Cooking in Cave Temperature

When I worked in Cleveland, Ohio, fresh out of graduate school, I lived on the third floor of a wooden house. My 2nd floor neighbors were a great couple. An older Jewish couple originally from Latvia lived across the driveway. I enjoyed visiting with her. My apartment was great, except in the winter. No matter how much I caulked the windows in the winter, the cold Cleveland winds whipping across Lake Erie found their way into the house.

I came to believe that it is a myth that heat rises. My erstwhile, great living space turned into a cave with temperatures in the high 50s! Eventually, I took the whistle off of the dysfunctional radiators and the steam burst forth finally giving me heat.

see the “whistle” on the upper corner of this radiator

We’ve had an early and harsh cold snap the last few days. At work, everyone is bundled up with layer upon layer of clothing. I have my silk undershirt (Mom always recommended these for insulation), a wool turtleneck, and the company tee-shirt. On top of that is the down vest I inherited from Mom, which I dig out for the few cold winter days we get. Under my slacks was an old pair of dance leggings. And gloves, don’t forget gloves. I felt like I was back in my 3rd floor Cleveland cave of an apartment. Brrrr.

What to cook in times like this: stews. Relatively new to my cooking repertoire is Korean porridge and congee. I’ve enjoyed the latter in a New York Chinese restaurant and the former in my annual winter trip to Korea. Recently, I had the occasion to cook two different Asian-style stews. Constant Companion and Daughter both enjoyed them and clamored for more.

First was a porridge or hobakjuk using squash.* I had an amazing collection of winter squashes – butternut, delicata, and kabocha. I used the beautiful kabocha for this cold-weather dish. Actually, a few days later, I peeled, seeded, and cut the butternut into thin slices. I simply seeded and sliced the delicata. Both were tossed in olive oil and roasted for about 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. They tasted like candy!

*I combined two recipes for two different Korean cooking blogs that I recommend: Korean Bapsang, and

the kabocha is the turban-shaped green squash

Start by cutting your squash into halves or quarter and removing the seeds. Put in a pot with about 6 cups of water, cover and boil for about 30 minutes. When the squash is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and cut the flesh into smaller chunks.

Place the cooled and peeled squash into a blender with 3 cups of water and salt. Sugar is also recommended, but I did not add it. Blend until pureed. You can also use an immersion blender. Pour squash into a saucepan and bring to a boil, simmer for 10-20 minutes. If the porridge is too thick, add some water.

Both recipes also call for either sweet rice flour or sweet glutinous rice. I have neither and just did not worry about omitting it. Cooked red beans can also be added to the porridge, if you have them. I added some rice cakes, tteokbokki, purchased a while ago at a local Asian store. I figured they would thicken the porridge.


Leftovers from Thanksgiving left me with a turkey carcass (with some meat still on the bones) and the neck. both perfect for making the congee.

Cover the turkey carcass with about 14 cups of water in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add 1 stalk of celery and one carrot,* both chopped and onion quarters; bring to a boil. Simmer for about 1 ½ hours; the stock should reduce to about 8 cups. Take it off the heat. When cool, get as much meat from the carcass (and neck if you like that, we do) and set aside. Strain the stock through a sieve set over a bowl and discard the solids.

*I added a few parsnips from the vegetable drawer.

not such a lovely sight, but so good when done!

Next. in a smaller saucepan, combine the stock with one more stalk of chopped celery and one chopped carrot (and parsnip) and one cup of rice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, for about 90 minutes. Stir occasionally so it does not stick to the bottom of your pot.

bubbling away with the added rice

Stir in the reserved turkey and cook another 5 minute. Serve with salt and pepper and topped with scallions.

turkey congee, ready to eat, yum

Another well-enjoyed cold weather meal.

Many still have several months of cold weather in the immediate future. Rich, filling, warm foods like this are just perfect to chase the chill away. I have one more turkey carcass in the freezer waiting for our next cold snap. I hope we get the chance to warm our bones before it comes to visit.


  1. One of the restaurants that I worked many years ago, was staffed by a couple of expert Chinese cooks. They would make congee after Thanksgiving that at the time I did not understand. I’ve come to appreciate it and look forward to trying your recipe. Thank you also for the link to the Korean recipe site.
    I’ve recently been experimenting with this fascinating cuisine.


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