Warm hearth, warm heart

Kysha Harris | 10/12/2012, 4:29 p.m.

While I love the light and breezy cooking of summer, I look forward to all the fare that the fall and winter seasons bring. I especially love the cooking techniques of the season--roasting, braising and stewing. So on a dreary, rainy Saturday with a fully stocked kitchen, I pulled out the Dutch oven and turned on the hearth (a.k.a. the oven) for the first time.

I went grocery shopping that week with the intention of using the FIFO (First In, First Out) inventory system with what I had existing in my pantry and freezer. Most significant to note were cans of tomatoes and white beans and a freshly made merguez sausage mixture in my freezer.

The items dictated my first two dishes on my cooking list. The second dishes were staples to keep in the freezer and to use as part of meals during the week.

The Cooking List:

Bolognese Sauce

Merguez Sausage Stew

Chicken Stock

Roasted Vegetables

The trick in putting together this day of cooking was prepping once for three different dishes. The base of the first three items is a mixture of vegetables called a mirepoix--onion, celery and carrot--that is used in most stocks, soups and stews. I added garlic and half of my battle was done.

The second trick is making use of inactive cooking time. Summer cooking requires you to stand over a stove or grill for quick meals that need tending. My cooking list was more about putting the ingredients in and letting the oven and pot go to work.

I started with the chicken stock: bones (backs and necks) I bought for $1.39 a pound plus the mirepoix, garlic, herbs, peppercorns and cold water to cover. I brought it to just under a simmer and let it go for as long as I was cooking that day. Done and cooking...

Next was the Bolognese to use those cans of tomatoes. I started with sauteing the mirepoix then added ground beef to brown, deglazed with milk then again with red wine, added the canned tomatoes that I pureed in the food processor, herbs and seasoning. Done and cooking...

The most active were the vegetables--cauliflower and broccoli. The equally sized cut florets require a quick steam in a covered pot over boiling water for three minutes or so. Cool them on a sheet pan, toss them with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and pepper and some red pepper flakes (optional) and roast in a preheated 400-degree oven until brown, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan and turning the florets at least once. A side dish is done and ready to use during the week.

Finally, my invention of a merguez sausage stew using the fresh lamb sausage mixture, which a sous chef friend gave to me, and a can of white cannellini beans. The flavor of merguez is so intense and unique with spices of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and harissa (North African condiment) that I wanted to combine it with something that could absorb the flavor without imparting any of its own.