Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cooking Up a Cure for Cabin Fever

Yeah, I admit it.  Winter starts to feel a little old, come late February, even for folks like me who love to get out and play in the snow.  But that snow is getting soggy now, and muddy around the edges, and more often it's a sense of duty, rather than pleasant anticipation, that pushes my long-johned, rubber-booted person out the door.  Some days I just don't bother.  It's cabin fever time.

One of my favorite cures for this late-winter malady is to fill my cabin with the wonderful smells of long-braised pots of comfort food.  Here are a couple I cooked up recently.

Braised Oxtail

 I could hardly believe it when my husband brought me this recipe from The New York Times food section, because he just won't eat red meat, usually, and oxtail is not only red, it's also pretty fatty.  Lusciously, wonderfully, melt-in-your-mouth fatty, with lots of gelatinous tissue and deep-meaty marrow to add incredible flavor to the sauce.  This recipe called for chunks of celery root, carrots and onions,  as well as red wine and beef broth.  Just before serving, a handful of gremolata (chopped parsley, minced raw garlic, and shredded lemon rind) is scattered over the dish.  I doubled the amount of beef stock so as to have lots of gravy to ladle over mashed potatoes, and I baked the stew for  nearly six hours at 250 degrees, instead of three hours at 325, as the recipe directed.  Braised that slowly, the meat becomes so soft you could eat it with a spoon -- although I preferred to use my hands and suck every savory morsel from all the convoluted nooks and crannies of the bones.  Heavenly!

To lessen the artery-clogging aspect of this dish, I made it the day before we ate it, then skimmed the cold-hardened fat off the top.  It was still deliciously rich.

Chicken and Dumplings

I think that chicken and dumplings has got to be the ultimate comfort food.  And the way I make this dish, it's actually pretty healthy.  I pull off the skin and scissor-trim all visible fat from chicken thighs, using just a bit of that fat to saute onions, celery, and lots of carrots, before adding the chicken, a dash of thyme, and a quart of chicken broth to the pot and simmering all for a half an hour or so.  Then for the dumplings, I stir up a soft biscuit dough using whole-grain King Arthur white whole-wheat flour and olive oil instead of butter.  The dumplings steam, covered,  on top of the broth for 20 minutes or so, rising up into plump little pillows of tender fluffy deliciousness.  The dumplings also serve to slightly thicken the broth, so it seems almost creamy when ladled over the dumplings in the soup plates.  Fresh parsley goes on top.  Oh yum!

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