As the calendar goes deeper into the winter season, there are two points of consolation that make the cold, dark days remotely bearable. First, spring creeps ever closer with sunsets that dip below the horizon a bit later. Second, there is the solace of food that keeps us quite happy and warm while we wait for the ground to thaw and the dogwoods to burst their puffy blooms. We even remain oblivious to the fact that, especially in the Northern climes, the barbecue grill hidden under mounds of snow mocks us, a painful memory of breezy summer meals that fragrance the neighborhood.
But I digress.
Right now it’s the winter of our culinary—forget the dis here—comfort. Domes of flaky pastry crust with bubbling chicken and rosemary-scented vegetables are like cashmere mittens, cozying up our innards. Mounds of mashed potatoes crowning a savory mixture of lamb, carrots and wine wrap us in velvety English-inspired pies. Crusty casseroles that go from oven to table laden with rich stews of beef and aromatic onions rendered meltingly tender from braising slowly in Burgundy, served with tears of crusty peasant bread to sop up the densely flavored and silky sauce, blanket us with maternal cajoling, urging us to surrender to frigid temperatures and “Eat, eat!”
Comfort food at its soothingly best is how I mark time in January. I move about my kitchen bundled in sweats and a ski jersey, sheepskin slippers toasting my toes, a fire blazing in the next room, preparing rib-sticking dishes that would help even a bear in its sustenance seeking pre-hibernation mission.
The winter dinner bell peals with the reassurance that, as forkfuls of comfort food are consumed along with bottles of wine and glasses of dark beer, this is a temporary stop on the calendar’s cuisine train. Soon enough we’ll be sautéing spring peas and tossing marinated kabobs and chops onto the grill. But right now it’s the sturdy belles of winter that keep us satisfied until March’s triumphant vernal equinox.
This is one of my favorite winter comforters—anything but a pie, the mélange of meat and vegetables under a cover of browned mashed potatoes never disappoints. Tempt summer by serving a purchased apple pie a la mode for dessert. From the Dean & DeLuca Cookbook.
2 large baking potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled
1/2 cup milk
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup beef stock
1 cup corn kernels (optional)
Put potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Bring water to a boil, and cook potatoes for about 40 minutes, until cooked through. Drain potatoes and place in a bowl. Mash them with the milk and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside.
Melt remaining butter in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic and ground lamb and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until lamb is well browned. Season with the remaining salt, rosemary, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well and then sprinkle mixture with 2 teaspoons of the flour. Stir again and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour excess grease out of pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add the onion and carrot to pan and cook over moderate heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of flour and stir. Increase heat slightly, and add the white wine and beef stock, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any caramelized bits. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by about half.
Add lamb mixture and corn. Stir well and cook another 3 to 4 minutes. (Enough of the liquid should have evaporated that the mixture is held together by a nice thick sauce.)
6. Butter a casserole dish well and spread lamb mixture over the bottom. Cover the lamb with the mashed potatoes and smooth the top. Bake casserole, uncovered, in the oven for 40 minutes, until heated through. Serve immediately.
Comfort Food Superstars
Chicken Pot Pie with Rosemary
We’ve all consumed bland and commercial pot pies—those frozen doorstops from our childhood. Try this recipe for one that isn’t your Swanson’s variety—this pot pie is all grown up, with haricot verts, tiny pearl onions, chunks of sautéed chicken breast and a creamy wine sauce to bind it all together. Vive la comfort food!
Or, if you prefer UPS to deliver comfort food to your doorstep, here’s one sure to please: a chicken pot pie with organic peas, carrots, onions and celery with free-range chicken. Large or individual, this aims to please.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.