cold nights, chilly mornings

We've been having a few cold nights and chilly mornings out at Flintstone Manor, sweaters and woolly socks have appeared everywhere, stashed behind sofa pillows, hanging on doorknobs, draped on dining room chairs. I hate breathing in heated air, and when I need a sweater, I need it instantly. 

In the city, The Building has not put the heat on, consequently the A/C is still on. Those are the choices, cold or colder. Thus the apartment is also seasonally decorated with sweaters and cleverly folded "wraps." Pumpkins, leaves & turkeys are for the unimaginative. And everywhere, dinners at home are moving from the "something grilled + corn on the cob + farmstand tomatoes + what else looked good at the farmers' market" formula to the "oven supper" formula.

We always have the same conversation about meatloaf. It goes like this:
Himself: How come we never have mashed potatoes with the meatloaf?
Moi: Mashed potatoes don't go with meatloaf.
Himself: Yes, they do.
Moi: No, they do not. Baked potatoes go with meatloaf.
Himself: But I like mashed potatoes with meatloaf.
Moi: Well, you've never had it here.
Himself: I've noticed. Please just tell me why you think baked potatoes go with meatloaf.
Moi: They just go, is all. They go right next to it in the oven.
Himself: And?
Moi: And therefore there's no pot and masher and bowl to wash. Simple.
Himself: Well, by that logic, baked potatoes go with everything.
Moi: Yeah, they pretty much do.

In the interests of domestic tranquillity, I ease into baked potato season gently, with a casserole or two. The beloved recipes of my childhood came from The I Hate To Cook Book, which has come unbound from several generations of grateful love. Its tattered pages now live in a plastic bag, there are many things I wouldn't be bothered with, but there are a few old standbys. Since this is a blog, not a confessional, the family secrets will not appear here. Shhh.

But the other night the temperature called for Beer and Kielbasa. You didn't think we had kielbasa in the prosperous East End of Long Island? Guess again. We also have beer. Here's how you make Hamptons Kielbasa -- I think the word "Hamptons" is for parvenus, there were no Hamptons when I was a child, just a string of small villages near great beaches -- so I love how that word sounds next to "Kielbasa," which is real food for real people. All great dishes have tension.

We start, as almost always, by slicing up an onion, cooking til tender, and letting it brown just a little in some butter and olive oil.
Then we add the kielbasa, cut into chunks, for a light browning.
Next, the lentils, about a "heavy" cup and a half.
 This is not a dish I learned from a written recipe, but I'm trying.
Bury a clove of garlic or two in the lentils.
Next, add the drained contents of a can of chopped tomatoes.
Lately I've been finding that lentils can taste bland. 
I've been using the chopped tomatoes that also contain jalapenos.
I'm sure that if the jolly farmers who first smooshed pork bits into kielbasa casing
had had access to jalapenos, they would have happily
 added some as well. Using the tomatoes with jalapenos means 
I don't have to bother slicing jalapenos and fiddling about with the seeds.
 And now, about a cup of beef broth, half a cup of wine, a little water, 
you want the liquid about even with the solids.
About that wine, a splash of anything red or white will do, whatever's on offer. If there isn't any leftover wine in your fridge, here's the tip of the week: white vermouth does not go off when kept carefully closed in the fridge. You can use it almost anywhere wine is called for in a recipe, well, not Boeuf Bourgouignon or Coq au Vin, but with reasonable judgment, it's a good substitute. Just use a little less Vermouth than you would if you were using wine. I learned this from someone who learned it from Julia Child. How's that for provenance?

OK, mix it up, bring it to a simmer, mix again, cover and put in a 350° oven
Like all good casseroles, it will need a topping.
Grate a handful of Parmesan or supermarket Swiss, the lentils aren't fussy, 

and mix with an equal handful of breadcrumbs.

Meanwhile, the lentils are cooking away. 
They're done when tender, check periodically if they need more liquid
 or if you do. 
If the lentils are too soupy after the pot's been in the oven for half an hour or so, 
leave the lid off while they finish cooking.
When they're ready, remove from oven, remove lid,
spread cheese/crumb mixture over, dot with butter or sprinkle with oil, 
turn on the broiler and brown the topping.
You can observe the gravy/lentil relationship here.
Dinner's ready!
Update: for those who live in kielbasa-deprived regions, here are some pictures that may be informative:

Essentially kielbasa is a garlic sausage, we like the ring variety best, it's traditionally beef or beef and pork, but lately a daring entrepreneur has been marketing a version made with turkey. Not allowed in my house.


  1. Like a quick cassoulet-- looks yummy. We have moved into the soups and casseroles as well to ward off the chill; chicken and wild rice soup with watercress, chorizo and potato soup with kale etc. Now a nice fire, some red wine so it's not chilled. Julia put vermouth into her potato salad ,too.

  2. Hi, Lane, I have the craziest recipe for potato salad, the secret ingredient is sweet pickle relish or failing that sweet pickle juice! and yet for some reason, it works, tastes like a picnic without the ants.

    I have actually made cassoulet twice in my life, each time I've had leftover goose, the little dried beans from France, lots of leftover gravy from the goose... it was like one of those astronomical coincidences you read about that won't happen again for hundreds of years. I mean, you can't shop for the ingredients, they have to happen.

    I love Julia's recipe for baked beans. Um, I feel weird saying this to a state-o'-Mainer, but there you are. I swear there are people on Nantucket who invite us just to ask me to cook.

    1. I don't know her baked beans! Must check these out. I grow some token Jacob's Cattle beans for New Year's day.

      Real cassoulet must be such a project, but with a delicious reward.

    2. Like so many elaborate recipes, the big deal is in collecting the ingredients, not the technique.

  3. This looks great, will definitely have to give it a try! I also live in a building where I must rely on someone else to turn on the heat, though we don't have AC round these parts. Clearly it's time for warming comfort food and drink - I love this time of year! And I love your reasoning for baked potatatoes. No dishes seems like a perfect reason for choosing a potato style to me.

    1. hi, ajr! I appreciate your cook's logic!

  4. Oh I love kielbasa though they take some tracking down here, that looks delicious. I never turn our heating off not even in summer, our bills are astronomical.

    1. We do kielbasa in summer, too, cut into pieces and thrown on grill, then cut again into tinier pieces and served with picks and a few little dishes of mustards as a nibble with drinks. Or, of course, with beer.

      I hope you're able to heat by "zones."

  5. Ah, dang it. Here in Northeast Minneapolis, AKA "Nordeast", I can get a home-made kielbasa from at least five different places all in walking distance.

    And now I want one.


    p.s. And sorry -- but it's mashed potatoes over here with yer meatloaf! :-)

  6. hi, Pearl, I don't object to eating mashed potatoes w/ meatloaf, it's the cooking and cleaning up. The Baked is a Divine Gift to She Who Must Work.

    I was thrilled to discover a house-made kielbasa in a deli in the Little Cracow section of a neighboring town, but frankly it was tasteless.

  7. Ha, I never thought of that but you're right, baked taters with meatloaf. It's 10 minutes to midnight and now I want a kielbasa ... drool.

    1. Just so you know, tiffany rose, recently I've seen small individual packaged kielbasa in our supermarket. Snack-sized. Hmmmm.

  8. Laughing at your baked potato arguments. It's true, some foods go with mash and some don't. The reduced washing up is always an important factor with me, though I do love my mash.
    Thanks for recipe. Never heard of kielbasa but it's a sausage, right?

    1. And of course, you don't have to peel baked potatoes. But I love mashed potatoes, have to save them for special occasions or I'd have to stay home dressed in a blanket with hole for head. That much.

      Anyway, I updated the post to include a couple of pics of kielbasa in its primeval state. You bet it's a sausage.


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