Life: Winter Meals from a Dutch Oven

I know: cooking? I never write about that. But I haven’t had a good read since Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and I don’t like writing “bad” reviews. I will say I was underwhelmed by Edna O’Brien’s memoir Country Girl, which lacked a unifying thread. I learned too little about her writing life and too much about casual flings with unnamed movie stars.

I’ve picked up and put down Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light and Susan Straight’s Between Heaven and Here. There’s nothing wrong with these reads; they’re all beautifully written. None held my interest.

And so, to the kitchen.

This winter I’ve been making warming soups, stews and pastas in one awesome pot, the Le Creuset Dutch Oven. http://www.lecreuset.com/cookware/french-ovens—braisers/oval-french-ovens/5-qt-oval-french-oven. It is never stored; it lives on our cooktop. For me, its value exceeds its obvious function: I don’t like washing pots and pans, and with a Dutch Oven, there’s only one vessel to clean after a meal.

The Le Creuset Dutch Oven is enameled cast iron. And while it seems expensive, at $200 or more, it is our most used kitchen item outside of a coffee maker.

For years I’ve used it to prepare my son’s favorite “spaghetti sauce,” a quick ragu from Patricia Wells’ Trattoria, and another son’s favorite pasta, fusilli with sausage, fennel and red wine, from her At Home in Provence. It is employed for a Sunday dinner favorite, pork cooked in milk, from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook. I use it to make a lemon egg-drop chicken soup — my own creation — for anyone who’s ailing. Too, it’s the pot that holds the quickest meal — 15 minutes — I can get from the pantry to the table, a pancetta pasta. Also gumbos, and Ina Garten’s any-time-of-year saffron vegetable soup. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/provencal-vegetable-soup-recipe.html

But as this winter has gone on and on, I’ve had to expand my repertoire of one-pot weeknight meals.

We’ve been savoring a butternut squash and arborio rice stew from Cucina Rustica, by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. I cook often from the Soupbox Cookbook, by Jamie Taerbaum and Dru Melton, who run Soupbox restaurants in Chicago: chicken with wild rice stew, Italian vegetable soup. This winter I tried their lemony green lentil soup, halibut chowder, “big occasion” bouillabaisse. Mmmm….

Who knew I would come around to brown lentils? (My siblings and I hated lentil soup so much as kids we called it “mental soup.”) So, thank you Lidia Bastianich for this one :http://www.lidiasitaly.com/recipes/detail/1109. It is the most pleasing pasta with lentils (really, it’s lentils with pasta) dish I’ve ever had. I make half and still have leftovers for weekday lunch.

And finally, because I had run out of ideas, I found this arroz con pollo recipe the other day, perfect for a one-pot meal. http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/arroz-con-pollo. With a dash of cayenne or other heat, it’s a keeper.

Also in the blog

Ah, to finish the year grieving the end of a book: Robert Stone’s Death of the Black-Haired Girl. This is a town-and-gown noir thriller, not at all Stone’s usual fare. I loved it. “A cloud of resentment,” Maud Stack is a beautiful brainiac undergraduate in love with her advisor, Steven Brookman. It’s mutual — but


A holiday weekend made for a get-out-of-the city escape to a winter wonderland in Quebec. In mid January, we spent four days at Chateau Montebello, a Fairmont resort that’s a 90 minute drive from Montreal’s international airport. Truth is, we “had to” go there: it was the annual meeting of Club Lac Pythonga, where we


“I use Grammarly’s plagiarism detector because no one likes a capy cot!” I don’t especially like reading on a Kindle — click…click…click — but I’d pressed the Amazon wireless “buy” for Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings: A Novel so that’s how I read it. Click…click…click…all weekend, flying to and from Ottawa, Canada, where I was visiting


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