When the going gets tough, as it certainly did last week, many cooks head to the kitchen for refuge, comfort, and often simply something to occupy themselves. If you have the ingredients — we all had the time on Friday — you can produce a feast. I call this The Stress Kitchen.
I asked on Twitter (#thestresskitchen) what people had made and the answers that came back were dishes so comforting I could practically smell the birds roasting, taste the sauces simmering, and whiff the freshly baked cakes and cookies.
In my own kitchen, I made oatmeal chip cookies from City Bakery in New York, forgetting that they need to be to be refrigerated for half a day before baking. While they chilled, I opened “Jerusalem: A Cookbook,” by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, which I was anxious to cook from, and started the mise en place for a semolina, coconut, and marmalade cake. Alas no semolina and no coconut in the house. I wasn’t going to be deterred. Used cornmeal (texted my baking experts, who told me cornmeal has no gluten, so I had to add more flour to batter), skipped the coconut, and turned out a divine cake. Then roasted chicken on a bed of potatoes, and when the all-clear came, opened lots of good wine.
To the many people who asked if I fed the Boston Police Department sergeant armed with a shotgun outside my front door most of last Friday, this is what I offered him: sandwiches, water, toilet, phone charger. He refused the food but took us up on some of the other things.
Here’s what you wrote:
“I was stuck in the house with my two sons, ages 3 and 5, and to occupy them for 30 minutes we made sugar cookies,” said Barbara Moran of Brookline, “or, as my husband and I now call them, ‘siege cookies.’ I had only Christmas-themed cookie cutters, hence the star, angel, and Christmas tree. The Christmas tree has a candy eyeball, which makes it look like a rather sinister undersea creature. On Saturday, to celebrate our liberation, I took my kids to Drumlin Farm and spent the entire day outdoors. At the gift shop I bought a handful of cookie cutters in the shapes of woodland creatures: squirrel, duck, owl, etc, so if there’s another lockdown we’ll be better prepared.”
Julia Mix Barrington (@jmixb): “Birthday cake for breakfast and lunch, pancakes for dinner.”
Rebecca Pacheco (@omgal): “Kale salad, gr. beans w/EVOO, salt, paprika, lem. zest, roast pot. w/garlic, arugula/goat chz omelet.”
Chinese food expert Nina Simonds wrote: “It was an incredibly stressful period and I wanted to make a comfort food that is one of my husband’s favorites, nutty soba noodle pot with chicken. It’s an easy dish, but I cheat & make it even simpler: I grill marinated lemon-pepper chicken breasts that I buy in the supermarket and cut into thin slices. I also doctor chicken broth with chopped scallions & ginger, stir-fried in a little olive oil, adding some soy sauce rice wine & thin, smoky bonito shavings. And I make a stir-fried green vegetable like spinach or bok choy with garlic. Lastly, I cook the soba noodles which takes only a few minutes. I put all the dishes on the table & we help ourselves. It is hot, filling, and comforting, just what we needed.”
Rebecca Mazur of Cambridge wrote: “The photo attached is of my absolute favorite filled [black-bottom] cupcakes, which were actually baked Sunday with the intention of going to work with me on Tuesday to celebrate one year living in Cambridge and working at Harvard. We all know what happened in between. The cupcakes still went to work and were well received; hopefully made the day a little brighter for folks. The leftovers were almost the only things I ate on Friday while glued to the computer wondering what was happening. These are a deep, deep chocolate cake with cream cheese and chocolate chip filling. Perfect stress food. Sadly, this will now be a time I remember whenever I bite into one.
Food section contributor Matt Barber sent this: “April 19th was our 5th wedding anniversary. Our original plan was to have dinner at Hungry Mother in Cambridge; it’s our favorite restaurant. We were going to bring our 10-week-old son, Daniel, and eat at the bar so we’d be in & out quicker than if we ate in the dining area (and be less conspicuous if Daniel started to cry.) With those plans dashed, I was determined to replicate something as close to what Leslie would have ordered as possible. We’ve had their shrimp & cheese grits special when it’s on the menu, and Leslie adored it. So I made some cheese grits (yes, we keep grits in our cupboard) with caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. I cooked the shrimp on skewers under the broiler, and seasoned them with salt & pepper and a tiny bit of smoked sweet paprika. I roasted some eggplant slices as a side dish, and also made a side of pan-roasted Brussels sprouts, halved and cooked on the flat side only to get a crisp bottom.
“Since we started our dinner while the lockdown was still happening, we skipped the bottle of wine I had set aside — we figured it best to be stone sober to stay on high alert. Instead of wine, I made mocktails using cranberry juice, apple cider, and white grape juice. Tangy, sweet, and delicious! It was definitely the weirdest anniversary we’ve ever had.”
“Whiskey-caramel swirl ice cream from scratch,” wrote Tiffany Mura (@tiffanymura).
Susanne Jackson (@suedoesnttweet): “Homemade pitas & falafel.”
Blogger Beatrice Peltre, also a Food section contributor, wrote: “I cooked butternut squash soup with ginger. I baked a chocolate cake and made a strawberry clafoutis. Also roasted a chicken; I used the leftovers to make a carrot mash/chicken hachis parmentier (our French version of a shepherd’s pie). Also cooked potato gnocchi served with a butternut squash sauce and made a fava bean-pea pesto to spread on toasts. Also made labneh and lamb and herb meat balls, baked chocolate petits pots de crème (custards) and made chestnut flour crepes. Amongst other things. . . . I had two girls (Lulu and one of her 5-year old friends).”
April (@prillyp): Lemon meringue cake (@nigella_lawson’s recipe) Tues. Lentil pot pie Thurs. Chocolate cookies w/unaware 7yo on Fri eve.”
Lisa Ouellette (@lisakayaks): “My first batch of ravioli.”
Gretchen (@moralbeast): “Sea scallops and risotto verde by @jaybarnett. Good food is stress relieving.”
Kathryn Nulf (@belitfromwithin) wrote: “Homemade chicken tikka masala with cilantro.”
Luke Pyenson, another contributor, wrote: “I was locked down at my girlfriend’s house and all she had in the fridge was essentially a dozen eggs, some corn tortillas, and a turkish/Balkan red pepper spread. So we made migas — scrambled eggs mixed with fried tortilla strips. We mixed the red pepper spread into the eggs. It was great.”
Sebastian Nava, one of my food writing students at Boston University, and executive chef at Otto: “Flatbread of roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions, parsnip, carrot, celery, & pecorino.”
Another of my students, Michael Floreak (@floreak) “Made what I could from what we had: snickerdoodles and edamame hummus for wife’s friends. Dinner: Scotch and snickerdoodles.”Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .