One-Dish Dinners as Nights Grow Colder

Part of me longs to be a sophisticated woman of the world, but another part of me is rather proud of my humble roots in a community that is largely blue collar and prides itself on being down-to-earth. Dollar stores thrive here and so do restaurants that offer down-home cooking. Most people here would rather drink beer than wine. If you grew up here, chances are you grew up eating casseroles.

As the daughter of a chef, I grew up in both worlds. Some nights I'd come home to lobster and other nights, we'd scarf down casseroles. Some meals were elaborate affairs: Italian night, French night, Chinese night, even Titanic night. Picnics in winter, on the floor of the living room. Made-from-scratch pizza on Saturday nights, with leftover sloppy-joe meat on top.

My husband grew up eating casseroles and meat-and-potato meals. His mother worked as a bookkeeper, and the way he tells it, meals were easy to prepare and vegetable were from cans.

There's nothing we enjoy more than a meal in a really good restaurant, whether it's a fancy French place or a steakhouse. We like meals at home just as well, and more often than not in fall and winter, that means a one-dish meal. Our favorite is browned Italian sausage, often cut with ground chuck, stewed tomatoes, onions and roasted red peppers with some sort of pasta. There's usually a dash of thyme and a dash of herbes de Provence. The meal is often accompanied by an easy salad of mixed greens and a humble merlot.

When I was a kid, my mother made a ground-beef-and-potato casserole with cream of chicken soup and onions. I can't think of a better comfort food! I love this stuff.

We often need comfort as the summer makes its slow slide into fall. While I am usually content to be home at nights during the winter months, this time of year I don't look forward to the long dark time ahead. It's dark enough at 8 p.m. now. We turn the lights on early these days, and we are sleeping under comforters and quilts. I feel out of place wearing whites and linens.

I feel a craving for hearty dishes already. Think I'll make that casserole tomorrow.

What about you?


Betty C. said…
I love casseroles, and don't make enough of them here -- probably not enough American cookbooks around!

Thanks for your message, Mimi. I have been out of Blogville lately but am trying to make my way back in. I'll probably be stopping CQ and just posting to FP. I can't seem to do it all!
Oh, Betty, I do understand. I've been away, too: here but unable to cook or post.

Welcome back! I've missed you!
Penny said…
The picture of your casserole is so cozy. I think that is what I like about colder weather and hearty food. I just stocked up on chuck roasts when they were on sale; good for soups and stews.
Sara said…
Hi Mimi,

I love the thought of earlier dark nights, cool weather moving in, and a hearty one-dish dinner. (And your description of your sausage/beef/thyme pasta dish is one I will have to make here soon enough.)

In a similar vein, I made a roast pork in a slow cooker yesterday. This was the first time I'd done any sort of cooking in one of them, and I'm amazed at how lush and tender this pork turned out to be. It made me think of the endless possibilities for stews and hearty soups I could make in coming months... a hopeful thought indeed!
Alain said…
It's funny, I was hit by the same urge in my kitchen over the last 3 weeks. In fact it has been the first summer over the last 38 years,where I surprised myself getting my old Le Creuset "cocotte" (enameled cast iron oven) out of the pantry and preparing, at least 4 times since early August, typical fall or winter comfort dishes. Must have been the unusual coolness of several week-ends in Chicago. Of course using fresh carrots, onions, garlic, herbs, and young small potatoes from the Farmer's market improved things a lot. My favorite recent dish that I repeated several times in August was center-cut loin pork roast from Compart Duroc (the best brand of pork I found in Chicago) braised with the above mentioned vegetables in chicken stock and white wine. (1 hour and 10 minutes cooking time for a pound and a half roast)
Happy late summer anyways Mimi.But I agree that turning the lights on so early in the evening can be quite depressing sometimes.
Hi Mimi..I LOVE this..I feel the same way..around here we call it "the fancy" and "the farmy".

Some nights we are all about Alice Waters and something fancy..other nights..we want "the farmy" old fashion/casserole/grammy.

Especially, as we go into fall...I made swiss steak in the crock pot the other night with mashed potatoes...It tasted so fall...
Penny, I did the same thing - I noticed there are a couple packages of stew meat in my freezer. The thought of making it as is good as the taste of it.

Ditto, Sara, for slow cooker meals. It is comforting to know there is some hearty dish cooking slowly away while we hunker down with books or a DVD on a cool night.

Alain, it's no warmer 4.5 miles to the north! I think our bodies naturally crave heartier food this time of year - it's like the crickets coming into town and the birds grouping on high wires.

MFK, some nights we have leftovers that are both "fancy" and "family" and that gets very interesting!
Judy said…
I'm with you Mimi. I think I enjoy cooking more in cooler weather than summuer. I made potato leek soup yesterday and it tasted so good. We aren't putting comforters on beds yet, but a quilt sure feels good by morning. I think we are going to have an early fall and winter.
Charm and Grace said…
Why does it seem that herbes de Provence make so many dishes tastier? I guess it's because it does. Loved the post.

:) Christi
It seems so, Judy. It has felt like fall here for two weeks.

Thanks, Christi. I do love my HdP.

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