Comfort When We Need It

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Green Bean Casserole made Wikipedia’s Comfort Food list

A long story made short:  I’m obsessing over what qualifies as comfort food.  I feel so comfort-needy!  Andy, meanwhile, is reminiscing about the foods he gagged on.

According to Wikipedia, “the term “comfort food” has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood…they are believed to be a great coping mechanism for rapidly soothing negative feelings.”

A more descriptive quote comes from a very academic and very detailed and interesting article on the subject, found in The International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science: “most of us are soothed by the soft, sweet, smooth, salty and unctuous.”

Another quote from that article: Comfort foods are often prepared in a simple or traditional style and may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, perhaps reminding us of home, family, and/or friends.”

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I found a list of comfort foods on Wikipedia (where else!?) and from (which sounded like a good place to find rankings).  Wikipedia’s list clearly masses all regions of the U.S. into one, which seems odd.  I seriously doubt that Grits – or Red Beans and Rice – are comfort foods for someone who grew up in Maine – or that Chili Mac (a Midwestern favorite) is comfort to an Oregonian.  The ones I marked with an “X” made Ranker’s list – which seems to be more relevant to all areas of this country.  And I linked the ones that we already have given you recipes for (because, obviously, we are SO on top of things – and SO in need of comfort! :).

When questioned about their notions of comfort foods, my family responded in varying ways.  Hannah in Brooklyn, my brother in Fort Collins, and I all find comfort in Angel Food Cake and our grandmothers’ Swedish and German pancakes.  Joe, our son-in-law, fondly remembers his dad fixing him “hamburger gravy” over mashed potatoes.  (Andy might dub that an offshoot of the dreaded SOS – but we’ll forgive him for that.)

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SOS – Here’s the official recipe from the Army Quartermaster Corps (which my brother was once a part of).  You might want to downsize it a little, since it calls for 18 pounds of ground beef and serves 100.  Maybe I’ll try it for one of our “Dining In” dinners.  Want to come? 🙂

Our son Travis remembers his Grandma Gladys’s simple spaghetti recipe – made with hamburger.  Sara – ever the odd one out (just teasing, Sara 🙂 )- finds anything with ground meat – broken up, definitely not in patty form – satisfying, though she prefers those ground meat dishes to have an Asian theme.  Andy and his sister, Helen, fondly remember their mom’s tamale pie.  If there’s any unifier at all here among main dishes, it has to be ground meat.

So the jump to our three new comforting recipes – all with ground meat – was a no-brainer: my mom’s Super Simple Spaghetti, Tamale Pie, and – just for Sara – “Not Your Mother’s Chili” (which is both different and d-lish!).  We’ll offer up our pancake and angel food cake recipes at a later date.


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Super Simple Spaghetti from Grandma Gladys

Super Simple Spaghetti

This recipe from my mother is remarkably similar to her Sloppy Joe recipe, which we’ve also posted.  Clever of her.

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 (28 oz) box or can of crushed tomatoes (I don’t put quite the whole can in – but that’s a matter of taste)
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional but delicious)
  • cooked thin spaghetti noodles

Combine ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper in a large saucepan. Cook and stir until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain grease.

Stir tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, sugar, salt, and pepper into the ground beef mixture.  Simmer this sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve on top of the noodles with the parmesan, if desired.

The sauce will freeze beautifully.  Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.
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Grandma D’s Tamale Pie

Tamale Pie

adapted from the 1974 The Joy of Cooking

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 c frozen corn kernels (run hot water over them to defrost)
  • 1 c tomato sauce
  • 1 c beef or chicken broth
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 T chile powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg
  •  cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 2-quart high-sided casserole dish with cooking spray. In a large skillet, saute the beef and onion over medium-high heat until the meat is brown and the onion translucent, about 10 minutes. Then add the beans, corn, tomato sauce, broth, bell pepper (if using), chili powder, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, milk and oil until combined. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until combined. Spread the meat mixture into the casserole dish and cover with the corn bread topping.  Bake until the corn bread is nicely browned and the meat mixture is bubbling, 25-30 minutes.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.
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Not Your Mother’s Chili

Not Your Mother's Chili

This is a riff on a recipe from Andrew Carmellini – of NY City restaurant fame. It’s a fun Indian twist to very-American chili.  We think that topping it with the yogurt sauce is essential…a delicious touch! Though you may serve it over rice, we like it just on its own.

  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 2 lb ground lamb
  • 1 medium red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp garam masala (or 1 1/2 tsp curry powder plus a pinch of cinnamon)
  • 1 tsp chili powder (not pure chile powder but something like Gebhardt)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, diced (about 1 cup) (optional)
  • One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained
  • For topping: a mix of 3/4 c yogurt, and 2 T lemon juice, a good dash of salt (optional but recommended!)
  • cooked rice (optional)
  • chopped cilantro – for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; then add the meat to the pot. Cook and stir for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the meat is almost cooked and is broken up.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add the red onion, ginger, garlic, garam masala, chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Stir well and cook for a minute or two.

Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, broth, and bell pepper.  Stir; then bring the chili up to a simmer. Let it cook, uncovered, just at a simmer, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick.

After the chili has cooked about 1/2 an hour,  stir in the chickpeas, and cook for another 45 minutes or so, until the chili has thickened slightly.

Top each bowl with a couple of tablespoons of yogurt sauce and a bit of cilantro; serve over rice, if you wish.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.



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