Certain occasions demand comfort food: shaking off a stressful work day, mending a broken heart, or getting through the month of January.

With this winter shaping up to be the coldest in years, ovens will be working overtime pumping out food to make us forget about the finger-numbing weather outside.

So we asked area restaurateurs and chefs what foods warm them up during these bitter days and nights.

A childhood memory

On a recent snowy day, Pease Porridge Hot owner Eileen Zack whipped up a tuna casserole for her customers. "On a cold day, we find that people really do like that -- and macaroni and cheese." Zack makes the casserole with a roux, tuna, cheddar cheese and penne pasta. "Basic stuff, not too fancy. People don't like it if you get too fancy," says Zack, who started the Annapolis catering and restaurant business 18 years ago.

"It definitely harks back to childhood. It's something I've known how to do since I was very little. One of the first things I learned how to make, besides chocolate chip cookies, was creamed tuna on toast." Pease Porridge Hot's Tuna Casserole

Serves 8 to 10

1 16-ounce package of cooked penne or rotini pasta

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk or chicken stock, or combination of both

1 chicken bouillon cube

2 cups tuna

1 10-ounce package of frozen peas

1 / 4 pound mushrooms, sliced and sauteed

1 cup cheddar or provolone cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir over low heat for at least three minutes.

Add liquid and bouillon cube and whisk to incorporate. Turn up heat to medium and bring to a boil. Turn heat back to low and simmer for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, combine tuna, peas, mushrooms, sauce and cooked pasta. Mix well and spread into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Top with cheese and bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is nicely browned and crispy.