Entertain and educate guests with fabulous fresh food.
You’ve probably heard the arguments for local, seasonal eating—better nutrition, superior taste and harmony with the environment—but what about meeting the challenges?
How does the modern cook stave off boredom, learn new techniques for unfamiliar foods, find the right recipes and, especially at this time of year, substitute seasonal options in favorite meals? What was once second nature, not to mention essential, has become a lost art. Fortunately, a little re-education and creativity goes a long way in cooking with the seasons.
Take the holiday meals, for example. If your family enjoys a green salad, consider using arugula, a spicy cool-weather green, and tossing in some roasted butternut squash, Texas pecans and a local cheese (try Houston Dairy maids, www.houstondairymaids.com, for a good selection). Or, take the popular fruit salad full of berries. There’s no need to toss out the concept; just use seasonal alternatives to those summertime fruits. Try an all-citrus salad to take advantage of our local harvest and, for a special twist, add a spiced yogurt topping to end a rich meal on a lighter note.
Of course, many traditional holidays dishes, like pumpkin pie, are in season, while other favorites like fresh green beans are out of sync with nature. Did you know that the Houston area overflows with delicious alternatives like Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale? My favorite is roasted Brussels sprouts, which have become legendary with my once-skeptical family after I swapped them out for green beans a few years ago. Lightly salted, they’re scrumptious any fall evening, but tossed with butter, parmesan and nutmeg for Christmas, they’re downright addictive.
Especially with holiday meals, when comfort is essential, small changes are key. Consider trying just one new dish this year or make an easy substitution. These recipes can get you started, but don’t forget about online resources like www.sustainabletable.org (lists of what’s fresh in your area) and local resources like Urban Harvest (www.urbanharvest.org), which offers well-organized farmers markets with cooking demonstrations and recipes, and Revival Market (www.revivalmarket.com), a small grocer in the Heights that stocks ingredients for perfect hors d’oeuvres—local cheeses and cured meats, breads by Slow Dough, and house-made mustards and other condiments.
Arugula and Butternut Squash Salad
2 cups diced butternut or acorn squash
10 cups baby arugula
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped toasted Texas pecans
6 to 8 ounces local blue cheese or soft goat cheese
¾ cup dried cranberries or cherries (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
Toss the squash with olive oil and roast at 425 for 25 minutes, until tender. Salt and pepper generously. Set aside to cool. Just before serving, whisk together the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1½ tablespoons lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt and toss with the arugula. Divide the arugula among plates and top with roasted squash, toasted pecans, cheese and, if desired, dried cranberries or cherries. Add freshly ground black pepper and serve.
Holiday Spiced Citrus Salad
Any combination of grapefruit, oranges, blood oranges and tangerines
1½ cups (12 ounces) Greek Gods honey yogurt (or sweeten any Greek yogurt to taste with honey)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
lime zest curls (optional)
ginger snaps (optional)
With a knife peel and segment the fruits, removing the white pith. Gently toss the fruits together and taste. If you desire more sweetness, add a small amount of honey. Set aside. Combine the yogurt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg and stir well to combine. Set aside. At serving time, divide the citrus fruit mixture among bowls, plates or dessert glasses; spoon a generous dollop of the spiced yogurt on top. If desired, garnish with lime zest curls and serve with ginger snaps. Or, to serve family style, put the fruit mixture in a large bowl and pass the spiced yogurt and ginger snaps separately.
Roasted Parmesan Nutmeg Brussels Sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Wash and trim Brussels sprouts and halve lengthwise. Toss with olive oil and arrange, cut side down, on a large cookie sheet. Do not overcrowd. Roast on middle rack at 425 for 30 minutes (if you need to use two cookie sheets, rotate them halfway through cooking). Meanwhile, using a fork or a food processor, make a paste of the butter, cheese, nutmeg and salt. Set aside. When the Brussels sprouts are done (browned on the bottoms), remove to a bowl and immediately toss with the prepared butter-cheese-nutmeg mixture. Serve hot.