It's gray and raining -- the perfect weather to consider fall menus. I've been on the road for half of the past month so I'm really ready to cook something and the weather says it's time for cozy comfort food -- to say nothing of the fact that Domestic Godess Nigella Lawson is now on FoodTV and her whole act is about cooking in that cozy, laidback style.
So -- what to cook. My style is always to collect a few baskets of supplies at the farmers' market and the supermarket (and our neighborhood Trader Joe's) and then settle iin to cook at least two or three things at the same time. It's like a party!
Last week I made the first pot of Split Pea Soup of the season. We make a very simple almost vegetarian recipe. (You could easily make it vegetarian by substituting water or vegetable broth for the chicken stock I use.) I simply peel and chop in the food processor a large onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a few ribs of celery (with their leaves), and a pound of little carrots plus a handful of parsley. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in an 8-quart stock pot and soften the vegetables. Then add the split peas (you could do this withi lentils, too; we'll do that this week), a quart of chicken stock, two quarts of cold water, 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (2-3 teaspoons of fresh if you have it), and a few bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the peas are tender and the soup thickened. Usually takes about 90 minutes, depending on how old your split peas might be. We serve this with croutons (home-made are best, of course) and/or 1/4" slices of garlicky Kosher-style hot dogs, sizzled in a small frying pan. You could also skip those toppings and use a dollop of sour cream or cream fraiche and a dusting of chopped chives.
At the same time, we cooked our favorite meatloaf -- we only eat this in cooler wether so we haven't had it since the spring and it is eagerly awaited. It's an easy mixture of lots of sauteed onions and garlic and the juice from a large can of tomatoes plus four pounds of lean ground beef and some salt and pepper. We make a loaf in a big (lasagna-style) pan, then spread the meat with a mixture of the canned tomatoes, mashed, a can of tomato sauce, more sauteed onions and garlic, and seasoning. Cover it all with foil and bake at 350 for two hours. For perfection, take off the foil at the two-hour mark, scrape off all the sauce into a small pot, and bake the uncovered meatloaf for another 20-30 minutes so it gets a crusty brown. The sauce can be simmered in an open pot to cook it down a bit and checked for seasoning. It is wonderful with mashed potatoes and makes decadent sandwiches (slice it thin and serve it on white bread with its own tomato sauce).
At the same time we were cooking dinner -- a pork loin roast rubbed with some Cajun spices, olive oil, and garlic and then roasted for 20 minutes per pound. We also tried a new recipe for roasted Acorn Squash inspired by Gourmet which we turned into a salad. It's easy -- just cut the squash into wedges (leave the skin on) and toss it with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread it out in a single layer on a foil lined cookie sheet or two (we made two squashes for four people) and roast until tender and browned -- about 40 minutes. While it's warm, place it on a bed of arugula and drizzle it with a Balsamic Vinaigrette, full of slivered garlic and chopped parsley. It's divine. You can cook another starch or vegetable, but I think some bread to sop up the balsamic vinaigrette would be much better.
My sister (a New York Artist) is coming this weekend so I'm thinking up more things to cook. Something sophisticated, I think. I'll report back soon.