Cold Weather Cooking Tips And Ideas
Now that we've put away all the holiday sets for another year and the holiday meals are behind us, we aren't bound to turkey and dressing as we prepare our winter dinners. Hearty soups, layered casseroles, and tasty one-pot meals fill our bellies and heat up the kitchen. Here are a few tips for making cold weather meals to spice up your winter nights.
For hearty soups, the three things to keep on hand are onions, chicken broth and red pepper flakes. Broth is the base for most soups. Whether you're throwing something together with beans or you want to make a rich vegetable soup, chicken broth will give your meal body and flavor. For almost any soup, you'll start it by sautéing diced onions. Yellow or white onions add a layer of flavor and complexity to soups that might otherwise be bland. Even if you don't like spicy food, red pepper flakes is a seasoning that gives soups (and any other dish) extra zip. You don't have to add a lot for the flakes to make an impact on your soup; just a tiny pinch will go a long way.
Casseroles need three things: a base, a binder and a topping. The base can be vegetables or meat, the binder can be cream of mushroom soup or cheese, and the topping could be anything from fried onions to breadcrumbs. There are a million casseroles you can put together with a million more ingredients, but there are a few tips to make sure they turn out well:
- 1. Cook The Meat First. A lot of casseroles have chicken in them and, undercooked, it can be dangerous. Once the cream and vegetables and meat are all mixed together, it's hard to be certain the meat is thoroughly cooked. Cooking the meat before you assemble the casserole gives you the peace of mind that the meat has been cooked properly, and your casserole will take less time to bake.
- 2. Squeeze Out All The Water. Using frozen vegetables is an easy way to add bulk to your casserole without doing a lot of work, but once you mix everything together and bake it, the frozen vegetables melt and you have a pool at the bottom of your casserole dish. Thaw your vegetables in a strainer before you add it to your casserole. For leafy greens like spinach, squeeze it until it's dry; spinach holds a lot of water!
- 3. Don't Chill It. Casseroles are great for making ahead and either freezing or keeping in the refrigerator, but it shouldn't go in the oven too cold because it will cook unevenly. If it's frozen, let it thaw in the refrigerator for a couple days before you want to bake it. If it's been in the refrigerator, let it stand at room temperature for a half hour before baking.
- 4.Cover It. The top is going to cook faster than the rest of the casserole. To prevent the top from burning, cover it with foil for the first fifteen minutes. Uncover it for the rest of the cooking and it will be perfectly browned and crispy outside to compliment the gooey insides.
Slow Cooker Comeback
The slow cooker took a hiatus from being one of the most popular cooking gadgets, but now it's back in full-force in the kitchen! While it's not quite as simple as throwing all your ingredients in a pot and letting it cook for eight hours, it comes pretty close. There are a few tricks to making great one-pot meals:
- 1. Right Size. Make sure your recipe requires the size of crockpot you're using. You don't want to overcrowd your pot with ingredients. If it's too big or too small, you're running the risk of your food not cooking properly.
- 2. Keep It Covered. Just like when you open the oven door, taking the lid off the slow cooker lets heat escape, and your food won't be cooked in the time allotted. Be patient and wait until the end of cooking to check on it.
- 3. Think Ahead. At the end of the day, we want to come home and have dinner on the table, but that's not possible with slow cookers. Every recipe requires hours of cooking. Plan your meals a few days in advance and get them cooked before dinner time so you don't end up with a meal at bedtime.
Winter is the best time for cooking! Take advantage of all the time we have indoors to experiment in the kitchen. Whether you're making Cincinnati chili or you've got chicken pot pie on your mind, fire up the stove and get to stirring while the snow is on the ground, you won't want to be in the kitchen when the sun comes out again and you can enjoy outdoor activities!