Monday, January 10, 2011

UnRecipe: Comforting Foods for a Cold Winter's Night

I know I was complaining over the overindulgence of holiday foods recently, but I will say one of the nice things about winter is how extra-delicious comfort foods become when it's cold outside. Old Man Winter has definitely come home to roost in our neck of the woods for a while, so I've been making a few winter favorites.

Meatballs sans spaghetti - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I have much love for spaghetti and meatballs and my workaround to limit our pasta intake is to make it more traditional and just have meatballs. My last craving for meat-a-balls had me rummaging through our pantry and freezer. I always have ground turkey in the deep freeze and with enough seasoning and chopped garlic, you can make them pretty flavorful. I roll them extra-big, sear the meatballs in a skillet just to get a light crust, remove while I make a basic marinara sauce in the same skillet and add the balls o'meat into the sauce so they can braise the rest of the way. It makes for really tender meatballs and it makes me wish my meatloaf turned out that good. Smother with shavings of Parmesan and stuff your face!
Man-sized pumpkin ricotta manicotti! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I did satisfy my pasta jones when I made hand-rolled sheets for making manicotti stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta, smothered in a creamy cheesy sauce. I had leftover roasted pumpkin from Thanksgiving in the freezer and wanted to try a filling that included ricotta, some toasted walnuts and chopped porcini. Making the handmade pasta was just so I could say I worked for my supper, and to just add another element of complexity that I probably didn't need. I don't have a pasta roller, so it was just a rolling pin and my poor excuse for the Gun Show. But it was a delicious experiment gone horribly right. I'm thinking of making this again for friends who have just had a baby, as it freezes well. I'm likely going to cheat with the pasta and buy premade pasta, but the good stuff is the filling, with the savory-sweet pumpkin and ricotta, with the earthy mushrooms.

Hungarian Shepherd's Pie - Photo by Wasabi Prime

My new favorite is an odd combination of goulash and Shepherd's Pie. Cold weather food is also lazybones food and I'm always looking for stuff to make that doesn't require much fussing about and can ideally cook in a single pot or casserole dish. This one could probably be made in a single oven-proof skillet, but I made a skillet of goulash, which is to say a bunch of ground meat and vegetables cooked up with some tomato paste and a lot of paprika, poured it into a casserole dish, and covered it with thin slices of sweet potatoes to bake off in the oven. It's a good stick-to-your-ribs weeknight meal in its ease of preparation, and -- no surprise -- it reheats just dandy as leftovers for lunch. You could probably do this with any thick stew, topping it with slices of potato before putting it into the oven -- make it, bake it, dunzo, it's dinnertime.

I know, I know -- why you gotta be so UnRecipe and not post a recipe? I always figure a lot of this stuff is fairly basic or people already have their own favorite recipes for stews, meatballs, spaghetti sauce, etc., it's more of a visual reminder to eat something you haven't had in a while. At least that's how I cook -- I'll see a picture in a magazine, it'll inspire interest or hunger in a particular ingredient, and the UnRecipe meals come from that. I will likely post a proper recipe with the pumpkin manicotti. I need to shore up the recipe a little and make it a little simpler for quicker prep, since I'll be making it for newly-minted parents.

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  1. Looks great. Who said you had to have noodles to enjoy good meatballs. Thanks.

  2. Ok, come on. No recipes? I want one for each of these. The meatballs had me drooling.


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