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comfort food

Shelter from the storm


I felt like cooking tonight. I’ve felt like cooking more lately, but haven’t had a lot of time. Still on a heavy schedule of work and travel, with little energy or time left at the end of the day. It’s not smart, because I enjoy cooking and get frustrated and guilt-ridden when I don’t do it. I haven’t been completely idle, but didn’t feel like going to the trouble of photographing old standards and improvisations when I made time for them among the takeout. Tonight, though, I thought I should make time for a post as well as for a home-cooked dinner.


You may have heard that a major storm blew through the New York metropolitan area on Monday night. New Jersey took the brunt of former-hurricane Sandy, but New York suffered quite a hit as well. Here at our house, we were fine; we suffered no structural damage, never lost electricity or cable, and simply had to sit through a windy night at home. The next morning, while others not far away were sorting through burned remains of houses or walking scores of blocks to find a place with electricity to charge phones and check in with loved ones, I was logged on to work from my home office and Scott was walking through the neighborhood taking pictures of downed trees.


We were lucky, and we were a bit stunned. It felt a bit like we’d just had a major explosion blow past us — we were safe but we couldn’t shake the idea that more shrapnel was going to fly through, and we couldn’t stop looking at the footage of those who had suffered enormous losses. We were taking phone calls from a friend who lived just inside the Manhattan “dead zone” without power or heat, helpless to go fetch her because public transportation was suspended while the tunnels were pumped dry of the floodwater that had filled them. We were watching our East Coast friends update Facebook — “Still no electricity, going to stay with a friend in Brooklyn.” “Waited 2 hours in line for gas.” “Still no email at the office, call me at home.” — while at the same time our friends in other parts of the country posted updates on Halloween parties, going to see movies, the mundane things of life. It was surreal to try to keep on working at my normal job, from home — something I’ve done hundreds of times, only now I was doing it because I wasn’t willing to wait 2 hours for a bus into the city, not because I had a vet appointment at midday.


A couple of nights this week we got takeout or went out to eat, partly to support the neighborhood economy, partly because by the time I was done with my work I was ravenous and too impatient to run out for groceries and then cook. But tonight I wanted to make something comforting, something that felt more like normal life. Today was the closest to normal that we’ve had all weel. My Manhattan friend got her electricity back last night (or this morning if you’re picky, 1 a.m.). Our subway line was back in service as if nothing had ever gone wrong. It seemed time to reclaim the normal and everyday. So I made macaroni and cheese and collard greens.


The mac and cheese is a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve made many times before (though I’m a little irritated at Martha’s company right now for sacking the Everyday Food crew, including a friend — but it’s still the best recipe I have). I didn’t have enough whole milk so thinned it out with water. Voila, skim milk, but I didn’t cook the white sauce quite as long as I should have to let it thicken, so the resulting baked dish was a bit liquidy but will set up more as it cools, and will reheat beautifully. And with plenty of cheese, it still tasted fantastic.


The collard greens are a simple braise, with garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and were a nice complement to the rich and gooey mac and cheese.


If you’d like to help out the Sandy recovery efforts, here are some links. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before residents of the area will be back to normal, especially those in the hard-hit areas of the Rockaways, Staten Island, Lower Manhattan, New Jersey and Long Island.

Hurricanes and cookies

chocolate chip cookies

I live in New York. If you’ve been following the news you know that Hurricane Irene passed through here in the early hours of this morning. More accurately, it was Tropical Storm Irene by the time it reached us, and not as big and awful as it might have been. It was still big and awful enough for plenty of people in the area; there are numerous reports of downed power lines, flooding, and fallen trees, as well as a few deaths. Here at Chez 107 we were lucky to come through virtually unscathed; the only problems we encountered were a minor leak in the skylight above the hall stairs, the possibly coincidental death of our cable box/DVR, and serious disruption to our sleep.

We were not so confident that it would be this easy in the days leading up to the storm. Forecasts suggested it could be a Category 2 when it hit the city, which could cause serious damage. We don’t live in one of the evacuation zones so we prepared to shelter in place, and that included stocking up on food we could eat if the power went out. We’ve never lost power here in a storm before but a Category 2 hurricane seemed like a good candidate for the first time. So I went to our regular grocery store on Friday night, not sure what would be left. Bread was almost cleaned out, but I found a number of other things: peanut butter, crackers, hummus (one package, which we could finish off in short order if the power went out), salsa (ditto), chips, cereal, and a few other little things. I was pretty sure that if we did lose power we wouldn’t be without it for very long, so I made sure to only get things that we would use anyway.

I understand not everyone kept that in mind when preparing for the storm. If you’re someone who stocked up on non-perishable food that you no longer thrill to now that the crisis has passed, you might donate your excess to a local food bank (such as Food Bank for New York City).

We had completed our preparations by midday Saturday, and then we were left to wait. The storm was moving slowly, and it had an entourage in the form of massive TV coverage, a pretty well-mixed blend of the informative and the sensational. Waves of rain washed through, all a prelude for what was to come. The worst of it passed through overnight; we tried to get some sleep but were repeatedly awakened by alerts and our own anxiety. By this afternoon, when it was mostly through except for some intermittent showers and gusts of wind, I was ready for things to be normal again.


Which is probably why I made chocolate chip cookies. My original plan was to make chili for dinner as well, but I seem to be out of beans. (Well, I suppose they wouldn’t have been high on my list of things to make without refrigeration or a stove.) So we foraged on room-temperature food for another night and I’ll be making a pot of chili for tomorrow’s dinner. But I found comfort in the process and the taste of cookies. I was a little imprecise with the soda and salt measurements, so they’re a bit flat, but you know what? They still taste good. They taste like normality, and comfort, and safety from disaster.

Martha Stewart Favorite Comfort Food: Loafing Around

All-American meat loaf

PlatedLoafFavorite Comfort Food promises a broad range of comfort food, and it delivers. Macaroni and cheese, apple pie, French toast, corn chowder, matzo ball soup, tuna melt, pierogies, chocolate chip cookies… The list goes on. All recipes are laid out with classic Martha Stewart detail and perfection.

I was not a big fan of meat loaf CrustlessBreadgrowing up, so this isn’t actually one of my comfort foods. My mom was a great cook, but her meat loaf didn’t do it for me. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was the texture or the flavor; I don’t know if my tastes had not yet matured or if her recipe just wasn’t that great. So I haven’t made meat loaf before now, but every so often my husband has wished for it a bit. And when I CarrotRoundswas going through the books for November’s list I saw that both Martha Stewart and Alton Brown had meat loaf recipes. I thought, this is a classic. Two of my favorite cooks, with recipes that are sure to be the best possible; I’ll make both and we’ll see which I like better — if indeed I like either at all.

So I started with Martha’s. No OnionChunkspackets of soup mix here! I started by cutting the crusts off three slices of white bread and whirling them into crumbs in the food processor. I emptied the crumbs into a mixing bowl, and returned to the food processor with some chunks of onion, carrot, celery, garlic and parsley, which I minced and added to the bowl as well. I then mixed in some ketchup, dry mustard, CrumbsNVegschopped fresh rosemary, beaten egg, salt, pepper and Tabasco, plus three kinds of meat: equal parts ground beef, ground pork and ground lamb. (The last was actually supposed to be ground veal, but I think I made a Freudian slip at the meat counter at Whole Foods when I asked for lamb instead; I have serious qualms about veal, though kind of doubt that lamb is much better.) I MeatsToMixmixed this all together with my hands, then shaped it into a loaf on top of a piece of parchment that I’d laid on a metal rack. This is one of the first improvements Martha offers over conventional meat loaf: The meat is exposed to the air of the oven, not encased in a loaf pan, which ensures both that the surfaces brown better and that excess fat renders out more effectively.

HandMixingI then sliced some red onions into rings and browned them in some olive oil. I slipped up here, too: I was supposed to add some water to the pan to more effectively soften the onion rings. Oops. They were caramelized but not limp. In the meantime, I mixed up a glaze of ketchup, dry mustard and brown sugar, which I spread on the loaf. I then spread the onions on top and put it into a RedOnionsBrowned400-degree oven. After about half an hour I sprinkled on some more rosemary leaves, and after about 55 minutes of baking time I brought it out of the oven to rest before slicing.

Martha recommends serving the meat loaf with mashed potatoes and spinach, but I was getting everything started rather later than I had meant to and didn’t GlazeOnLoaffeel like going to the labor of mashing potatoes, so I cut up some Yukon Golds and some Brussels sprouts and roasted them instead. They went quite nicely with the meat loaf.

And how was the meat loaf itself? Am I a new convert? I am. It was tasty, juicy, and nicely textured. No toughness, either within the loaf or at the glazed edges. It was CookedLoafmoist without being greasy. And the flavor was rich and lively; the Tabasco gave it a kick, and the rosemary accentuated the savory flavors of the meat.

Verdict: Success. So next weekend we’ll see how Alton Brown measures up.