Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 5 — Sides/Vegetables

As you can see from the brevity of this post, side dishes aren’t a big favorite in our household, probably because we frequently eat what others would consider a side dish (Leek and Tomato Bake, Crusty Baked Eggplant) as the main meal.

Classic Holiday Green Bean Casserole 
2 cans cut green beans, drained (1 lb cans)
3/4 cup milk
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 can (2.8 oz) French fried onions
Combine all but 1/2 can of onions in casserole. Bake uncovered at 350 F for 30 min. Top with remaining onions and bake 5 min. Make six servings.
If you’ve ever eaten at Thanksgiving meal in the US, you’ve almost certainly had this dish. I got my copy for the recipe from Mom, but it’s a standard. The most difficult part about it is not eating all the onions before they make it into the casserole. I don’t make it because we try to stay away from heavily processed foods, but if I see it at a potluck (if potlucks ever become a thing again), I’ll definitely dig in!

Crusty Baked Eggplant
1 med to large eggplant
1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (I use the pre-grated kind, best available not the stuff in the green can in the pasta aisle.)
Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/4” slices. Sprinkle each side with salt and lay between paper towels for 15 min to draw out water. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs, parmesan. When the eggplant is done sweating, spread a thin coat of mayo on each side, then dredge in bread crumb mixture. Place on cookie sheet and bake, 10 min per side or until golden brown. May serve as an appetizer or side dish. Might be good with warmed marinara for dipping, but I like them plain. These also freeze well. Just place on a cookie sheet at 350-375 F until brown and crispy, but not burnt. 
I like to make these when eggplant is in season and freeze in small portions to reheat later. 

Irish Colcannon 
6 med potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1/2-3/4 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp horseradish (optional)
Cook potatoes in water until tender, then drain. Cook cabbage and onion together in a small amount of boiling water for 15 min. Drain. Mash potatoes (best with electric mixer). Beat in butter and enough milk to make fluffy. Add salt and pepper. Stir in cabbage/onion mixture and top with parsley to serve. 
This one is courtesy of my good friend Mary. Her notes: “This is a traditional winter Irish veggie and a favorite when we’d visit Granny Gormley in Pittsburgh. She added the teaspoon of horseradish for those who would like a little more spice.” I like this dish but don’t make it because The Engineer is not a fan. 😦

Leek and Tomato Bake
Click through to this recent addition to my recipe files. I’d purchased some leeks from the local farmer who runs the CSA we belong to, and she threw in some tomatoes. I used the finished product to make a bruschetta with a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We ate it as a main dish, but it would be a nice appetizer. 

Sweet Potato Casserole
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (not canned)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk
dash salt
1 stick of butter
2 eggs 

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 cup pecan pieces
1 cup coconut (optional)
Boil potatoes with skins on. Peel and mash. Mix in rest of base ingredients. Place in casserole. 
Mix topping ingredients and spread over potato mixture. Bake at 350 for 3 min. 
A coworker at the library used to make this. It’s very, very(!) sweet, so of course, it was very popular. I was tempted to put the recipe in the dessert category.

Vegetable Pakoras
2-1/2 cups chickpea flour (Besan if in an Indian grocery, also more generally available now, sometimes in gluten-free section of stores.)
2 cups finely sliced onions
2 cups finely chopped potatoes (2 med)
1/2 cup finely chopped cauliflower
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tsp salt (to taste)
2 tsp red chili powder (Indian, I sub cayenne.)
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup water
Vegetable oil for deep frying
All vegetables should be finely chopped because they are being cooked in a batter. 
Mix all ingredients except water. Slowly add water to make a batter that holds vegetables together. If it gets too thin, add more flour. Heat oil for frying. It’s hot enough when a test piece floats to the top. Drop about 1 tbsp at a time into hot oil with hand or spoon. Use a slotted spoon to turn. Fry on med high until done (golden brown). May be served with tamarind chutney. 
Use only onions for Onion Bhajis.
Use just spinach and onion.
Sub zucchini, carrots, spinach for other vegetables. 
Use batter as a dip for whole vegetables, then fry. 
Can keep batter in fridge for a little while but Pakoras aren’t very good reheated.
This is another Farzana recipe from my foray into Indian cooking and is probably not the healthiest way to get your veggies. There were no leftovers to take home when we made them in class.

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 4 – Main Dishes, cont’d.

Today’s post includes what is probably my signature dish, and by that I mean the one all three of us love — Shepherd’s/Cottage Pie. It’s a great dish to make ahead because it can be frozen. It also reheats well, although there usually isn’t much left to reheat.

Kofta Kebabs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lb ground lamb
3 tbsp grated onion
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1-2 eggs
Mash garlic with salt into a paste. Mix into the lamb with onion, parsley, and spices until blended. Add bread crumbs and egg(s). Form into balls and flatten. Bake on lightly oiled baking sheet at 350 for 20 min, or until done. They can be also formed around a skewer.
These are a Middle Eastern twist to the kebab. Very tasty!  

Mom’s Tomato Macaroni Skillet
1-1/2 lb ground meat
1-2 med onions, diced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
3 cups cooked tomatoes (canning jar full or large can)
1-1/2 cups uncooked macaroni
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown meat with onion and pepper. Add tomatoes, macaroni, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer until noodles are tender, 20-30 min. Stir to keep from sticking.
Works well in cast iron skillet with a lid. Easy meal after work. Even my Dad would make this one. 

Pork Schnitzel
2 boneless pork chops, trimmed
dash salt
small amount of flour
bread crumbs
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
Place chops between two pieces of waxed paper and pound with meat mallet or rolling pin until 1/8 thick. Sprinkle salt on both sides of chops.
Place flour on one piece of waxed paper and bread crumbs on another. You will need enough of each to coat both chops. Whisk egg and milk in shallow bowl large enough to dip chops in. Coat chops with flour, dip in egg, then in bread crumbs, pressing crumbs in meat to coat. Heat oil in large pan over med-high heat. Add chops to skillet and cook, turning once, about 3 min per side. Remove to warm platter and serve. 
We ate pork schnitzel on a trip to visit Darling Daughter in Berlin when she was an exchange student. When I discovered how easy it was to make, I swore I’d never make plain pork chops again.  

Pork Stir Fry 
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1-1/2 lb leftover pork
1 cup stir fry vegetables (snow peas, carrots, broccoli, etc)
6 tbsp honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp ginger
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (I’m too lazy to toast them.)
Cut pork into thin strips. heat 1 tbsp sesame oil over med. heat, add onion and garlic, and sauté until tender. Mix ingredients for sauce (remaining oil, honey, pepper flakes, ginger) while onion and garlic are cooking. Add pork to garlic and onion and cook until warm. Add veggies and cook until tender-crisp. Pour sauce over at last minute (may add cornstarch if you want to thicken it), and cook until hot. Serve over rice or rice noodles with sesame seed sprinkled on top. 
My notes say: “Yummy!”

Quick and Easy Empanadas 
Makes six
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pkg refrigerated pizza dough (or make your own)
can of refried beans
2 cups shredded cheddar
Sour cream, guacamole (optional)
Heat oven to 400 F. Grease baking sheet with oil. Divide dough into 6 portions, and roll each into an 8” diameter circle on a floured surface. Spread beans over 1/2 of each circle. Top with 1-1/2 tbsp salsa and 2 tbsp cheese. Fold other half over filling, and press edges to seal. Lightly brush each empanada with oil and bake on prepared baking sheet 12-15 min until golden. Top with guacamole and sour cream or more salsa if desired. These freeze well. I haven’t made them in a while, but will now I’ve rediscovered the recipe. I can’t vouch for the
authenticity of their flavor, having never had empanadas in a Latin country.

Photo by Abby Kihano on

Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie
1 lb ground beef, turkey or lamb 
1 lg chopped onion
1 cup or so frozen, fresh or canned peas (I usually use frozen.)
1 cup chopped fresh carrots (I suppose you could use frozen or canned, but why?)
4-5 potatoes, peeled and chopped
Worcestershire sauce
Rosemary (if using lamb)
Milk to mash potatoes
Butter for potatoes
Grated cheddar, a cup or so
Instant mashed potatoes
Preheat oven to 375. Sauté onion until soft, then add meat and brown. Meanwhile boil potatoes until soft enough to mash. Once meat is browned, drain fat. Add vegetables, and Worcestershire sauce (maybe 2-3 tbsp according to taste). If using lamb, add some rosemary here too. Add enough water to keep vegetables and meat from burning, and simmer until carrots are soft. While this cooks, mash the potatoes with butter and milk. Cheese can be mixed in now or sprinkled on top when baking. (I like it mixed in. Darling Daughter seems to prefer on top.) Once carrots are tender, sprinkle in enough instant potatoes to thicken mixture to desired consistency. If you prefer thickening it another way (potato starch, flour, cornstarch), go right on and do so, but the potatoes are quick and easy. Place meat and veg mixture in bottom of prepared casserole dish. Completely cover with mashed potatoes taking care to seal the edges, then rough the potatoes to form peaks that will brown a little, adding some nice color to the finished product. Bake about 30 minutes, until the potatoes start to brown. 
If you use lamb, it’s Shepherd’s Pie. If you use beef, it’s Cottage Pie. I suppose if you use ground turkey, it should be Poulterer’s Pie. To freeze for a future meal, don’t bake it. Just cover tightly and thaw completely before baking. I frequently double the recipe, and make several smaller casseroles suitable for a meal for two, baking one and freezing the rest.

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 3 — Main Dishes

Many of these recipes are mashups, incorporating the spices and flavors I know we like or using ingredients we have on hand.

Betty’s Lancashire Hotpot (Variation)
1-1/2 lbs lean lamb cubes (I use stew meat and cut off excess fat.)
Flour seasoned with salt and pepper
2 sliced onions
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 lb potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/4 cup dry sherry (I have brandy, which we don’t drink, so I use that)
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 bay leaves
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
15 oz (1-3/4 cup) beef stock
Coat lamb cubes with seasoned flour. Sauté onion and garlic until soft and golden. Remove from pan. Deglaze with some extra sherry/brandy. Brown meat in same pan. Layer meat, vegetables, potatoes, and spices in crock pot. Pour stock and sherry/brandy over all. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. 
A comforting winter meal. 

Burrito Pie 
This recipe, from, is like a wonderful Tex-Mex lasagna, simple to make and delicious. I halve the recipe and use ground turkey rather than beef.

Chicken Chapli Kebabs
1 lb minced (ground) chicken or turkey
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 ripe, but firm tomato, seeded and chopped
2 green onions (Sometimes I don’t have green onions, so I just use more regular onions.)
Chopped sweet peppers in a variety of colors for added color
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1-2 green chilis, finely chopped (use more or less according to preferred heat level)
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 large egg
1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin seeds
Salt to taste
1 tsp black pepper, fine
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp red chili pepper (This means Indian Chili Powder, which is very similar to cayenne pepper. I usually just use cayenne for both these ingredients, i.e, 1 tbsp + 1/2 tsp ground cayenne.)
1/2 tsp Garam Masala spice (A true Indian cook would grind their own version, but I buy it, especially since it’s more widely available than it used to be.)
1 tbsp lemon juice
Dried bread crumbs
Oil for frying
Mix all vegetables, spices and minced chicken, then add egg and lemon juice and mix thoroughly. Add enough bread crumbs that the mixture doesn’t fall apart. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pan (preferably non-stick or cast iron). Place kebab mix directly into the pan with a spoon in the form of a patty. Cook in batches for 2-3 min on each side until done, taking care not to overcrowd. Remove kebabs from pan and lay on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. 
I took some Indian cookery courses with an amazing cook named Farzana. Everything we made was delicious, but this is the recipe I continue to cook on a regular basis. I’ve added bread crumbs to the recipe because the original recipe tended to fall apart in the pan (although it was still scrumptious). I enlist The Engineer as my sous-chef in the summer, when tomatoes and peppers are in season to make a triple batch. We then freeze what we don’t eat in batches for future meals. I can’t remember what you serve with them because we just scarf them down until we’re too full to eat anything else!

Chorizo Butternut Squash Hash 
So, one summer day, I had some butternut squash and chorizo on hand, and thought, “Hey! There must be some recipe that uses these two items.” There was. It’s delectable. The sweetness of the butternut combined with the spicy chorizo makes for one simple, warming meal. Click through to find it. Note: This recipe uses the chorizo commonly found in the U.S. — a soft, ground sausage, sometimes stuffed into links (and if you buy it in casing, take it out of the casing to use in this recipe). This type of chorizo is different from the hard chorizo sausage we’ve had in Europe, more similar to salami or pepperoni. If you can’t get the soft chorizo, perhaps you can substitute another type of spicy sausage. 

Colombian Black Beans and Rice 
1 can frijoles negros (black beans)
1 large onion or 3-4 green onions, chopped
1 med red pepper (green, if no red), chopped
4-5 tbsp oil (preferred Mazola)
1 tsp garlic or 3 cloves, minced 
1-1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 package Goya seasoning with saffron (Sazon Goy con Azafran)
1 pack of fried bacon (optional)
1 small can tomato sauce
1 cup uncooked rice
1 cup water
Sauté’ chopped onions, pepper in oil until cooked. Pour in garlic, cumin, pepper, and Goya package. Stir. Pour in tomato sauce. Stir. Salt to taste. Pour in can of beans and bacon (if using). Stir all together, then pour in uncooked rice and water. Stir and bring to boil. Simmer about 15-20 minutes until water is gone. Open. Stir from bottom to top and continue cooking until rice is soft (approx 20-30 min).
I was a children’s librarian when I got this recipe from the mother of one of my storytime kids. A Colombian native, she kindly shared her method of making beans and rice. It’s been a while since I’ve made it, and I notice the recipe doesn’t mention draining the beans. I think I would do so, though I’m not sure you’re supposed to. If you leave out the bacon, as I always do, it’s a good vegetarian meal.  

Crockpot Lamb Curry
1 lg diced onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 lbs lamb stew meat
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp ground cloves
2 cups chicken broth
4 oz baby spinach, chopped (fresh or thawed frozen works)
Cook onion over medium heat, stirring often until translucent. Add a little broth if needed. Add garlic and ginger and sauté another minute. Transfer onion to crock pot and stir in lamb. Add all everything else except spinach. Cover and cook for four hours on high or eight on low. Stir in spinach to wilt it and serve. 
My notes say I added frozen butternut squash to the mix, and I think I left out the spinach. Once it was cooked, I took out the lamb, pureed the what was left into a sauce with my immersion blender, and replaced the lamb. My notes also say, “Yum!so I will likely repeat the same process when I next make it.

Easy Camp (or Home) Meal
1 package sausage, any kind (smoked, kielbasa, chorizo, italian, bratwurst, whatever!)
1 sliced onion
3-4 potatoes chopped
Several chopped carrots
Nonstick spray or oil, and butter
Heavy duty foil or Dutch Oven or oven-safe pan.
Camp method #1: Grease large sheet of foil with spray, oil or butter. Place all ingredients on foil, add a few dollops of butter and wrap tightly. Cover with another sheet of foil and wrap tightly. Put in coals of campfire and cook until it smells good.
Camp method #2: Grease a Dutch Oven with oil or spray. Place all ingredients inside. Dollop with butter, and cook according to Dutch Oven directions (coals on top and underneath). When it starts to smell good, check to see if it’s done.
Home method #1: Use camp method #1, but use oven at 375 F, start checking at 30 min. 
Home method #2: Use camp method #2 with any oven-safe pan with a lid and the oven at 375 F as above. 
We make this every time we go camping and often at home too. Easiest meal ever!

Photo by Pixabay on

The next installment will be more main dishes. Please feel free to share your recipes (especially if they’re easy) in the comment section.

Thanks to Kate for sharing her pumpkin soup recipe. It sounds delicious and is probably more like the first time I actually ate it, since she lives in Australia, and that’s where I had it.

Comfort Cooking for a Pandemic Winter: Part 2 — Soups/Salads

This one’s a short installment, even though I love to make (and eat!) soup in the winter.

To make up for the brief post, I’ll share what I believe is the secret to great cream of mushroom soup.

Ready? It’s paprika (which I think has its basis in Hungarian cooking). I have several recipes for cream of mushroom soup that I sort of combine when I make it, but if you need one, here’s a nice basic one. It doesn’t mention paprika, but trust me. It makes all the difference.

Baked Potato Soup 
Click through for a recipe from the Carnation Evaporated Milk folks — probably the easiest and one of the most delicious potato soups I’ve ever made. 

Bush’s Easy White Chicken Chile
Another link, another easy recipe from Bush’s Beans. Obviously you can sub leftover chicken of any kind for the rotisserie-style suggested in the recipe. 

Chili Con Carne (#3)
Servings: 500 (4 oz.)
7-1/2 lbs chopped onions
75 lbs ground beef
10 (No. 10) cans tomatoes
10 lbs spaghetti
4 cups chili powder
5 gal stock or broth
15 (No. 10) cans kidney beans 
Sauté onions and beef to make brown sauce. Add tomatoes and simmer. Boil spaghetti in salted water until tender. Add chili powder and stock and beans. Cook together slowly one hour.  
Added note at the bottom of this recipe card: “‘Good Luck’ — Uncle Bob Elsen, Louisiana Dietetic Association”
I’ve never actually cooked this recipe from my bridal shower mainly because I don’t think I know five hundred people! The directions are courtesy of my Uncle Bob — the other half of Elsen’s Restaurant. As you can tell, he had a great sense of humor. 

Chipotle Hummus Dressing
Click through for a super easy delicious salad dressing — low in sugar, high in vitamin C, it’s even got a little Vitamin A, protein and fiber. 

Cream of Pumpkin Soup (Spicy)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
3 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 – 15 oz can of pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 – 12 oz can evaporated milk (can use fat-free)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste. 
Heat oil over medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook until soft. Add spices and cook 1 min. Add broth and pumpkin. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 min. Add milk and cook two more minutes. Blend with immersion blender or transfer to blender and blend until smooth. You could even add pepitas so it looks like the picture below!
The Engineer and I were fortunate enough to take a long trip to Australia for our honeymoon, and it was there I first had pumpkin soup. As an American, I surprised to have pumpkin in anything but pie, but that soup was amazing, and so is this one.
However, if you’re not fond of cumin and curry, this recipe is probably not for you. If you like those flavors, you’re in for a treat! Delicious with crusty bread such as “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” (Bread recipes will be in an upcoming installment).

Photo by Valeria Boltneva on

Pennsylvania Eight Bean Soup
1 cup each: pinto, navy, kidney, large lima, small lima, black-eye peas, split peas, lentils, barley
2 tbsp salt
Ham bone or ham hock or pork loin
1 large onion, chopped
1 large can tomatoes
1/2-1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
Wash beans and barley. Place in large kettle and cover with water to 2” above beans. Add 2 tbsp salt. Soak overnight and drain in morning. Add 2 qts water and ham bone or hock. Bring to boil and simmer slowly 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove ham bone or hock. Cut off meat, chop and return to soup. Add onion, tomatoes, chili powder, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer slowly 1 or more hours. Serve with tossed salad and corn bread or crusty French Bread. ENJOY!
This recipe came from my mom who got it from a friend or relative. I’ve never made it because I don’t like bean soup. From what I can recall, Mom liked it so much, she asked the recipe, so I’m sure if you do like bean soup, you’ll find it delicious. 

Potato Leek Soup
Click through for detailed instructions (with pictures!) and recipe for one of my favorite soup recipes. Easy, delicious, and perfect for freezing. Double the recipe, freeze half, and have a great meal now and one for another cold winter night!
A kind of funny story about this soup: When I met The Engineer, he owned a timeshare in Portugal, where we visited several times. The little restaurant just up the hill from where we stayed offered a Prix Fixe meal including soup, crusty bread, fresh fish or Peri Peri Chicken with vegetables/potatoes and a half-bottle of wine for some ridiculous price (I seem to remember it being the equivalent of $5 American). The chicken and fish were good, but what we really loved was the soup and bread. (Later we visited with Darling Daughter as a toddler, and her favorite was the kittens that would race around, slipping and sliding on the dining area’s stone tiles.)
Anyway, I tried for years to replicate that soup. It was potato based and had a green vegetable in it, so I tried potatoes and green beans, potatoes and peas … you name it. I never figured it out. Fast forward about ten years, when I received leeks in our CSA share and discovered this recipe as a way to use them. EUREKA! It was the Portuguese soup! When served with the basic bread from “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” it’s almost as good as going back to Portugal.
I lie. It’s not really as good as going back to Portugal. But it is a very good soup, especially for winter!

Beth’s Mom’s Spinach Salad
3/4 cup oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
Whisk above items for dressing.
1-1/2 lb spinach
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 strips bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (can leave out for a vegetarian version)
Small onion, grated. 
Optional: water chestnuts, mushrooms, canned orange segments
If I’m being honest, I have to admit I like this salad (from my college roommate’s mom) mainly for the dressing. Sweet and tangy! 

Beth’s Mom’s Warehouse Salad Dressing
1 med onion
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery seed (not ground)
1 cup salad oil
1/3 cup white vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
Mix all in blender. Store in sealed jar in refrigerator. Shake well before serving. Yields one pint. 
Beth’s mom was a great cook, and so was Beth (and still is, I’m sure, though I’ve not seen her in many years). 

Feel free to comment with your own favorites.

Next up will be main dishes!