When old man winter besets us with icy blasts and frigid weather, nothing seems quite so comforting and satisfying as a mug brimming with a hot drink or hearty food. We remember the mugs of hot cocoa that warmed us when we gathered as kids around a bonfire after ice skating on a frozen pond.

Food in a mug brings other images to mind--a pot of soup simmering on a the stove in a delicious-smelling country kitchen, grandmother ladling the broth, rich with vegetables and meat, into thick, white, old-fashioned mugs.

Mugs, once strictly utilitarian, are both handy and handsome these days. Many cooks know that the adage "less is more" holds true for some foods. They know also that mugs are not just for drinking, and collect mugs of all shapes and sizes to fit the appropriate dish.

Add fork or spoon and the simplicity of a mug is perfect when serving a hearty soup or stew. It's fun to serve something unexpected in a mug--curry on rice, gumbo, thick chowder, or pasta such as ravioli or tortilini. Try poached eggs over grits or toast squares. Add sausage, ham or bacon bits. Tell the children it's "Eggs McMugg."

The informality of mug service is practical necessity during winter. In a house with a conservative thermostat one can hug a mug and manage to keep the blanket around his shoulders. The mug can be lifted to the mouth, a necessity during the Superbowl, when all eyes are pealed on the television and not watching where soup may be dripping.

Mug service, as practical on the tailgate as in the den, makes for a wonderful, casual buffet too. Stand mugs beside a tureen on the buffet and let guests serve themselves. Almost any simple, hearty uncomplicated food can be served in a mug. POTATO SOUP WITH SHERRY (4 servings) 6 medium potatoes 1/2 cup flour Salt and pepper to taste Small pinch dried oregano 2 cups milk 1 cup light cream 1 large onion, minced About 3 tablespoons bacon drippings 1/4 cup sherry

Peel and quarter potatoes. Cover with water, boil until tender. Drain, reserving liquid. Mash potatoes, add flour and blend well. Add salt, pepper and oregano. Slowly blend in potato liquid. Over medium heat, slowly blend in milk and cream, and add onions which have been saute'ed in bacon drippings. Stir soup well until it is piping hot. Just before serving, add sherry. Serve in warmed mugs. BRAZILIAN SPICED COFFEE (6 servings) 12 cups hot coffee 3 cinnamon sticks 6 whole cloves 6 whole allspice

Pour hot coffee over spices. Let mixture stand at least 1 hour. Strain, reheat and serve in mugs. MINESTRONE (6 to 8 servings)

2 quarts water (or more, to keep bone covered)

Small piece beef shank bone

Salt and pepper to taste

1 medium onion, quartered

2 teaspoons tomato paste

Few celery lives

1/4 pound chopped beef

1 onion, diced

2 small cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 small carrots, peeled and chopped

1 small head cabbage, shredded

1 pound canned chick peas, drained

Other bite-sized vegetables as desired

Cover shank bone with water and bring to a boil. Skim top. Add dash of salt and pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon of tomato paste and and celery leaves. Cover and simmer about 2 hours. Remove most of celery, onion and meat from bone from the broth.

In a saucepan, brown the chopped meat, diced onion and minced garlic. Add remaining tomato paste and cook slowly 10 minutes. Add celery, carrots, cabbage and meat mixture to stock. Cover and cook slowly 1/2 hour. The last few minutes of cooking, add chick peas and small amounts of optional ingredients such as cooked red kidney beans, peas, spinach, turnips, potatoes, and zucchini. Cook until the added vegetables are tender. Add a small amount of pasta as desired. BEANS BRETONNE (12 servings) 1/2 cup each of dried red, pinto, kidney, cannelli (or great northern) beans 1/2 cup each dried peas and lentils 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1 small green pepper, thinly sliced 1/2 cup celery, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup canned plum tomatoes 1 cup chicken broth 1 pinch each basil and oregano 1/2 teaspoon each pepper, tarragon and savory 1/4 teaspoon ground mace 1 tablespoon tomato paste Salt to taste 1 bay leaf 1 small onion, studded with 2 or 3 cloves Smoked Italian sausage or kielbasi, cooked and sliced

Combine beans, peas and lentils in water to cover and soak overnight. Place in saucepan and simmer until barely soft. Saute' onions, pepper, celery and garlic in olive oil until limp. Mix with beans and remaining ingredients. Put in beanpot or covered casserole; liquid should just cover the beans (add more if necessary). Cover and bake in a low oven (175 degrees) for about 80 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Spoon into mugs, top with smoked sausage and serve with french bread. ZITI WITH BACON SAUCE (6 servings) 4 slices bacon, cut in thin strips 2 tablespoons oil 1/4 cup chopped onion 1/2 cup white wine 3 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped Dash hot pepper sauce Salt and pepper to taste 1 pound ziti (pasta) 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, cook bacon until slightly crips but not brittle. Add oil and onions and simmer until onions are soft. Add wine and simmer, stirring until wine is almost evaporated. Add tomatoes, hot pepper sauce and pepper. Simmer and stir 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cook ziti in boiling water about 10 minutes. Drian and place in serving dish. Add sauce and parmesan cheese, tossing well. Serve at once in broad mugs. COMBO CHOWDER (6 servings or more) 2 to 3 onions, coarsely chopped 1/2 large bunch celery with leaves, chopped 4 to 5 medium potatoes, diced 2 pounds canned tomatoes 4 6 1/2-ounce cans chopped clams Salt, pepper, basil, marjoram and/or oregano to taste Liquid as needed (more tomatoes, chicken broth, tomato juice, clam/tomato juice, vegetable juice or water)

Combine all ingredients in soup pot. Simmer until vetgetables are tender. This is better if it's refrigerated over night. EASIEST-EVER OYSTER STEW (4 servings) 4 tablespoons butter (or more to taste) 1 quart milk 1 pint standard or stewing oysters (or more to taste) Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in soup pot. Add milk and heat almost to boiling, stirring constantly. Meanwhile, heat oysters in saucepan, bringing them just to a boil. Add oysters to hot milk. Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Serve in mugs with oyster crackers.