Wednesday, March 5, 2014

High AQI Rescues - Soups, Stews and Comfort Food

What to do when the weather is yucky for days at no end and you just want to hibernate.

It is disgusting out there!

Winter this year up until now has been ok, quite good actually, but it feels like ever since the Chinese New Year holiday celebrations were finally over, the hazardous days have been coming at us one after the other.

So what to do when all we want to do (and should do) is hide inside?  Well, not having a barbecue for sure (since it is strictly forbidden by the Chinese government), no – this weather calls for comfort food - meals enjoyed behind closed doors and windows with the air purifiers cranked up high.

So we started writing this when we were in the middle of a weeklong black-out; the AQI and pm2.5 readings had been off the charts…until a few days ago when we woke up to clear blue skies, a light breeze and smiling happy faces all around. There were groups chatting at the compound gate as we dropped off our children at the school buses, plans for lunch were made and impromptu walks were arranged.  Going inside, if only to change clothes or organize the day seemed like a crime.

Yup, there were smiles all around and the bad moods that had been lingering during our week long hibernation were blown away, like the dust that had caused it.  But, what can we do during the next smog-a-gedon to lift our moods, so easily affected by the weather conditions completely out of our control?  Well, this is a blog dedicated to food so let’s skip the easy fixes like shopping and spa visits and get back to the idea of comfort food.

Ask anyone about their favorite comfort food and you will get a different answer. Curry, says the Thai, daal says the Indians, Mexican says many Americans (!), pasta say a lot of people, roast chicken with rice and gravy, soup with home made bread, chili, roast beef with potato gratin, risotto…..

The main component though is home made. Fast food doesn’t make the list, no one we asked said take-away. It’s mom’s this, my grandma’s that or that thing that the auntie makes so well – recipes passed down from generations or at least Jamie Oliver or Paula Deen.

More importantly, it doesn’t have to be complicated; to make a lovely home-made bread, all you need is flour, salt, water and yeast, a bowl, some patience and an oven. Raid the refrigerator and pantry for vegetables and spices and voila - you have a warming soup to go with.  Add some cheese and a glass of red and you are done! Or brown some chuck, add onions garlic, maybe carrots and whatever you can find, some thyme maybe and let simmer in wine for a looooong time et voila! You have a French stew!

Fabulous French Stew

We make and eat a lot of soups and stews, even when the weather is decent. Cold soups, hot soups, creamy soups, meaty stews and clear broths – there is no end on how to vary it. Stacey's favorite is her mom's Indian-inspired vegetable stew and Texas Chili.  The smells alone recall warm kitchens, cooking together and being surrounded by love and laughter.  For Sara a roasted chicken with rice and gravy hits the spot, or the flavourful Belgian chicken soup served with garlic bread...yum. Or why not, for something completely different, a freshly cooked lobster leaving salty sticky fingers and a cat stroking our legs hoping for leftovers, served with a glass of chilled bubbles, of course...

We love it so much that we decided to share some of our favorite recipes with our devoted students in a Soups and Stews class. In four hours we managed to create and devour Vichyssoise and a spiced African Chickpea soup, our toned down paprika-laced Hungarian Goulash and a saffron scented fish stew.  We even ended our class and meal with a crisp and chilled apple soup served with an almond crisp.  You can have soup for dessert!

Vichyssoise and Saffron-Scented Fish Stew

Comforting Goulash and Exotic African Chickpea Stew

Crisp Apple Soup - Yes - Soup for Dessert!

Let us know your favorite comfort food and the stories that go with them.  Nothing warms the soul like wonderful food and memories!

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