Well, Jack Frost is here.
It's not hard for anyone who's lived through a typical Minnesota winter to see why Dante Alighieri described the ninth circle of hell as a frozen tundra. When the projected high temperature is below zero, I sometimes wonder why I choose to live "where the air hurts my face," as a popular meme puts it.
We've reached the time of year when I rotate through my mug collection quickly, because I'm always drinking hot tea or chocolate. As much as I love spending long winter nights with my warm drink and a good book, I'm also a firm believer that my life isn't as cozy as it could be unless I have a meal that feels like I'm eating a down comforter.
In that spirit, I'd like to share some of my favorite cozy recipes.
Baked stuffed acorn squash
- 1 acorn squash
- 2 apples, cored and diced
- 1/3 cup tree nuts (I prefer pecans)
- 1/3 cup dried berries (I prefer cranberries)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. On the peel side of each half, slice a small piece off of the outer edge so the squash can sit cut-side up without rocking. Place both halves (or just one, if you're cooking for one) cut-side down on a baking sheet, then add a small amount of water to the baking sheet. Set the timer for 30 minutes.
While the squash bakes, core and dice your apples. I prefer to leave the peel on, but peel them if you like. Mix them in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. When the timer goes off, turn the squash halves over so they look like bowls. Fill them with your mix, then put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
When the squash is done, eat it right away. I like to eat mine with butter and honey, for extra coziness.
A wide-bottomed sauce pan works best for this dish.
- 2 shallots, diced
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 3 cups of chicken broth
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
There a few keys to a successful risotto. 1) Use about a 3:1 ratio of broth to rice. 2) Stir the entire time. I'm not kidding. The entire time. It's a workout, and it's worth it. 3) The entire dish is customizable. Italian chefs typically insist on using Arborio rice, but I use regular old brown rice all the time. If you want this to be fully vegetarian, go ahead and and use veggie broth. Even the wine is negotiable — I've actually used beer before, and it was delicious.
Pour the broth into a separate sauce pan and let it get warm.
Dice your shallots. Coat the bottom of your wide-bottomed pan in olive oil and add the shallots. Cook them until they are soft, then add the rice. Don't cook it long, just enough to toast it. Then pour in the wine. This is the part where you have to start stirring constantly. I use a whisk, but a wooden spoon works too.
After the rice absorbs the wine, add the broth, no more than a cup at a time, always waiting for the liquid to absorb before adding more. Adding it gradually creates a creamy texture. Once you've used all the broth, take the pan off the heat and stir in the parmesan.
I like to add peas and mushrooms to my risotto right at the end, but you can eat it as is or add whatever you like.