SAD: seasonal affective dinners

I made a resolution at the beginning of this year to be positive about the cold weather. To not whine about wearing three layers of pants, or curse the pellets of ice that graze my face as I walk to the bus, or lament the lack of blue skies. Yet as I sit here still thawing from the effects of the polar vortex and looking ahead to “feels like -34” degree weather tomorrow, I have to confess that keeping a sunny disposition in the face of this woeful winter has been tough. Sure, there is stark beauty in sheets of ice that grace Lake Michigan and the stillness that takes over the streets after a snowfall. But I’m a Miami girl at heart, and right now, I’m sorely missing my Sunshine State.

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But warmth can be sought in places other than the great outdoors. And this winter, the kitchen has been my tried and true source of comfort, happiness, and heat. ¬†I came back to Chicago from the holidays armed with a stack of new cookbooks and an ambitious number of pages marked for the making. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made it my mission to tackle a few of these recipes each week. The result has been a steady flow of comforting, spicy, and vibrant soups, stews, and salads emerging onto the dinner table. Shared with friends and ¬†lingering conversation, these meals have transported us into blissful oblivion, where the arctic temps outside are almost forgettable.

the perks of cold weather: windowsills become instant brownie coolers!

the perks of cold weather: windowsills become instant brownie coolers!

Last weekend, Kate and I made a complexly flavored red lentil and chard soup from the Ottolenghi book. True to his ways, Ottolenghi had us pulling out all sorts of techniques for this pot of soup. We infused butter with crushed herbs and garlic, slowly caramelized onions, and whirred half the lentils through an immersion blender. Although the prep was seemingly fussy, the result was a fantastic and filling soup that will definitely be a regular fixture in my winter repertoire.

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Last Sunday night brought a divine dinner with friends courtesy of Smitten Kitchen: Mushroom Bourguignon, slowly simmered for an hour and served over creamy polenta.

IMG_2945As if our meal wasn’t indulgent enough, my wonderful friend Jenny had the genius idea to inaugurate her mini cast-iron skillet with a cookie pie…topped with brownie bits…and freshly whipped cream. Hey, we gotta store up for winter right?

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Tonight, I fittingly chose to make Ottolenghi’s Ultimate Winter Couscous: root vegetables and chickpeas swimming in a sea of cinnamon sticks, anise, harissa, and lemon, ladled over buttery, fluffy couscous. I only had a taste of it tonight, but I can’t wait to dig into this comforting dish throughout the week.

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So, maybe staying positive about the the dreary days and ungodly low temperatures was an unattainable resolution. But keeping my stove lit, my cookbooks open, and myself and my friends well fed…now that’s something I can commit to doing.