With the holidays behind us, cold weather finally setting in and 73 long, cold days until spring, a little comfort food is called for. Something hot that tastes like home and nourishes body and soul.
Whether a slow cooker gently perfumes the house overnight, soup simmers on the stove for hours on the weekend or a chicken casserole, a beef roast or even some stuffed baked potatoes bake in the oven, food like this can make the long winter nights a little cozier.
Newlyweds Lois Draughn and Bob West are trying to reduce sodium in their diets to ensure that their life together is a long one. Lois says that her chicken soup with vegetables and wild rice is very low in sodium except for the Rotels but “the spice in the Rotels do give it enough kick to be tasty.” The soup also freezes well so that even a family of two can have a big pot of soup simmering on the stove.
Dexter Spicer makes his famous chicken casserole on the weekend and then has plenty left over to eat during the coming week or to take to work for lunch. Definitely a cure for the “Sad Desk Lunch.”
No discussion of comfort food is complete without mentioning Chicken Pot Pie. A nice basic recipe follows that uses pre-made pastry for speed and ease of preparation.
Comfort food should be affordable. Chuck roast, one of the more economical cuts of beef, is juicy and tender after braising very slowly in the oven in a bottle of red wine. It goes without saying that an expensive bottle of wine is not required. Use the cheap stuff. Just steer clear of “cooking wine.” It’s way too salty.
So fire up the stove and get comfortable.
Lois’s Chicken Vegetable Soup
This is a really hearty soup and it freezes really well. I serve with toasted whole grain bread drizzled with olive oil.
1 large onion
3 celery stalks
3 cloves garlic
2 boxes low sodium chicken broth (+ additional broth, optional)
1 roasted chicken
1 can salt-free diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can black beans (rinsed)
1 cup frozen corn
3/4 cup wild rice
Dice and sauté in olive oil: one large onion, 3-4 carrots, 3 celery stalks and 3 cloves garlic. Add one box low sodium chicken broth. Debone one (Lowes Foods brand) roasted chicken, shred the meat with fingers.
Add one can salt free diced tomatoes, one can Rotel tomatoes, one can black beans (rinsed), one cup frozen corn, 3/4 cup wild rice, another box of chicken broth and sometimes an extra can of broth. Simmer slowly for a couple of hours.
Dexter’s Chicken Casserole
3-med. to lg. chicken breast cooked and diced
(Anyway you want to cook it. I fry mine, baked or grilled.)
2 tbsp. oil
½ onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 stalk/bunch of broccoli, cut up and steamed—still a little firm
¼ head of cauliflower, cut up and steamed—still a little firm
(Broccoli and cauliflower will cook more in the oven.)
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 soup cans of milk
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups Colby jack cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup bacon bits
2 slices whole wheat bread (or any that you have is fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large frying pan, add oil, onions and celery and cook til tender and edges are brown. In a medium size bowl, combine the soup, 2 soup cans of milk, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Whisk til smooth. Add to frying pan and stir. After that is good and hot, add the Colby jack cheese and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese til melted and creamy. Add the chicken, bacon bits, broccoli and cauliflower to the frying pan and fold in. In a food processor, tear up the 2 slices of bread and add the other ¼ cup parmesan cheese and process til medium fine bread crumbs. Pour contents of frying pan into a casserole dish and top with bread crumb mixture. Put into oven and bake til top is golden brown. 4 larges servings.
Chicken Pot Pie
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cubed
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup frozen green peas
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk
2 (9 inch) unbaked pie crusts
Preheat oven to 425°F. In a saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, peas, and celery. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside. In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions in butter until soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Braised Beef with Red Wine
5 pounds beef chuck roast
1 large onion, roughly chopped into medium-size chunks
3 carrots, roughly chopped into medium-size chunks
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped into medium-size chunks
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 bottle red wine
¼ cup cognac
dried herbs of your choice (bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, parsley)
2 quarts beef stock
¼ cup tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Horseradish crème (recipe below)
Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Pat the beef dry with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan and, working in batches, brown the meat on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Remove the browned beef and set aside on a plate.
In the same pan over medium-high heat, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables start to gain color, about 2 minutes. Add the red wine, cognac, and dried herbs of your choice, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate the meat scraps and juices. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, 30 minutes or more. Stir in the veal stock and tomato paste. Lower the head to medium low, and simmer again until thickened, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 300°F.. Remove the pan from the heat, and place the pre-seared meat in a deep Dutch oven, and pour the wine mixture over it. Cover the pot, and place it in the heated oven for 3 to 4 hours, until the meat is very tender and easily comes apart with a fork.
Remove the pot from the oven and let cool, partially covered on the counter (until it’s cool to the touch if you’re storing it, or for 30 minutes or less if you’re serving it immediately). Remove the meat from the braising liquid with a slotted spoon, and set it aside in a deep serving dish. Discard any bay leaves. Strain the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, and pour it over the beef.
If you’re serving the dish immediately, set it in a warm place on the stove until you’re ready to eat. If you’d like to warm it more, do so over medium heat until the liquid barely simmers (you don’t want to scorch it). Ladle a portion of beef onto each plate, and top with the sauce and a dollop of horseradish crème.
½ cup sour cream
2 to 3 tbsp. grated fresh horseradish (prepared horseradish may be used as a substitution; add to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Splash of lemon juice
Mix all the ingredients together in a medium-size bowl until everything is well incorporated. Adjust flavors to taste. You can make this a few days in advance and keep it in the refrigerator.
Pepperoni-Pizza Baked Potatoes
4 large baking potatoes, washed, patted dry, pierced all over with a sharp knife
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 med. onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup sliced pepperoni rounds (about 1 3/4 oz.)
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Rub potatoes with 1/2 Tbsp. oil, then sprinkle with salt. Place potatoes on a paper towel and microwave until just tender, about 10 minutes, turning halfway through. Transfer potatoes to baking sheet. Bake until skins are crisp, about 15 minutes. Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion and mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in pepperoni, tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Remove potatoes from oven. Place oven rack 5 inches from heat source; preheat broiler. Carefully cut a slit in top of each potato; squeeze ends to open. Fluff inside of potato with a fork. Divide pepperoni mixture among potatoes; top with mozzarella. Broil until cheese is melted and starting to brown, approximately 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Eggplant & Chickpea Slow Cooker Stew
Serve over quinoa or soft polenta with sautéed spinach on the side.
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups hot water
2 large eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large onions, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1 small (1-inch) cinnamon stick
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup dried chickpeas, rinsed and soaked overnight
1 28-oz. can tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine dried mushrooms and hot water in a bowl. Stir well and let stand for 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve lined with a paper towel and set the liquid aside. Finely chop the mushrooms. Meanwhile, peel eggplants, if desired, and cut in half lengthwise. Brush the cut sides liberally with 2 tablespoons oil. Place on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side down, and roast until tender, about 25 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut into 1-inch cubes and transfer to a 4-quart (or larger) slow cooker. Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 3 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, cinnamon stick, salt, pepper, bay leaf and the chopped mushrooms; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the reserved mushroom-soaking liquid and chickpeas. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker and stir to combine with the eggplant. Cover and cook until the chickpeas are very tender, about 4 hours on High or 7 to 8 hours on Low. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Stir in tomatoes and parsley.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.