Taking Comfort in Comfort Foods

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It’s no wonder we gain weight in winter. In the Midwest, the snow whips up frantically, the cold is painful. Reading on the couch wrapped up in the afghan seems like a good way to pass a Sunday afternoon. And what sounds good for dinner?

Yesterday, I made a tuna fish casserole with country egg noodles and real sour cream. I layered cheddar cheese, sprinkled bread crumbs with pats of butter, and the broiler sizzled a golden crust across the top. The inside of the casserole was moist, gooey and piping hot. I ate about half of the dish that the recipe said would serve six. Outside, the walkway was icy and the winds were howling. I wanted only comfort food. Full disclosure: I didn’t make any salad.

We know what we mean by “comfort food.” But we all don’t agree specifically on what it is. Wikipedia (which is a convenient resource but often misleading) includes ice cream, potato chips and chocolate as examples of comfort food. All delicious but wrong, wrong, wrong. To my mind, a comfort food must be warm (not ice cream – ok, maybe if you add hot fudge) and easily swallowed (not crunchy like potato chips). I love chocolate, but I wouldn’t qualify it as a comfort food because amount comes into play. A comfort food suggests that you should be entitled to eat a bowlful.

Comfort food invokes an element of nostalgia so it can be personal. The times you came home for lunch and your mom made you tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off? That’s comfort food.

Comfort food can be ethnic: your grandma’s sauce simmering on the stove, just made for dipping with that soft-in-the-middle Italian bread?

Comfort food makes you feel warm, happy, and emotionally satisfied. It’s full of fat and carbohydrates rather than protein or vitamin C. After a comfort food meal, it’s time for a nap.

My top ten comfort foods

Chicken Matzo ball soup

The broth should be clear. The matzo balls fluffy and big as your fist. Noodles are good in the soup, too.

Noodles

I personally love anything noodle-y. One of my favorite comfort foods is plain egg noodles with butter, cottage cheese and ketchup! Don’t knock it unless you’ve tried it.

Baked Apples

Hot from the oven with brown sugar, plump raisins and topped with heavy cream.

Bread Pudding

My sister-in-law makes a delicious bread pudding with a sugar/bourbon sauce. There’s also a bread pudding recipe that calls for chocolate chips melted into the buttery, soft bread.

Meat loaf

Put bacon and ketchup to form a nice crust along the top. Don’t get chopped meat that’s too lean. Bread and eggs make for a soft meat loaf.

Puddings.

Chocolate is preferred. But any kind of pudding eaten warm right out of the pan qualifies as comfort food.

Corn casserole

Sweetened and creamy. We’ve made this on Thanksgiving.

Mashed potatoes

With cream cheese. Sour cream. Lots of real butter.

Cheesy grits

A southern friend introduced me to this one. She served it for brunch but it’s a good side for barbecue as well.

Macaroni and cheese

This old standby, of course. Out of the box or homemade. There’s an upscale restaurant in my city that has a three-cheese mac and cheese dish that is heavenly. Macaroni and cheese is a very popular, down-home favorite, even for people who have an upscale taste in wine.

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