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The Two Things You Need for Better, Cozier Winter Meals

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We choose products for the Food52 shop not only because we're obsessed with them (always) -- most of the time we're just as inspired by the creatives who make them. This is where we share their stories.

Today: One editor's journey to night-in inspiration with the perfectly deep dinner bowl and a secret sauce that makes even bad days better.

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Some days are long. Others, frigid (hi, Octavia). After a real winter doozy, dinner, that tidy event when everyone converses amiably between closed-mouth chewing, is rarely so clean-shaven. About this time of year, in fact, sometimes dinner commits to being a loser. Dinner hits the couch, alone, and eats comfort food from a bowl with a spoon.

Fisheye Brooklyn Soup Bowls  Kim fro Fisheye Brooklyn
Our exclusive soup bowls from Fisheye Brooklyn come in two designs, with a blue rim or a swirl in the bowl; Maker Kim Gilmour at her wheel

Dinner is a friend of mine, so I've learned to embrace this season of cozy curled-up eating (plus, I don't have a dinner table). It's just a matter of having the right tools to protect against spillage and a recipe that's both easy and feel-good. Enter Tuesday: I was gearing up for a weary dinner with pasta on my mind when I found myself armed with equipment that promised a far better night. (Ok, so I raided the Food52 prop closet and pantry; a girl's gotta claim her perks.)

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My own go-to bowls are wide and shallow, and food is always sloshing -- and worse -- escaping. Our pretty new porcelain soup bowls from Fisheye Brooklyn are made to actually solve this problem, so I tucked one CAREFULLY in my bag. Glazed in a satiny-smooth finish, they're wonderful to hold and extra-deep for cupping heaps of whatever soothes you after one of those days. Maker Kim Gilmour turns each one, first using a wheel and then finishing them by hand, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where she works in a studio shared by a couple dozen other ceramicists. "Everybody does something different: Some people make sculptures, others functional wares or even ceramic wall installations," she had told me earlier that day. "We talk about art and what we're all making, and we all support each other. Nobody holds anything back."

Kim Gilmour from Fisheye Brooklyn  Soup Bowls Fisheye Brooklyn
Kim Gilmour from Fisheye Brooklyn and her hand-made porcelain soup bowls.

She says they share ideas, too, and that she learned about the glaze on these bowls from a fellow maker: "It’s not quite matte and not quite glossy, very natural, with a raw look that’s also sophisticated." It sounded like something I could snuggle up to. The design is gorgeous, with delicately warbled edges and a splash of cobalt blue around the rim or deep in the well, but I wasn't yet convinced it was a game-changing ingredient for the a cozy night in. 

For dinner I decided on Daddy's Carbonara, because I've made it enough to nail it (with scrambled eggs, occasionally) sans recipe. Plus, if you tack on an extra egg and use a heavy hand with the cheese, it's almost soupy, and I find comfort in extra sauce. As an experiment, I'd brought home our BLiS Barrel-Aged Fish Sauce to try as a final flourish on my very rich Italian pasta. Before you get upset: Did you know fish sauce is just salted anchovies? (I didn't.) Talk about Italian. And barrel-aging makes it as mild and nuanced as a broth that's been simmering for ages. Like living salt, a splash of this stuff will wake up any dish.

Steve from BLiS fish sauce  BLiS Fish Sauce
Steve Stallard, owner and chef at BLiS; their brilliant Barrel-Aged Fish Sauce

BLiS uses barrels for aging that are 20 years old; they picked them up from a bourbon maker in Kentucky back before "barrel-aging" was something you'd pay up for. And they share: After aging maple syrup in them at their Grand Rapids headquarters, BLiS sends the barrels to a nearby brewery, who uses them to age stouts. From there, the barrels come back, for aging vinegars, hot sauce, and finally fish sauce. Everyone wins. How could this stuff not be good on pasta?

I tipped a splash of the aged fish sauce right into my pan of bacon. I was frying a whole pound, but the smell -- bright, sweet, floral, funky -- was not like any other pig fat I had encountered. When I was done, I let another drizzle go right into the bowl. Purists will have a hard time with this, but let's just say that I'll never be making mine any other way.

Carbonara in Fisheye Soup Bowl
Amanda's fish-sauce-spiked carbonara dinner was not photographed by a professional. 

To my delight, I was able to heap no less than a quarter of the finished carbonara (my ideal portion for a dish that serves 6) right into a single Fisheye soup bowl, which was then somehow still small enough to be cupped in one hand while climbing onto the couch, pulling up a blanket, and propping open a book. It didn't even get hot, and it stayed in my lap well after licking it clean, a patient friend waiting until I finished off a second beer. I wondered if the Shop team would notice if I didn't return it, but odds were low: It's not a bowl anyone forgets.

Sure, I used Oscar Mayer bacon and barrel-aged fish sauce in my carbonara and nonnas everywhere are crying. But I was inspired by Kim, who finds that some of the joy of working with clay is the unexpected genius you encounter by surprise. "I'm not a perfectionist. I love Nature, having grown up in New Hampshire, and I’m always drawn to what she does and doesn’t do. How she’s so unpredictable and she gives you surprises all the time. That’s what being a potter has always been like for me: You never exactly know what you’re going to get, and you gotta let things go.

Dinner on Tuesday was not a deadbeat. Dinner was cozy, warm, and inspired -- no table required. (And breakfast, since you asked, was a revelation: leftovers in my Fisheye soup bowl, curled up in bed.)  

Product photos by Bobbi Lin; Photos of Kim Gilmour by Gabriella Bobadilla; Photo of Steve Stallard by Jacob Lewkow

Tags: Fisheye Brooklyn, BLiS, soup bowls, fish sauce, winter dinner