I've gone on to no end about my love of the winter season. I find many things about it grounding and centering, and encouraging of a more measured and relaxed pace in life. Not the least of which is the kind of food it inspires. Deep, rich flavors from slow, thoughtful cooking, savory herbs, and palate coating richness. Warm, and substantial, what is commonly called comfort food, is a winter staple, and here are a few of my favorites.
Blackhawk Corn and Potato Chowder
This is a wonderful, hearty chowder, that makes a nice first course, or a satisfying meal when served with a salad and a baguette. It could be made vegetarian by leaving out the bacon and making a couple of substitutions, but IMHO, nothing rounds out the flavor and gives the unique smoky, unctuous character of a little cured pork belly.
Blackhawk Roast Chicken
1-1/4 pounds broccoli
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup gruyere cheese
black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
fresh bread crumbs and parmesan cheese
Mix the brine ingredients in a non-reactive container (plastic or stainless.) I use a stockpot or a tall Cambro saver. The container that works best is one that has sufficient volume, and a small enough diameter so that while the bird will fit in it, it does not require large amounts of liquid to create a deep enough column to submerge it.
Place a cleaned and rinsed bird (4-5 pounder) in the brine, and place the container in the refrigerator overnight.
At the risk of upsetting the food police (a member of which I used to be) take the container out of the refrigerator an hour or so before you intend to cook the bird, and leave it at room temperature. The salt level of the brine helps retard bacterial growth, and it won't get warm enough for long enough to be of concern. The issue is that putting a stone cold bird into the oven will result in the deeper flesh being unable to cook through before the breast becomes dry.
This one starts with a brine. Any more, given time, I never cook chicken without brining it first. It's a simple input, that yields spectacular results.
2 quarts water
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
10 black peppercorns
4 large garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, sliced
This is a recent discovery of mine. Super simple, and super satisfying. The recipe is written for broccoli, but I have also tried it with green beans, and it might also be tasty with brussels sprouts.
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small potato, cubed
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 small green pepper, diced sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1/4 pound bacon, chopped
1-1/4 cups cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups corn kernels
1 pinch sage
oregano to taste
Combine first eight ingredients in stock pot or dutch oven, heat to sizzling. Lower heat and cover, sweat gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add stock, and simmer 15 minutes longer. Cook bacon in separate pan, remove and reserve fat. Add cream, corn, bacon, and herbs and simmer until vegetables are tender. Make a roux with equal parts bacon fat and flour. Use this to thicken the chowder to the desired consistency. Serve topped with grated cheese.
Remove the bird from the brine and discard the liquid. Dry the bird as well as you can, inside and out, with paper towels. You can truss the bird or not. Trussing makes a nice compact package, but with high heat and a relatively short cooking time, I think it inhibits heat transfer into the thighs and makes them harder to get cooked through. Place the bird in a rack or elevate it above the roasting pan using a wire screen or in some other manner, to facilitate air flow on all sides. The proper way to baste is to mix some herbs (oregano, sage, thyme) with softened butter, then using your fingers, gently separate the skin from the muscle on the breast, sides, and thighs, without ripping or poking holes in it. The herb butter is then spread in the pocket between the skin and meat. Alternately, you can simply brush the skin with olive oil or melted butter. Either way, you only need apply the fat once. With brining, you don't have to open the oven every ten minutes to baste. It isn't necessary, and it extends the cooking time by preventing the oven temp from recovering enough to properly cook the meat. Place the bird in a 450 degree oven and roast until the meat at the thigh joint temps 155 degrees. The bird will finish cooking during resting with carryover heat. Begin checking at about 40 minutes. If it is becoming too brown, tent those areas with aluminum foil and continue cooking. At around 50 to 60 minutes, the bird should be done, with crisp, golden brown skin, and a moist interior. Tent loosely with foil and allow it to rest 15 minutes before carving and serving. The pan can be deglazed with some white wine or a bit of stock to make a lovely pan sauce, or it can be reserved, and simmered with the back bones, wing tips, etc, and some water, for your own flavorful, homemade stock.
Clean, cut, and soft blanch the broccoli. Soft blanch means blanch or steam until the vegetables are still vibrant in color and slightly undercooked. Make a roux with the flour and butter. Add the milk, and blend until a nice thick sauce forms. Add the cheese and whisk until smooth. Season with pepper and nutmeg, add salt if needed. Adjust the consistency with additional milk if needed. Pour the cheese sauce over the vegetables. Top with crumbs and parm. Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and the topping is golden brown, (~15 minutes.) Finely crushed pretzels make a nice sub for bread crumbs in this application. They stand up well to high moisture substrates, maintaining a nice crunchy texture, and they bring a little salt as well.