THE COLD, hard fact is that there doesn't appear to be any food that actually makes to be any food that actually makes you warmer. It may warm you to know, however, that fooddoesn't need to kincrease your internal temperature, as your body does a pretty good job of that all by itself.
Warm-blooded bodies, under normal circumstances, maintain "homeostasis" -- a condition of internal stability. Regular body temperature (98.6 degrees) is part of the homeostatic condition, so the human body attempts to keep itself at that temperature.
Consequently, substantial foods and hot liquids have, at best, a temporary effect on body temperature -- which is as it should be. But on coldest days it would be nice to think that a cup of hot tea would be "just the thing."
"I don't think there's any scientific evidence that one food keeps you warmer than another food," says Isabel Wolf, who, as extension food and nutrition specialist for the University of Minnesota, has had to endure temperatures as low as 15 below zero in the last few weeks. Not counting the wind chill factor.
"A lot of it is cultural definition of what is appropriate for what time of year in what part of the country," she adds. "Your body has an inborn homeostatic control to keep itself at 98.6."
In Minneapolis-St. Paul, she says, people are warned against drinking too much alcohol, which dilates the blood vessels and makes one feel warmer. "People drink and go out without coats and think they're not cold." In fact, because of the alcohol in their systems, they are losing heat rapidly and are especially prone to frostbite.
Food can affect sensitivity to cold indirectly, however. Fat people tend to stay warmer than thin people, because extra layers of fat insulate the body. But, Wolf qualifies, "there are fat people who get cold."
While food might not affect body heat per se, its soothing qualities could lend comfort through the bleak days of winter. During such days, sufficient food should be stored at home to prevent unnecessary trips to the supermarket, because slick sidewalks and streets may prove perilous to both drivers and walkers.
Comforting foods are usually defined as substantial and steaming -- those that fill the house with warmth and enticing smells. Hot breads, sausages and soups usually do it. Dishes that take a long time to prepare postpone cabin fever by keeping the cook busy cooking, cleaning and eating. Many times, these comfort foods can be reheated quickly for those retreating from the elements.
Tomato soup is the quintessential comfort food. Perhaps it evokes memories of a childhood during which we would choose smooth, creamy soups over lumpy, chunky vegetable. And it just seems warmer than the thin, insubstantial broths that fill our needs when we succumb to illness. Canned tomatoes make a delicious homemade version of this creamy solace.
Pies, too, seem soothing on cold winter days. A hearty sausage and cabbage pie that harkens from chilly Poland fills the need for a substantial main dish with a wonderful aroma. Top the pie with a quick puff pastry for a beautifully layered, flaky top, or substitute regular pie pastry.
WINTER TOMATO SOUP (6 servings) 16-ounce can whole tomatoes 1/4 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup chopped celery (with leaves) 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 teaspoon dried basil 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 2 tablespoons tomato paste 1 tablespoon brown sugar 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 2 cups beef broth 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup milk Salt and pepper, to taste
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine tomatoes, onion, celery, 2 tablespoons butter, basil, oregano, tomato paste and sugar. Simmer, uncovered, until celery is tender, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Pure'e in a blender or food processor, 2 cups at a time, or press through a sieve. Over low heat, melt remaining butter in large pot. Stir in flour and, beating rapidly with a whisk, add broth to make a smooth, thick sauce (it will take a few minutes to thicken). Beat in the milk, add the tomato pure'e. Add ground pepper to taste. If using canned beef broth, taste the tomato mixture before adding any salt. Heat through and serve in hot bowls or mugs. From "A Feast of Soups, by Jacqueline Heriteau, to be released in February.
CABBAGE AND SAUSAGE PIE (1 10-inch deep-dish pie) 1 pound kielbasa (Polish sausage), sliced 1/2-inch thick 1 onion, sliced 1 head of green cabbage, shredded 1 teaspoon caraway seeds 1 teaspoon sugar Juice of 1/2 lemon Salt and pepper 1 potato Quick puff pastry (see below) 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown sausage. Drain of excess fat and add onion. Cook until wilted, stirring occasionally. Add cabbage, caraway seeds, sugar and lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Shred potato and add to cabbage mixture. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, or until potato has disintegrated. Cool. Roll out pastry on a floured board so that the diameter is 1 inch larger than the top of a 10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Fill the dish with cabbage mixture and cover with pastry, tucking the pastry under the rim so it will hold firm during cooking. Brush the pastry with egg glaze. Cut decorative air vents into the pastry and bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes, or until top is puffy and golden.
QUICK PUFF PASTRY 1 3/4 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup cold water 7 ounces chilled butter, cut into small chunks
Combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Add water, a little at a time, and blend with an electric mixer at low speed to make a stiff dough (the dough will seem wet, however, even though it is stiff). Add butter and mix at low speed for 15 seconds, or until it is distributed throughout the flour mixture. Gather the mixture in a ball, flatten the top, wrap in plastic and freeze for 10 minutes.
Remove pastry from the freezer. On a floured board, roll the dough to make a rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Sprinkle lightly with flour and fold the dough into thirds. Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and repeat. Wrap again in plastic and freeze for 10 minutes. Repeat the folding and turning process, and freeze again for 10 minutes. Remove from freezer, repeat the rolling and turning process (for a total of 6 turns). If the butter appears to be melting and the dough becomes damp, chill once again. If not, roll as directed in pie recipe. Adapted from a recipe from "Pizza, Quiches and Savory Pies," by Anna Teresa Callen.
PASTA I FAGIOLI (6 servings) 1 1/2 cups red kidney beans 8 cups water 2 carrots, scraped and chopped 1 large onion, chopped 2 large stalks celery (with leaves) chopped 1 teaspoon basil 1 teaspoon crushed rosemary 5 cloves garlic, sliced 1/4 cup tomato paste 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste Pepper to taste 6 ounces vermicelli noodles 4 ounces parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Rinse beans. Combine with water in large pot and simmer 45 minutes. Add carrots, onion, celery, basil, rosemary and garlic and cook 45 minutes more, or until beans are tender. Using a measuring cup or ladle, transfer half of the bean mixture (with broth) to a food processor or blender and pure'e, or rub the mixture through a sieve. Return the pure'e to the pot and add tomato paste, salt and pepper. Twenty minutes before serving, add vermicelli that has been broken in half. If mixture is very thick, add a little hot water too. Cook until noodles are tender. Serve the mixture in hot bowls and top with plenty of parmesan cheese.