If you’re anything like me, the winter doldrums are real and setting in. I’ve found that the best cure for the winter blahs is food, a cozy atmosphere and good company.
Here are some tips and recipes for hosting a warm and cozy night-in:
To add a little ambiance to your space for guests, lower the overhead lighting and light candles in your kitchen, living room, and down the length of the dinner table. If you’re blessed with a fireplace, then be sure to have firewood and kindling ready for a full evening of keeping it ablaze. Lush flowers in bright hues will warm up your dinner table, and a stocked bar cart with trendy napkins and a cute bar stirrer will add to a festive vibe. Once your space is set, it’s time to tackle the meal.
These five main courses are tried and true — even for an Irish girl like me who thrives on simple meat and potato recipes. Happy hosting!
1. Beef Bourguignon
Ok, so this is meat and potatoes. But it’s meat and potatoes by Julia Child, so enough said.
One 6-ounce piece of chunk bacon
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 onion, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups red wine, young and full-bodied (like Beaujolais, Cotes du Rhone or Burgundy)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups brown beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme
A crumbled bay leaf
18 to 24 white onions, small
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, one-half bay leaf, one-quarter teaspoon thyme, tied in cheesecloth)
1 pound mushrooms, fresh and quartered
Remove bacon rind and cut into lardons (sticks 1/4-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long). Simmer rind and lardons for 10 minutes in 1 1/2 quarts water. Drain and dry. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Saute lardons in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a flameproof casserole over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Dry beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Heat fat in casserole until almost smoking. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and saute until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the lardons.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables. Pour out the excess fat. Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat again and return to oven for 4 minutes (this browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust). Remove casserole and turn oven down to 325 degrees. Stir in wine and 2 to 3 cups stock, just enough so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs and bacon rind. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Cover casserole and set in lower third of oven. Regulate heat so that liquid simmers very slowly for 3 to 4 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily. While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet.
Add onions and saute over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible. Be careful not to break their skins. You cannot expect them to brown uniformly. Add 1/2 cup of the stock, salt and pepper to taste and the herb bouquet. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herb bouquet and set onions aside.
Wipe out skillet and heat remaining oil and butter over high heat. As soon as you see butter has begun to subside, indicating it is hot enough, add mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for 4 to 5 minutes. As soon as they have begun to brown lightly, remove from heat. When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the casserole into a sieve set over a saucepan. Wash out the casserole and return the beef and lardons to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms on top. Skim fat off sauce in saucepan. Simmer sauce for a minute or 2, skimming off additional fat as it rises.
You should have about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, mix in a few tablespoons stock. Taste carefully for seasoning. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times. Serve in casserole, or arrange stew on a platter surrounded with potatoes, noodles or rice, and decorated with parsley.
2. Sausage and White Bean Soup
If you prefer a lighter dinner, try this delicious seasonal soup. Serve with warm baguette.
1/2 lb. sausage, casing removed
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. diced onions
1/2 c. dry white wine
Freshly ground black pepper
2 c. marinara sauce
32 oz. low-sodium chicken stock
1 15- oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. aneletti pasta, or any small pasta shape
3 c. baby spinach, washed and dried
Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown sausage and break up using a wooden spoon. Add fennel seed, garlic and onions stirring from time to time, cook for 4 minutes. Deglaze with wine and season with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper; simmer for 2 minutes.
Add marinara sauce and stock; bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Add beans and pasta; cook according to package directions for al dente pasta. If soup is too thick, add splash of chicken stock or water. Just before serving add fresh spinach. Stir until warmed through and spinach is wilted. Serve immediately.
3. Bucatini All’Amatriciana
Nothing says cozy and comfort like pasta, and my personal favorite is Amatriciana.
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta, or chopped unsmoked bacon
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can peeled tomatoes with juices, crushed by hand t
12 oz. dried bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino (about 1 oz.)
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add guanciale and sauté until crisp and golden, about 4 minutes. Add pepper flakes and black pepper; stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Season with salt; add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Add drained pasta to sauce in skillet and toss vigorously with tongs to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and cook until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. (Add a little pasta water if sauce is too dry.) Stir in cheese and transfer pasta to warmed bowls.
4. Cauliflower Bisque with Brown Butter Croutons
This tasty vegetarian soup makes for a wonderful winter meal.
2 c. whole milk
2½ c. vegetable stock
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 pound total), separated into florets
3/4 lb. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
4 sprigs thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 c. cubed ciabatta bread
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. pomegranate seeds
Chopped chives, for serving
Combine milk, stock, cauliflower, potato, onion, garlic, and thyme in a large saucepan. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the vegetables are very tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes.
Add bread and cook, stirring often, until toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard thyme sprigs. Puree soup, in batches, in a blender until smooth. Add cream and pulse to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with croutons, pomegranate seeds, and chives.
5. Chicken Tikka Masala
This approachable dish is trendy, tasty and easy to execute.
For the chicken:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 to 4 breast halves total)
1/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, minced
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger (from 1-inch piece)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups canned tomato purée (see Cook’s Notes for a fresh-tomato alternative)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus additional sprigs for garnish
Naan (Indian flatbread) and/or cooked Basmati Rice
Marinate the chicken. Use a fork to prick the chicken breasts all over on both sides. Arrange the chicken breasts on a large sheet of plastic wrap, spacing them apart from one another, then cover with a second large sheet of plastic wrap. Using the smooth side of a meat mallet or a rolling pin, beat the chicken until the breasts are an even 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness.
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 tablespoon peanut oil, lime juice, and garlic. Add the pounded chicken, and rub the marinade over the meat. Set the chicken aside while you make the sauce.
Make the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the coriander, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika, cayenne, and grated ginger. In a heavy, wide 4-quart pot or sauté pan over moderately high heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light brown and caramelized, about 5 minutes. (Note that because they are sautéed so quickly over moderately high heat, the onions will not caramelize evenly.) Reduce the heat to moderate then stir in the spice and ginger mixture. Add the tomato purée, water, heavy cream, and salt, and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to gently simmer the sauce, uncovered, until thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, cook chicken: Heat a heavy 11- to 12-inch griddle or skillet over moderately high heat until very hot and add 1/2 tablespoon of peanut oil. Working in two batches, cook the chicken breasts, turning them a few times and lowering the heat if the chicken chars too quickly, until just cooked through and browned well on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer the chicken as cooked to a cutting board. Wipe the griddle or skillet clean with a paper towel and cook the remaining chicken, adding the remaining 1/2 tablespoon peanut oil between batches.
When all the chicken is cooked, cut it into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Add the chicken to the simmering sauce and continue to gently simmer it, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the black pepper and chopped cilantro, and season with salt.
To serve: Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and garnish with additional cilantro sprigs. Serve with naan, and/or if desired with Basmati Rice.
Spring is just around the corner so enjoy the cozy while it’s still here. Bon Appetit!
Images via Brooke Lark