By the time you read this, half of the Lower 48 will be shivering in its collective boots, the result of a massive polar air mass over the eastern seaboard and the Midwest. It’s predicted to deliver sub-zero wind chills and historically low temperatures.
From my perch in Seattle, I’m enjoying more civilized temperatures in the low 40s. I feel for the rest of youse and your freezer-burned brains and the inevitable madness of cabin fever.
Allow me, a long-time veteran of wintry past lives in Philly, New York and DC, to help scrape you off the floor and spin you like a dervish right into the kitchen. Herewith, some of my all-time favorite ways to take the edge off a dastardly chill. You’ll be toasty in no time.
1. Spiced Hot Chocolate
Think chai with a chocolate twist. Steep milk with star anise, cardamom and other warming spices, then whisk in cocoa powder. I’ve made this using fortified coconut milk with equally rich results. Excellent with or without a shot of rum for those in need of a Caribbean daydream.
2. Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili
A wintry staple in our house for several years, this little number will take care of you for a few days, and it gets better over time. Don’t worry if you haven’t soaked the dried beans; you can use a coupla cans and still dine like queens.
3. Red Lentils with Cumin-Fried Onions and Wilted Spinach
I always tell legume first-timers that lentils are like the training wheels of the legume world, as they require no soaking and take all of a half hour to cook. That’s right — start to finish, this dish comes together in just under an hour. On your marks…
4. Polenta with Spicy Tomato Sauce
For sub-zero climes, you’re going to need chow that sticks to the ribs, and polenta (a.k.a. cornmeal porridge) is about as Alpine (or fit for a bear) as it gets. You can make a quickie marinara sauce seasoned with briny anchovies like I’ve suggested, or add some butter and grated Parm. Or a hunk of blue cheese and some dried oregano. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly need to download an audio version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”
5. Veggie Pot Pie with Cheddar Crust
Even if you’ve never dared make a pie crust, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the dough comes together, with no special equipment or master baker skills. Before venturing out to the supermarket, check the crisper drawer; you may already have the filling fixin’s in your midst. Carrots, onions and potatoes, anyone?
p.s. With this baby in the oven, the windows will fog up and the whole house will smell AMAZING.
6. Shepherd’s Pie with Lentils and Chard
Still skittish about making pie dough? No problem. Make this crust-less (and meatless) shepherd’s pie instead. Don’t worry if you can’t be bothered to make the onion gravy; the pie is plenty lovely on its own.
7. Chicken Curry
If I had to pick one go-to dish to forget the pain of a colder-than-a-witch’s-tit night, this chicken curry would be it. Instead of coconut milk driving this train, this curry is all about cilantro, ginger, garlic and chiles, with a lemony broth. I have made this dish on snow days, on rainy days, for friends moving to the other side of the world, for birthday parties and for easing heartbreak. From Indian cooking doyenne Madhur Jaffrey, this curry is a culinary panacea that you’ll want to make over and again.