Native Cooking

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I sit here warm and cozy, as I hope most of you readers are, and I;m listening to my son, a firefighter, tell my husband about his day. He had seven callouts, about average for his job location. He sees more in a day than most people do in a lifetime. Some of the calls are not too serious. However, many are horrific, adrenaline-raising accidents and fires.

I tell you this to remind people to be extra careful about fires this time of year. Candles, fireplaces, heavy loads on extension cords, smoking in bed - all these things and others are important to be wary of all the time, especially in the winter months.

And, winter makes you hungry. Even if you aren't doing all that much physically, you need to eat comforting food, as much for your mind as for your body. That tends to bring up notions of soups, stews and casseroles, hot teas, hot cocoa, muffins and all types of hearty eats.

Warming Corn Chowder

3 pounds potatoes, washed, skin on

1 14-oz. can corn kernels, or cut kernels from 3 cobs

1 large onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 quart chicken broth

1 14-oz. can creamed corn

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons flour to thicken

1 cup milk or cream

4 slices bacon

3 tablespoons butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook and drain the bacon; set aside. Discard the bacon fat (or save for another use). Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Saute the onion and celery. Put the corn in just before the onion and celery are done, moving the mixture around to add pan-roasted flavor.

Cut the potatoes into uniform cubes and add to the pan, again pushing them around to get that flavor. Now add the broth, plus one cup of water, and simmer at least 30 minutes on medium-low to cook the potatoes through. Turn heat off and add creamed corn, parsley, flour, milk or cream, crumbled bacon, salt and pepper. Stir to blend and reheat slightly on simmer before serving. Do not let it boil.

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Spicy Red Beans

1 package dried red kidney beans, dark or light

1 pound chorizo or other spicy sausage, cut in 1/4-inch slices

2 tablespoons corn oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 can (14 oz.) crushed tomatoes

4 cups chicken broth

3 cups water

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon each: salt and pepper

Rinse the beans. Using a Dutch oven, cover the beans with 2 inches of water and soak overnight. Drain, rinse and set aside. Saute the sausage in corn oil in the Dutch oven until done. Remove with slotted spoon and refrigerate. Saute the onion, garlic and bell pepper in sausage drippings for about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, sugar, cumin, broth, beans, salt and pepper and bring to a boil for 8 - 10 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for nearly 2 hours, until beans are tender. Add sausage and simmer about 30 minutes more. Serve alone with a dollop of sour cream or over rice.

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Winter Green Salad with Warm Dressing

1 bunch watercress

1 head curly endive

1 small head romaine or other lettuce

1/2 red onion, sliced thin

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced thin

Tear the greens into a large bowl. Add mushrooms and onion. Top with Warm Dressing.

Warm Dressing

1/4 cup raspberry vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3/4 cup olive oil

Put all dressing ingredients in a small pot on very low heat. Whisk constantly until oil is emulsified. Pour over greens, toss well and serve immediately.

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Notes and Tips

-- It's a good time of year to remember fruits - even canned fruit can make a healthy salad. Use pineapple chunks, peaches, pears, some orange sections and a cut-up fresh banana. Yum.

-- Beans are not only good for you, they are economical and also one of your best sources of protein.

-- One of my favorite beans is Great Northern, because of its versatility. I use them in Dill Bean Salad in the summer and a vegetable stew, among other things, in the winter. Try them with any root vegetables like celery root, carrot, parsnip or even potatoes.