Eating in Winter

February 3, 2012 

Please comment below if you would like any of the recipes for the dishes in this post!

One-pot wonder.
Winter may be a magical time of year filled with snow, family and nights by the fireplace, but it is also the season of inevitable weight gain. We've all been there: when the thermometer red begins dipping, we also can't stop dipping... and slurping, noshing, schmearing and chewing. The eating never seems to end and the calories just keep piling on.

Of course, the simple solution to maintaining your weight during these trying months is to take the high road and choose healthy salads and light soups. But for me and I suspect for a lot of people, the prospect of eating cold, out-of-season foods during frosty days and frigid nights sounds less than appealing.

Feeling inspired by this, I wanted to challenge myself by creating a complete Winter dinner (even dessert!) that is both healthy and hearty. I scoured the internet and flipped through all my cookbooks until I came up with 4 recipes that were warm and nourishing without being too rich.

To start, I found two salads from the Zuni Cafe cookbook that used substantial ingredients but yielded refreshing results.

Tastes better than it looks! Note to self: if you want real ribbons, buy a mandolin.
First up is a raw portobello ribbon salad with fresh mint and lemon vinaigrette. The spongy texture of the raw mushrooms may not be for everyone but I found the earthy flavor and fluffy mouth-feel to be rather pleasant. A sprinkling of fresh mint chiffonade balanced the dish, allowing the brightness of the lemon to marry the natural musk of the portobellos. The recipe also called for a drizzle of softened creme fraiche but after trying the salad both ways, I feel that this touch is entirely optional.

Crunchy and fresh! 
Wanting more fiber, I also prepared a wilted escarole with lemon peel. In both this dish and the mushroom salad, I substituted regular lemon juice and peel with Meyer lemon. I couldn't resist the fragrance and sweetness of this special citrus. As soon as I found out it was in season, I immediately stocked up.

The Meyer lemon peels added leaps of flavor to the escarole, complementing the bitterness already present in the greens. The watery stem ends of the escarole were particular tasty. Although next time, I think I will layer on some fresh chives and add a more savory touch to the dish.

For our main course, I again consulted the Zuni Cafe cookbook and found a wine braised duck with prunes.  In an effort to make it healthier (and cheaper), I substituted the duck legs for chicken.

Surprisingly, the onions and prunes are just as good (if not better!) as the chicken! 
This dish is a great example of comfort meets healthy. The rich wine sauce and luxuriously velvety prunes make it hard to believe that there's no added oil in the dish. And while the chicken drumsticks still had skin, the legs were seared and the fat was rendered before the meat continued to cook in the oven.

If you're a fan of poultry flavor, this dish will definitely satisfy your cravings. After braising on low heat for an hour, the drumsticks are infused deeply with spice and fruit, turning the subtle taste of dark meat chicken on full blast. As for the texture, the meat incredibly is tender, just beginning to fall off of the bone. When enjoying this, I loved combining a juicy bite of wine-filled prune with a bite of savory chicken.

Now for the hard part: dessert. After staying quite virtuous with the last 3 dishes, I didn't want to ruin the meal with something too rich. Doing healthy versions of pies and cakes seemed like a cop-out that was guaranteed to result in dissatisfaction.

Super creamy. 
Instead, I decided to go with a vanilla buttermilk panna cotta with macerated strawberries and a balsamic reduction. The interplay of the sweet berries with the tangy reduction brought life to the otherwise mild custard. In addition, the buttermilk substituted a good portion of cream and still gave the panna cotta its signature silky-smooth texture.

Winter eating can be both healthy and hearty. It's nice to know that with a little planning and troubleshooting, I no longer need to sacrifice my cravings for comforting food. To me, this meal was quite successful. When I finished, I didn't have that gut-bomb feeling I often get after eating heavy food. And at the same time, each dish was still stick-to-your-bones good.

Now I just have to think of a way to get rid of the pounds that I've already put on...

Eating in Winter

Posted on

Sunday, February 3, 2013

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