Stormy Weather Food

posted in: Ruminations | 12

There’s a silver lining to every cloud. Rainy, stormy, freezing days are cooking days for me, spent tending a fragrant simmer, in the warmth of a oven breaking blisters onto the crusts of bread. There’s an acute feeling of physical and emotional nourishment that comes with even the simplest of meals, in the worst of weather.

This past week, despite spontaneously winning a vacation – probably the biggest thing to happen to me and this blog – has been a tumultuous one at my soon-to-be-no-longer-home. It started with Friday’s sudden chill, uncharacteristic compared to most of January’s jacketless weekends; stormy clouds and moods picked up with Sunday’s frigid winds, knocking over The L Magazine posts on my corner; and peaked in a full-force, fifteen-minute blizzard, just as I stepped out to look for discarded cardboard boxes to pack all my stuff. Tuesday night, the snow continues to fall. Perhaps it’s been a shock to rediscover what winter really feels like, and it’s our faults for not being better prepared for any given moment’s gust of bad luck. Maybe nature likes to surprise, has a few tricks left to pull before being smothered by our excesses.

It’s not that I meant to be excessively morose or philosophical right now; I just can’t seem to come up with any better way to explain why cooking that slow-simmered, basic tomato sauce and eating it with that pasta meant worlds of comfort to me right after the blizzard. I thought I’d name a few other foods that always seem to hit the mark when skies are gray, as I wonder if there’s something more to do with them.

Roast chicken. There are some people who may think that roasting a whole chicken is over-productive for one person. I disagree. It leaves you with not only one good, finger-licking meal but so many leftover uses, it’s funny that more recipes for enchiladas, chilaquiles, soups, stuffed peppers, pot pies and chicken salads don’t ask you to go ahead and help yourself to a finger-licking roast chicken first, the previous night. Then come back to us tomorrow. Besides, it’s neat, it all fits into one pan, and you barely need to do any prep work with a roaster chicken before it goes into the oven. Then there are the added bonuses. I use the leftover, roasted bones to make about a gallon of chicken stock. I keep it in my freezer and use it to fuel my risotto-holism, as well as the occasional soup, or for those minimal portions in vegetable braises or stir-fries. Finally, organic, free-range chicken pieces cut up in any fashion, with or without bones, can be wildly expensive. Buying them whole is much easier on my budget.

Banana bread. I’m not a banana nor banana bread fanatic, usually. I have little cultural inheritance owing to the loaf, as I probably tasted my first slice at the church bake sale ’88, baked by one of those tall, proud, A-line skirted moms who ran the local girl scout troops. I can see why many moms like to bake it. It has the slight gooey texture of most soda breads, but there’s a fudgy quality with the bananas, addictive to any youngster. Or to a grown-up recessing into guileless child from time to time. I baked a variation with oats and sour cream last winter, and still make it every now and then.

Pizza. I had a little bumpy start with homemade pizza in the past. I still don’t own a proper pizza pan, stone, or crisper. But now that I’ve decided to leave the crustwork mostly in the hands of the guys at the closest pie shop — who sell about 4 individual pies’ worth of dough for $3 — I’ve opened up whole new channels of pizza-making that were previously dammed. Unlike today’s most astute pizza scholars, I don’t worry too much about the dough; I pile on the tomatoes, spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, leftover cilantro, heaven knows what else, butternut squash on occasion. It’s still pizza — who cares?

Minestrone. There’s nothing particularly exciting in it — beans, a peasant food, really — yet there’s no way of making it that doesn’t turn out delicious, no matter what you add. I don’t remember exactly how I made it last, tomato paste and a handful of vegetables, white beans and small pasta probably (and this corn chowder doesn’t stray too far in theory), but I remember being completely soothed and filled up by just one bowlful.

“Egg Ramen”. My friends used to think it was weird when they saw me poaching an egg in my ramen when we were living together. But soon after moving out, I caught them doing it themselves one night. Egg ramen! they called it. A total “Cathy” invention! Not really. Though I can’t tell you exactly where I picked that up from. What I find really interesting about ramen is that there are probably more ways that people commonly prepare it in the US than there are ways of breaking the rules in high school. Everyone seems to hold fast to their particular “way”: with only one teaspoon of the broth, crushed up raw and scooped up as a snack, and so on. Well, my way is cracking an egg into the center of the pot while it cooks at a slow roil. Dunno why. But it’s become a pretty necessary part of instant ramen — and strangely satisfying.

Black Beans and Rice. It’s as simple as it sounds. Only tastier. Drawing from the recipe on the back of the Goya can, I sometimes try to go a little bit out of bounds here — adding chopped chorizo or maybe some okra. But I’m still not convinced the overhead pays off, since the original is arguably just as good.

12 Responses

  1. Katie

    Mine is spicy chorizo soup. It is so easy -just onions, chorizo, coriander and two tins of canned tomatoes. But GOD is it good.

  2. Maryann

    Oh, doesn’t that pizza look good!

  3. Anna

    the pizza looks delicious- good idea to get fresh dough from the pizza place. my “stormy weather food” is usually chicken noodle soup. i will try making the roast chicken the night before next time. 🙂

  4. bryan

    yes, black beans and rice! my absolute “go-to” meal, and i got my start on the back of the goya can as well! i make some adjustments, adding some cocoa or dark chocolate, cinnamon, and coffee .and of course, i throw some of it in the blender to thicken it all up. what a delicious way to eat for a few days! (and for pennies!)

  5. Sung

    Oh, I agree, you have to crack an egg into ramen (or udon). They joy of breaking the poached yolk with chopstick tip(s) and letting it gently coat the very al dente noodles while being further cooked by the hot broth and then devouring the cholesterol cum carbohydrate goodness is simply marvelous. Chopping up some scallion greens and adding them at the end makes it healthy.

  6. Rachel

    That is one inspiring pizza…I may have to change dinner plans!

    I totally agree on roasting a chicken for stormy-weather food. Or baking a sweet potato in its jacket until its sugars have all caramelized and it’s soft and mushy, then topping it off with a healthy dose of butter and a bit of salt.

  7. MrsPresley

    yum! that pizza looks delicious!

    you’ve been tagged! 🙂

  8. JustNancy

    To add to the instant ramen & poached egg comments, I love adding any kind of leafy green, too, like watercress or even that romaine or escarole you know is going to be too limp to eat in a couple of days. Just scoop out your egg and noodles and blanch some chopped up leaves quickly in that discolored boiling water for a minute or two.

  9. Olga

    I have still never made a roasted chicken…I know lame.

    One of my favorite comfort foods or cold weather foods is matzo ball soup from the box…I know! But it’s just so goo and sometimes I add vegetables.

  10. Yvo

    YUM! It’s too bad you’ve gone and moved within the same darn borough. Otherwise I’d be at yours all the time or telling you to come to mine so we can cook for each other. Ah well. I am so with you on the whole roasted chicken thing – it’s not that much effort, but done on a Sunday, I am sure I can make the leftovers go through a few dinners and a few bento lunches, even 😉
    Oh! And so it’s true about the pizza dough thing? Giada talks about it – buying pizza dough from your favorite/local pizzeria- but I felt funny about it so have yet to go into one and ask. Plus my favorite pizzeria is 2 blocks from work, but an hour from home, so I’m not sure it’d last the trek home?
    Ah, I love this post, it speaks to me. Today is a bit warm but were it a few days earlier, I’d totally be making soup tonight…

  11. star

    i finally worked up the nerve to ask the pizza place across the street from my apartment and they said no. 🙁
    but i have 3 other good places near me to still try…once i work up the nerve again.

  12. […] for about 5-10 minutes or so. NEVER skip the meat resting part. Carve, and enjoy the quintessential stormy weather food whether it’s stormy or not.  The side dishes are your responsibility. Don’t ask The […]

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