Less comfort food, more comfort cooking
January 22, 2015 4:24 PM   Subscribe

When I’m dealing with a lot of emotional stress, my two main coping mechanisms are cooking and gorging myself on all the food I can get my hands on. I’d like to find a way to indulge the former and not the latter.

I really enjoy cooking, and find it very stabilizing and calming. This month I’ve been going through a rough patch, and I’ve been baking bread and planning elaborate meals almost nonstop. However, I just lost a lot of the weight that I’d gained during a long and miserable depressive episode. I don’t want to gain it all back again by comfort-eating way more of my comfort-cooking than I need. I’m not on a diet, and don’t want to be. I just have a hard time with portion control when faced with the fruits of my labor.

The compromise I think I need is to cook terrific freezer-friendly meals and sides so that I can make good food, serve it for my small family once, and package up the rest for later so I’m not tempted to inhale it all in one sitting. So far I’ve been freezing bread, individually-portioned frittatas, veggie burgers, etc, and using them at a reasonable and healthy rate. I need more ideas!

Recipes need to be:

-Suitable for freezing in individual or 2-person portions.
-Vegetarian (eggs and dairy are fine).
-Delicious/hearty/comforting/some combination of these things.
-Fun to make! I know ymmv, but if you find the process of making a thing really enjoyable I'd love to hear about it.
-Not soup. I am all souped out, and for some reason I never find frozen-then-thawed soups very appealing. Really hearty stews might be acceptable but you’d have to talk me into them.

I am a very adventurous eater, and a pretty solid home cook with a well-stocked pantry. I’m not afraid of fat or carbs or gluten or anything, but I’m a big fan of vegetables and legumes so my favorites tend to be pretty healthy. I'm also the parent of a young child, and I work odd hours as well: I’d love to tackle some more fiddly, time consuming recipes, and welcome them here, but for the most part I’m looking for projects I can complete within a few hours.
posted by libraritarian to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lasagne. Make the tomato sauce and pasta yourself. Maybe even make the ricotta yourself?
posted by mollymayhem at 4:34 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can you make the food and then invite people over to eat it, or bring it to your work or other places you go to share it with others? You could combine the relaxing activity of cooking with a fun social activity, thus reducing depression even more.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 4:47 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might enjoy making ravioli with a pasta maker. It's labor intensive but is fun for adults and kids AND only really works if you make it in the way you're outlining--some to eat now, lots to freeze later. Winter squash, sage, and seasoned ricotta (also home-makeable!!) are my favorites.
posted by zem at 4:49 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This'll be all breakfast since the rest of my freezer repertoire is meatballs and soups.

I like these almond date breakfast bars from Smitten Kitchen. I often double the recipe; they freeze really well, individually wrapped, after baking.

Also, Dorie Greenspan's Sweet Potato Biscuits listed here (scroll down)--place unbaked biscuits on a baking sheet, freeze them, transfer to a plastic bag once frozen, then take out as many as you need and bake as usual, just a minute or two longer. Good for breakfast or whenever.

These buttermilk brown-sugar oat scones--same freezing scenario as the biscuits.
posted by Hypatia at 4:58 PM on January 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Gnocchi freezes well, if you freeze it on trays first.
Pumpkin and Sweet potato curry.
Banana bread.
Pastry parcels freeze well too. You could make your own pastry, if you want to get really carried away.
French Onion soup.
(I find frozen meals are much nicer with some fresh ingredients tossed in on defrosting. For example, I'll often steam broccoli and add to a curry as broccoli doesn't freeze well.)

On a more general note, make your own ingredients. e.g. yoghurt, buttermilk, ricotta cheese, paneer, pasta, nut butters, tomato based pasta sauces, pastry, mayonaise, tortillas, kimchi.

Preserving can be loads of fun if you can get your hands on a lot of cheap fruit or veg, but from your location, that seems unlikely at this time of year.
posted by kjs4 at 5:16 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nigerian Black Eyed Peas and Greens (vegan). I just made a double batch to freeze.
posted by wrabbit at 5:17 PM on January 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Bake bread.

I love no-knead and it's lovely! But. There is something about the ritual of mixing, raising, and kneading bread that is incredibly meditative and comforting. Mix your ingredients, leave alone. Punch down, leave alone. Then spend some time kneading in the same repetitive motion over and over. For me, I find it comforting, and the smell is wonderful.

Pasta may also fulfill this need.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:11 PM on January 22, 2015

Best answer: I really like to make and freeze individually wrapped black bean breakfast tacos. Just sautee onions, then black beans. Mash all with a bit of water and spread on a warm tortilla with cheese. Roll, wrap, freeze. I make about 30 at a time. Very rewarding.

I know this doesn't answer your actual question, but have you considered volunteering to cook a meal for a food pantry, soup kitchen, church, etc? Lots of organizations could use the help of someone who gets joy out of cooking.
posted by novelgazer at 6:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I make gyoza a few times a year, and freeze most of it on baking sheets before filling freezer ziploc bags. I just made a batch last weekend - it takes about 2 hours start to finish. I find it relaxing and fulfilling. Here's the rough recipe I use when I make them vegetarian:

1 lb extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled
hmm 2-ish or more cups of diced shiitake or other mushrooms
shredded carrot sometimes
6-ish leaves of napa cabbage, diced finely
1 bunch green onion, diced
2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 t sesame seed oil (I usually add a bit more)
1 T soy sauce

Mix all of the above. Place a spoonful in the center of a wonton/gyoza wrapper and wet the edges with your finger dipped in warm water. Fold over and pinch the edges shut. (You can do the fancy folds - I never do.) You'll use about two packages of wrappers.

To cook - you can steam them or make soup, or what I usually do is defrost a bunch in the microwave, and then heat a fry pan with enough sesame seed oil to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, place gyoza in the pan and let them sit until their bottoms are brown and crispy. Flip them over and add 4-ish tablespoons of warm water and cover and let steam until the water is gone. Serve with dipping sauce of rice vinegar and soy sauce and chili oil, if you like.

We started helping fold gyoza when we were five or so - it's a fun activity for kids if yours is old enough.
posted by umwhat at 7:56 PM on January 22, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Could you cook entirely for others? Maybe you're near some kind of hospice/support housing, like Ronald McDonald houses or Hope Lodges?
posted by Sublimity at 5:22 AM on January 23, 2015

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions so far! I'm making lists and menu plans in my head right now. All those who suggested I might combine my need to cook with actual human interaction are on the money: I've been a hermit lately, and it's not been good for me. Time to call up some friends.
posted by libraritarian at 6:59 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Spanakopita! Here's the family recipe on pastebin. The process of brushing the sheets of phyllo and layering them is already pretty fun, and for extra fun you could mix the batter with your hands which is traditional, or for extra EXTRA fun you could cut the phyllo into strips (4 or 5 per sheet) and roll them into triangles (use two strips layered with butter for the outside of the triangle).
posted by capricorn at 10:24 AM on January 23, 2015

Came to suggest a few more things that are fun to make and mainly freeze well:

- tortellini
- pierogi
- sausages! (you'd need a grinder of course and an extruder; if you have a Kitchenaid stand mixer there are attachments available--and yes, you can make vegetarian sausages)
- jams, jellies, preserves, chutneys. You always have little gifts available for friends in a pinch, it's impossible to gorge on jam, and the process is intensive but not an all-day kinda thing
- samosas
- spring rolls
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:40 AM on January 23, 2015

Bolognese sauce can be very complicated and time consuming. And you can use it for both lasagna, cottage pie, moussaka, and after-school toasts once it is in your freezer.

Oxtail stew is another lovely dish for a Sunday lunch with friends, or portions in the freezer.

Yesterday, I had a working dinner with colleagues, and I had cooked a couple of different Moroccan tagines in advance. It was nice and aromatic to prepare, and very easy to heat up and serve with cous-cous and a salad when I only had a few moments.

Confit de canard! This is really, really time consuming, but if you like duck, it is also worth the effort. The best thing is to start by cooking and serving a whole roast duck - preferably a Peking style one, or an other fatty breed. Use that whatever way you want. As you cook it, you will get an enormous amount of duck-fat. Strain this carefully and store it in the fridge. Do your best to avoid duck juices in the fat.
Then keep your eyes open for offers at your local store. Mine regularly has offers on smallish frozen duck legs that are very cheap. Buy as many as you think your fat can cover in a glass can or earthenware pot.
Thaw the duck legs, and brine them in a plastic bag: use salt, pepper and whatever spices you like: thyme is good, as is ginger. More adventurous versions could include cloves, crushed garlic, or mustard. After 24 hours, dry off the brine, and cook the legs in the fat till well done. (Meat comes of the bone easily). Then put the bones in the chosen container, and strain the fat into the container. Let it all cool down a little before putting a lid on, and put the container(s) in the fridge. Will keep for 6 months, if the legs are completely covered with fat. When you serve them, you just fry them on the pan in their own fat. And you can roast potatoes in that fat too.
posted by mumimor at 11:31 AM on January 23, 2015

I find that summer rolls are really fun to make. You can use all kinds of different stuff in them, like fresh basil, or mint leaves, smoked tofu, all kinds of shredded veggies, home made sauces; there's lots of room for creativity.

being mostly veggies, they are also healthy and diet-friendly, and since they are finger food, would be ideal to take into work to share with your co-workers.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:13 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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