As the weather turns cooler, our minds turn to comfort foods: hot, cheesy, feel-good foods. When we think of comfort foods, it usually includes a smell, doesn’t it? Meat roasting, cheese browning. Interestingly, your idea of what’s comfort food may depend on where you grew up and where your ancestors were from. Some of us may think a burger on the grill or a piece of apple pie is the ultimate comfort food, whereas others may consider it something a little more exotic like pierogis, bouillabaisse or bangers and mash. Comfort food is the food of your childhood — the food you ate growing up, no matter where you grew up!
I used to be in a supper club with friends who enjoyed food and loved getting together and trying new things. The hosts would take turns choosing a theme for our dinner and assigning recipes for us to bring and share. One month, we decided to “go Retro.” I can’t remember whether the assignment was “Comfort Food,” “Favorite Childhood Dish” or “Your Mama’s Best” recipes, but let me tell you, the food was delicious! Chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, a wicked chocolate cake and all kinds of other treats made for some memorable choices at dinner that night.
Comfort foods are great for company, there’s nothing better than guests arriving to a home that smells like home! When hosting guests, it’s important that you are not in the kitchen finishing the food or cleaning up for the entire party. Luckily, comfort foods tend to be do-ahead dishes like roasts, casseroles, soups and stews. And, with today’s array of fabulous and fresh groceries, it’s easy to think of luxe upgrades to your Mother’s old fashioned recipes.
It’s also easy to upgrade Mom’s food visually with fresh herbs sprinkled on top (fresh herbs certainly were not in my mom’s cooking repertoire!). In addition to that, beautiful oven-to-table casserole serving dishes are available, some even with iron or wicker holders for an attractive presentation. For soups and stews, update your serving style with individual bowls featuring wide rims. Balance a beautiful toasted crostini dusted with parsley and parmesan across the bowl for a restaurant-worthy presentation.
Sit back, think of the things you grew up eating, update and try them again! Better yet, I’ve written a few of my childhood favorites for you- Happy Cooking!
Updated Beef Stroganoff (Serves 4-6)
Change the beef from the cheapest cut to the best cut, update the mushrooms from canned to fresh and wild and it can’t help but become an updated classic in your house!
2 pounds trimmed beef tenderloin, cut into one inch cubes, salted and peppered to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, cut in half, then sliced
1 clove garlic
1 pound wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups low sodium beef broth
3 tablespoon sherry
1 cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
12 ounces wide egg noodles
4 tablespoons butter, divided
chopped fresh parsley
Season beef with salt and fresh ground pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté beef quickly on each side, about 4 minutes total. Remove from stove to rest on a nearby plate.
In the same skillet, add and heat 2 more tablespoons oil. Sauté onions for two minutes, until they begin to soften. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook for five more minutes. Add broth and sherry and scrape pan to get all the little brown bits incorporated into the sauce. Add the crème fraiche and Dijon mustard and cook until the sauce has thickened. Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Cook’s Note: you can prepare the dish to this point to set aside and finish later.
Boil the noodles according to packet directions. Drain and toss with 2 tablespoons butter.
Reheat sauce over low heat, adding meat and any juices that have accumulated. Heat for 3-4 minutes until meat it heated through. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and swirl to incorporate. Mound noodles on a plate and top with beef and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately!
Spicy Lemongrass Mussels (serves 2-4)
Mussels with white wine are a standard French comfort food. The mussels are as good as the broth with bread for dipping! This recipe is updated with Southeast Asian flavors, certainly not your mom’s mussels, even if you are French!
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, discard the tough outer leaves and chop the lighter yellow section
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1 cup clam juice or fish stock
2 pounds mussels (cleaned and de-bearded)
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Heat oil in a stock pot. Sauté ginger, jalapeño, lemongrass and garlic for one minute, until fragrant. Add coconut milk and fish stock. Cook’s Note: you can prepare the dish to this point to set aside and finish later. Heat mixture to boiling; add mussels and cover. Cook for 8 minutes or until mussels open. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro.
Serving suggestion: serve with crusty toasted bread for dipping in the flavorful broth.
Your favorite pound cake (purchased or prepared), slice two half-inch pieces per guest
Best quality vanilla ice cream
Homemade caramel sauce
Spread half of the pound cake slices with 2-4 tablespoons Nutella and leave the other half of the slices plain. Transfer all to a baking sheet. Cook’s Note: you can prepare the dish to this point to set aside and finish later.
Preheat broiler. Cook cake slices for 3-4 minutes, until they begin to brown. Flip a plain slice onto each chocolaty slice and prepare one plate per sandwich. Add a scoop of softened ice cream, top with caramel sauce and serve.
Homemade Caramel Sauce
(makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, cut in 4 pieces
In a medium heavy saucepan, mix sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook over low heat until mixture becomes clear and sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium-high, bring to a boil and cook without stirring for about 7-8 minutes, until the mixture becomes a medium-dark amber hue. Be brave, the mixture will bubble furiously! And don’t worry, the final sauce will be much lighter in color. Remove from heat, add cream and butter. Cool.