Thursday, January 14, 2010

Food for Thought: Casseroles

The recent frigid temperatures in Atlanta has got me thinking about cold weather dishes, which I define as prepared foods that are most appropriately eaten in the hard months of winter. Heavy foods that warm the body, fill the stomach and in some minor way soothe the soul. Foods that help us brace ourselves against the piercing sleet and biting winds. Think chili, pot roast and bread pudding.

Given this definition, my favorite cold weather dishes are casseroles. Baking casseroles in the oven warms your kitchen, and if you have a crappy oven like mine that doesn't close properly, it also warms your living room. Casseroles are eaten hot, and are best fresh out of the oven when you can smell their wonderful steaming aromas. They're also normally very easy to prepare: about 80% of my casserole recipes only require the cook to combine multiple ingredients before pouring the mixture in a glass dish and

I served curried chicken divan recently for my book club (recipe courtesy of Rev. Mary Ann Gilbert) and each woman, all of whom occasionally complain about winter weight gain, asked for seconds. I also have a Food & Wine recipe for broccoli and wild mushroom casserole that makes a great meal for my vegetarian friends. Everyone enjoys the mushrooms and broccoli with cheddar cheese, onions and celery. There's just something about a hot casserole on a kitchen table, flanked by big oven mitts and sitting on a decorative hot plate, that makes me feel suddenly content. The wind can rattle the windowpanes of the dining room, but when you see the casserole bubbling around the edges, the top often covered with crushed, buttery Ritz crackers that have browned to perfection, you just don't seem to hear it anymore. The cold outdoors fade into the distance as you take that first bite, which always puts a smile on your face.

What cold weather dish do you feel is the best cure for the winter blues?

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