9 November 2010
Sometimes the only solution is a cold-weather meal that balms even the most depressed heart (and this means you, S.S.). Between all the emailing about Thanksgiving plans and the cold nights we’ve had lately, I’ve been thinking about cold-weather comfort foods and the magical healing qualities they surely possess. (I know some of you dread cold weather, but you don’t have a grueling 5-month summer like those of us in Texas.) We’ve been hard at work here in our test kitchen/lab determing with precision and a PhD’s worth of witches’ knowledge the specific magical effects of these recipes.
Oatmeal. My need for breakfasts of yoghurt or cold cereal is disappearing, and I look forward every weekend to the smell of the oatmeal bubbling away on the stove. With lots of big, fat flame raisins and pecans, a little cinnamon and nutmeg, and real maple syrup. Recommended to those whose souls are otherwise troubled by anxieties about piles of unfinished grading on the coffee table.
Black bean soup. Cooked with a little orange peel and lots of vegetables, then pureed into a thick, spicy, flavorful brew. Eating this for lunch at school gives one the sense of protection that anti-bacterial hand gels cannot. Makes you impervious to germ-y undergrads with runny noses, alarming coughs, and feverish desperation for grade changes.
Casseroles. Like baked ziti (shown) with fresh rosemary cooked into the marinara. I also crave my mother’s potato casserole, which is a cheesy blast of carbs: scallions and shredded russets and possibly rutabagas mixed in. Antidote to despair. Serve with 1930s screwball comedies.
Mashed sweet potatoes. So easy and so good. I puree the soft potato cubes with a little milk, salt and pepper, and (secret ingredient!) a bit of vanilla. Heaven — it might as well be dessert. Sometimes I put toasted pecans on top to further blur the difference. A negative-calorie food that pairs well with a parmesan-and-arugula salad and some French film noir, like “Touchez-pas au Grisbi.”
Roasted vegetables. I’ll eat almost anything if it’s roasted, but the very, very best is roasted brussels sprouts, tossed with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper before putting into a very hot oven. I’ll eat an entire bag worth on those nights when I can’t be bothered to find anything else in the kitchen. Those crunchy brown outer leaves … heaven. Served with an anchovy-and-garlic pizza, this can actually heal scars and re-grow limbs, but you might want to eat them by yourself of an evening with a few “True Blood” reruns.
Sage and parsley pesto. Like any other walnut pesto, except this one uses the abundant sage in my garden as well as a pile of parsley to keep it green and lovely. Pine nuts are fine, but toasted walnuts really stand up to the vigorous sage taste. Put it on ordinary pasta, a ravioli with something distinctive inside (smoked mozzarella or pumpkin, not something subtle like lobster), or hell — just drizzle on top of the mashed sweet potatoes. Looks harder and fancier than it is; thus, invite your best friend over for dinner and a screening of some kind of BBC costume-drama miniseries: “Fingersmith” or “North and South.” Lots of wine for the length of the show.
And for dessert: Constant Comment Tea with Mexican wedding cookies. There’s nothing like this simple, slightly orange-y tea with the simplest of all desserts — a shortbread cookie that has only a few ingredients in it (flour, nuts, salt, and butter … most of the powdered sugar is on the outside of the cookie). Because I live in Texas, I make the cookies with pecans rather than walnuts and I drizzle in a little triple sec to pair with the tea. The cookie is so delicate it always threatens to crumble in your hands — magic. Guaranteed to make you forget your grad students’ stubborn misuse of terms like post-structuralism, intertextuality, and Foucauldian. Eat while watching utterly appalling TV, like reruns of the 1990s version of “Melrose Place.”