Comfort Food 101
Have you ever noticed how troubles seem to come in groups? Some say in threes, some say more than that. It struck me recently that several people I know seem to be going through rough patches right now – at home, at work, with children, grandchildren, with health, with simply making ends meet.
So what’s the best way to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life? I say, when the going gets tough, the tough get into the kitchen to make some comfort food!
Comfort food can mean something different to everyone, but there seems to be some fairly wide agreement (at least in the U.S.): mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, stew…things that are warm and hearty seem to fit the bill when we need food that satisfies not just our stomachs, but our souls.
Here are some dinners even a beginning cook can make quickly and easily, to help smooth out a rough day. Watch for a separate article with some easy desserts that provide home-style comfort.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 can cream of mushroom soup
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon mustard
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 cups hot cooked elbow macaroni (shells or rotini would also work fine)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 can (2.8 ounces) French fried onions
Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix soup, milk, mustard, pepper, pasta, and 1 ½ cups cheddar cheese in a 1 ½ -quart casserole dish. Bake until hot, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir gently. Sprinkle with French fried onion rings and remaining half-cup of cheese. Bake 2 – 5 more minutes, or until onions are golden.
I know these aren’t, in and of themselves, a meal. But for many people, mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food. With this recipe, you can make them anytime without resorting to the instant kind, which do absolutely nothing to feed the soul.
4 medium-sized baking potatoes (russet or Idaho potatoes)
1 clove garlic (optional)
¼ cup milk (approximately)
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
Peel potatoes and cut into 1 ½-inch chunks. Place in large saucepan with lid. If using garlic, peel and add to pan. Cover potatoes with cold water, and boil until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. To check doneness, stick a fork into a chunk. If the potato is tender and falls apart, it’s done. Drain water off potatoes and, using a potato masher, mash until smooth, adding milk as needed until the desired consistency is reached. (If you like very smooth potatoes, use a ricer — but not an electric mixer. That will only make the potatoes gummy.) Stir in butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Any leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.
This is not my recipe, but is from another Mary I know who is a wonderful home cook. This, along with mashed potatoes, may be the ultimate comfort meal. Leftover meatloaf makes a great “comfort food” sandwich!
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
3 slices white bread, lightly toasted and cut into ¼ inch cubes
1 packet Lipton’s Beefy Onion Soup mix
1 can condensed tomato soup (or 1 cup ketchup)
1 finely chopped onion
Preheat oven to 350°. Have a 9 x 13-inch pan placed on the counter. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together. (This is actually easiest using your hands rather than a spoon or spatula.) Form the mixture into a loaf in the 9 x 13 pan, leaving at least an inch of space between the meatloaf and the sides of the pan.
Bake for 50 minutes; spoon off excess fat into an empty can or container (do not pour down drain). Continue baking at least another 10 minutes, or until done (slice to make sure loaf is cooked through and no longer raw in the middle). Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing.
So named because you can put it in the oven…and go away for a while.
1 ½ pounds chuck steak, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
½ cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)
½ cup red wine (optional)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Combine all ingredients in a dutch oven or large, oven-proof pot with a lid. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Check to make sure meat is tender and cook without a lid for a few minutes more to evaporate any excess liquid. This is wonderful served with hot bread or rolls to mop up the juices.