If you can't stand the cold, get into the kitchen

Early-morning cooking of multiple meals warms the house and soul

January 20, 2014|Dan Rodricks

With more freezing weather on the way, I offer an 18-step plan for staying warm and sufficiently fed, making optimum use of the stove for heating and for creating enough meals for the remainder of the week.

This is what humans have desired since the Middle Paleolithic period: fire, warmth, cooked proteins and vegetables, resulting in comfort food and comfortable domicile. It's all in my plan.

Not only will several hours of early-morning cooking compensate for the inadequacies of your home-heating system; you'll get a good workout, an exercise in multitasking and a warm glow all over

For this, you need to have: a whole chicken, a pound of Italian sausage, potatoes, yellow onions, flour, vegetable oil, olive oil, yeast, celery, two large cans of tomato sauce, a dozen eggs, butter, milk, garlic, rice, penne pasta, carrots and the basic seasonings that can be found in most kitchens.

Here's what you do:

1. Get up at 5 a.m. and preheat the oven to 425. Put a stockpot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Separately, start a kettle of water and bring it to a boil. Make yourself some coffee or tea, whatever you like. All of this will heat the house up fast.

2. In a bread bowl, mix the flour and yeast according to a simple recipe for French bread. (I use the one in Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook for its simplicity and specificity; this book also has a great recipe for crepes, which we'll get to in a minute.)

3. Place the sausage in a cast-iron skillet and drizzle with olive oil. Once the oven reaches 425, insert the skillet. (A word about cast iron: People spend hundreds of dollars on fancy pots and pans, but I find cast iron to be cheaper, more durable, easier to clean and versatile in cooking. Most important, it really holds the heat. Iron skillets, 10-inch griddles with handles, Dutch ovens — they all work great on stoves or in ovens. Mine are made in the USA by the Lodge family foundry in Kentucky.)

4. Put four eggs in a small pot. Put six potatoes in a medium-size pot. Once the water in the kettle reaches a boil, add it to each pot. Cook the eggs for four minutes over medium heat. Cook the potatoes over medium heat until they take a fork easily, then leave them on the stove.

5. Warm up a griddle or skillet on the stove while you prepare the crepes batter with a whisk. This requires eggs and egg whites, some oil, milk, butter and sugar (optional). If you don't want to bother with the Claiborne recipe, go with Aunt Jemima. (Crepes are more useful as leftovers than are pancakes; they keep well and can be used savory or sweet later in the week. I'm just sayin'.)

6. Check the bread recipe. It's probably time to do something with the dough.

7. Check the sausage. If it's done, set it aside on a plate. Leave the oven on 425.

8. Pour a little bit of the crepe batter on the 10-inch griddle, then, using a potholder, lift it off the fire and manipulate it vertically until the batter covers the whole surface.

9. Put a cutting board, three yellow onions, the celery, the carrots and three cloves of garlic on the kitchen counter. Go back to the stove and flip the crepe.

10. Chop the yellow onions. Move the finished crepe to a large platter and pour the batter for the next one.

11. Chop the garlic. Flip the crepe.

12. Chop the celery. Remove the finished crepe. Pour batter for the next one.

13. Check the stockpot. Chop the carrots. Flip the crepe.

14. In a large skillet or pot, add a little olive oil and saute the garlic. Make sure the garlic doesn't burn. Make sure the crepe doesn't burn. Add tomato sauce to the skillet with the garlic; add salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Remove the finished crepe. Start another one.

15. The stock pot should be boiling now. Add the chopped onion, celery and carrots, then the whole chicken, salt and pepper. Boil it for a few minutes, until the kitchen is steamy, then simmer. Flip the crepe. Add the sausage to the tomato sauce, cover the skillet and simmer. Remove the last crepe.

16. Cook four cups of rice for the soup. Check the bread recipe. It's probably time to bake the bread.

17. Once it's cooked, take the chicken out of the pot, cut it up and return the pieces to the simmering stock, along with the rice. By 8 a.m., you should end up with a stack of crepes, a pot of chicken-rice soup that will last all week, sauce for a penne-and-sausage meal, potatoes for home fries the next morning, four hard-boiled eggs, a loaf of bread on the way, and a very warm house.

18. Shut everything down and go back to bed.


Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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