The season's chilly weather calls for comfort food, but that's no reason to pack on the pounds. After all, spring is right around the corner.

We asked local chefs to share their comfort food favorites, lightened up a bit in honor of the season ahead. Many of our chefs gravitated toward seafood, and some added fresh vegetables and herbs.

Eat and enjoy!

Cyrus Keefer


1520 Clipper Road, Baltimore


"I've always found pasta comforting," says Cyrus Keefer. He describes his sophisticated take on pasta — homemade spaetzle (egg noodles) tossed with finely shaved escargots — as "light and velvety and very nutty, with escargots and truffles for sinful and simple decadence."

Parmesan Spaetzle with Shaved Escargot

Serves 8-10


9 whole eggs

1/2 quart fresh ricotta

1 quart Parmesan cheese

1/2 quart whole milk

1.5 quarts purpose flour

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Shaved escargot:

1 can of helix snails (drained)

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons small diced carrots

1 teaspoon minced shallot

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon of fresh lemon thyme

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 quart chicken stock

1 teaspoon white truffle oil

1 Tablespoon butter

1. For the spaetzle, whisk the eggs until smooth and pale yellow in large mixing bowl. Add the ricotta and Parmesan.

2. Add the milk and whip with a rubber spatula and then incorporate the flour. Add salt, and whip until you have the consistency of thick pancake batter.

3. To cook the spaetzle, you will need a large sauce or stock pot and a colander, or a spaetzle maker.

4. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil, turn down to just above a simmer and press the batter through the holes in stages. Let the spaetzle float and, using a pasta strainer, remove from the water and place on a sheet tray or a large plate. Let the spaetzle cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

5. For the escargot, place the snails, garlic, carrots. shallots, bay leaves, thyme and kosher salt in a pot, cover with chicken stock, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and discard all except for the snails. Cut into shavings with a sharp knife and add a pinch of salt and white truffle oil.

6. To serve, heat a large nonstick sauté to near high heat with a tablespoon of butter.

Sauté spaetzle until lightly brown. Add 1 tablespoon of the escargot shavings and toss until warm. Garnish simply with fresh parsley, shaved Parmesan, a little salt and even a little truffle oil

Eric Houseknecht

Thames Street Oyster House

1728 Thames Street, Baltimore


"This was the first soup I learned how to make when I moved to Providence," says Eric Houseknecht of his popular clam chowder, which is lighter than many other seafood stews. "It still always reminds me of cold rainy days and fishing in New England."

Rhode Island Quahog Chowder Recipe

Yield: 1/2 gallon

6 quahog clams OR 2 cups of chopped clams

1 cup diced applewood smoked bacon

4 stalks celery, diced

1 medium Spanish onion, diced

3 ears fresh corn (cut off the cob)

3 Tablespoons all purpose flour

3 cups red potatoes, diced

1 quart fresh clam juice or canned

2 bay leaves

1 cup water

2 cups cream

About 1 teaspoon each of fresh chives and thyme

Salt and pepper

1. Open clams making sure to save all the juices. Remove clam meat from shells and slice thin. Put in a container with the juice from the opened clams and set aside.

2. In a soup pot render diced bacon until crispy. Add celery, onion and corn and cook until the vegetables become soft. Add flour and mix together well.

3. Add potatoes, the quart of fresh or canned clam juice, bay leaves, water, and slowly simmer until potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes.)

4. Add cream and chopped clams with their juice, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Justin Moore

VIN 909

909 Bay Ridge Avenue, Annapolis


"Fresh, properly seared scallops are one of my favorite things to eat," says Justin Moore. "The natural sugars in the scallops caramelize and make a great dish." Moore pairs scallops with homemade slaw, given a modern edge by roasted cardamom and coriander.

"Pairing the scallops with fresh homemade coleslaw keeps this dish light and refreshing," he says. "It doesn't weigh you down. You feel like you could still go running after you eat!"

Pan Seared Scallops with Cardamom Slaw

Serves 6 as a small appetizer

1 head Napa cabbage

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 orange

1 cup mayonnaise

1/8 cup chopped tarragon

1/8 cup parsley

1 medium carrot, grated

1 shallot, sliced very thin

Lemons or lemon juice

1 teaspoon Sriracha (or, to taste; for heat)

Salt and pepper

1 Tablespoon butter

6 very fresh scallops with no chemicals added

Extra virgin olive oil

1. Chiffonade the head of cabbage. Mix the cabbage with roasted cardamom and coriander.

2. Squeeze in juice of one orange. Add the mayonnaise, tarragon, parsley, grated carrot, shallot, one teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of Sriracha and ½ teaspoon of salt.

3. Mix well and taste for seasoning and acid, fixing by adding lemon juice and salt if needed. Up to this point, you can make this a day ahead of time if you wish.

4. Lightly salt and pepper the scallops. Heat a pan on high heat. When the pan is hot add tablespoon of butter and slightly brown. Add scallops and sear about three minutes on each side until they are done.

5. Plate each scallop on two tablespoons of slaw (you should have some left over). Finish with a little olive oil over the scallop.

Riccardo Bosio

Sotto Sopra Restaurant

405 North Charles St. Baltimore


Bosio loves this comforting soup for its adaptability. "You can use more split peas for a thicker soup, you can add more or eliminate the garlic if you don't like it, you can use vegetarian stock instead of chicken stock and you can leave out the barley for the gluten intolerant," he says. His family's favorite part? The barley. "It gives us something toothy to chew. Mangia!"

He also notes that this soup should double quite easily for larger batches and you can freeze the excess.

Split Pea Soup with Garlic, Basil and Barley

Serves 6-8

8 cups chicken stock (see note)

2/3 cups split peas

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried basil leaves

2/3 cup tightly packed fresh basil

1/2 cup pearl barley

Salt and pepper

Optional: Fresh chiffonade basil leaves to garnish the soup

1. Heat your chicken stock to a boil, add the split peas, minced garlic and dried basil. Turn the soup to a low simmer, cover and let cook for one hour. Use an immersion blender to smooth out the split peas, or alternatively, use a blender or food processor. Just remember never to completely cover the top -- leave an opening and put a towel over it while you process or blend. An immersion blender is best.

2. Chiffonade the fresh basil.

3. Once you have pureed the soup add the ½ cup pearl barley and the fresh basil. Cover and keep it at a simmer. While the barley is cooking, taste for salt and pepper.

4. Let simmer for 45 minutes while the barley cooks. Taste again for salt and pepper.

Note: Basio says he uses homemade chicken stock but you can use canned. You might want to start off with low sodium stock and add salt as you taste the soup, he says.

Winston Blick


5402 Harford Road, Baltimore MD 21214


Blick's ancestors were watermen who settled in Shady Side, Md., so when he thinks of comfort food, he thinks oysters. This recipe does go heavy on the butter and cream, but just a small serving of the rich casserole goes a long way.

DunRite Scalloped Oysters

Serves 8-10

1 cup melted butter

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced

1/4 yellow onion, finely diced

salt and pepper

3 cups crushed Ritz crackers

1 cup heavy cream

1/8 cup rye whiskey

Couple dashes Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

ground pepper

A pinch of celery seed

1 quart shucked Chesapeake oysters

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Butter the bottom of a casserole dish.

3. Toss potatoes and onions with some of the melted butter, salt and pepper. Lay flat on a sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes.

4. Using the same bowl toss Ritz crackers with remaining melted butter (sometimes we put chopped green onion in these as well).

5. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat add wet ingredients and spices. Reduce about a quarter of an inch. Note: This is cooking, not science; when it tastes pretty good, it's reduced enough. You are looking for a little sweet with some of the alcohol taste gone

6. In the buttered casserole, cover the bottom with your potatoes and onions, then a layer of your oysters, then your cream. Top the whole ringdangdoo with the crumbs.

7. Bake for about 15 -20 minutes or until crunchy and brown on top. Let cool for about 10 minutes