Looking for color in winter

Butternut Squash

We have passed the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year, and now are definitely pointed toward spring. However you wouldn't know that with a week of snow headed our way and a white Christmas on tap. Since the days have been grey as of late, I've been looking for light and warmth in the kitchen. Thankfully the oranges of squash, the reds of pomegranates, and the verdant greens have been helpful in that regard. The last of the acorn squash was consumed as a little side dish in the most classic manner possible--baked in the oven with a little water so they can steam in the foiled over pan. I do like a side dish that can be put in the oven quickly (even with the seed scraping step) and then ignored while you work on something more complicated.

In keeping with season’s colors, the greens have been used in multiple dishes. The more macho arugula was cooked and tamed into quick pasta with tomatoes. Several handfuls of spinach were transformed into a salad with sunflower seeds, radishes from the box, and some manchego cheese and pears with a simple dressing. The radishes also appeared in a fennel bulb salad with tangerines. I've loved the fennel salads after reading Mark Bittman's Minimalist column about fennel salads and their variations. Fennel is mild and crunchy and makes a wonderfully substantial main salad ingredient. I'm still getting over my irrational fear that radishes are over the top spicy. Thin slices in salads are helping to dispel that weird phobia.

While the greens of the season have been used in salads and quick pastas, the reds have been used in slightly more complicated dishes. Red potatoes have gone into turkey hash which is not complicated but takes some time on the stove to get that fabulous crust on the ingredients. The pomegranates have gone into a mango pomegranate guacamole that was the hit of the week. The little bursts of flavor from the seeds elevated the guacamole from its regular wonderfulness to unique and wonderful. If only the mango had been a little more flavorful we might have really been talking sublime. I would blame the mango's boringness on being out of season but I haven't the faintest idea when is mango season. I hope I just got a sub-par mango.

The pomegranate seeds are already hopefully working magic on a cordial in the refrigerator as you read this. I ran across the recipe for Ratafia, a wine and fruit infusion earlier this year in the good ol'New York Times. I tried it with some late season raspberries and early season pears and set it to steep in early October. It slowed turned a lovely rose color in the back of the refrigerator and was so delicious and refreshing when done and strained and ready for consumption. I used cheap wine and cheap vodka and it was still good. So, upgrading on the liquor a bit, I set a batch of pomegranate ratafia to steep about two weeks ago. It should be ready in early January just when the cold days need a fruity pick me up. Since we don't anticipate a tropical vacation this winter, we will rely on the wonders of pomegranates to add some color and flair.

For your cooking pleasure:

Fennel and Celery Salad
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/26/dining/26mini.html?scp=1&sq=bittman%20...

Ratafia
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/dining/29rata.html?ref=dining

Mango Pomegranate Guacamole
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Mango-Pomegranate-Guacamole...