enough to top a pizza and coat a bowl of noodles. There is nothing better than finding summer goodness buried in your freezer in the dead of winter.

What gets you through winter in the kitchen?

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