Cold Comfort

Chefs, restaurateurs heat up the house with the most comforting dishes they know.

January 14, 2001|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Certain occasions demand comfort food: shaking off a stressful work day, mending a broken heart, or getting through the month of January.

With this winter shaping up to be the coldest in years, ovens will be working overtime pumping out food to make us forget about the finger-numbing weather outside.

So we asked area restaurateurs and chefs what foods warm them up during these bitter days and nights.

A childhood memory

On a recent snowy day, Pease Porridge Hot owner Eileen Zack whipped up a tuna casserole for her customers. "On a cold day, we find that people really do like that -- and macaroni and cheese." Zack makes the casserole with a roux, tuna, cheddar cheese and penne pasta. "Basic stuff, not too fancy. People don't like it if you get too fancy," says Zack, who started the Annapolis catering and restaurant business 18 years ago.

"It definitely harks back to childhood. It's something I've known how to do since I was very little. One of the first things I learned how to make, besides chocolate chip cookies, was creamed tuna on toast."

Pease Porridge Hot's Tuna Casserole

Serves 8 to 10

1 16-ounce package of cooked penne or rotini pasta

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk or chicken stock, or combination of both

1 chicken bouillon cube

2 cups tuna

1 10-ounce package of frozen peas

1 / 4 pound mushrooms, sliced and sauteed

1 cup cheddar or provolone cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir over low heat for at least three minutes.

Add liquid and bouillon cube and whisk to incorporate. Turn up heat to medium and bring to a boil. Turn heat back to low and simmer for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine tuna, peas, mushrooms, sauce and cooked pasta. Mix well and spread into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Top with cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is nicely browned and crispy.

A taste of summer

When chef Lauren Glover is in the mood for a hearty dish, she turns to a recipe more likely served at a summer picnic than on a frigid January day: barbecue chicken.

"It's a warm, comforting remembrance of summertime," says Glover, chef de cuisine at Hamilton's at the Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point. She swears by the sauce, which Hamilton's uses with its barbecued shrimp.

Glover specializes in comfort food with style, so she pairs the chicken with Gremolata Potatoes -- mashed potatoes given a twist by adding parsley, lemon peel and garlic. "My grandmother used to always make them with Idaho potatoes. But I got turned onto them at Linwood's [restaurant], where they make them with red bliss potatoes. I'll probably always carry that recipe with me wherever I go."

Barbecue Chicken

Serves 2 to 4

1 / 4 cup butter

1 / 4 cup peanut oil

1/2 cup minced onion

4 peeled and minced garlic cloves

1 tablespoon liquid smoke

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 bay leaf

1 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 cups ketchup

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 / 8 teaspoon thyme

1 / 4 cup molasses

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 / 4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

3 / 4 cup water

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 whole chicken, cut-up


To make the sauce (about 4 cups), in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add onion and saute until it is slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute another 2 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients, except for chicken. Raise heat and cook at a full boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaf.

Note: Leftover sauce may be refrigerated for up to one week and reheated when needed.


To make chicken, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Glover says the secret to tender chicken is to first place chicken parts in salted boiling water just until cooked through.

Remove chicken from water and place in a roasting pan. Lightly coat the chicken with the sauce, cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove foil and again lightly coat with sauce. Bake for 10 more minutes without the foil.

A peasant treasure

In the winter, Daniela Troia, owner of Towson's Cafe Troia, makes her family batch after batch of an Italian peasant casserole dish called ribollita.

"My family eats a lot of it," says Troia, daughter of restaurateur Gino Troia. "Basically it's minestrone. It's what people do in Italy. They take their day-old minestrone and their day-old bread and bake it. That's what ribollita means, reboiled. It's something that sticks to your bones. Here, they eat chicken soup in the winter. In Italy, they eat ribollita."

The Troia Family's Ribollita

Serves 8 to 10

(Note: two-day preparation time)

1 pound dried cannellini beans

1 large red onion, sliced

2 carrots, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

4 Idaho potatoes, diced

5 zucchini, diced

1 bunch Swiss chard, shredded

1 savoy cabbage, shredded

1 bunch kale, shredded

8 ounces tomato puree

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