Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Comfort food helps to turn up the heat

Winter is coming; time to cook comfort foods that are warm and filling

November has arrived and with it my panic just thinking about the winter that might suddenly appear like it did in the east. Good grief, I’m not finished my fall chores yet!

Our wharf is still in the water; I just picked the last of my tomatoes, dug my bulbs, and tore out my long-blooming flower plants yesterday.

With this in mind I decided I need comfort foods, something to soothe the psyche. Things like macaroni and cheese, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes, or how about tuna casserole, chicken and dumplings: all do the trick for me. Anything that brings comforting memories from childhood can be called comfort food.

Chicken and Dumplings

1 pound medium baking potatoes, preferably russets, scrubbed

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound), halved

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, thinly sliced

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

One 12-ounce bottle beer, preferably an amber lager

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

2 teaspoons minced fresh sage

2 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes. Drain and cool just until you can handle them. Slip the skins off with your fingers or a paring knife, then press the potatoes through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt and the nutmeg, then set aside.

Season the chicken breasts and thighs with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Swirl in the oil, then add the chicken breasts to brown them, about a minute per side, turning them with tongs or a spatula. (If you shake the pan immediately after they have gone in, they will not stick.) Transfer the breasts to a platter and add the thighs to the pan. Brown them, about a minute per side, then transfer to the platter with the chicken breasts. Tent with foil to keep warm.

Add the onion, celery and carrots to the pan. Cook until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon flour over the entire mixture; cook for 15 seconds, stirring constantly. Whisk in the beer, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan; continue whisking until mixture thickens, about a minute. Stir in  thyme and sage, then stock and bay leaf. Let sauce come to a simmer, then add chicken breasts and thighs along with any accumulated juices. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently stir the 1/3 cup flour and the cornstarch into the potatoes with a wooden spoon just until smooth. Do not beat. Discard bay leaf from stew.

Scoop up scant 1/4 cups of potato mixture and lay them on top of stew. Do not cover stew completely with dumplings — rather, let them sit like clouds on its surface. Cover and steam dumplings for 10 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.  Yield: 4 servings

For Chicken and Garlic Dumplings:  Stir 2 finely minced garlic cloves into riced potatoes while warm.

1950s-Style Meat Loaf

1-1/2 pounds ground beef (chuck is best)

1/2 pound ground pork sausage (seasoned or not)

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup fine bread crumbs

1 to 2 large cloves of garlic, pressed

1 cup diced sweet onion

1/4 cup diced green bell pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 package dry onion soup mix

1/2 cup milk

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste, divided

2 to 4 strips bacon, cut in half (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ground beef, pork sausage, eggs, bread crumbs, garlic, sweet onion, bell pepper, oregano, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, onion soup mix, milk and half the tomato paste. Gently mix only until combined. Do not overwork the meat or it will become tough.

Form into loaf. Cover with remaining half can of tomato paste. Weave bacon strips over top. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let meatloaf rest 15 minutes before cutting to serve.

Yield: 8 servings.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist who writes weekly.

 

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