Cold weather calls for old-fashioned comfort foods

When there’s a nice thick blanket of snow on the ground and you can hear the wind whistling through the walls of your home, it’s time for a rib-sticking sort of dinner to greet the family.

I am an old-fashioned cook with no crock pot, air fryer or even a toaster oven anymore. My two Dutch ovens of different sizes and trusty cast iron skillets and two sturdy saucepans serve me well.

Wooden spoons, wire whisks and carbon steel knives (sharpened often) are the tools I reach for most often.

Oh, and a wooden cutting board. I find therapeutic value in careful chopping and peeling.

The aroma of something simmering is the perfect inspiration to anticipate a delicious dinner. I thought I’d share a few hearty main dishes for beginners or perhaps a reminder for long-time cooks.

Paraphrasing Julia Child here, I am not “slavishly dependent” on recipes either. Mostly I see what’s in the fridge or freezer and set to work. We all keep those must-haves in our pantries, so use what’s available. Using learned skills, I produce from my memories and experiment with what goes well together.

For a simple and not time-consuming meal, I offer chicken pieces or pork chops in a creamy sauce cooked in the oven, giving you time to relax or prepare sides for your meal. This calls for the short cut of a can of soup. Please don’t diss it as it really makes the dish taste good and have a creamy consistency.

Baked pork chops or chicken 
4 bone-in pork chops or chicken thighs
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup dry white wine or sherry
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons diced shallots or yellow onion
4 ounces sliced button mushrooms
salt and pepper to taste

In a shallow, oven-proof casserole dish, place seasoned chops or chicken. Sprinkle with the chopped onion and mushroom slices.
In a separate bowl, mix canned soup, wine and sour cream with a whisk till blended. Pour over meat and bake in 350º oven for about one hour until bubbly and browned slightly on top.
Serve with rice or egg noodles and a colorful vegetable to round out this meal for four.

Kielbasa and kraut
Kielbasa and kraut

Kielbasa and sauerkraut casserole
This is another quick and easy to assemble favorite:
1 package of kielbasa cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 bag of prepared sauerkraut, rinsed if you prefer (Boar’s Head)
1 crisp apple peeled and diced finely
1 small yellow onion diced
4 small potatoes such as Yukon gold, peeled and quartered
Rinse sauerkraut if you like less vinegary taste. Layer in a shallow oven-proof casserole dish. Stir in the chopped onion and apple. Nestle the Kielbasa and potato pieces in the kraut. If very dry add about 1/2 cup water.
Cover dish snugly with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 3/4 hour and remove foil to finish cooking for 15 minutes more. Serve with good whole grain mustard and perhaps horseradish.

Beef Short Ribs
Beef Short Ribs

Short ribs and vegetables in gravy
This is the long, slow simmering kind of dish, good for the weekend:
four meaty, bone-in short ribs
1 large onion diced
2 large cloves garlic minced
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
4-6 ounces of button mushrooms, shitakes or cremini, quartered
flour for dusting
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme or marjoram
vegetable oil

In a paper bag, place about 1/2 cup of flour, salt, pepper and herbs of your choosing. Dredge the ribs in the closed bag to coat with flour and seasonings. I shake it.

Meanwhile heat about 1/4 cup oil in a Dutch oven large enough to hold the four ribs without crowding. Brown each side of the ribs.

When that is done, stir in chopped onion and minced garlic. Don’t brown them but just soften. Add mushrooms and carrots. Mix all and add enough water to cover. Add pot lid and simmer in oven or on stove top for an hour to one and half hours.

Usually, the gravy makes itself because of the dredging earlier but if not thick enough you can use some of your leftover flour, added to cold water and shaken to thicken the gravy. If I have some, I add Gravy Master or occasionally Better Than Bouillon when I need more flavor but rarely do.

This dish calls for mashed potatoes. Your vegetables are included so, though it takes some time, the dinner is nearly complete with just the added mash.

None of these recipes are cast in stone. If you like parsnips in the short ribs, do it. Other herbs or more seasoning than I like? It’s up to you. Experiment. Farro, barley or quinoa make a more interesting pilaf than rice? There you go.

These are just guidelines. I know some of my kids are naturals at cooking — others … not a clue and the absolutely need specific directions.

You do you; make the above recipes yours. Think: Nutrition without sacrificing deliciousness. A warm dinner is the best sort of self-care.