Monday, March 2, 2009

10. Rx for the Winter Blahs

Winter seems especially long this year. Here it is early March and in the past 10 days there have been 3 snow days in which schools were closed and I could not safely get to work. This is on top of several snow days earlier in December and January. The first one of the year is always a welcomed gift; the second is still nice; but by now I am just weary of rescheduling lessons and canceling rehearsals and plans.

Beginning in early January I decided to tackle winter head-on. Many people in Maine do this by getting outside for skiing or snowmobiling, but not me- I tried that when we first moved here and it didn’t work. Why does one choose to be outside in the cold??? My solution- entertaining- is ever so much better.

Almost every weekend we have had friends both old and new over for dinner. And of course this doesn’t only involve the few hours spent at the dinner party itself, but the cleaning, planning, cooking and clean-up. It has been a marvelous way to keep the winter doldrums at bay for both the hosts and guests. And despite having four new cookbooks, this year I have tended toward the tried-and-true: chili, black bean burritos, chicken curry, and an all-time favorite from Silver Palate, Chicken Marbella.

Last evening four intrepid friends braved the snowstorm and traveled about 20 miles to our house: Dick and Diana, musician friends; and Ian and Brian, a retired Episcopal priest and an organist, respectively. Diana brought a yummy hot cheese dip and the rest of the menu was as follows:

Crudités with Hummus and Kalamata Olives
Fricasse of Chicken with Winter Vegetables
Michael’s Salad
Crusty Bread with Roasted Garlic
Southern Pecan Pie with Whipped Cream

There were cocktails by the fire, wine with dinner, and strong coffee with dessert. A jovial evening with good food, good wine, and good conversation- my no-fail Rx for the winter blahs.

In case the above menu whets your appetite, here are some of the recipes. My apologies to the author of the chicken stew: I cut it out of a magazine a number of years ago without notating the source. It is a perfect cold weather dish.

Fricasse of Chicken with Winter Vegetables
6 servings

6 large skinless boneless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups sliced leeks (white and pale green parts only)
3 cups chopped peeled parsnips
2 cups thinly sliced peeled carrots
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
3 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/8 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Chopped fresh parsley
Grated lemon peel

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add chicken; brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate. Discard drippings from pot.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same pot over medium heat. Add leeks, parsnips, carrots and garlic. Sauté until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add broth, wine, oregano, fennel seed and red pepper. Bring to simmer. Add chicken. Cover; simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Transfer stew to bowls and garnish with parsley and lemon peel.

Michael’s Salad

Michael is my hairdresser and a superb cook-I always come away from my haircuts hungry!

Put the following in a large bowl:

Romaine lettuce
Mandarin oranges
Smokehouse almonds
Red onion, sliced
Gorgonzola crumbles

Toss with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Even confirmed salad-haters like this one.

Southern Pecan Pie

This is from the Houston Junior League Cookbook, 1968. It is unusual in that it doesn’t use disgusting, cloying Karo syrup. Every time I serve this pie someone tells me it is absolutely the best pecan pie they’ve ever tasted.

1 unbaked pastry shell
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup butter, melted (don’t substitute!)
1 generous cup pecans, chopped

Mix brown sugar, white sugar and flour. Add eggs, milk, vanilla and melted butter; beat well. Fold in pecans. Pour into unbaked pastry shell and bake in 375 degree oven for 40-50 minutes. Serve with whipped cream.

The top of this pie burns easily, so keep an eye on it.