By the end of February in Maine, everyone’s last reserves of cheer are almost gone. Everyone you encounter, from the guy who refills the coffee carafes at Cumby’s, to the heavily perfumed checkout lady at Hannaford, wears the same beaten, broken expression. By now, Winter has dragged on long enough. It’s not scenic, or charming, or quaint. By now, we focus on little other than counting the days left until spring, hoping each tank of heating oil will be the last we have to buy, praying that each snowstorm will be the last to hit.
Even cooking has become a chore. You don’t want to do anything fancy. You don’t want to have to make decisions. You just want one big pot of something, anything, that you can eat for days, perhaps even in a darkened room after a tree branch knocks out the electricity in a 50 mile radius.
As the snow starts to fall here in the Midcoast (for the last time, I swear!), here are a few warming, hearty recipes that you can cook just once, and that you’ll never get sick of, no matter how long the storm lasts:
1. American Chop Suey
“American Chop Suey is a uniquely New England dish comprised, in its most basic (and economical) iteration, of ground beef, elbow macaroni, and some sort of tomato slurry, whether tomato sauce, tomato soup, or V-8 juice. To me, it’s quintessential Maine comfort food, served in healthy economic times and in bad, in grammar school cafeterias, VA hospitals, at bean suppers, and to this day, in many homes throughout the state.”
2. Smoky Lamb and Chorizo Chili
“The toppings here are key, and in fact, are as much a part of the recipe as the chili itself. This chili counts on some additional toppings to brighten up the smoky, rich flavor of this big bowl of meat, so don’t skimp on the sour cream, cheddar, and chopped green onions.”
3. Haddock Chowder
We’ve received tons of feedback from Mainers who raised their collective eyebrows at this recipe, which is a little bit different than the tried-and-true version found at roadside seafood shacks all up and down the coast. If you want to make that version, you certainly can (combine a gallon of melted butter with a gallon of half and half, add as much haddock as you have, then serve at room temperature), but we like our slightly modified version even better.
4. Hungarian Mushroom Soup
“We go to Clayton’s Cafe in Yarmouth quite a bit for their terrific sandwiches and soups. I was inspired to try and recreate their Hungarian Mushroom Soup, so that we always have it on tap at home, wherever we are. Finishing this creamy, hearty, textured soup with sour cream, salt, and acid really makes it special.”
5. Brown Ale & Cheddar Soup
“It’s a soup made of cheese and beer and bacon, for goodness’ sake. Any soup that uses “bacon pan scrapings” as one of its major flavoring agents just isn’t going to be that great for you. Calling it “soup” may even be lipsticking the pig, a little bit. This is a bowl of rich hot cheese. It’s liquefied Welsh Rarebit. It’s a lightly-spicy, soul-warming coppa d’oro. It’s excessive and gross and hedonistic and awful and everything-that’s-wrong-with-this-country and wonderful and delicious and heavenly and I’m eating another bowl even as I type this.”
6. Corned Beef Hash
Hearty, one-pot cooking isn’t limited to dinner. I’ll eat a big bowl of corned beef hash, crisped in a pan until it’s got a crusty layer a half an inch thick and topped with two perfectly oozy poached eggs, with plenty of ketchup and Sriracha ladled on for good measure, at almost any time of the day. And you should, too.
7. Beef Stew with Chipotle, Blue Cheese, and Green Onions
Complexity is the word of the day when it comes to this soup, a heady combination of smoky chunks of beef, layered with pungent blue cheese and the sharp snap of green onions.
8. Lasagna Soup
“This [recipe] is not for the lactose intolerant among you. It’s not for people who don’t love, and I mean really, really love, cheese. Close your browser window. Alt-F4. Come back tomorrow, and maybe we’ll have something that better suits your needs. This, right here, is a bowl of molten cheese. It’s exactly the kind of family-friendly fusion, where you take two favorite dishes and drive them at each other at full speed, and then serve the head-on collision, that made Rachael Ray and her gigantic oval ceramic casserole dishes a household name. It’s the kind of soup that made Jillian start writing a set of vow renewals. It’s not just a soup: it’s like eating a piping hot bowl of liquid pizza.”