Healthy, Hearty Cooking Methods for Fall

Jessica Harlan by Jessica Harlan | February 15th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Health & Wellness, Healthy Eating

Just like I’m eager to pull out cashmere sweaters the minute I feel a cool breeze, I’m just as excited to pull out my Dutch oven, my slow cooker and all my recipes for warm, nourishing fall comfort foods. After a summer of grilling, and eating fresh, cool salads, heavier dishes like chili, roasted chicken and braised root vegetables will really hit the spot as the temperature drops.

It’s likely that the chill in the air that we’re enjoying is temporary and we’ll have another heat wave before the real autumn sets in, but it’s still not too early to start thinking about fall and winter cooking techniques, and maybe even take advantage of end-of-summer sales for roasting pans, braziers and other accoutrements for a season of cold-weather cooking.

Feel free to add some of my favorite techniques to your own repertoire when the temperature dips and you’re in the mood for some fall comfort food.

Braising: This method of cooking meat or vegetables slowly in liquid is great for tough cuts of meat or for sturdy root vegetables. You begin by browning the ingredients on the stove, then add a liquid like stock, broth or wine, and cook it slow and low in the oven until it’s tender. If you have a good source for grass-fed meat, Braised Short Ribs is a good recipe to start with.

Slow Cooking: Electric countertop slow cookers are relatively inexpensive—look for one that holds 6 quarts for the most versatile size, has a high and low temperature setting, as well as a “keep warm” setting. The best thing about slow cookers is the ability to “set it and forget it,” as a popular cookbook is titled. You can put your ingredients together in the morning, turn it on, and when you get home at the end of the day, dinner will be waiting. If you’re a vegetarian, though, be warned—most vegetables only need a couple of hours’ cooking time in the slow cooker; any longer and they’ll turn to mush. Beans, however, are a good thing to cook in the slow cooker as they do require a longer cooking time. Try Jamaican Red Bean Stew.

Roasting: Roasting is all about cooking at a high temperature with no cooking liquid (except for a light brushing or coating of oil), to achieve a crisp, caramelized exterior. And there’s nothing as satisfying as a roast chicken on a cold autumn night. Or a platter full of beautifully caramelized roasted vegetables. The process is easy, too—to make vegetables, just cut them into evenly sized chunks, toss them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper (and herbs like rosemary or thyme, if you’d like), spread them onto a sheet pan, and cook them at a relatively high temperature until they’re tender on the inside, browned on the outside. Potatoes and root vegetables are the best for this process, or try these Balsamic Roasted Vegetables, which include late-summer produce like zucchini, eggplant and peppers.

Pressure Cooking: If time’s an issue, then a pressure cooker is a good
alternative to a slow cooker; it cooks food in up to one-third the amount of time as conventional cooking methods. Food cooks in a sealed pot, and the liquid’s steam builds up to heat the contents of the pot. Like a slow cooker, a pressure cooker is best for liquid-based dishes like stews. Even risotto can be made in a pressure cooker, without all the stirring!

Dutch Oven Cooking: My Dutch oven gets a lot of use in the cold weather. Dutch ovens (or French ovens, as they’re sometimes called) are typically made of cast iron coated in enamel;my favorites are from Le Creuset but Lodge Manufacturing also has a good version that’s less expensive. Dutch ovens are perfect for stews, soups and chilis because the cast iron conducts and retains heat well. This chili recipe makes enough for two meals.

What are your favorite cold-weather cooking methods?

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