Food, Tablescapes

Winter = Comfort Food

What is it about winter that turns our thoughts to comfort food?  I guess it’s because winter means colder temperatures, inclement weather and, all too often, gray skies.  All those things make me want to stay inside which generally means spending more time in the kitchen.

For several days I craved chicken pot pie, so I finally broke down and made one.  I didn’t have the traditional ingredients so it was time to look in the pantry and refrigerator to see what might work.    On hand were a couple of chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, leeks, green beans,  mushrooms and a sheet of puff pastry.

While the chicken breasts were cooking in salted water, I chopped and readied the vegetables.  I steamed the sweet potatoes and green beans for a few minutes and sautéed the leeks and mushrooms in olive oil to soften everything up.

Once the chicken cooled enough to cut into bite sized pieces, all the ingredients were mixed together along with salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of herbs de provence. Now all that was left was to make a basic white sauce with a little parmesan mixed in and rolling out the puff pastry.

All done, the pot pies were ready to pop into the oven to bake until the pastry was a golden brown.Since the mixture proved to be quite generous, I thought it would be fun to make individual servings in these Polish pottery vessels.  Also, they would make it easier to serve as pot pie can be kinda messy.

They also became the starting point for an easy table setting.  

Flowers and candles were already on the table so adding denim chargers

and woodblock placemats and napkins that I got in India completed a table as comfortable as the food that would be served.  Have I ever mentioned how much I like to keep things simple?  

Oh, I should tell you the pot pies were scrumptious so the nontraditional ingredients combined in a most successful dish.  Now if I can just remember how it was done, I’ll make it again!

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Food

And Now for Dinner

ImageSetting the table is the easy part.  What is more difficult is deciding the menu which I want to be tasty, seasonally appropriate and does not require me to be in the kitchen all day.  Hmmm, now that can be a challenge.

Now that evenings have gotten cooler, they seem to call for comfort food such as this pasta dish.  Usually, I make the sauce without meat, but I added Italian sausage this time around to give it a bit more heartiness and extra flavor.  The recipe satisfies my criteria, and best of all, the dish is one that usually has folks asking for a second serving.  When not a bite is left on the plate, that’s what I call successful.

ImagePasta with Tomatoes, Eggplant and Italian Sausage

1 eggplant, peeled and cubed into 1″ pieces

6 T. olive oil, more if needed

1 bunch green onions, chopped, including tops

1 1/2 T. minced garlic

1 t. red pepper flakes

1/2 c. dry white wine (I use vermouth)

1 1/2 c. diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)

3 T. fresh herbs such as mint, basil, parsley

1 lb. pasta

Sprinkle eggplant with salt and place in a colander.  Let stand for 30  minutes, then rinse and pat dry.

In a large pan over medium heat, sauté green onions in 1 T. olive oil for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic, red pepper flakes and sauté 1 minute.*  Add the wine and cook until it has almost evaporated.  Add the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.  While it is simmering, crush the tomatoes with the back of a spoon.  Season with salt and pepper, stir in 1 T. herbs and keep warm.

In another pan over high heat, cook the eggplant in 4 T. warmed olive oil until it is golden.  Add more olive oil if necessary.  Add eggplant to the tomato sauce and heat through.

Serve over cooked pasta, top with your favorite Italian cheese and some chopped herbs.    Accompany with a green salad and crusty Italian bread,  a good bottle of Chianti, and there you have it.

Makes 4 servings.

*If you are adding Italian sausage, saute with these ingredients.

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Food

Southern Vittles

You forget about real southern vittles until you go to a small town in the south.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s the farmers’ market offering breakfast biscuits, fried pies and funnel cakes or a roadside cafe touting home cooking,

the menu is full of comfort foods fixed just like grandma used to make.

You can bet fried chicken will be a staple

and sometimes it’s even made to look healthy.

Endless plates of biscuits or yeast rolls are sure to be on the table and unless you have more will power than I, they’ll all be gone before the meal is over.

The decor is not likely to be anything fancy

 and kids are reminded they better behave.  That warning is enough to put them in their place!

I had to try fried okra at every stop, and that’s one thing I can fix as good as any!  If you try it, be sure to start with very fresh okra.

Lulu’s Fried Okra

Cut the pods into 1/2″ lengths and cover with milk or buttermilk.  Remove from milk and dredge in a mixture of 1 c. cornmeal, 1/2 c. flour, salt and pepper.  Fry in hot vegetable oil deep enough to cover the okra until golden brown. (I use an old cast iron skillet for frying.)  Drain on paper towels.

Tell me, what are your favorite comfort foods?

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Cioppino, a Fall Favorite

Funny how our food tastes are impacted by the season.  Now that the days are shorter and the temperatures cooler, many of us think comfort food that warms the soul and nourishes the body.  A real favorite in our house is a seafood stew called Cioppino, perfect with hearty crusty bread and a green salad flavored with sea salt and lemon juice.  It is also easy to fix, becoming increasingly important to me, as much of the preparation can be done in advance.

cioppinoCioppino

For Tomato Base:

1/4 c. olive oil

2 T butter

1 cup each finely chopped onion and green pepper

1 t minced garlic

1 pound fresh mushrooms, halved

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic

1 6 oz tomato paster

1 cup dry white wine

2 8 oz bottles of clam juice

2 T minced parsley

1/4 c lemon juice

2 bay leaves

1 t oregano

1/2 t each basil, salt and pepper

1 T sugar

Heat oil and butter over medium heat in large soup/stew pot.  Add onion, pepper, garlic and mushrooms.  Cook about 10 minutes or until onions are limp.  Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, clam juice, parsley, lemon juice, bay leaves, seasonings and sugar.  Heat to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, over low heat 1 hour.  (This can be made up to 48 hours in advance and refrigerated.)

Half hour before serving, heat tomato base to simmer.  Add 1 1/2 lbs swordfish, sea bass or red snapper, cut in 1″ cubes and cook about 10-15 minutes.  Add a dozen (or more) mussels, 1 pound shrimp, 1/2 lb. scallops and 1/2 pound lump crabmeat.  Cover and simmer over low heat until mussels open, about 10 minutes.

Spoon into flat soup bowls and serve for an absolutely delightful dinner for 6.  You may garnish with a mixture of mayonnaise, curry powder and lime juice if desired.

For other tasty recipes, take a look at Foodie Friday.

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