Two Hearty Winter Dishes

Winter has arrived in Cincinnati, and in the Ohio Valley, that means overcast days, long nights, snow, icy rain and plenty of windy Mid-Western cold. To stay warm and energized during the chilly season, my wife and I love to indulge in hearty and spicy dishes that stick to our ribs and tingle our taste buds.

Below are two such recipes that we often turn to on frigid evenings. Their combination of sweet, heat and succulent meat always hits the spot and warms us up from the inside out.

1) Tuscan Sausage Roast

$37 Total – 8 Servings – $4.60 Per Portion

When most Americans think about Tuscan cuisine, pasta and light fare usually come to mind. Situated in the hills of northern Italy, though, Tuscany isn’t always the hot, dusty and sunny locale its reputation suggests.

Toothsome pastas like pappardelle, rich meats such as wild boar and 40oz Florentine steaks and delectable roasts fit for a feast are common fare throughout the region. Our version of a classic Tuscan sausage roast – which balances spicy sausage with sweet grapes, tart balsamic vinegar and tangy fennel and garlic – combines the soulful simplicity and robust succulence for which northern Italy is renowned.

To start, I peel and halve a pound of Cipollini onions and add them to an oiled roasting pan. Although white onions will work as well, Cipollini sweeten when roasted, and their petite size nicely complements the whole grapes and thick pieces of sausage.

Next, I shave two fennel bulbs and add them to the pan along with the onions. While a mandolin is usually used for shaving fennel, I prefer to use a large knife, rotating the bulb every few cuts to get unique and distinctive slices. I also peel a few cloves of fresh garlic, adding them to the pan as well.

I then disperse a large bunch of white grapes around the pan and coat all the vegetables with half a cup of balsamic vinegar, two thirds of a cup of red wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and a couple pinches of cinnamon. Finally, I top everything with eight spicy Italian sausages and bake uncovered at 400 degrees for about one hour.

Every fifteen minutes or so, I turn the sausages and mix the vegetables to ensure everything roasts evenly. When the sausages are cooked through and the vegetables are softened and browned, I take the pan out, turn off the heat and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Before serving, I toast two thick slices of earthy Tuscan bread and serve it on the side of the roast to soak up all the delicious and drunken drippings.

2) Tandoori Chicken

$28 Total – 8 Servings – $3.50 Per Portion

I’m no expert on north Indian cuisine, and I certainly lack the technique and spice collection necessary to make my favorite Punjabi and Tandoori eats. Nevertheless, it’s quite easy to find high quality, organic Indian sauces, sides and ingredients at our local Whole Foods, allowing my wife and I to make simple yet exotic fare with all the depth and richness you expect from delicious Indian dishes.

I always start by preparing my rice first. I place about two and a half cups of brown basmati rice in a large pot, along with five cups of water, a spoonful of low-sodium chicken base – in lieu of stock – salt, pepper and a generous sprinkling of yellow curry powder. I set the heat to medium-low and let the rice cook until all the water is absorbed.

Next, I prep the chicken by placing two and a half pounds of thighs and drumsticks in a large roasting pan. I then mix together a small jar of Tandoori paste with a large dollop of Major Grey’s chutney, a dash of lemon juice and a spoonful of grapeseed oil. You can also add Greek yogurt to the mixture for an extra depth of authentic flavor if you have some on hand.

When the marinade is well mixed, I pour it over the chicken and use my hands to coat the birds evenly on all sides. To mimic the high heat of a wood-fired Tandoori oven, I cook the chicken at 400 degrees uncovered for about an hour. To prevent the chicken from drying out and to ensure the sauce permeates the meat completely, I baste my birds every fifteen minutes or so.

As the chicken roasts away, I combine two jars of Jyoti brand Punjabi chole in a pot on the stove and heat it over medium-low heat. In cases such as this, turning to a store-bought side dish is a great way to save time while avoiding having to purchase a dozen additional ingredients and spices. Once the chicken is cooked through and thoroughly browned on top, I turn the heat off and take it out of the oven, letting the meat rest until the chole and rice are finished as well.

I also prepare a couple pieces of naan to accompany the meal. To make our dish a bit more indulgent, I coat the bread in butter and pureed garlic and toast it for a few minutes until it’s golden brown. Finally, I serve the chicken on top of the rice, with the chole and naan on the side, and I spoon some of the Tandoori sauce over the meat for an added dose of mouthwatering flavor.

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