For all the pitfalls that come with gardening in Northern Minnesota, and there are many, one positive is that snow cover is fairly reliable. That may not sound like a big deal but it is. The snow acts as blanket in much the same way a mulch would. It tempers the winter weather extremes we encounter here frequently. It is one of the reasons we can grow borderline hardy perennials with some degree of success. One of the other benefits of snow cover is it allows you to harvest certain perennial herbs and some vegetables year round. I can usually harvest herbs such as thyme and sage all year long and I do. Fresh herbs can push an otherwise ordinary dish over the top. The "fresh" herbs you get in the grocery store always seem flat to me. They can't hold a candle to something you go out and harvest in your own yard, even in February.
I dug under the snow to find this thyme since I needed it for our Valentine's day supper. It has been my experience that thyme is probably the best of the herbs for winter harvest. It seems to hold up real well under the snow and it is often hard to distinguish from summer harvested thyme. The aroma is quite strong even after months under the snow. Much better than any store bought package of herbs. It's versatile and wine friendly. It is an essential ingredient for a bouquet garni which is what I needed it for and also makes a nice attractive garnish. You just have to know where to dig so be certain to mark them or make a mental note as to the location.
I decided to prepare the French classic, Coq Au Vin for Valentine's day. It seemed to me to be the perfect dish for the occasion. Warming and flavorful and full of good things from the garden. It is served over mashed potatoes and the varieties I used were 'German Butterball' and 'Valisa'. It was the last of the yellow fleshed potatoes I had in storage. Although it is not necessary for a classic Coq Au Vin, I chose to steam some carrots as an accompaniment. 'Purple Dragon' was the variety. It is one of the purple skinned carrots that doesn't lose it's color after cooking. It is only the skin that is purple so peeling isn't required if you want the color. Why wouldn't you? It is, after all, the main attribute of the variety.
The preparation of the dish isn't too technically difficult but it does have several components so I wouldn't say it is easy. It is however, totally worth the effort.
Tender stewed chicken with a rich sauce on top of homegrown mashed potatoes and some steamed carrots for added panache. This dish exemplifies what good cooking is about: taking an austere ingredient and transforming it into something extraordinary. Add to that a good amount of garden cache items and there really isn't anything to not like about it. Even the thyme garnish is a nice touch especially when you can harvest it in the middle of February, It just pushes the whole thing over the top. The garden lives on.
It was a nice Valentine's day.