Brrrr - it's getting cold out there! Time to hibernate, right? Well, sort of. When the temperatures dip and start to hover around the freezing mark, I tend to hole up in my kitchen and cook up large batches of deliciousness to make sure that my freezer is well stocked for the cold months ahead. There's nothing better than coming home to a homemade meal on a chilly day and I have a few ideas to prove that a nutritious, delicious meal doesn't need to involve a lot of work.
Soup is always a winner in our household. If you have water, vegetables, spices and herbs, you can pretty much create any combination you like. Soup is an easy dish to create in large batches and if you add in some fresh bread and cheese/ charcuterie and a salad you have a complete meal, ready in minutes.
Stews are also easy to make in large quantities and they freeze well too. How about a gumbo?
Stews are wonderful as you can cook them in the slow cooker and arrive home to a house filled with wonderful aromas (and dinner already made!). How about fancying up a simple lamb stew with some colour - dried cranberries, English peas, slivered almonds are all colourful add-ins that take an ordinary stew to a more gourmet level. Simply toss in your colourful additions as you reheat.
Speaking of lamb, why not make a moussaka instead of a boring old shepherd's pie?
Something that many people don't tackle at home is homemade pasta. I can't think of a better recipe to experiment with in the cold weather. I mean, if you're going to be stuck indoors on a cold day, why not take the time to learn a new skill, right? Sure, it takes a little longer but imagine the satisfaction of serving pasta from scratch?
Homemade cavatelli with simple tomato sauce - a recipe from Massimo Bruno
250 g fine durum semolina flour
Approx 100 mls warm water (maybe a little less, maybe a little more - depends on the weather, humidity. Massimo says you need to make the pasta a few times to get to know the "feel" of the correct consistency).
About 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, peeled, but not chopped
1 jar high quality tomato sauce
Instructions Heap the flour on a work surface. Make a well in the flour mound, add most of the water in the well and slowly incorporate the water using a fork or a finger. Incorporate only a tiny amount of the flour by making a circular motion with either the fork or the finger and bringing a little bit of the flour in on each round. When the mixture is too dry add in some more water. You will have a dough that is a little bit crumbly. Gather the dough in your hands and knead until you have a dough ball that is not too dry and not too wet. Now, knead the dough, making sure to push it on the work surface with the heel of your hand to stretch the dough. You should knead this for about 5-10 minutes. Form small logs with the dough and wrap it in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the garlic. Add the tomatoes, add salt and pepper and allow to simmer, uncovered for about 10 minutes on a low heat. Add the sauce and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
Continue making your pasta: Cut dough logs into 4 pieces and roll under the palm of your hand to create a log that is the thickness of your little finger. Line up the thin logs (4-5 at a time) and with a sharp knife, cut tiny pieces, about 1cm long. With your thumb, drag the pieces of dough across a wooden cutting board to form tiny curls. Cook in boiling, salted water until they float to the surface. Toss cooked pasta in the tomato sauce and serve.
If you're not quite up for making pasta from scratch, how about making meatballs from scratch. You can either grind the meat yourself (another great activity for a cold winter afternoon) or buy ready ground high-quality meat.
Spaghetti and from-scratch meatballs, adapted from The Stone Road Grille for Lailey Vineyards
Ingredients 500g pork shoulder, diced into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1/3 cup red wine
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons 35% cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
900 mls tomato sauce
Method For the pork: Mix the pork with the garlic, shallot, parsley, thyme and oregano. Cover and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, placing in the freezer for the last 30 minutes. Use the Kitchen Aid meat grinding attachment (or similar) to grind the meat and herbs together. Now use the paddle attachment, add the wine to the minced meat and combine for about a minute.
For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 350F. Add the breadcrumbs, cream and parmesan to the meat and combine well. Using your hands, form meatballs. This amount made 25 decent sized ones or about 50 smaller ones.
Brown meatballs in a heavy skillet or frying pan in olive oil then place in an oven-proof dish. Cover with the tomato sauce. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30-45 minutes (longer for the larger sized meatballs). Serve over cooked spaghetti or bucatini.
Nothing cozier than a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, right?
Continuing on our Italian theme, pizza is another great comfort food in the winter that you can really get creative with in terms of toppings. Decent store-bought dough is easy to find now if you don't want to make your own, but if you do, that's another great project for a chilly afternoon. Pizzas are also a great way to use up bits and pieces in your fridge (and if you have kids, it's a great way to get their vegetables in!).
Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher and part-time food blogger based in Toronto. Her blog, eat.live.travel.write focuses on culinary adventures both near and far because she travels as often as she can!
by Mardi Michels