Cool Weather Comfort Food

Shhhh…. the baby’s sleeping. You know I can’t stay away for long. He’s two weeks old today, and my goal for the time being is to do at least one post here a week. It’s good me-time and I want to keep sharing all the great stuff I’m still somehow managing to squeeze in. So what have I been up to?

Keeping us all fed. With a little one that needs attention nearly round the clock, this is no small task. But with the crockpot, there is good food on the table at our house! It’s been raining for weeks here. We have little glimpses of golden fall sunshine, but mostly a lot of rain. And the weather has turned cool – tonight it’s supposed to be in the forties! So crockpot dinners and soups have been playing big into our dinner times recently.

We’ve turned to two of our favorite soups recently for quick dinners – bacon and whiskey chili with cornbread on the side and cioppino with sourdough bread. I can’t believe I haven’t posted my recipe for cioppino yet – it’s so good. If you’re not familiar, it’s a seafood stew that is rumored to have originated in the San Francisco area. It’s got a white wine, tomato and clam juice base, and usually contains a white fish (I typically use cod), shrimp, mussels (I prefer the smoked ones), and crab. I’ll have to get the exact recipe I use listed here soon – you have to try it. Since those are both quick dishes, we just did them on the stovetop. The cornbread was quick in the oven and we splurged and purchased the sourdough from Bennisons at last weekend’s farmers market.

But the crockpot has had equal play as well. I found two recipes online recently that sounded pretty good, so I decided to give them a try. My husband was able to get a pork roast at a good price at the store, so I wanted to do something special with it. CDKitchen has some great crockpot recipes on their site, including one for Apricot Glazed Pork Roast. It only uses five ingredients – pork roast, apricot preserves, chicken stock, dijon mustard and an onion. It was pretty good, and I served it with egg noodles for a simple side dish. We’ll be having it again, since my husband liked it so much.

We also did a crockpot Moroccan chicken from the site, but I need to play with this recipe a bit. It didn’t have enough of a flavor punch for me – it ended up tasting a little bland. Okay, a lot bland. I only had powdered ginger on hand, so next time I’ll use the fresh that the recipe calls for. And instead of the orange juice, I’ll use whole fresh lemons and juice. And I’ll punch up the garlic a bit too – two cloves wasn’t enough for our taste.

And just tonight, I improvised a bean stew in the crockpot. I used half a bag of dried white beans (pre-soaked overnight), an onion, a couple of carrots, a can of tomatoes with chiles, chicken stock and the leftover bland Morrocan chicken. I seasoned it with cumin and Mexican oregano. It was pretty good for something just thrown together while the baby napped. I also managed to make a loaf of bread on a subsequent nap! Not a time consuming yeast bread mind you, but bread! I’ve been craving home made white bread lately. Quick bread was the answer, and after some internet searching I came across a suitable candidate – herb quick bread. It’s a baking soda-risen bread, flavored with caraway, thyme and nutmeg. It’s a denser loaf than a yeast-risen bread, but still has a nice crumb. The flavorings have a bit of a Scandinavian profile, but the great thing about it being a white bread base is you can flavor it any way you want. You could do garlic, thyme, oregano and rosemary for an Italian-style bread, or layer cinnamon sugar and butter into the dough for a breakfast bread; anything really. This will definitely be a standby in our house.

Tomorrow if I can get some sausage at the store, I may do a crockpot jambalaya – I’ve been wanting to try the recipe that came with my crockpot for awhile now. And in other news, we plan on walking to the library and we need to clear out the garden and move the herbs indoors – the nights are getting cold! And I’ve been thinking about relaunching my Etsy site, so I need to some brainstorming on that… oh and plenty of baby-tending, a nap or two and hopefully a little time with a good book.

Preservation Fever… AKA Nesting…

I’m in the process of getting fifty pounds of tomatoes as well as hopefully a flat of hot peppers and cucumbers lined up from the market on Sunday. I really hope Midnight Sun has a good haul to set aside for me, because I need desperately to have a pantry full of dry goods all of a sudden. Every late summer/early fall I get this way. The days are noticeably shorter – dusk arrives at around 8:15 now instead of 9:00, and the unbearable heat of early August seems to have moderated. The early morning even has just the slightest hint of cool on the breeze. It’s getting to be that time of the year.

This year, however, I’m at a fever pitch. Nine months pregnant and completely nesting. I swore up and down all summer I was only going to do tomatoes, especially with the broken ankle. But my husband seems to have been bitten by the canning bug (at least a little bit) because he asked me the other day what else we could put up with the water bath canner to fill in our pantry. So we pulled out the books and thought about what we’d get the most mileage out of over the winter. Pickled hot peppers immediately came to mind for use in chili, soups and sauces along with the tomatoes. And a couple of pints of kosher dill pickles. So it looks like we’re going to add those into the rotation as well. I’m hoping we can get 14 quarts of tomatoes done this Sunday with both of us working on it. And another 14 the weekend after. That would put our total at 33 jars. Do I dare try to fit in another 14 over Labor Day weekend, a week before the baby is due? That would put us 47 jars… pretty close to my original goal. But I think I might have to play that one by ear. Tomatoes will likely be winding down at that point anyway.

We’re also going to buy several quarts of berries at the market for freezing this weekend. Hopefully we can get a half flat of blueberries, since those are husband’s favorites. And maybe some sweet peppers for the freezer too, if we can get a good price.

In October, we’ll have two bushels of apples to stock pile – I plan to can one bushel so can we have apple pie filling, and then maybe do a little juice and applesauce with the other bushel. And of course we’ll have plenty for fresh eating for a little while out of that too. And in late September I’ve got to head up to the Evanston market to get a couple big containers of cranberries to can into whole berry sauce. One holiday dinner element in the bag! And we’ll buy up a pint or two of chestnuts for the freezer for holiday meals too. And that reminds me – we’ll need to buy a garlic braid, a half gallon of maple syrup and another two gallons of honey to see us through the winter too. Good god, that seems like a lot of money when I start to add it up – $100.00 for the garlic and honey alone! But food in the pantry is almost better than money in the bank to me. You can’t eat a credit card when times are lean.

And then there’s there freezer! After nearly five years of talking about it, we finally bit the bullet and spent the money on a small chest freezer. We opted for a 7.0 cubic square foot model, and it’s being delivered on Saturday. It can hold around 210 pounds of food! Just the right size for our needs. The primary catalyst for the purchase after all this time is, of course, the baby. Frankly, we need somewhere to store breast milk so we don’t have to buy formula for him in those times down the line when we’re not attached at the hip. The cost of the freezer will repay itself relatively quickly in what we’ll save on the cost of formula. And the added benefit is that we can now buy bulk meats and stock up on freezer things.

I’m already talking to a few farmers to get pricing on half hogs and quarter steers. The half hog will net us about 75 pounds of pork, and around $282.00 seems to be the going rate. The quarter steer gives around 126 pounds of beef, which is about twice as much as we have room for. So we’re hoping my husband’s parents will be interested in splitting a quarter with us (I think they will – they love bulk shopping). If so, we’ll get about 63 pounds of beef, and the going rate for that seems to be around $272.00. As we generally only eat a few pounds of meat per week, this will easily last us through a year. Just think – one outlay of cash, with a big part of your food supply stashed away. No worries about the price of beef or pork going up so much you can’t afford it, because it’s already paid for and sitting right in your freezer. I like that kind of security.

And now that the freezer will be here soon, I can start making double batches of whatever we’re having for dinner and freezer up the extra. Bolognese sauce, bacon and whiskey chili, and minestrone soup are all on my list. They’ll be great to have on hand for the first few weeks after the baby is born and we’re all still getting used to our new routine.

So am I sounding a little crazy? A little obsessed? Yeah, probably. Nesting on top of that fall instinct to squirrel away a little extra for winter is likely a bit much. But it will be great come January when we have a pantry and freezer full of good things to eat, without worrying about the budget and trudging out in the cold and snow to pick up something for dinner!

Sunday in the Kitchen

The last three months have been pretty rough for me in terms of food and cooking. With morning sickness that lasted pretty much all day and night, I ate what I could when I could and husband did most of the cooking. He’s been a real trooper taking over the kitchen and my share of the household chores. It certainly hasn’t been an equitable division of labor, but hey – I’m growing another human being here.

But as this pregnancy progresses, I’m feeling sick less often – which is great. Because despite how greatful I am that husband stepped up, I’ve really missed spending time in my kitchen. Poring over cookbooks and and cooking are what I enjoy and how I relax. And today I finally got my chance! After an afternoon nap (which was total bliss, except for the sore neck I woke up with) I waltzed into my kitchen, did up the few dishes in the sink, wiped down the counters and began.

First up on the docket – tunnel of fudge cake. I got out my largest mixing bowl, which isn’t quite large enough for this recipe and proceeded to make a giant, floury mess all over my freshly cleaned counters. I filled up my Nordicware bundt pan with the silky chocolate batter and popped it into the oven. I’m going to have to be patient and let it cool for almost two hours when it’s done baking so the whole thing doesn’t collapse into itself as a giant pile of sludge. I’m going to do my best to wait. I’ve got a major sweet tooth lately and I’m beyond excited about this cake.

Then, onto dinner – bacon and whiskey chili. I’ve made this recipe so many times I can do it without consulting the recipe, but I got it out anyway because I had such a taste for it. It had to be executed perfectly. As such, instead of prepping as I went, I decided to prep my mise en place beforehand. I was so excited about finally cooking that I wanted to draw it out. I diced an onion and several cloves a garlic and set them out in a bowl. I diced the bacon and set it aside. I measured the chicken stock. Lined up the cans of bean and tomatoes. Pulled the bottle of whiskey down from the woefully neglected bar. And then I measured out the spices with the brown sugar and mixed them together into a bowl. Prep complete.

I put some water onto to boil for ditalini (Yes, I’m a pasta with chili kind of girl. I’m sure chiliheads everywhere hate me. Whatever.) Then I put my stockpot over a high flame to heat it up for the main event. When the bacon went in, it sizzled in that satisfying way only bacon can. Oh, joy of cooking! Once the bacon was crispy, in went the onions and garlic. Once the onions were golden and fragrant, in went the beef until well browned. And then the spices – wow, what a smell! From there, I added the tomatoes, stock, beans and a healthy shot of whiskey. I brought it up to a boil, then reduced the flame to let it simmer. The only thing I did differently with this recipe from normal was omit the shot of whiskey for the cook!

Dinner and dessert tonight are going to be so delicious… on that note, I believe I need to take the cake out of the oven to cool. 🙂