Saturday, March 3, 2007

Seasonal Planning

True seasonal cuisine follows a schedule throughout the year influenced by the weather, holidays, vacations, and the products available at different types of the year. In this modern world we can make anything, anytime we want due to the advanced transportation, freezing, and preservation processes that have been developed over the last century.

Still food, and cooking has it's season's, and if you want to have a gourmet kitchen you need to put together a schedule that works for you so you always have the freshest ingredients on hand. Planning ahead maked it easy throughout the year.

We just talked about the Mother Sauces this week, and the reason is that you can prepare a number of them ahead to use throughout the year. When you have that stuff done ahead of time it is really easy to grab a small portion from the freezer and produce a meal that would take most people a couple of days to prepare. Today I am sharing with you the things I have done in the past to prepare for the culinary year.

Right now we are in Lent, so I focus on protein which means we eat a lot of Seafood, Beef, and Pork. Since fish is a staple of Lent we are going to spend a lot of time with that among other things till Easter.

Winter- Late January, and February

Everything, including animals, and humans slows down this time of year right after the New Year, and I tend to make savory dishes, and stews during this time of the year. It is a time for smaller dinner parties, and relaxation after the bustle of the Holidays.

We have people over at Super Bowl, but we limit it to keep it comfortable, and get away from cooking for the masses after the Holiday orgy.

Fresh Dungeness Crab is a great treat this time of year since the harvest starts around Christmas out in the Northwest. The best crab of the year is available at this time because of the body fat the crab contains at this time.

Lent - Late February, March, Very Early April

This is the time for us to get back in shape. We tend to go low carb, and high protein this time of year mixed with exercise. Since we cut off the alcohol, and the empty calories it provides, the party is usually on hold for six weeks. We do however find that we save a lot of money which is great for our Spring travels.

St Patrick's Day is a big holiday in Chicago, or another excuse to get drunk depending on who you talk to. They dye the river green, have a big parade, in downtown, and the South suburbs. It's lent for us, so no green beer over here, no potato's either, but I do roast the traditional brisket of Corned Beef and serve it with something called Fried Cabbage.

Lent doesn't have to be boring, every Friday there is Seafood, and during the week we grill quite a bit on our indoor grill. We try to get imaginitive with the sauces, and work our away around the absence of carbohydrates.

Early Spring - Late March, April

To me it all starts with Easter Sunday which is a day I can have anything I want since the self imposed Lenten restrictions are over. Ham, Lamb Rack's, and Roasted Leg of Lamb with Mint are traditional.

Time to get the vegetable, and herb garden in shape for the Summer months. It is also time to catch up, and make your stocks for the year. I like to make, when I have the freezer space, batches of Fish Stock, Shellfish Stock, Veal Stock, Chicken Stock, Beef Stock, Veloute's, and Espagnole during this time of year. I try to make a years supply over a few rainy weekends.

Things I like to have in the garden

I'm not running a farm, but I do like things fresh from my own garden. We live in rural Chicago and there are plenty of farm stands to pick from during the season. We also have access tot he bounty Southwestern Michigan has to offer. Still there are a few things I prefer to grow myself in the space provided that are easy to take care of.

I have grown onions, potato's, cucumbers, and corn, in the past, but unless you have a large patch of ground it really isn't worth the time for me since they are inexpensive commodities available fresh, and usually in better shape from a farm side produce stand.

Out at my childhood house in Seattle we had a number of fruit tree's in the yard. My cousin in Orange County carries on the tradition by really studying growing fruit in his backyard. He has about twenty different types of tree's going back there. He has a huge avocado tree, but he hates Avocado's, so we load up when we are out there.

I am sure we will plant a couple of fruit tree's here at the new house outside of Chicago, but I am not sure yet which way I will go yet.


Beefsteak Tomato's
Cherry Tomato's
Plum Tomato's
Hot Peppers
Sweet Peppers
Salad Greens





Spring - May and Early June

Fresh Seafood and other ingredients are in abundance. The garden of course is started full of vegetables I plan to can in the Fall.

Soft shell crabs from the East Coast start to be harvested. We eat them quite a bit when they are in season.

At the end of June the fresh berries are in from different places around the country. If you live in the Pacific Northwest you really have it made since some of the best berries in the world are harvested in the Puyallup Valley.

Michigan is prime Blueberry country, and it is a great time to buy them to use fresh and freeze the remainder for use the rest of the year. Michigan also has great Cherries that you will rarely find anywhere else. Wild Chanterelles, and Morels are abundant when the ground is moist.

Traditional Preserves

Pepper Jelly (Red, and Green)
Apple Butter

Since Kate is Diabetic I am going to be delving into the world of Sugar Free Preserves this year for the first time. I think Splenda is truly a gift from the God's because it opens so many new doors for people who cannot tolerate sweets. This is also a great time of year to put those fresh Berries into pie's.

Summer - July, August, and Early September

Corn is a big deal in the Midwest, and I have a good friend, Bob Korn, no I am not kidding, who drives around Minnesota trying to find the sweetest corn on the cob he can find. Bob is very picky about his corn, and according to him there is an art to picking, and preparing proper corn on the cob.

Fried Chicken is another favorite which we make outside so we don't stink up the house. Fried Chicken is not an easy thing to make well. I have seen a lot of great Chef's including Bobby Flay fall flat on their faces while trying to duplicate Southern Roadhouse Fried Chicken.

Potato Salad is another Summer favorite, and I am very picky about Potato Salad since my dad made the best one I have ever tasted. To him it was all about texture, and patience. A great potato salad takes two days to make to achieve that perfect consistency his was famous for.

Fish Fry's, Clambakes, Pig Roasts, BBQ Rib's, these are the things we concentrate on when the weather get's hot, and we can comfortably entertain outside.

It is prime BBQ season, and we tend to cook, and eat outdoors every night that the weather permits. This summer we will be building a couple of decks, putting in a stone patio, hot tub, outdoor cooking area, outdoor fireplace, vegetable/herb garden, backyard landscaping, and outdoor lighting. It is going to be quite the Summer long project.

Fall - Late September and October

It is time to harvest the fresh herbs, and dry them for for future use. Canning tomato's, pickles and relishes take's up time, and fills the home with a nostalgic breeze while the first football games of the year are on TV. Canning is an art, and we are going to spend a lot of time going over that come Fall. My parents did a great job canning, and you can really taste the difference using farm fresh, or ingredients directly from your garden throughout the year.

The Ball canning guide which was first written in the 1930's is till the bible to use. Botulism is a danger in canned goods, so make sure you follow the directions, and don't cut any corners.

What we didn't grow in our garden in Seattle, we used to supplement with fresh farm grown produce from Pike Place Market, or sometimes we would head East of the mountains to the Yakima Valley to get the best produce to can.

Just a few of the traditional items I like to can

Tomato Sauce
Red Salsa
Green Salsa
Taco Sauce
Sweet Cucumber Chips
Mustard Pickles
Dixie Relish (Chow Chow)
Corn Relish
Green Tomato Relish
Green Beans
Mango and Pear Chutney

Wine and Spirits

Fall is also the time of the crush in wine producing regions like California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Michigan. Kate loves great wine, and we have a cellar in our basement which holds her collection which can be quite extensive at times.

Michigan has a young wine industry that does well, but I think what they will known for worldwide someday is their Eau de vie, Grappa's, and Appertif's which are craft made in Western Michigan, where an abundance of different fruits, including grapes are grown.

Eau de vie is a French term for a colourless brandy distilled from fermented fruit juice. The term is informally used for like beverages from non-French speaking countries. It is distilled from young fruit and rarely aged in wooden casks, thus preserving the freshness and aroma of the fruit. Spirits in this category include kirschwasser, a cherry-based beverage. When the eau de vie is made from from the pomace, the result is called Pomace brandy or in France Mar (wine), sometime eau de vie de marc. Eau de vie is used in the production of Calvados.

The Holidays - November, and December

The wheels come off over here starting at Halloween through the New Year. This is the time of the year for the big parties as we invite different groups of friends, and family over to celebrate. We also attend quite a few functions,

This is the time of year when Kate, and her mom take over the kitchen making the most incredible cookies, breads, and other baked goods. I am not much of a baker, but I have dabbled a bit in Artisan breads.

Think Turkey, Ham, Prime Rib, Roast Tenderloin, Lobster, Alaskan Crab Legs, and whatever extravagant, and gluttonous feast we can think up. We all entertain, and we entertain big, having twenty, or more people over on the weekends.

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