Sick of staying in and cooking through the pandemic? Here’s some inspiration to help you through the long fall and winter months, plus a few tips and tricks for keeping it interesting, nutritious, delicious!
If cooking something for the first time, a good general strategy is to search multiple recipes (say, 4-6) and look for common denominators in terms of seasonings/flavorings and cooking techniques. If searching recipes online, be sure to also read through all reviews and comments as these will often reveal mistakes made by the recipe author (e.g., 3 tbsp vs. 3 tsp of salt) and will generally offer great substitution ideas for missing or hard-to-find ingredients.
Stocks/soups. A trick for making great fall soups is to cook your own stock, using cuttings, scraps, plus the same herbs and flavorings specified in the soup recipe. Making a stock does not need to be labor intensive or time consuming. Vegetables release their flavors within the first thirty minutes or so of cooking; meat-based stocks take longer but can be set to simmer while you rake leaves or complete other fall chores. To cut down on fat, refrigerate homemade stocks overnight and skim off solids. For basic root and other fall vegetable soups think, squash, pumpkin, carrot, turnip, rutabaga, parsnip, cauliflower, etc experiment with warming flavor profiles curry, ginger, turmeric and so forth. Roasting vegetables before adding to soup adds incredible depths of sweetness and flavor. A few other fall/winter favorite soup recipes are: Pasta fagioli (pasta and white beans), cream of mushroom, French onion, potato leek, and lentil, brown rice, and sausage.
Stews. There are too many great chili recipes, to recommend just one or two. A favorite trick here is to stir in a tablespoon or two of raw cocoa powder near the end of cooking. If making a beef stew, go for a vintage (circa 1940s-50s) stovetop recipe or try this Irish version. If eating plant-based, most stew recipes can be easily adapted using lentils as a protein substitute.
Sheet-pan dinners. Google or search Pinterest for “sheet pan dinners” and you will enter a whole new world of hearty, nutritious, easy-to-make, and easy-to-clean-up weeknight fall and winter dinners. A high-quality EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and parchment paper are your friends here! To get started, have a look at this collection.
Skillets. Much like sheet pan dinners, skillet and skillet-to-oven dishes are other wonderful ways to pack lots of fiber, nutrition, and flavor into weeknight dinners. Three favorites in this category are: classic French cassoulet, bubble and squeak or this vegetarian version of bubble and squeak..
Roasts. Searing is the key to cooking an outstanding (beef or pork) roast; that means starting at a high temp (400-450F) for 15-20 minutes to seal in juices, then reducing the cooking temp to 300-350F until done. Always, always use a good meat thermometer to determine doneness. Here are some failsafe favorites for roasting: prime rib, whole chicken, and Pernil al Horno (pork shoulder/picnic roast). For Sunday leftovers, think pot pie, shepherd’s pie or a nice plant-based version featuring lentils for fiber and protein.
Gravy. Of course, if you are roasting meat, you’ll need to know the basics for making a great gravy from drippings. If you prefer plant-based, check out this gravy to enjoy with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, lentils, or other hearty meat stand-ins.
Braises. A small amount of up-front work, plus several hours of slow-braising can yield some sublime dishes for very little money as the point of braising is to tenderize inexpensive cuts of meat. One key to braising is to use a Dutch oven or other vessel with a tight-sealing lid that can go straight from stovetop to oven. Or, you can go the slow or pressure-cooking route. Four favorite recipes in this category include: pot roast, braised short ribs, leg of lamb with mixed root veg, and spicy barbacoa.
Desserts and hot drinks. Favorite fall/winter dessert recipes frequently feature apples, pears, pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes. Tip: canned pumpkin is just as good (and much, much less labor intensive) for making pie. Other favorites include: caramel apples, and this cobbler, starring tart Granny Smith apples and fresh cranberries. For a cozy night cap, go with hot mulled cider, wassail, a hot buttered rum or toddy.