Red Le Creuset pot /

Mom’s big red Le Creuset pot

My mom used to have a big, red Le Creuset pot, and out of it came all my favorite dinners.

A wine-soaked beef stew, which mom might’ve had bubbling on the stove on all Saturday afternoon while we watched her favorite show, “ABC’s Wide World of Sports.” Or chicken and dumplings, which might’ve been cooking while we spent a Sunday working a jigsaw puzzle.

When we went on a ski trip, Mom would cook up something in the big red pot to take along, chili maybe. She would make it at home, chill it overnight, then transport the whole thing in the ice chest, pot and all.

Mom’s most memorable big, red pot creation was a Mexican-inspired stew with whole pieces of chicken, along with bell peppers, onions, beans, corn, and sliced black olives. We carted it up to the Sierras for a weekend at a friend’s cabin, dubbing it Sierra Chicken. All these years later, I still crave Sierra Chicken and make it semi-regularly (here’s the recipe, pictured).

Sierra Chicken StewMom loved these one-pot wonders, I’m sure, because she could put them together, set them on simmer, and forget about them. They weren’t fast cooking, but they were easy to serve, needing nothing more than a hunk of bread—or in the case of Sierra Chicken, a pile of tortillas—and a salad along side.

I loved them because they were her specialty. A mother’s specialty is often a child’s comfort food.

Although Le Creuset pots are pretty indestructible, ours did die—my mother and brother were on a camping trip and our Volkswagen bus caught on fire. For years afterwards, we’d hunt for things around the house—a skillet, a sweater, a piece of camping gear—only to realize, oh yeah, that burned up with the bus.

There was no forgetting we lost the big red pot, though. Although I can get pretty close with my own stock pot, Mom’s specialties just aren’t the same without it.

Hungry for more comforting cooking? Join me 2/18 for Warming One-Pot Meals, a hands-on cooking class at Ramekins in Sonoma.

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