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Recipes for a snow day: Comfort classics to make from what you have on hand

Hot cocoa is best when made from scratch.

Hot cocoa is best when made from scratch. Photo Credit: Erica Marcus

If you’re stuck at home on this snow day, it’s a perfect opportunity to putter in the kitchen. Here are four recipes for comfort classics whose ingredients you probably have on hand. Volunteer to make one of them and you may be able to avoid shovel duty.

HOT COCOA

Your own hot cocoa is much better than anything you can make from a mix.

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder or instant coffee (if you have it)
Pinch of salt
2 cups milk (whole preferred)

1. In a small saucepan, combine cocoa, sugar, espresso powder, salt with 1/4 cup water. Over medium heat, whisk mixture until it is completely smooth, then let it simmer for a minute or two.

2. Pour in milk, while whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until cocoa is piping hot. Don't let it come to a boil. Makes 2 cups.

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SCRAMBLED EGGS

Of course you know how to make them, but try this method for the creamiest, most elegant scrambled eggs you've ever had.

1 tablespoon butter
4 eggs, beaten

1. Pour a few spoonfuls of water into an 8-inch, nonstick pan and place over medium heat for 2 minutes. Pour out the water, wipe the pan, add half the butter and turn heat to low.

2. When butter has melted, add eggs and cook, stirring almost constantly with a rubber spatula. Periodically take pan off the heat so the eggs remain creamy. It will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes before they form a soft, curdlike custard.

3. When eggs are almost done to your liking, add the rest of the butter, take off the heat and stir until they are done. Makes 1 to 2 servings.

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GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Almost any semi-firm cheese will work here. You can make a very continental grilled cheese with Swiss-type cheese — Gruyere, Emmentaler, Jarlsberg. Or a very American one with good old American cheese. This recipe is adapted from one by former Newsday columnist (and grilled cheese connoisseur) Sylvia Carter.

2 slices good-quality white bread
Cheese, as much as you can handle, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Arrange cheese on one slice of bread so that it covers the bread completely and doesn’t hump in the middle. Top with the second slice of bread to make a sandwich.

2. Heat butter in a heavy cast iron or nonstick skillet. When butter is melted and almost sizzling, place sandwich in pan. Adjust heat to keep flame low enough that the sandwich does not burn. Immediately weigh down the top of the sandwich with the bottom of another heavy skillet or with a bacon press. (If you do not have a heavy skillet, you may have to improvise, perhaps by pressing down on the sandwich energetically with the flat side of a sturdy pancake turner.)

3. After 2 minutes, remove weight and lift up an edge of the sandwich to make sure it is not getting overdone. About 3 minutes should be the right time to flip it and replace the weight while cooking the other side. Makes 1 serving.

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EXTREMELY QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

This is my go-to sauce. It can be completed in the time it takes to bring the pasta water to a boil and cook the pasta. The secret is cooking the sauce in a wide skillet. If desired, serve with grated Parmesan or, even better, pecorino Romano.

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon of either, dried (optional)
1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes
Salt and pepper

1. Film the bottom of a skillet with oil and add garlic and herbs, if using.

2. Turn heat to medium and cook until garlic just starts to color, but doesn't brown. Add tomatoes and a big pinch of salt.

3. Crush the tomatoes with a potato masher. Bring contents of pot to a brisk simmer and cook until thick.

4. Give the sauce a good grinding of pepper and taste for salt. Fish out the garlic and herbs before serving. Makes about 2 cups, enough for 1 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta.

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