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Dish up some comfort

Is it the taste, nostalgia, mood or being lonely that causes one to resort to eating comfort food?

Whether it be high-fat, sugar, carbs or salt, at certain times we crave eating homestyle foods.  As I write this column, it is a cold, gray and blustery day. Easy to prepare, although not exactly gourmet, this category of food we’ve come to savor comes to the rescue.

Creamy mashed potatoes with spinach fit the bill for me on this bleak day. It’s a dish Mom and Grandma served frequently.

Depending upon the region or country you are from, what one considers comfort food varies. Brazil’s feijoada, French onion soup, Greece’s moussaka, Irish stew, Italy’s lasagna, Poland’s pierogi, United Kingdom’s fish and chips and the United States’ macaroni and cheese are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this type of connection to our food.

According to an article in The Atlantic, “The phrase ‘comfort food’ has been around at least as early as 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story…”

A feature by Bert Gambini in a University of Buffalo newsletter says: “Regardless of what you identify as comfort food, it’s likely the attraction to that dish is based on having a good relationship with the person with whom you remember first preparing it…. Comfort foods are often the foods that our caregivers gave us when we were children.”

“If we have a positive association with the person who made that food, then there’s a good chance that you will be drawn to that food during times of rejection or isolation,” says University of Buffalo psychologist Shira Gabriel.

The top five comfort foods listed in Discover Magazine (https://bit.ly/3uuiQI3) are grilled cheese, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, pizza, spaghetti and meatballs.

It goes on to say, “Ralph’s Italian Restaurant (oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S.) in South Philadelphia is recognized as having the best meatballs in the U.S.”

Check out this link, bit.ly/3OOgudJ, for a video of them being prepared.

There are myriad books devoted to comfort food and homestyle cooking. So many of these recipes celebrate American cuisine, countless handed down through the generations.

Julia Rutland, author of a book that will be available on April 16 titled “Homestyle Kitchen: Fresh & Timeless Comfort Food for Sharing” (2024, Adventure Publications, $22.99) said: “Homestyle cooking creates the type of food that embodies the warmth and familiarity of a loving home. While family and cultures differ, homestyle cooking relies on fresh ingredients, traditions, generational recipes, and comfort.”

Rutland’s hope is to inspire memories. Many of the recipes featured are from her mom’s recipe box with her own twist on them. The recipe for Wacky Cake, she mentioned, is the first recipe she ever made when she was a child. Making this cake today preserves not only the flavors but also the memories of shared meals around the table; emotionally comforting.

During an interview, Rutland used a food term I was not familiar with: “meat ‘n’ three.” Do you know what it is? Well, if you are from the South, you might. It’s a way Southern comfort food is served in many restaurants… you choose a meat (often it is meatloaf, fried chicken, country- fried steak) plus three sides from the menu.

Guess what some of the side selections might be? Mac n’ cheese, collard greens, hush puppies. My mouth is watering thinking about the meals I enjoyed in the South.

Comfort food and homestyle cooking don’t seem to be falling out of popularity. Let’s get cooking a few recipes from Rutland’s book, food that is approachable, food we cherish that brings back fond memories. One of these may be or become a dish you savor.  For the recipe for Parker House Rolls, visit https://stephenfries.com/recipes.

Even with warmer weather around the corner, I’ll still be eating mashed potatoes and spinach when I crave comfort food.

Here are come recipes from Rutland’s upcoming book.

Baked Four- Cheese Macaroni: This crispy-topped and creamy-centered macaroni and cheese features four cheeses that take the company-size side dish to the next level. (Courtesy of Adventure Publications)
Baked Four- Cheese Macaroni: This crispy-topped and creamy-centered macaroni and cheese features four cheeses that take the company-size side dish to the next level. (Courtesy of Julia Rutland)

Baked Four-Cheese Macaroni

The headnote says: “This crispy-topped and creamy-centered macaroni and cheese features four cheeses that take the company-size side dish to the next level. Use a variety of your favorite cheeses — smoked Gouda is lovely! Grate from large pieces rather than buying packaged shredded cheese because those contain starches that keep them from clumping and melting well. It’s okay to skip the topping and eat the dish before baking, but you’ll miss the golden-brown crust. Instead of panko, feel free to try cheese crackers as a variation.”

Serves 8-10

Ingredients:

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gouda, provolone or Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup (2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese

½ cup salted butter

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

2 cups milk or half-and-half

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, cut into pieces

1 (16-ounce) package macaroni, penne, or other short pasta

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease (with butter) a 9-by-13-inch (3-quart) baking dish. Toss cheddar, Gouda, and Parmesan together in a small bowl. Reserve ½ cup shredded cheese mixture.

Melt butter in a large skillet or saucepan. Whisk in flour, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Cook, whisking constantly, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in broth and milk until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cream cheese; cook until smooth. Stir in all but reserved 1/2 cup shredded cheese mixture; cook, stirring frequently, until smooth.

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and transfer to prepared baking dish.

Pour sauce over pasta, stirring until well blended. Stir panko into reserved ½ cup cheese mixture; sprinkle over pasta mixture. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

This Chicken Divan's origin is said to come from the Divan Parisien Restaurant at the Chatham Hotel in New York City sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. While many recipes use canned-soup shortcuts, this one is closer to the original with a homemade bechamel sauce. (Courtesy of Adventure Publications)
This Chicken Divan’s origin is said to come from the Divan Parisien Restaurant at the Chatham Hotel in New York City sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. While many recipes use canned-soup shortcuts, this one is closer to the original with a homemade bechamel sauce. (Courtesy of Julia Rutland)

Chicken Divan Casserole

The headnote says: “This dish makes a comforting meal with or without a side of buttered noodles or hot cooked rice. Its origin is said to come from the Divan Parisien Restaurant at the Chatham Hotel in New York City sometime in the 1930s or 1940s, but it wasn’t likely served in a casserole form. It became wildly popular in households in the 1950s; while many recipes use canned-soup shortcuts, this one is closer to the original with a homemade béchamel sauce.”

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

6 cups broccoli florets (about ¾ pound)

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided

¾ teaspoon coarsely ground  black pepper

5 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, divided

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups chicken broth or Quick Chicken Broth (on page 44)

1 cup half-and-half or whole milk

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ cup sour cream

Cheesy Topping (recipe below)

Hot cooked pasta or rice (optional)

Directions:

Lightly grease (with butter) bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch (3-quart) baking dish.

Cook broccoli in boiling water to cover for 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. (You can also place broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl with ¼ cup water. Cover and microwave on high for 3 ½ minutes.) Drain and transfer to prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken in batches and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Transfer to baking dish.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in the same skillet (no need to wipe clean) over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and half-and-half. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in cheese, Worcestershire, cayenne pepper, remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir in sour cream. Pour sauce over chicken and broccoli.

Sprinkle Cheesy Topping evenly on top. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve over hot cooked pasta or rice, if desired.

Cheesy Topping: Combine ½ cup shredded Parmesan or cheddar cheese, ½ cup panko or fine breadcrumbs, and 2 tablespoons melted salted or unsalted butter in a bowl. Makes ¾ cup.

Originally made famous at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant, this Cobb Salad has changed little over the years. (Courtesy of Adventure Publications)
Originally made famous at Hollywood’s Brown Derby Restaurant, this Cobb Salad has changed little over the years. (Courtesy of Julia Rutland)

Cobb Salad

The headnote says: “Originally made famous at Hollywood’s Brown Derby Restaurant, this salad has changed little over the years. In 1937, owner Bob Cobb explored the kitchen one night in search of a snack. He pulled out various ingredients from the refrigerator and created a hearty salad that he shared with his friend Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Grauman returned the next day and asked for a ‘Cobb salad.’ The Cobb salad is a favorite on menus today. Off season, endive and watercress might be tricky to find in markets. Substitute easily found spring salad mix instead.”

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 small head Romaine lettuce, chopped

½ head iceberg lettuce, chopped

1 small bunch curly endive, chopped

½ bunch watercress

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 cups diced cooked chicken breasts

6 bacon strips, cooked and chopped

3 hard-cooked eggs, diced

1 ripe avocado, diced

½ cup crumbled Roquefort or blue cheese

French Vinaigrette Dressing (recipe below)

Directions:

Combine Romaine, iceberg, endive, watercress and chives in a large salad bowl, mixing well. Place on a serving platter or on individual salad plates. Arrange tomatoes, chicken, bacon, eggs, and avocado in strips across salad greens. Sprinkle with cheese. Drizzle with French Vinaigrette Dressing.

French Vinaigrette Dressing: Combine ¼ cup water, ¾  teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar, ¼  cup red wine vinegar, 1 ½  teaspoons lemon juice, ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and 1 minced garlic clove in a bowl. Whisk in 3/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Blend well just before serving. Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 ½ cups.

Named for their creation in the 1870s at the Parker House hotel in Boston, these rolls differ from regular yeast rolls in that they are folded into layers, brushed with butter and baked close together. (Courtesy of Adventure Publications)
Named for their creation in the 1870s at the Parker House hotel in Boston, these rolls differ from regular yeast rolls in that they are folded into layers, brushed with butter and baked close together. (Courtesy of Julia Rutland)

To see the recipe for Parker House Rolls, visit https://stephenfries.com/recipes.

Stephen Fries is professor emeritus and former coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Conn. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for the past 16 years and is co-founder of and host of “Worth Tasting,” a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven. He is a board member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email him at Stephen@stephenfries.com. For more, go to stephenfries.com.


Source: Berkshire mont

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