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We have survived the first month of the year. The Christmas decorations are down, the house is put back together, and we almost have the hang of writing “2017” on our checks. The weather, well, it makes you question again why you live someplace where the air makes your face hurt. It is during these cold and blustery days you just want comfort food – belly warming, toe tickling comfort food.

Most times we connect comfort with fat laden foods that aren’t really good for you, but comfort food is all about meals that hug you, wraps it arms around you like a warm blanket. A meal you eat nice and slow, enjoying each savory bite. So in line with our healthier eating campaign, we have selected warm, hearty recipes that will help keep a smile on your face. We even have a recipe for Valentine’s Day that will honor the old saying, “The way to a person’s heart, is through their stomach.”

I am a big fan of soups. I love them, all kinds, all flavors. It’s just a big bowl of love. Plus, most soups freeze really well, so they are great to make a large batch and freeze portions for later. Soups and stews are also great for a quick reheat if things are hectic. This Christmas, multi-cooker pots were very popular, and some of our readers may have gotten one as a gift. These recipes are perfect for the multi-cooker or even slow cookers. I have an Instant Pot, and I use it regularly. I like it because I can do most things right there in one pot, which is dreamy and it keeps cleaning to a minimum. Who doesn’t love that?

Pittsburgh Wedding Soup (also known as Italian Wedding Soup)
Wedding soup is an Italian-American soup consisting of a chicken broth and greens, with little meat balls. The name comes from the Italian phrase “minestra maritata,” which means married soup. It refers to the marriage of the broth and the greens. Classically, the greens were a bitter escarole or endive, but really, any greens will do – kale, Swiss chard, cabbage, or spinach. The meatballs are bite sized and pasta is usually, but not always added. As you can see, this soup has lots of play, which is great, because you can just use what you have on hand. This version is a regional recipe adapted from Cook’s Country.

Meatballs
2 slices hearty white sandwich bread torn into pieces (I prefer Pane Turano Italian bread, available at Aldi and only use 1 piece)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup grated onion
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef

Soup
1 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 qts. low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb. fresh baby spinach
1 cup orzo or any other small pasta of your liking
3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for garnish

To make the meatballs:
In a large bowl, add torn up bread and milk. Mash the bread and milk until well incorporated. A potato masher works well. Add all other ingredients except the ground beef and mix/mash well. Add the ground beef and knead by hand to fully incorporate the meat and the bread mixture.

Form the mixture into one-inch meatballs (you should get around 50-55 balls). Lay them on a rimmed baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, but can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

For the soup:
Heat olive oil in Dutch oven over medium high heat until shimmering. If using a multi-cooker, set on sauté and add oil. Cook garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add broth and bring to a simmer (multi-pot users can switch over to the soup function). Bring broth to simmer. Remove meatballs from refrigerator and add to the simmering broth and return to a simmer. Stir in the orzo and reduce heat to a simmer and let cook until pasta and meatball are tender and cooked through, approximately 10 minutes. Gently stir in handfuls of the baby spinach, until spinach is soft and wilted. Add parsley and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh parmesan.

We suggest a nice crusty loaf of bread to accompany this meal.

This soup can be held in the fridge for up to 3 days. This soup does not freeze well as a ‘whole’ soup. However, you can freeze the pre-made meatballs very well, and add them to the broth when needed. Allow extra cooking time if you use frozen meatballs. Serves 6-8.

Farro & Butternut Squash Stew
This stew is based on a recipe we received from an America’s Test Kitchen email. It is a vegan stew made with butternut squash and nutty, earthy farro. The meaty texture comes from cremini mushrooms and a nice spicy kick is added from arugula. The best part: it is all done in a multi-cooker. This recipe can also be done in a slow cooker, with some minor changes.

1 1/2 lbs. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 onion, chopped fine
2 tbs.
tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbs. extra virgin olive oil, divided
6
cups vegetable broth, plus extra as needed
1
cup pearled farro (available in HyVee Health Food section)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (4 cups)
5 oz. (5 cups) baby arugula

Instructions for multi-cooker:
Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to cooker and set to sauté. Add the onion and mushroom and cook, stirring frequently, until onions and mushrooms start to soften. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and stir until things are well cooked and the tomato paste starts to cook a bit, another minute or so. Add wine and deglaze the pan by scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Add the broth and continue to scrape the bottom and stir. Add farro and bay leaves and stir. Switch multi-cooker to slow cook mode and set on low for 4 hours.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cut butternut squash in a bowl and drizzle with Olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Place on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. When done, remove from oven and set aside until farro is ready.

When the farro and mushrooms are done, remove the bay leaves. Stir in the butternut squash, gently, trying not to break it up. Add arugula one handful at a time and gently stir until arugula begins to wilt. If more liquid is needed, add more hot vegetable broth to get the consistency you like. Season with Kosher salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle into bowls and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

Instructions for a slow cooker:
Microwave mushrooms, onion, tomato paste, garlic, and 1 teaspoon oil in covered bowl, stirringly occasionally until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.

Stir broth, farro, wine, bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into slow cooker. Wrap squash in foil packet; lay the packet on top of the stew. Cover and cook until farro is tender, 10 to 12 hours on low or 7 to 9 hours on high.

Transfer foil packet to plate. Discard bay leaves. Carefully open packet (watch for steam) and stir squash along with any accumulated juice into stew. Stir in arugula, one handful at a time, and let sit until wilted, about 5 minutes. (Adjust stew consistency with extra hot broth as needed.) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle each portion with 1 teaspoon oil before serving. Serves 6.

Mulligatawny Soup
Mulligatawny soup is a wonderful creation. First, the name is just fun to say, but it’s origins are what make this soup hearty, earthy, and delicious. The name itself stems from the Tamil of India, and essentially translates to “pepper-water.” Traditionally, that pepper-water was heated and poured over bowls of rice for a meal. The English took the basics of this pepper-water and the recipe has evolved from them. I am sharing two recipes for mulligatawny, one that is made in a much more traditional way, with individual curry spices and coconut milk, and a more Americanized version that has more familiar items for the pickier eater.

Modern:
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1/4 cup butter
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 apple, cored and chopped
1/4 cup white rice
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch dried thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream, gently heated to avoid film

In a Dutch oven or multi-cooker (on sauté setting) heat butter and oil. Add onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until vegetables begin to soften. Add flour and curry, stirring well to coat vegetables and cook until flour is browned and curry is fragrant. Add chicken stock, scrapping bottom of pot to release any browned bits on the bottom. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Simmer about 1/2 an hour.

Remove the lid and add apple, rice, chicken, salt, pepper, and thyme. Simmer 15-20 minutes, or until rice is done. (I keep extra stock on hand in case the rice absorbs more stock than I want). Stir in hot cream and adjust seasonings to taste and serve. Serves 6.

Traditional:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onions
5 garlic cloves, chopped1 1/2 tbs. garam masala
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
2 cups dried red lentils
8 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 cups diced cooked chicken (I use chicken thighs for the extra flavor)
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
3 tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 cups cooked basmati rice
Lemon wedges
Fresh cilantro

Heat vegetable oil in a heavy, large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until golden brown, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add garam masala and next 4 ingredients; stir 1 minute. Add lentils; stir until coated. Add chicken broth. Bring soup to boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer until lentils are very tender, about 20 minutes. Discard bay leaves.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Return to pot. Stir in chicken, coconut milk, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide rice among bowls. Pour soup over. To serve, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh cilantro. Makes 4 entree servings or 8 soup course servings.

Coffee-Braised Short Ribs
There is one big romantic holiday in the middle of this month and that is Valentine’s Day. Now, seeing as Valentine’s is on a Tuesday this year, many of you will be going out to celebrate over the prior weekend. But perhaps you want to celebrate with your kids, or make a nice, romantic meal at home. We’ve got the dish for you! Braised short ribs melt in your mouth and leave the whole house smelling of heavenly, decadent, meaty deliciousness. This recipe has two simple steps: brown on the stove top and braise in a slow cooker. The results are indeed worthy of a little Valentine’s Day lovin’ and pair beautifully with creamy polenta and crispy oven roasted Brussels sprouts. If you are wondering where to pick up beef short ribs, call Jeff Cremer from Cremer’s Meats on Rhomberg Ave. and he will cut you gorgeous short ribs that will make you weep. Tell him the gals from Life’s a Feast sent you, and give him a few days heads-up, so he can have your order ready for you.

4 lbs. short ribs
2 tbs. olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup coffee, strong brewed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 tsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in large skillet until shimmering. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. In batches, place seasoned ribs into hot skillet and brown until a golden crust is formed, about 4 minutes per side. Set on a paper towel lined sheet pan.

When ribs are browned, add garlic, ancho chili powder, and oregano to the pan and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and coffee to the skillet to deglaze and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until sauce is reduced by a third, about 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, sprinkle a layer of diced onions on the bottom of slow cooker. Place the browned short ribs on top and repeat with onions. Sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and pour the wine/coffee mixture over the ribs. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove lid about 20 minutes before serving and let simmer. Ribs should be falling apart. Plate ribs and check sauce to adjust seasoning. Spoon sauce over the ribs. Serves 4-6 people.

I hope you find some winter solace in these hearty comforting dishes. Next month brings us one more step closer to longer days and warmer weather. We will be working on more fabulous recipes and perhaps a few fun twists on classic St. Patrick’s Day fare.

Be well, stay warm, and cook on!

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Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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