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THAT'S WHAT COMFORT FOODS ARE ... ... MMM, MMM, GOOD.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

When times are tough, and people are overcome by sorrow, pain and anxiety, they often turn to comfort foods. There's something soothing about old friends like beef stew, meat loaf, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, bread or rice pudding, gingerbread and more that makes us feel better.

Comfort foods offer therapy and relief for cooks, and console diners who gather round the table. These are familiar, nostalgia-laden dishes that are warm, hearty and filling. They vary from person to person, family to family, cook to cook and culture to culture, depending on how, when and where you grew up. Memories, events, past associations, tastes and smells all play a role.

In his ``The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink,'' John F. Mariani describes comfort food as ``any food that a person considers to put him at ease, often as part of nostalgia for a favored childhood food. Often it is of a soft consistency, like mashed potatoes.''

In her book ``Comfort Food'' (1986), Sue Kreitzman writes: ``(Comfort foods) don't take us back to the womb but to the period shortly thereafter when we were safely cradled and gently fed. Fragrant, gutsy stews, thick chunky soups and bubbling gratins make us feel safe, warm and well protected from the raging elements. Old-fashioned desserts that contain plenty of texture and temperature contrasts help us surrender to sensual pleasure and so forget the stresses of a sometimes cruel world.''

Brian Wansink, a University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) marketing professor, led a survey of 1,005 consumers throughout the country last year in which both men and women selected ice cream as their favorite comfort food, but then differed greatly with women naming chocolate and cookies as their second- and third-favorite choices, and men naming soup and pizza or pasta.

``With the exception of ice cream, males generally claim they received more comfort from hot meals and from main meals than do females,'' reported Wansink.

Comfort food preferences also differed with age, with those 18 to 34 preferring ice cream and cookies, those 35 to 54 opting for soup and pizza or pasta, and those older than 55 favoring soup and mashed potatoes.

Past associations (between foods and people or important events) and personality identification were the top reasons for associating certain foods with comfort. ``In all instances,'' Wansink said, ``the feelings evoked were underlying factors in the drive toward consumption.''

So whatever your notion of comfort food, dig out those favorite, memorable old-time recipes and head for a cozy session in the kitchen. It'll warm your heart and soul - and maybe give you, your family and friends a little comfort in these unsettling times.

And just in case you can't locate those traditional recipes, we've included a few here to get you started. Tweak and vary the spices, herbs and flavors as you like.

CHICKEN A LA KING

3 tablespoons butter OR margarine

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 cup chopped onions

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon EACH salt and paprika

3 cups (two 12-fluid-ounce cans) evaporated milk

3 large egg yolks, beaten

2 cups chopped, cooked chicken

2 tablespoons diced pimento OR roasted red pepper (optional)

2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)

10 refrigerated biscuits, baked according to package directions OR 5 slices bread,toasted

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, bell pepper and onions; cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 minutes, or until tender but not brown. Stir in flour, salt and paprika. Gradually add evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil.

Whisk 1 cup thickened sauce into egg yolks; pour back into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just comes to a boil; stir in chicken, pimento and sherry. Heat through. Serve immediately over hot biscuits or toast slices. Makes 5 servings.

SLOPPY JOES

1 pound lean ground beef

3 slices bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces

1 onion, chopped

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 1/4 cups water

1 (1 1/4-ounce) envelope sloppy Joe seasoning mix

6 to 8 hamburger buns, toasted

In a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, cook ground beef, bacon and onion until beef loses its redness; drain off excess fat. Add remaining ingredients except hamburger buns. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve between toasted buns. Makes 6 to 8 sandwiches.

TACO CASSEROLE

1 pound lean ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

1 cup thick and smooth taco sauce

3/4 cup water

1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles

1 (1.25-ounce) package taco seasoning mix

1 package (12) taco shells, broken OR use tortilla chips

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mild Cheddar cheese

Chopped tomatoes, sliced green onions and dairy sour cream for garnish

Grease an 11x7-inch baking dish. Cook beef and onion in a large skillet until beef is browned; drain off excess fat. Stir in taco sauce, water, chiles and seasoning mix; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes.

Layer 1/2 of broken shells on bottom of prepared baking dish. Cover with 1/2 of meat mixture; sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is melted. Garnish as desired. Makes 8 servings.

THREE-MUSHROOM MEATLOAF

MEATLOAF:

2 teaspoons butter

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

8 ounces assorted wild OR button mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

3/4 cup soft bread crumbs

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon pepper

PEPPER GRAVY:

1 teaspoon butter

1/2 cup diced red, yellow OR green bell pepper

1 (12-ounce) jar beef gravy

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed

To prepare Meatloaf, in a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons butter over medium heat until hot. Add onion. Cook and stir 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic. Cook and stir 6 to 8 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, egg, salt, 3/4 teaspoon thyme, pepper and mushroom mixture; mix lightly but thoroughly.

On rack in a broiler pan, shape beef mixture into an 8x4-inch loaf. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven approximately 1 1/4 hours to medium doneness (160 degree F) or until center is no longer pink and juices show no pink color.

Meanwhile prepare Pepper Gravy. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon butter over medium heat until hot. Add bell pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add gravy and thyme; heat through. Carve meatloaf into slices. Serve with gravy, if desired. Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: Instead of serving meatloaf with Pepper Gravy, glaze top of meatloaf with ketchup or barbecue sauce during the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking time.

HEARTY BEEF SOUP

1 pound lean ground beef

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, rinsed and drained

1 (13 3/4- to 14 1/2-ounce) can vegetable broth

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with garlic, basil and oregano, undrained

1/2 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, crushed, OR 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach OR escarole

Shredded Parmesan cheese

In large saucepan, brown ground beef over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking up into 3/4-inch crumbles. Pour off drippings.

Stir in beans, broth, tomatoes and herbs de Provence. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in spinach. Continue simmering 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes 4 (1 1/2-cup) servings.

NOTE: If herbs de Provence are not available, substitute a combination of 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves and 1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed.

BLACK BEAN CHILI

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 (14 1/2- to 16-ounce) cans Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup prepared steak sauce

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons chili powder

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Sliced green onions, dairy sour cream and shredded Cheddar cheese for top

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Cook and stir beef in 4 batches; brown evenly. Pour off drippings. Return all beef to pan. Season with salt.

Stir in tomatoes, steak sauce, water, chili powder and red pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low. Cover tightly and simmer gently 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender. Stir in beans; heat through. Serve with toppings as desired. Makes 8 (1-cup) servings.

CHICKEN AND DUMPLINGS

CHICKEN:

1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces and skin removed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, trimmed and sliced

1 small onion, chopped

Water

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth

4 carrots, sliced

2 large celery ribs, diced

1 cup frozen green peas

DUMPLINGS:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup half-and-half

To make Chicken, sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Shake flour, 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning and chicken in a bag to coat.

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 of chicken; reduce heat to medium and cook until well browned. Set aside. Repeat with remaining chicken. Discard drippings. Cook leeks and onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add enough water to broth to equal 2 1/2 cups; pour into pan. Add chicken, carrots and celery along with remaining 1/2 teaspoon EACH salt and poultry seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes, until chicken is tender. Stir in peas.

To make Dumplings, combine flour, parsley, baking powder and salt. Add half-and-half; stir until dough is moistened. Drop 8 heaping tablespoons of dough into pot. Cover and simmer 12 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in a dumpling comes out clean. Makes 4 servings.

From Ladies Home Journal, February 2001.

EASY OVEN STEW

1/4 cup flour

Seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

2 pounds beef round OR chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 small onions, quartered

4 small carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 small potatoes, pared and halved

1 cup sliced celery

1 cup water

2 (6-ounce) OR 1 (12-ounce) can tomato paste

In a plastic bag, combine flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt, pepper and paprika. Drop in beef, a portion at a time; shake until coated. Mix with oil in a 3-quart casserole.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated 400-degree oven 30 minutes, stirring once. Add vegetables, water, tomato paste and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon seasoned salt. Mix well. Cover. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 1 hour 45 minutes or until done. Makes 6 servings.

QUICK CLAM CHOWDER

2 slices (about 2 ounces) thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large Spanish onion, cut into medium dice

3 tablespoon all-purpose flour

4 (6 1/2-ounce) cans minced clams (No MSG), clams and juice separated

2 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice

Water

3 medium waxy red boiling potatoes

1 large bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

Salt

Ground black OR white pepper

Fry minced bacon over medium heat in a large soup kettle until fat renders and bacon crisps, about 5 minutes. Add onion to bacon and drippings, and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add flour; stir lightly colored, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in canned and bottled clam juices and 3 cups water. Add potatoes, bay leaf and thyme and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add clams, cream and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve. Makes about 2 quarts; 6 servings.

From ``The Perfect Recipe, Getting It Right Every Time,'' by Pam Anderson.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) Soothe the soul

Turn to comfort food in these troubling times

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

(2 -- cover -- color) Meatloaf

(3 -- cover -- color) Beef stew

(4 -- cover -- color) Chicken a la King

(5 -- 7 -- color) Warn the soul with soothing fare like Chicken Tortilla Roll-Ups, left, Hearty Beef Soup, above, or Black Bean Chili, right.

(8 -- color) no caption (Meatloaf)
COPYRIGHT 2001 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Oct 3, 2001
Words:2154
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