Warmth in a bowl
January 12, 2017
What IS it about cold weather that makes you want to serve dinner in a bowl?
I speak, of course, advisedly about cold weather in Arkansas because, well, it was 75 today. But it was 13 on Sunday, and it’s going to be 37 tonight. If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.
In any event, when it gets cold, I want something warm and warming to eat. Soups. Stews. Braises. Things over noodles. Things over rice. Heat from seasoning, heat from temperature.
And I cooked several of my favorites when it was frigid last weekend, and will do so again when the temps head back down this weekend.
F’rinstance, there were white beans and cornbread. Because, white beans and cornbread. No self-respecting Southern cook needs any more justification than that. One throws some ham in a pot with water, makes ham stock, then puts white beans in and cooks hell out of ’em. And if one is cooking them in the Instant Pot, as I do, one takes the potato masher to them to give a creamy quality to the stock. Because Child A wants her white beans creamy.
Must’ve worked. She told me they were the best white beans I’d ever cooked. Of course, the fact I used Rancho Gordo beans may have had something to do with that. People. I swear. There is a significant difference in RG beans, at $5.95 a pound, and Kroger, at $1.69 a pound. As well there should be.
For starters, there’s more bean-y flavor. I don’t generally think of dry beans as having a flavor; rather, they’re a canvas to soak up whatever flavor you cook with them. And these do that. But they bring their own brand of sweet, creamy — nuttiness is the only word that gets close in my vocabulary — to a dish. Plus, they’re fresh; beans you get from the grocery may be three or four years old. They’ll still cook, and they’re certainly adequate. These are better. I’m just sayin’.
I made cornbread with them. Because, well cornbread. I think it may be in the U.S. Code somewhere that you have to cook cornbread with white beans. If it isn’t, it should be. Can I get some bipartisan agreement on that?
Another chilly night, I needed dinner in a hurry, so I made chicken curry. Chicken thighs, cut up in little pieces, sauteed until no pink shows. Onion. Spices — turmeric, coriander, curry powder. Can of coconut milk. Tasted it. Too mild. Added some stronger curry powder. A little honey to give it a sweet note. Could’ve used a pinch of cayenne. Over basmati rice. Perfectly adquate, if not sublime; quick and easy.
And then, when it was 13 degrees and there was snow lingering about here and there (because it damn-sho ain’t melted any) on Saturday, there was carbonnades a la flamande. This wins awards for the best dish I make with the fewest ingredients and a damn long time on the stove.
One flours, salts and peppers and browns a couple of pounds of stew beef, while one is meantime caramelizing about four big damn onions. Once the onions get all nice and caramelized, one dumps them in with the onions, or the onions in with the beef, depending on the vessel being used to cook, adds a good stout and some beef broth, and goes away for four hours while it simmers on low heat.
I will note: One should haunt enough liquor stores to find Green Flash Double Stout for this. My liquor store stopped carrying it, the dogs, so I was forced to resort to some Belgian stout instead. Wasn’t nearly as good. And I paid more for it.
Anyway, about an hour before you plan to eat, dip out a half cup or so of broth, stir in a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch, and stir that back in. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar, and a heaping tablespoon of spicy brown mustard.
The canonical presentation of this is over noodles, but I personally prefer it over creamy grits. Serve it over your favorite starch. Filling a baked potato with it ought to be pretty fine, now that I think of it.
This will warm you inside and out, something you decidedly need in the South when the weather is being schiozophrenic, which, you know, it does on a regular basis.
So — a question to you ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em. What’s your favorite warm-you-up meal in a bowl? Whoever gives me one I haven’t tried, I’ll try it and report back.