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7 Ways To Kick The Cold With Comfort Food And Drink This Winter

It happens every January. Memories of the holidays fade, we’ve digested our fabulous feasts and tucked away the twinkling lights. Then that deep winter feeling envelopes New Englanders like a bone-rattling blanket. Sure, hunkering down in front of a fireplace helps. But you know what can be even better? Comfort food!

Cuddling up to a hearty bowl of hot things has the power to bring sweet — or savory — relief. In that spirit, we’ve bundled up a few suggestions for edible escapes from the winter blues.

What are your favorite comfort foods? Let us know in the comments below or tag us on Instagram.

Oatmeal, Of Course!

Getting out of bed hedges on horrifying some frigid winter mornings. But some kick-butt oatmeal could help lure you into the day!

If you're looking to stay inside, there are some next level recipes to try like this vegan Boston Cream Pie Banana Oatmeal. Or, you could turn to experts at the Oat Shop in Somerville's Davis Square. Owner Alan Donovan serves up sweet and savory steel-cut oat bowls, everything from "Apple Pie" to "Sriracha Fried Egg." This year, his team dreamed up a winter special: The "Orange-Cranberry" bowl is made with a house-made cranberry compote and topped with citrus granola, candied pecans, dried cranberries and orange zest.

The Oat Shop's special winter breakfast -- an orange-cranberry bowl. (Courtesy The Oat Shop)
The Oat Shop's special winter breakfast -- an orange-cranberry bowl. (Courtesy The Oat Shop)

Let's Hear It For Roots And Brassicas

Three cheers for cabbage, kale and cauliflower! I devour heaping piles of brassicas in search of (healthy) comfort in the winter. You can roast them simply with olive oil and salt until they’re browned to caramelized perfection. Take a weekend field trip to a local winter farmer's market to find all manner of these hearty beauties. My go-to is in Wayland largely because it’s set in a balmy, flora-filled greenhouse at Russell’s Garden Center. If you go, be sure to grab a sample of carrot or radish from farmer Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots in Hadley, or try a hot pot pie at the stall set up by Gilson's Herb Lyceum, of Groton. They’re just two of the dozens of purveyors who can fill your bag with veggies, responsibly-raised meats and prepared foods you can eat on the spot for lunch or cook later at home. If Wayland is a hike for you, here's a map of other winter farmer's markets in the Greater Boston area.

Assorted root vegetables at the Freedom Food Farm stand at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Assorted root vegetables at the Freedom Food Farm stand at the Somerville Winter Farmers Market. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Sloooooow Cooked Comfort

Looking for something to do with your veg-tastic farmer’s market bounty? Something that will fill your home with fragrant, cozy aromas throughout the day and night? Boston-based America’s Test Kitchen's executive food editor Dan Zuccarello shared this butternut squash slow cooker recipe from the book, "The Complete Slow Cooker." He says:

"Perfect for a cold winter's night, this farro stew is substantial and flavorful. We began with sweet, nutty farro and added mushrooms for meaty depth and butternut squash for substance. To start, we microwaved the mushrooms and aromatics with just a tablespoon of oil until the mushrooms softened, released some of their moisture, and were flavored by the aromatics. Vegetable broth worked well for the cooking liquid and provided a subtly sweet backbone. To give it a boost, we stirred in some white wine, which contributed complexity and brightness to our hearty stew. We cooked the squash in a foil packet on top of the stew to make sure it would retain its sweet flavor and bright color. Fresh, peppery arugula provided color and freshness."

Farro And Butternut Squash Stew

Serves 6
Cooking time: 10 to 12 hours on low, or 7 to 9 hours on high
Slow cooker size: 4 to 7 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 1½ pounds cremini mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus extra as needed
  • 1 cup whole farro (We prefer the flavor and texture of whole farro; pearled farro can be used, but the texture may be softer. Do not use quick-cooking or pre-steamed farro (the ingredient list on the package will specify the type) in this recipe.)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch pieces (4 cups)
  • 5 ounces (5 cups) baby arugula (this may seem like a lot at first, but it wilts down substantially)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
  1. Microwave mushrooms, onion, tomato paste, garlic, oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in bowl, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Stir broth, farro, wine, and bay leaves into slow cooker. Season squash with salt and pepper, wrap in aluminum foil packet, and place on top of stew. Cover and cook until farro is tender, 10 to 12 hours on low or 7 to 9 hours on high.
  3. Carefully open foil packet and stir squash, along with any accumulated juices, into stew. Discard bay leaves. Stir in arugula, 1 handful at a time, and let sit until wilted, about 5 minutes. Adjust consistency with extra hot broth as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve, passing Parmesan and extra oil separately.

America's Test Kitchen's Farro and Butternut Squash Stew. (Courtesy America's Test Kitchen)
America's Test Kitchen's Farro and Butternut Squash Stew. (Courtesy America's Test Kitchen)

Like Mom’s Meatloaf

It’s nostalgic, no doubt. Pull out your grandma’s dog-eared recipe, try your hand at a more contemporary rendition or venture over to Little Dipper in Jamaica Plain where Robyn McGrath puts her spin on the classic dish. She says the “homey but slightly elevated” recipe is pretty similar to the meatloaf her mom used to make. “So, it’s a comforting, childhood memory for me." Her beef and pork meatloaf is paired with a mushroom gravy. "Tomato glaze adds brightness to the dish,” McGrath described. On the side, Brussel sprouts “and of course nothing is more comforting than buttery mashed potatoes.”

Little Dipper's meatloaf dish called "The Chewie." (Courtesy Lelia Asher)
Little Dipper's meatloaf dish called "The Chewie." (Courtesy Lelia Asher)

A New England-Style Fish Stew

I grew up on Long Island where my dad once made a bouillabaisse from Julia Child’s "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in our fireplace. I cooked the dish recently with a few pinches of Espelette pepper for a touch of Basque heat. Chef Michael Morway created up his own version at Trillum’s restaurant and brewery in Fort Point. The Massachusetts native said, “When I was a kid, my mom would always have a stew going on the stove when we came in from playing in the snow. I believe that memories like that get imprinted in your brain.” Morway’s "Grilled Fish," as it’s called on the menu, features a light, shrimp stock sauce, backyard tomatoes and baby fennel cooked on the restaurant’s wood grill. He adds Bangs Island mussels from Portland and Argentine head-on prawns, and serves the steamy bowl with toasted peasant bread from A&J King Artisan Bakers of Salem. “It’s basically our New England farm version of a bouillabaisse,” Morway said. I tasted it, thought of my dad, and know he’d approve.

Heads up, pescatarians: Chouriço, a smoky Portuguese sausage, is involved — but it doesn’t have to be.

Trillium's "Grilled Fish." (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Trillium's "Grilled Fish." (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Warming Up With African Stew

When I asked my ARTery colleague Arielle Gray what warms her bones, she recommended Suya Joint in Roxbury's Dudley Square. This West African bar and lounge strives to serve up a taste of home to local Africans. She loves the stewed black-eyed peas and the vegetarian Egusi Soup made with melon, a rich tomato sauce and spinach. “It’s warm, it’s got a little spice to it, and it fills you up — spiritually and physically,” Gray says. “For me, because my family is from Jamaica, a lot of Caribbean food often mimics West African flavors.” (She also suggested a couple Caribbean spots with cozy menus around town including Ali’s Roti in Mattapan and the food truck Fresh Food Generation.)


Mulling Over Mulled Wine

We can thank the ancient Romans for realizing warmed red wine and spices have the power to winterize our bodies (and minds). Now, there’s no shortage of recipes you can make at home. Lauren Friel, owner of Somerville's new wine bar Rebel Rebel, chooses to omit the traditional brandy or schnapps. On winter weekends, she crafts batches of mulled wine using “a softer, full-fruited red, like a Grenache from South Western France,” she explained. Then she adds a hot and spicy mulling blend created by her fellow Oleanna alum Claire Cheney at Curio. Friel said the chili pepper “gives it a little kick,” and marries well with the allspice, ginger, orange peel, coriander, clove, cardamom and black pepper. She mixes in orange slices, apple cider and a little bit of demerara (raw) sugar in a crock pot until steaming. “There’s no wrong way to do it,” Friel assured. Plus, she says, that warming feeling from the mulled wine is part of her new bar's cozy space at Bow Market.

Rebel Rebel's mulled wine. (Courtesy Lauren Friel)
Rebel Rebel's mulled wine. (Courtesy Lauren Friel)

What are your favorite comfort foods? Let us know in the comments below or tag us on Instagram.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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