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Comfort foods call in fall

There isn’t a good, precise definition for “comfort foods” it seems…I’ve looked.

My 1975 nutrition textbooks didn’t even contain the phrase, but we all know what it means when circumstances call for comfort food, and, oh my, there are as many comfort foods out there as there are grandmothers.

From my own non-scientific and not-too-in-depth research, I’ve found that most people consider comfort food to be any food that creates a pleasant feeling like being loved, safe, nourished, warmed, satisfied, remembered, welcome, happy or sweetly reminded of loved ones or good times, and ever safe from the outside world…or any combination of or all of the above.

Certain foods conjure up those feelings.  And, it seems to me, more so when the seasons and the time change and it’s dark at 5 o’clock!

Anything cooked in a crock pot is a comfort food in my (cook) book! There was nothing more comforting than coming home at the end of a long day to a family waiting to be fed, homework to be done, and a pile of dirty laundry than the wonderful aroma of supper warm and ready wafting through the door. That always put a smile on my face and reminded me of how thankful I was for DW and the boys.

So, here’s a feel-good menu, I’m feeling rather nostalgic, and something tasty and easy will just hit the spot and warm our souls this chilly weekend. Start with the crock pot and make French Dip sandwiches, toss a broccoli salad, bake a bag of store-bought sweet potato fries and splurge with a homemade chocolate pie for dessert.  I feel better already!

For 10 beefy French Dip sandwiches you’ll need a trimmed 3-pound chuck roast, salt and peppered on all sides, cut in half and placed in a crock pot.  Mix a 10.5 ounce can condensed French-onion soup, a 10.5 ounce can condensed beef consommé and 10.5 ounces beef broth with 1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules or one cube; and pour over roast.  Cook covered on low for 6 – 8 hours.  Check after 6 hours for doneness; do not let it over cook. When done, remove meat from crock.

Now here’s the secret to a good French dip: pour the broth into a saucepan, straining out any particles.  Add 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce and about ¼ cup sherry and let simmer for about 45 minutes to make a deep, richly flavored dipping sauce. In the meantime, shred the roast with 2 forks and place in a container to keep warm, sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir in about ¼ cup of the dipping sauce to keep it moist. Serve shredded beef on split sandwich rolls with individual bowls of the dipping sauce.

For the broccoli salad: you’ll need about 5 cups of flowerets, rinsed and drained in a colander then on paper towels to absorb any excess water.  Do this the beforehand to let the broccoli chill until you’re ready to put the salad together.  I like a tangy sauce, so I use equal portions, ½ cup or so, of vinegar (either apple cider or white vinegar) and low-fat Duke’s mayonnaise and about ¼ cup sugar, mixed until creamy. Place broccoli in serving bowl and add 8 cooked and crumbled slices of bacon, ½ cup chopped white onion, ½ cup chopped pecans, about 1 tablespoon salted sunflower seeds, ½ cup craisins, and ½ cup shredded and chopped carrots (use pre-shredded carrots and chop them up a little more to make smaller pieces). Toss and chill until serving time.  I love the combination of flavors and textures and the tanginess of the vinegar wakes up your taste buds between bites of the beefy sandwich.

But, use caution: comfort foods can be hazardous to your health.  Too much of a good thing adds too many extra calories and cause weight gain which leads to increased blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, joint pain, and even increased risks of cancers and other problems.  Comfort food should make us feel better, not guilty. The solution is to not over eat and to share to comfort others.

Now, the pie.

Recipe of the Week

Chocolate Meringue Pie

Surely you know someone who would enjoy a comforting piece of pie!

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

⅛ teaspoon salt

¼ cup cocoa

3 egg yolks, beaten

3 cups low fat or skim milk

1 ½ tablespoons butter or margarine

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 baked 9-inch pastry shell

3 egg whites, at room temperature

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Combine 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa in heavy saucepan; mix well. Combine milk and egg yolks, beating with wire whisk for 2 minutes until frothy. Gradually stir into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly.  Remove from heat; add butter and vanilla, stir until butter melts. Pour chocolate filling into baked pie crust. Make Meringue: Beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed about 1 minute.  Gradually add ¼ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons, adding 1 tablespoon at a time; beat until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves.  Spread meringue over hot pie filling, sealing to edge of pastry.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes or until golden brown. Allow pie to cool slowly.