In my books, hot meals suffer from way too much PR. Steamy pans of lasagna, brightened with the de rigueur sprig of basil, grace the covers of "women's" magazines. Pizza TV commercials star gobs of gooey cheese tearing away from too-hot slices like strands of yellow yarn.
In Victorian times and other days mercifully gone by, when young wives were taught how to be good housewives, hotliness was next to godliness. Pages of instruction in "bibles" of household management by Mrs. Beeton and her ilk were devoted to hot food and how to keep it that way — how close to set the joint of beef by the fire so the least amount of fuel was consumed; how to strain your almond soup and serve it hot.
Serving hot food has traditionally been star-status awarded to successful hostesses — and hosts, as they evolved — and a good idea for staying healthy, too. (Most food poisoning occurs when food lollygags too long at room temperature.)
This would have been totally understandable in homes and castles that were more drafty than comfy — a time when your ability to contend with same was a test of ingenuity and marked your social standing. The more fuel, chafing dishes and covered serving trays, the more impressive your dinner party ranking.
Yes, cold foods were acknowledged, but usually only for the summer season, when a chilled lobster salad might be hauled off to a picnic or a nice bowl of vichyssoise would be presented at lunch after a brisk ride out to the country.
No mention of the simple stuff best had the day after, and cooked up with that in mind — a nice chicken drumstick fried up the night before; a giant bean salad cobbled together from whatever's on hand; never mind goodies like tzatziki or hummus we take for granted now but were unheard of until recently.
These are rendered all the more glorious for having been made days ago and served now — when flavour is a high-five and you can barely recall their creation.
Beyond the fact that my tender mouth can't handle hot food and picnic season is nearly here, some of my eternal food favourites have everything to do with cooking or making it yesterday, then serving it up today, tomorrow and, if you're lucky, beyond.
They're also the best food ideas for a busy world. Flavour: check. Contentment and general all-round satisfaction: check. Free and easy feeling like your mom or best-cooking friend snuck into your kitchen while you were gone, whipped up a bunch of goodies, cleaned up the mess and left you with a treasure trove of good eating anytime: check.
My all-time favourite in this department is simply perfect cold fried chicken. Skin it or not, as you like; dredge it in flour; sprinkle it with salt and pepper and fry it up in your best oil. Or, if you want to keep things simpler, roast it.
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