There's nothing more comforting than a groaning pile of pasta cloaked in marinara with a fresh shaving of Parmesan. Boxed pasta is good; fresh is better. If you have this, plus a jar of Paul Newman's, or better yet, local powerhouse Buon Giorno (we like the Puttanesca) you have a meal. But if you have an hour, a bit of fortitude and just one piece of special equipment, you'll produce something that touches on ethereal -- fresh potato gnocchi. You can't get it out of a box. You're going to blow everyone's mind. The foolproof recipe:
Special equipment: A Kitchenaid mixer with a paddle attachment helps, but you can mix it by hand. Must have: Potato ricer (you can purchase one from any kitchen store -- they range from raggedy-ass to Lexus). Ingredients • 3 lbs. of Russet potatoes, baked, peeled and riced • 2 cups flour • 2 egg yolks • A good pinch of salt Directions • Combine all ingredients in mixer (or in a bowl and bring together by hand) and blend, just until it comes together. Divide into two separate balls, wrap in cellophane and chill for about an hour. • Meanwhile, boil a pot of water. Divide one of the balls into two separate pieces, and roll into a snake -- about an index finger in width. • With a sharp knife, cut into pieces, about a half-inch across. Dust the pieces with flour. Blanch in batches until they float. Place on a cookie sheet, toss with olive oil and chill again, just until firm. • You can do any old thing with these. We like to sear them in a pan with a bit of fat (canola, olive oil, butter or a blend) until they are toasty brown. You can make a simple pan sauce out of wine, a bit of stock and some fresh herbs, finishing with a knob of butter. Or toss with your favorite marinara. Gloat.
Bad pizza is blasphemy. Bad pizza is not worth the calorie expenditure. But good pizza is on par with manna from heaven. For good pizza, you don't need a phone, a deliveryman or anything that rhymes with "Ominos." What you do need:
1. A pizza stone.
2. A pizza peel.
3. A decent dough recipe -- the interwebs are teeming with them.
Directions • Once your dough is ready, don't attempt to toss. Instead, stretch and roll with an ordinary rolling pin into something that resembles a circle. Top with what you love. Don't overcheese, or all of your hard work will be for naught -- you want a crisp-chewy crust, don't you? Yes, you do. • Now, gingerly peel, and place on a very hot stone (you will have preheated the hell out of it, as high as your oven will crank). When it's done, the pizza will tell you. Think brown, think crisp, think aromatic. • Like anything, practice makes perfect, but once you've mastered it, no more wasted calories.
The best cooks never waste. Vegetable peelings, chicken bones, bits, ends and scraps -- flavor can be coaxed out of all of these, and doing so makes a satisfying cycle out of mealtime. When you trim away celery leaves, into a pot they go, along with bones you've pulled from a rotisserie bird, the ends of a diced onion, stray herbs, etc. After a few days of collecting this stuff in the fridge, cover it with fresh, cool, filtered water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to the lowest simmer possible. Let it ride for a couple of hours. Strain and chill. This light stock will taste a hell of a lot better than anything in a box, can or cube. It will be the basis for soups, sauces and all sorts of creations you never knew you needed to make, until now. MECCA BOS
Why leave the house for beer runs when you could just make your own? For $50 to $170, homebrew hub Northern Brewer sells starter kits that make brewing accessible even for aspiring beermakers who flunked chemistry class. Ready-to-brew recipe packs like the popular Caribou Slobber (a knockoff of Big Sky's Moose Drool) range from $25 to $50, but the feeling of getting buzzed off your own handcrafted beer is priceless. Better beer is always in season, so keep on brewin' into the spring thaw.
Info: Northern Brewer, 6021 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. 612-843-4444 or www.northernbrewer.com.
QUANTITY IS KING
In style-cramping, subfreezing temperatures, social settings are often determined by who has the most host-friendly home -- so a fully stocked bar is a strong selling point. With an apocalypse-readying liquor-store raid, you can make your friends come to you during the frigid months. Newly opened booze warehouse Liquor Boy has its 10,000-square-foot space packed with all the alcohol needed to lure your buds, and its bargain-centric business model will leave you with enough cash to keep the heat cranked.
Info: Liquor Boy, 5620 Cedar Lake Rd., St. Louis Park. 952-512-2200 or www.liquor-boy.com.
HOT DRINKS AT HOME
• Every cold night deserves a hot drink, and Bailey's and coffee is a perennial belly-warming favorite. Try heating it up with a little Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka -- $20 to $22 for a 750-ml bottle at Surdyk's (303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls.) -- for that friendly glow (i.e. buzz) that a liqueur can't provide.
• Hot toddies make for an uncaffeinated but equally frost-fighting alternative: Mix tea or hot water (spiced to taste with cloves or nutmeg), a tablespoon of honey, a lemon slice and your choice of brandy, whiskey or rum for a soothing, mercury-rising cocktail. MICHAEL RIETMULDER
MUSIC + AUDIO
There's something about the warm crackle of a vinyl record that comforts your ears like a cup of hot chocolate does your stomach. So it's important for audiophiles to get their turntables in working order during snowbound season. Aside from its archive-like collection of old 78s, Vintage Music Co. specializes in repairing and refurbishing vintage turntables and sells some of its restored players. Whether you're looking to mend your existing turntable or revive that antique phonograph cabinet from Grandma's garage, Vintage Music can help.
Info: Vintage Music Co., 1820 E. 38th St., Mpls. 612-729-8929 or www.vintage musiccompany.com.
KEEP IT LOCAL - VERY LOCAL
When the roads are icy and leaving the house requires copious layering, being a local-music patron can be trying. But it's still possible to be a scene steward from your sofa. Thanks to hometown labels/distros like Modern Radio (www.modern-radio.com) and Totally Gross National Product (www. totallygrossnationalproduct.com) that offer mail-order services, you can score all the records you want without scraping off your car. Web browsing doesn't quite carry the same crate-digging charm, but hey, you're still supporting the scene, man.
PLAY THE GUITAR
Let's face it, you've always wanted to learn how to play guitar, but life (and laziness) seems to get in the way. When better to scratch it off your bucket list than when the thermometer says you're an idiot to leave the house? Scope out used startup gear at Twin Town Guitars in Minneapolis or Capitol Guitars in St. Paul and settle in for a season of annoying your neighbors. As a bonus, that winter beard will look way studlier with a guitar in your hands.
Whether you're suffering from a devastating hangover that only Montreal-style smoked meat and borscht from Rye Deli can cure, or a Malaysian craving for Malaccan spicy coconut soup and roti from Peninsula, or a peculiar desire to enjoy pan-seared foie gras from Vincent in your pajamas -- Bite Squad delivers. Literally. It is the newest food-delivery service on the block, and with its easy-to-navigate website, eco-friendly cars and a diverse compendium of menus, you need not relegate yourself to a grease-soaked cardboard and sliding-cheese shantytown for precious sustenance during Arctic season. A $3.99 minimum delivery fee and order minimums apply.
PIZZA IN UPTOWN
Winter is an excellent time to reflect on one's place in the cosmos. This can be best achieved by ordering Galactic Pizza from atop a nag champa-infused La-Z-Boy while watching "Spaceballs." Soon a cosmic superhero (cape and tights-wearing delivery dude) will emerge from a tiny space pod (electric car) and appear at your door with steaming, fresh pizza. Galactic is also legendary for its socially conscious business ethos; myriad vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options; and first-rate specialty pizzas like the tasty Paul Bunyan, which features locally sourced wild rice and free-range bison sausage. Delivery zone: Uptown.
Info: Galactic Pizza, 2917 Lyndale Av. S., 612-824-9100 or www.galacticpizza.com.
GYROS IN ST. PAUL
St. Paul bears need to hibernate, too. And if your den is south of University Avenue and west of Lexington Parkway in the capital city, then bingo! Lulu's will deliver soul-warming gyros, falafels and saffron fries as well as any desperately needed sundries (TP? Mentos?) from their neighborhood convenience store. Try Lulu's "Rucy," a tangy Middle Eastern take on the Jucy Lucy with a feta-spinach-garlic molten filling ($9). Or the "Rulu," a poutine-like concoction of lamb, chicken, onions and saffron fries, smothered in four sauces. $10 minimum order; $2 delivery fee.
Info: Lulu's Market & Deli, 1626 Selby Av., St. Paul. 651-645-2160 or www.mylulus.com.KAT KLUEGEL
HOME ALONE: 5 HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS YOU CAN BANG
1. Heating pad. Warming gels can contain chemicals that irritate skin. Use a heating pad to get the blood flowing, then rub your way to bliss.
2. Workout ball. Big, bouncy exercise balls and firmer medicine balls have other uses, too. Pump some bass-heavy music for a little vibration.
3. Flax seeds. Whip up a batch of homemade lube. Boil two cups of water, then add 2.5 tablespoons of flaxseed. Simmer until water reduces by half and strain.
4. Banana. It's basic math. Unpeeled banana + condom = dildo. Banana peel + 10 seconds in the microwave = warm sleeve.
5. Cocktail muddler. Wrap in condom, insert, enjoy. Screw home mixology.COUPLES: KEEP IT HOT WHEN IT'S COLD
Sometimes evolution sucks. Thanks to our ancestors' hibernation patterns, body functions slow down in winter, including libido. Add a little seasonal affective disorder to the mix and any otherwise happily cohabitating couple can become frigid, insufferable grumps. Keep breakup threats at bay with home play dates that include sunny snowball fights (to soak up vitamin D) and cooking healthy, protein-rich dinners together (eggs, legumes, cheese and avocados are serotonin boosters). Leave your socks on for sex; a Dutch study found women 30 percent more likely to orgasm with warm feet. Some good news: We actually find each other more attractive in cold weather. Seeing too much skin in the summer can make us critical of appearances, so we're less likely to see flaws in the winter.DATING: HOME SEDUCTION STRATEGY
Every true blue Minnesotan has three things in their closet: a humidifier, a heating pad and a set of flannel sheets. While these items don't exactly scream "SEX," they can be useful in convincing your date to disrobe when spending a night in. Turn your living room into a massage room by arranging the sofa cushions on the floor, draping flannel sheets over them and tucking a heating pad inside. Run the humidifier all day and crank the heat to 76 degrees before your date arrives. Use coconut oil; it melts in your hands and warms up to body temperature nicely. Finally, make sure the music is not just relaxing, but soft enough that you can be heard whispering your deviant plans for when massage time is over.ALEXIS MCKINNIS
MOVIES + TVNAVIGATING NETFLIX
Your $7.99 Netflix subscription fee is a passport to a tantalizing world of vegging the hell out. The Netflix Instant streaming service -- available on through video game consoles, digital media receivers and online -- is an ever-deepening reservoir of requisite viewing. Here's where to start.
Movies: Sure, there's some choice newer stuff -- comic Mike Birbiglia's NPR-approved biopic "Sleepwalk With Me," one-percenter recession documentary "The Queen of Versailles," Liam Neeson's wolf thriller "The Grey." But the depth of older titles is the real draw, including Italian classic "The Bicycle Thief," Roman Polanski's neo-noir hallmark "Chinatown" and the Coen Brothers' breakout 1987 comedy "Raising Arizona." Any movie fan worth his or her salt has to experience "Paper Moon," "The Graduate," "Reservoir Dogs"... it just keeps on going. Pro streamers should consult www.instantwatcher.com, a top-notch resource that sorts titles by loads of categories, including Rotten Tomatoes' "Freshness" rating. Pretty much every Ken Burns doc is at your disposal (if you feel like gleaning knowledge in 15-hour blocks).
TV shows: Ah, the ultimate time usurper. Nothing spurs a veg-sesh quite like the serial nature of TV shows, and there's plenty to be had. If we are, in fact, living in a new Golden Age of television, get to the meat of it with series such as "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "Downton Abbey" -- you'll finally fit in at the water cooler! Comedy buffs are well served, with Garry Shandling's '90s HBO standout "The Larry Sanders Show"; Judd Apatow's masterful coming-of-age series "Freaks and Geeks"; "Arrested Development" (with a Netflix-exclusive reboot coming soon) and newer fare such as Louie C.K.'s "Louie," hipster sendup "Portlandia" and "Archer," an uproariously vulgar P.I. cartoon. Speaking of animated shows, how about "King of the Hill," "Home Movies" and "Futurama"? Throw in classics "Cheers," "The Wonder Years" and "The X-Files," and there's no reason to ever see your friends again. JAY BOLLER
GAMINGCATCH UP ON THE BEST VIDEO GAMES OF 2012
1. "Halo 4" (Xbox 360): Xbox Live support for matches with your friends and the most stunning visuals we've seen yet make "Halo 4" the best Xbox 360 exclusive you can pick up for any action gamer.
2. "New Super Mario Bros. U" (Wii U): Nintendo takes that classic "Mario" gameplay and gives it a beautiful visual makeover thanks to colorful high-definition graphics.
3. "Assassin's Creed III" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U): If you're looking for a unique backdrop for an adventure game or if you're just up for killing some redcoats, "Assassin's Creed III" fits the bill.
4. "PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale" (PlayStation 3): This game brings together all of your favorite PlayStation characters into a fun, action-packed fighter for up to four players.
5. "Call of Duty: Black Ops II" (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U and PC): When a series continues to break sales records with every new title, you know it has to be good.
6. "Nintendo Land" (Wii U): This collection of 12 mini-games starring some of your favorite Nintendo characters is an easy must-have for anyone with a Nintendo Wii U, and one of the top reasons to pick up the system.
7. "ZombiU" (Wii U): We're happy to say "ZombiU" helps us attain our undead nirvana with one of the scariest games we've ever played.
8. "Dance Central 3" (Xbox 360 with Kinect): Created by the developers behind the popular "Rock Band" series, "Dance Central 3" is all about the moves you're able to pull off.
9. "FIFA 13" (Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360): "FIFA" racks up annual sales that rival games like "Call of Duty" and "Mario" and delivers a quality soccer game that improves with every iteration.
10. "Need for Speed: Most Wanted" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3): We don't condone real-world racing, and we definitely don't condone running away from the cops, but that's why we live vicariously through video games.
JOHN BENYAMINE, USGAMER