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Readers' Favorite Comfort Foods


From Winter 1997 Radiance
Compiled by Alice Ansfield

I put out a call on the Internet to people in the fat acceptance and big folks news groups for stories about favorite comfort foods. I asked, What foods do you go to when you want comfort? Is it an old family recipe? I was happily inundated with these wonderful stories. Thanks so much for sharing yourselves with us. One last note: As I sat down to type up this article, I felt a longing for something I couldn't immediately identify, so I took a moment to figure out what it was. I remembered I had fried chicken in the fridge left over from a party a few nights before. I went upstairs and came down with one of my favorite comfort foods! And then I began to type...
- Alice Ansfield, Publisher


Hi Alice,

Glad you're doing a comfort food thing for winter. The antifat medical establishment press often mentions with alarm that people tend to gain a few pounds spontaneously in winter. They neglect to mention that people tend to lose a few spontaneously in summer. It's all about biology, of course, part of the role of fat as insulation. Whoever said science is "objective" did not know many scientists.

One of my favorite comfort foods is scalloped potatoes. Below is my grandmother's recipe. She is ninety-four now and does not cook anymore, but my mom and I both continue in Grandma Alice's tradition. She was a great cook in her time. It was her way of showing love. She would go to the store and pick out green beans or potatoes one by one, to make sure she got the best for her family. Nowadays I'm lucky to have time to make these special potatoes, but when I do, my kids love it!

    GRANDMA ALICE'S SCALLOPED POTATOES
    2 potatoes per person
    Vegetable oil (optional)
    Butter
    Flour
    Salt and pepper
    Milk (enough to fill your casserole about 3/4 full)

    Peel and slice potatoes. Grease your casserole with vegetable oil or butter. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of potato slices. Dot with butter, sprinkle with flour, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat layers until you run out of potatoes. Heat milk in a saucepan until it boils up the side of the pan (keep an eye on it, so it doesn't boil over!). Pour milk over potatoes. Bake covered in a 350-degree oven for about an hour (could be 15 minutes more if you are baking a lot of potatoes or did not slice them thinly). Place a cookie sheet on the oven rack below the casserole, so that the casserole will not stain your oven when it bubbles over. Uncover for the last 10 minutes to brown, and enjoy!

- Jody in California


Dear Alice,

I have one thing to say, and my friends will tell you that I say it often: There is nothing so comforting as a buttered noodle.

- Michal


Hi Alice,

It has long been said by my husband and kids that it is possible to determine 1) the incidents of contact with my mother, 2) the strength of my need to defy all adult responsibilities, or 3) whether any visits to or from my mother are imminent by the number of Pepperidge Farm Mint Milano cookie bags on the shelves, in the garbage (empty), or by the sewing machine (open)! Sweet, soft, buttery, creamy chocolate, mint food from the gods. Yes. Comfort.

- Alice in Michigan


Alice,

One of my favorite comfort foods is hot chocolated-flavored Malt O'Meal. I like it sweet, hot, and with milk. The texture is great, kind of bumpy and slippery. It fills my tummy and makes me feel safe and warm and cuddly, and ready for bed or a cold day outside. I also like the sugar-free Swiss Miss hot chocolate, but I make it with 2 packets of cocoa and 10 ounces of hot water. Once in a while, I'll add a shot of Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) to it, which adds a sweet, nutty taste. By the time I finish my cocoa, I'm totally relaxed and feeling oh so good!

- Martha in Washington


Hi Radiance,

Comfort foods, there are so many! Chocolate, of course. Any chocolate will do in a pinch. But when I absolutely need comforting, I make my grandmother's chocolate potato cake. It's wonderful. It's very moist and kind of chewy, with a texture halfway between that of a brownie and a cake. When I want it to be truly special, I make a thinner-than-normal batch of fudge and use it as frosting.

The other major comfort food in my life is stew - my father's Hungarian gulyas, actually. It never turns out the same way twice! Sometimes it's thin and brothy, like a soup; other times it's very thick, with huge chunks of meat and all the potatoes and vegetables I can fit into the pot. And I always serve a loaf of hot, crusty sourdough bread with it. The two constants in the stew are garlic and Hungarian paprika. I remember helping my father make this stew on rainy afternoons after school. The whole house would fill with the aroma of garlic, onions, and paprika simmering with beef. It made me feel cozy and safe.

And then there's my sick-as-a-dog comfort food: fast food french fries and a chocolate shake. I've tried having someone make them for me at home, but it's just not the same! There's something about the combination of the hot, salty fries and the cold, thick shake that's very satisfying. Soothes the nausea and eases the accompanying dizziness without being too heavy. I lived on this during radiation therapy a few years ago!

Here's my grandmother's recipe:

    NANA HARRIS'S CHOCOLATE POTATO CAKE
    1 1/2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup butter
    3 eggs
    1 cup mashed potatoes (Instant is okay, but Potato Buds do not work well. The cake is more moist if you use "real" mashed potatoes!)
    1 cup sweet milk (I think Nana meant sweetened condensed milk. I have made it with both sweetened condensed and regular milk, and it turns out okay either way, but the cake is a little chewier and more brownielike with condensed milk.)
    2 teaspoons vanilla
    2 cups flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 cup Ghirardelli's sweet powdered chocolate (Or you can also use melted chocolate chips. It turns out fine either way, but the powdered chocolate is easier to work with.)
    1 cup of chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, or macadamia nuts

    Cream sugar, butter, and eggs together. Add mashed potatoes, milk, and vanilla. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, and powdered chocolate. Stir sifted ingredients into creamed mixture. Add nuts. Pour into greased and floured 9-inch x 9-inch pan, and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
    When cool, frost with

    EMEE'S FUDGE FROSTING
    1 12-ounce package chocolate chips
    1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
    2 tablespoons amaretto, Kahlua, or Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur

    Mix together in heavy saucepan and stir over low heat until chocolate is completely melted. Let cool slightly and pour over cake. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream. Any leftover frosting can be spread on shortbread cookies or ladyfingers and chilled for the next day's dessert.

    This recipe came from a cookbook Nana wrote for her own use in 1934, except for the frosting, which I adapted from a fudge recipe.

- Eve in Sacramento


Hi there,

When you grow up poor in the South, food is a big deal! We didn't have money; we had food. While we didn't eat high on the hog most of the time, when the holidays came around, things got kinda fancy. It was only at Christmas that we would have Aunt Katherine's fruit salad. I once asked my mom why we didn't have that salad the rest of the year. She told me the cream cheese was too expensive, and it was usually too hot to stand over the stove and melt it in a double boiler.

I was disappointed by this response, because this stuff was so good. It would slide down your throat better 'n' oysters! It was sweet, rich, and the big thing at Christmas was going back to the kitchen two hours after dinner and getting a bowl of this to top off the pie we had had an hour earlier.

I've long since left Texas and its heat and its oppression. But the fruit salad has come with me, joyfully. I make it once a year, at solstice, and give thanks for such a soul-satisfying dish. Please enjoy!

    AUNT KATHERINE'S FRUIT SALAD
    1 16- 24-ounce canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup (reserve the syrup)
    Bananas (cut into bite-size pieces)
    Orange quarters
    Apples (diced into cubes)
    Grapes (green or seedless red)
    Walnut pieces)
    1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
    Coconut (optional)

    Mix the fruit together and chill. Put the softened cream cheese in a double boiler, along with the heavy syrup drained from the fruit cocktail. Melt the cream cheese into the syrup, stirring constantly, until a thick sauce is created. If it's too thin, add more cream cheese. If it's too thick, add more syrup (white Karo will work in a pinch, but use sparingly).

    Pour the sauce over the chilled fruit and mix well. Top with coconut. Chill for a couple of hours. Just before serving, put a big dollop of Cool Whip on each person's serving.

- Marty from Colorado


Radiance,

My favorite comfort food is Hershey's kisses. They have to be aged (left in an open container) for a couple of weeks to dry out, so that they aren't soft. When I crunch one between my teeth, the burst of chocolate flavor is almost dizzying! The initial effort it takes to crunch one is followed by the mellow sensation of the chocolate melting and swirling around my tongue. When I eat them, I can feel my blood pressure lower, my breathing rate slow, the furrow leave my brow, and my fists unclench. I wish I got the same sensation from doing something productive!

- Darren from Michigan


Hi Alice,

My only comfort food is chicken noodle soup. When I am feeling really sick with a cold or sore throat, and it is cold and nasty outside, there is nothing like a steamy bowl of chicken noodle soup. I like the feeling of the hot, thin broth. I can feel the warmth penetrate and relax my throat and sinuses. The noodles are soft and mildly flavored by the broth, so they feel soothing to eat, too. When I'm really sick, too sick to make it myself, I have chicken noodle soup delivered from the local Chinese takeout. It always makes me feel better.

- Mary O.


Hi Alice,

My comfort foods are cream of tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot chocolate. As a little kid, coming in from playing in the wonderful mounds of "lake effect" snow in my hometown of Cleveland, that lunch combo was a favorite. I also connect it to events like my grandpa's funeral. My grandma made that meal for us the day of his burial. The next year, my brothers and I were turned back at the school door one day: the school was closed, due to snow. When we got back home, you know what meal we had!

- Mary from Maryland



Radiance,

The only comfort food that I make at home, if I don't get it at powwows, is frybread. Just mention this to almost any Native American, and you'll get a beaming smile, a wistful look, and a licking of the lips! It's basically a simple thing, merely a mixture of flour, water, yeast or baking powder, and powdered milk (though each family's recipe is different). This is made into a worked dough, shaped into rounds, and slit in the middle to aid frying. Then it is deep fried to a golden brown and covered in powdered sugar, honey, jam, or just butter. Pile some good hot chili on top, and you have the kind of food that makes Native men smile - Indian tacos!

This bread came about from the rations that were doled out by officials to Native Americans, who then had to figure out what to do with the poor supplies given to them to take the place of their natural, healthy foods. Frybread filled a sorely wanting belly. Now, just the smell and taste of this evokes memories of childhood, of powwows past. The drumming and the singing and the dancing. The smells and sights of powwows. It's powerful! I make this when family or friends come over. We reminisce and laugh. Served with stew or soup, it's very filling. Come to think of it, almost every culture has a similarly made bread that I am sure evokes the same kinds of happy memories - memories you don't get from a loaf of sliced wheat bread!

- Trika D-P


Hi,

To me, a comfort food is something that not only tastes good but evokes memories of team cooking sessions in the kitchen with my mother and sister, both very good cooks. The usual "quick grab" stuff doesn't comfort me like the preparation, anticipation, and smells associated with lovingly made goodies. Sometimes it's almost a shame to eat your efforts, because then it's gone. Until next time!

I make this recipe my family concocted years ago. It combines the best features of Philly cheese steak sandwich with a traditional New York–style "white" pizza. The result is a satisfying, flavorful pizza that doesn't need tomato sauce to taste great.

    WHITE PIZZA (15 slices)
    1 medium onion, sliced
    1 medium green pepper, sliced
    8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    8 ounces roast beef, sliced
    3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1 loaf frozen white bread dough, thawed
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 teaspoon crushed garlic
    4 cups assorted shredded cheeses
    1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

    Saute first three ingredients in 1 tablespoon olive oil until limp. Add roast beef and saute for 3 more minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Cook 2 to 3 more minutes, and remove from heat. Set aside.

    Dust work surface with flour, and roll out dough to fit a 10-inch x 15-inch cookie sheet. Grease cookie sheet. Fit dough into sheet, creating a rim of dough around edges. Brush with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and spread crushed garlic over entire surface of dough. Top with a light layer of shredded cheeses, and then with meat–vegetable mixture, distributing evenly. Top with remaining shredded cheeses, and then Parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let sit 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

- Teighlor


Hi,

When I think about comfort food, I don't really think about recipes. To me, comfort food involves keeping the kitchen stocked with a few simple foods and putting them together in combinations that you can get away with only because you live alone, or you're home sick, or your partner knows to avert his or her eyes and not to interfere! That said, here's Stef's comfort food repertoire:

    Peanut butter: Put it on bread, put it on bananas, put it on apples, but mostly scoop it straight out of the jar with your fingers, and then grab a glass of water to wash it down if it makes a lump in your throat. No, no, no. Not the health food kind of peanut butter that you store upside down in the refrigerator in a vain attempt to keep it from separating into peanut oil and peanut cement! Only the creamy, emulsified, stabilized cupboard kind of peanut butter will do: Skippy, Jif, Peter Pan. I prefer chunky, but creamy has its moments, too. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups are good, too. Keep them in the freezer.

    Bananas: The ultimate fast food, conveniently prepackaged in an easy-to-eat shape, with a divine scent and soft yet chewy texture. Don't put them in the refrigerator! Wait until almost all the green is gone from the tip and there are a few small brown freckles on the outside. Then peel and enjoy. (See peanut butter, above.) Or chop them up and put in the blender with something cold and creamy.

    Monterey Jack cheese: I buy it in the 3-pound supermarket-brand slab. It doesn't taste like much straight out of the fridge, but slice it up medium-thin and arrange it on a piece of matzo or rye toast, and then pop it in the microwave or toaster oven until it starts to melt and bubble and mmmm. If you don't have a hot date for the evening, you can sprinkle it with garlic powder. Or if you're in a veggie mood, try roasted red peppers on top.

    Rotini pasta: The curly spirals taste best to me with a half-cup of cottage cheese, cold from the fridge, and several shakes of whatever sauces I can find around the kitchen. This dish goes with everything - yes, even peanut butter (although I prefer Thai peanut sauce for a more exotic flavor).

    Canned tuna: Tuna melt styles and preferences are as individual as fingerprints. I've had love affairs with several kinds of tuna-melts in my life!

    I've enjoyed the pita melt. The pita has to be fresh, or else it crumbles when you try to cut it open and fill it. Toast the pita halfway, open and fill with cheese slices, and toast again until the cheese is melted. Fill with tuna, cottage cheese, mayo, a big handful of alfalfa sprouts. Don't cook the filling. If you do, the cottage cheese gets soggy and ruins the bread.

    I love the grilled melt. In my opinion, this melt should be attempted only by a professional short-order cook and accompanied by a side dish of onion rings.

    Note on tuna melt fillings: Over the years, I've become something of a purist when it comes to fillings for tuna melts. First of all, only solid white albacore will do. The cheaper stuff is too smelly. Second, don't eat half a can and let the rest sit in the fridge. If you can't eat the whole can, feed the rest to your cat. You do have a cat, don't you? And be sure to drain the liquid from the can into the cat's food bowl. Mayonnaise is a requirement, at least a tablespoon for a 6-ounce can. Garlic powder, mustard, or hot sauce are acceptable. Nothing else. No celery, no tomatoes, no egg. Well, onion is okay, if you insist.

    Eggs: If you want to see a rice-and-egg omelet done right, rent the movie Tampopo (where it is cooked by a beggar for a small child to the accompaniment of silent-film music). Another wonderful use for eggs is in the cheese-and-over-easy sandwich. Toast the bread and melt the cheese as in the tuna melt, above. Fry the egg over easy, and place on top of the cheese. Be sure to have a napkin around your neck when you bite into the creamy yolk.

- Stef J.

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