Cozy food for the weekend

Hunkering Down on a Wintery Weekend – With Recipes

Here’s my Times Union story from February 17. It goes along with Moroccan Chicken Soup, Hummus with Roasted Vegetables and Za’Atar and Peanut Butter Bread with Salted Chocolate Ganache.

Maybe it was the stretch of super cold weather. It could have been the lingering state of mind after a busy holiday season. Heck, the entirety of 2021 could have been what drove me to decide that I’d spend a weekend — the whole weekend, Friday night to Monday morning — at home. No dinner out, no work, and no errands. A mid-winter hibernation was in order here, and so last weekend, I put on my favorite sweatpants and got right down to it. 

Once I decided on a quiet, holed-up, hunkered-down respite, there was some planning to do. Thing is, in order to have and enjoy a winter-y weekend of total peace and blobbing around, you need certain things. You need good snacks, belly-warming food and drink, books to read, games and puzzles. And one important thing: a hunker-down weekend isn’t a weekend of cleaning or closet organizing, no. It’s strictly time under a blanket, stirring a pot of bubbly soup, movie watching, slurping hot tea.  

With the plan in place and supplies secured, the only thing left to do was prepare food. I was careful about what I’d make. Food prepared for a cozy weekend needs to be cozy; no fussy food allowed. Fat, salt and sugar are necessities, and whatever you’re eating should be more palatable while wearing stretchy pants and tucked into a blanket on the couch rather than eaten at the dinner table. I did try to talk the 17-year-old into hunkering down with me, but 17-year-olds don’t want to stay in for a weekend; There’s too much to miss. And my husband, he didn’t give in completely to the idea, but did spend time lounging and when I was serving up cozy food, he suddenly appeared. What follows are a few ideas for good food when time is slow, winter winds are howling and there’s nothing on the agenda, save for watching an old movie. 

First, soup. Winter weekends beg for a big pot of simmering soup, and this recipe delivers on warmth and flavor. Moroccan food is famous for its slew of spices, sometimes a head-spinning amount. All of that spice is most often combined with gentle sweetness in Moroccan recipes, creating depth and rich flavor that is anything but boring. Here, turmeric, paprika and cumin are stirred together with a touch of cinnamon and a dash of cayenne. The cinnamon might sound like a funny thing to add to chicken soup but it fits like a pair of flannel pajamas. Cozy, indeed. And that touch of gentle sweetness? Here, it’s in the form of sautéed red onions and chunks of tender sweet potato. Important in the preparation of this dish is the order in which you add protein and vegetables. Cook the chicken first, then add the sweet potatoes, otherwise they’ll turn to mush. The general spirit of this soup is a nod to Morocco’s most famous dish: the tagine. Here, all of those wondrous spices, heady aromatics and bits of flavor (the olives, cilantro, lemon) are reminiscent of the thick stews served under the conical top of a tagine lid. The soup is good with a thick piece of stretchy bread, for soaking up the juices. 

If you’re going to laze around for a day or so, you need decent snack foods. You’re going to want sustenance, something to get you from the Netflix binge through the afternoon nap. In our house, we eat a lot of hummus, and I could go on about all the ways we love it so. Since we don’t have all day here, I’ll keep it short. Hummus wears many hats. Going to a party? Bring hummus. Weeknight dinner? Hummus. And noshing food, to keep around the house on a lazy Saturday? You get the point. There’s a few things to know about making really great hummus. First, homemade hummus isn’t anything like what you’ll buy in the grocery store. The homemade variety, it’s warm and soft and super creamy, gentle with garlic and the tang of tahini, and finally, just a whisper of cumin. It’s easy enough to make: Just gather the ingredients, toss it in the food processor, and let it go for a good five minutes. The topping of choice for me is roasted vegetables. I’ll use whatever is on hand, but always in the mix is a sweet onion, a whole head of garlic (roasted it becomes mellow and sweet) and carrots. The rotating choices include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, radishes and cauliflower. Roast the evenly-cut veggies until they’re deeply golden brown, let them tumble onto the hummus, and then top with a healthy sprinkle of za’atar. That’s a Middle Eastern spice mix, made of a few usual things (fresh or dried thyme and toasted sesame seeds) and something you might have to look around for: Ground sumac. Sumac is a dried and ground berry that has a lemony bite—not the same as what’s growing wild in your backyard—and if you can’t find it, just top the dish with the seeds and herbs. It’ll still be good. I like to serve up a bowl of warm hummus, roasted vegetables and something to scoop it up with, be it a cracker, a chip or even just a spoon.

A well-rounded loungefest needs sugar. Weekends call for a pan filled with a homemade something, a well-deserved treat for the week, a job well done. Enter the peanut butter loaf cake. Easy to make, filled with simple ingredients and flavors that appeal to all, this loaf borders between snack, dessert and even a kind of respectable breakfast food. The peanut butter loaf is enough that you’ll pass by and cut yourself one slice, then two slices, and three. It’s good without the shiny chocolate topping – but even better with it – and makes good toast. Peanut butter bread is an old recipe, originally from the 1930s, and it’s been done and redone, especially during the pandemic. This version, like the original, uses simple ingredients, but the peanut butter and sugar are both bumped up. 

All of this time at home might feel like quarantine. Remember that? Maybe, a weekend of solitude doesn’t appeal to everyone, so soon after being set free. Even if you cannot, or will not, spend two whole days reclining and eating, perhaps only a piece of the weekend can be devoted to resting, or even just cooking. A slice of peanut butter bread, a bowl of warm soup or a plate of hummus are all just as good between errands as is between movies and napping.


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