Icy weather calls for food with warmth, comfort

There’s lots of lamenting about the weather in our world, and I understand it. The forecast, as I see it now, calls for cold, for ice and for snow and it’s worth lamenting about. The cold rain soaks our shoes. Icy winds drive through our winter coats and freeze our skin. The snow makes driving hard. And though I am one of those lamenters — freezing temperatures and relentless gray days make me grumpy — I do believe there is joy to be found in the weather forecast. Joy, you ask? What happiness can be found in projected temperatures of 10 degrees? Of -2? Of gray skies as far as the eye can see?

The answer is in the comfort we find on these cold days. When it’s cold and the wind howls and even going from the house to the car takes fortitude and grit, it’s big warm sweaters, a good book and a blanket; wooly socks and, above all, feel-good food that will see us through. It’s this time of year, more than any other, that rewarding ourselves in even the smallest ways, is essential to well-being. Even (if I can be dramatic) to our very survival.

When the forecast shows days of icy rain and below-zero temps, I start dreaming of food that feels good. OK, I dream of food that feels good all year long, but now, it feels more vital, you know? Probably only people who live in very cold places, and like to eat food will understand this. One important note about food that feels good in the dead of winter: it’s different for all of us. There are obvious answers to finding comfort, things like hearty soup or a bowl of pasta with meat and sauce and mounds of cheese. But comfort is different for everyone and even in my own family, there are vast differences in what we like.

I’m going to offer up a few different options for feeling good when old man winter is beating us down. Soups and stews, big pieces of beef and simple food like grilled cheese, those are all easy answers and, yes, winter menus should be filled with those things. They’re easy to make, can be cheap, and a pot of soup offers leftovers for days. Here are a few different feel-good things, some warm, some rich and filling and another that’s bright and sunny, to remind you of the warmth of days past and warm days that will come again.

Not too long ago, I spent an afternoon snowshoeing with my family. We started out together, then stretched out, each of us at our own pace, in the quiet of the snow-covered trail. When the trek turned to slogging and my muscles screamed (snowshoeing is hard work), my thoughts turned to food.

Elliot, dutiful son that he is, turned and waited when I called to him. I caught up and let him know what I was thinking.



“Sausage.” I said, “we should make something with cheese and sausage and stretchy dough for dinner.”

“Oooh. Yes,” and he turned and started off again. He’s used to my endless musings about what we’ll eat and he is a sausage lover. I knew he’d be on board. Dreaming about a warm and cheesy sausage roll, stuffed with carmelized onions and peppers, sustained me for the rest of the excursion.

Stromboli is easy to make, infinitely changeable for individual tastes and looks pretty, to boot. For our version, I laid down provolone cheese, fresh spinach and Italian sausage, a spicy chicken variety. I also spent a few minutes slow cooking thin-sliced onions and a red pepper, till they were soft and fragrant. At the end of the cooking time, I stirred in fresh oregano, because that’s what I had on hand. You could add rosemary, parsley, basil or whatever suits your taste. The herbs and a small amount of spinach add a bit of freshness and kick to the roll. I cooked and added chicken sausage here, because it’s got a lot of flavor but less fat than the pork variety, but either works well. We make these to suit a variety of tastes in our house and end up with vegetarian stromboli (veggie sausage), meat lovers (just cheese and extra sausage), extra everything, and as many combinations as there are people in the house. If you live in a place where everyone agrees about things like sausage and vegetables and cheese, leave the dough whole and make one, huge, gorgeous stromboli.

My cravings for salad don’t go away even when it’s cold and wintery, and having a big salad for dinner in winter feels good, especially if your diet has consisted of meat and bread and potatoes for days. This salad is different than your garden-variety green salad. It’s filled to the brim with hearty stuff, lots of textures and the best part: the dressing. The second-best part is the shiitake mushrooms. The mushrooms are brushed with olive oil and roasted until they’re crisp and chewy, providing a meaty base to put on the greens. Roasting changes mushrooms and even avowed mushroom haters will likely see them in a different light after a stay in the oven. Hard-boiled eggs are easy protein and I added cracked and toasted hazelnuts, because I had a bowl left over from holiday snacking. My husband dutifully cracked and picked off the shells, then looked on in shock as I chopped them. (“I worked so hard to keep them whole!”) You can use whatever nuts you have on hand, for flavor and crunch in the salad, but they’re best toasted and chopped. And back to the best thing about this salad: the dressing. With just a small amount of bacon, you can make rich, intensely delicious dressing. Add shallot, mustard and maple syrup, and you’ve hit all the important flavor notes. The recipe here makes enough for a very well-dressed salad, or some to have for any other salad you want to beef up with a bit of flavor. In my house, bacon anything is greeted warmly by most, especially a 16-year-old boy.

I miss the sun during winter months. How to make up for the loss of sunny warmth on my face? The best I can do, since there’s no trip to a warm place in my future, is make a sunny, bright fruit plate, filled with tons of color and vitamin C. I like to slice crisp pears, add crunchy pomegranate arils and mix it up with dried figs. This salad has a tiny bit of dressing on top, just a drizzle, made with citrus juice and honey. I added a whisper of cayenne, just for warmth. Who couldn’t use a bit of warmth right now?

Us Northeasterners have to do what we can to cope with the cold winter for a few more months. For some, it’s embracing the snow and charging out to ski every weekend. For others, it’s pulling the covers over their heads and praying for spring. Until then, I say: Find some comfort food and with it, joy in winter!

Caroline Barrett is a freelance writer who lives in Delmar. You can reach her and follow her work at carolinebarrett.com.

Sausage Stromboli with Provolone, Veggies and Herbs

Serves 4

Olive oil

1 small yellow onion, trimmed, peeled and sliced thin

1 red bell pepper, trimmed, and sliced thin

Pinch crushed red pepper

Kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

1 pound pizza dough, divided into 4 equal pieces

4 slices provolone, cut into 1-inch strips

1 cup baby spinach, kale or other hearty green

4 pieces sweet or hot cooked Italian sausage (chicken or pork)

1 egg, beaten

Sesame seeds (optional)

Mustard, pesto or marinara, for dipping

  • Heat a swirl of olive oil in a large skillet set over a medium flame. Cook the onion and pepper with the crushed red pepper until soft and browning at the edges. Season with a little salt, stir in the oregano and set aside to cool.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stretch each piece of dough into a rectangle approximately 5 inches by 7 inches. Working with the short end closest to you, layer the cheese strips and spinach or kale down the center of the dough, leaving 1 ½ inches on each side. Place the sausage on top of the spinach, then spread ¼ of the onion and peppers on the sausage. Make cuts in the dough on either side of the filling, about 1 inch apart. Starting at the top, fold each side over the filling, overlapping the strips and making a tidy roll. Carefully move to a baking sheet. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough and fillings.
  • Brush the tops of each with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot with the dip of choice. 

Crispy Shiitake Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

Serves 4

For the mushrooms:

2 cups shiitake mushroom caps (See note)

Olive oil

Kosher salt

For the dressing:

3 slices bacon, diced

1 small shallot, peeled and minced

⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Pinch crushed red pepper

Black pepper

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

For the salad:

1 pound fresh baby spinach

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved

1 ripe avocado, peeled and sliced thin

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the mushrooms on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush lightly on both sides with the olive oil. Season with salt and bake for 25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet set over medium heat until browned. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Pour out almost all of the bacon fat (save a teaspoon or so) and add the shallot, Dijon and maple to the pan. Warm over medium-low heat for a minute or two, until the shallot is soft. Add the vinegar, red and black pepper and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the bacon.
  • Arrange the mushrooms, hazelnuts, eggs and avocado over the spinach. Top with the warm dressing and serve right away. 
  • *Note: Keep the mushroom stems and add to a pot with a chicken carcass, onion, garlic and a rosemary stem. Fill with water to cover. Season with salt and plenty of pepper and simmer for a few hours, then strain to make a flavorful broth for soup. 

Winter Fruit Salad with a Citrus Drizzle

Serves 6

2 large navel oranges

2 cups green grapes

2 green pears

6 dried figs

Seeds from 1 pomegranate (about 1 cup)

For the drizzle:

¼ cup orange juice

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

Pinch cayenne

Pinch salt

  • Use a small sharp knife to remove the top and bottom of the oranges, then cut off the peel. Slice each orange into ⅓-inch rounds. Cut each grape in half. Cut the pears in half and scoop out the core, then slice into thin sections. Trim the stem and quarter each fig. Arrange the cut fruit, along with the pomegranate seeds, on a plate.
  • Whisk together the juices with the honey, cayenne and salt. Drizzle over the fruit and serve right away. 

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