Comfort Food

PictureA good friend of mine is going through a tough time. His sister is in the hospital and he and his family are beside themselves with worry. A friend stopped by the hospital to visit. When he entered the room he announced “I have cookie dough and spoons!” Can you imagine the smiles on the family’s faces as they accepted their spoons? I know that would bring an instant smile to my face.

Food can definitely be as good as a hug on a bad day. There is that special kind of food known as comfort food that instantly makes everything a little bit better with one bite. Comfort food can be sweet or savory, heavy and greasy, or light as air. But it is always a dish that reminds you of good things like home, a celebration, or a favorite time of year. It is often different things to different people. But it always makes you feel better.

PictureWhen most people hear “comfort food” in relation to a restaurant, they immediately think heavy, winter or cold weather food. I recently went to a restaurant (Haute Dish – Minneapolis check out their Fall menu!) that describes itself as a comfort food restaurant and the food was most certainly on the heavier side. The dish I order was their Duck in a Can (see picture). It was what I would describe as a hug in food form. The dish comes to the table with a slice of french bread spread with a root veg puree. The server opens the can and upends it over the bread. Out comes cabbage and carrots that have been prepared sous vide in the can with a duck breast and lobe of foie gras in a decadent duck-infused jus. Talk about a hug in food form!

Pic by Mark Thomas

When I get in the mood for comfort food, I typically go for traditional southern fare – collard greens, fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese… But I have to say, a nice roast with mashed potatoes or polenta to soak up the gravy would work too. I think everyone should know how to make a roast (just like everyone should know how to roast a chicken). Here’s an easy recipe that’s guaranteed to satisfy.

Red Wine Pot Roast with Porcini
6 servings

1 cup low-sodium chicken or beef broth
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (shitakes work well too) or more to taste
1 4-lb boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks with some leaves, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tbsp chopped fresh marjoram plus sprigs for garnish
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
1 cup dry red wine

1.  Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring broth to simmer in saucepan. Remove from heat; add mushrooms, cover, and let stand until soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to cutting board. Chop coarsely. Reserve mushrooms and broth separately.

2.  Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer beef to large plate. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from pot. Place pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, chopped marjoram, and reserved porcini mushrooms; saute 1 minute. Using hands, crush tomatoes, 1 at a time, into pot. Cook 3 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Add wine; boil 5 minutes. Add reserved mushroom broth, leaving any sediment behind. Boil 5 minutes.

3.  Return beef and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover; transfer to oven. Cook 1 1/2 hours. Turn beef and continue cooking until tender, about 1 1/2 hours longer. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cool. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

4.  Transfer beef to cutting board; tent with foil. Spoon fat from surface of juices in pot. Bring juices to boil; cook until liquid is reduced to 4 cups, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a bowl.

5.  Cut beef into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer to platter. Spoon juices over, garnish with marjoram sprigs, and serve.

PictureIf your comfort food of choice is something sweet, I think we would all agree that bread pudding (without raisins) is pretty comforting. (Maybe only I think that, but after you try this bread pudding you will agree.) I thought twice about sharing this recipe because it is so special. But everyone could use a good hug, so consider this a big ole hug from yours truly.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce
Yields 9 HUGE servings.

32 oz French bread (~4 cups), dried overnight in a covered container
1 cup milk
1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp (15 oz) granulated sugar, divided
2 3/4 cups (22 oz) heavy cream
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
9 egg yolks
2 1/4 cups (18 oz) white chocolate pieces
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter

Whiskey Sauce
2 1/4 cups (18 oz) butter
4 1/2 cups (36 oz) granulated sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup (12 oz) Jim Beam bourbon

1. Cut French bread into 1-inch cubes. Heat oven to 350 F.

2. Beat yolks and 11/4 cups (10 oz) sugar. In pan, heat milk, remaining sugar (5 oz), heavy cream, vanilla over medium heat, whisking constantly. As mixture begins to boil, turn down heat. Add 2 (1/2 cup) ladles of milk mixture to egg mixture in bowl and whisk. (This brings
temperature of yolks up so that they won’t curdle.)

3. Add egg mixture to rest of pan mixture. Stir 5-7 minutes. Stir in white chocolate until smooth. Pour over bread. Let set 4 hours, to make sure liquid soaks into bread.

4. Place bread in buttered 10-by-12-by-2-inch baking pan. Cover with layer of plastic food service film, then top with foil. Place baking pan inside larger lipped pan. Pour in water to come up halfway around sides of bread-filled pan. Bake 45 minutes. Cool.

5. For sauce, beat eggs. Melt butter in heavy-bottomed pan. Add sugar. Heat to simmering. Do not allow to boil. Add bourbon, stirring. Continue cooking 2-3 minutes until bubbles begin forming around edges of pan. Add 2 (1/4-oz) ladles of bourbon mixture to beaten eggs to bring the eggs up to temperature. Add all of beaten egg mixture to bourbon mixture, whipping constantly. When incorporated, strain.

Hugs can make everything better, even when they're with food instead of arms.

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