Thursday, March 1, 2012

Comfort Food

I’ve been talking about some pretty esoteric things here on AMFAS for the past few postings. I mean, how many people dry cured meat in their basement? So we’re moving on to a more relevant topic today: comfort food.

Even though we’ve hardly had what I would call a winter here in Toronto (more like an indefinite run of late autumn), I’ve found myself thinking about preparing meals of comfort foods. The past few weeks we’ve had a good bit of damp cold, the perfect time a warming meal that just makes you feel good all over – especially in your tummy.

What's better than roast chicken & baked potatoes?
In talking this topic over with other people, I’ve found I’m somewhat limited in my thinking that comfort food means something warming. That’s comforting to me, as it turns out. To others, comfort food may mean anything: soup, pancakes, a favorite dessert. About the only thing I discovered that was completely off the comfort food list were vegetables (except for potatoes). Hardly surprising, that.

My favorite comfort foods are roast chicken or meat loaf. Either has to be accompanied by a baked potato. I don’t know why that is. My mother made a decent meatloaf and we’d occasionally have a roast chicken. We ate a lot of baked potatoes when I was a kid, probably because my mom (a busy lady) could throw them in the oven and forget about them. She also made a wicked dish we called “bean casserole” which contained ground beef, rings of onions, baked beans, canned chopped tomatoes and brown sugar. We ate a lot of that. And it will be the topic of a posting farther down the line, I’m sure.

Which brings to mind another nostalgic childhood memory. In the fall, we used to rake a big pile of fallen leaves (the really dry ones you find in November just before the snow starts falling). We’d bury some potatoes in at the bottom (with no foil wrapping allowed!) and light our pile up. We’d have plenty more leaves standing by and throw them on whenever things slowed down. After about 20-30 minutes, we’d let the fire die, rake away the leaf ashes, and find our baked potatoes, now completely black. If we’d timed it right, all you needed to do was break them open and scrape out the perfectly cooked and fluffy interior. With lots of butter, salt and pepper, we felt pretty damned proud of ourselves for cooking “a real meal”. For some reason we called these potatoes “Mickeys”, but I have no idea why.

Nowadays, of course, you can’t burn leaves unless you live way out in the country where people don’t pay too much attention to what you’re doing. It’s too bad. For instance, our two sons barely know what burning leaves smell like (and I’m not talking about those kinds of leaves!).

So, what is your favorite comfort food, and why? Is it something you love the taste of, or does it go deeper, stirring childhood memories, or it puts you in a specific time and place you enjoy recalling? Let us know!

Roast Chicken à la Rick

A delicious winter meal. We usually serve this with baked potatoes and some sort of hot vegetable. The nice thing about cooking it this way (more braising than roasting) is that your meal is ready in an hour, you don’t have to fuss once it’s in the oven. The chicken comes out moist and succulent with its own juices in the bottom of the pan, ready to make into a fantastic brandy and onion gravy. Heaven!

The paprika gives the skin a nice golden color since, being covered, it really doesn’t brown. All the herbs and spices also help to crisp up the skin. I don’t give any measurements for those because it’s more a “feel” than a measurement. Go fairly light on the garlic and ginger and more generous with the paprika, thyme and pepper. Easy on the salt, though. You probably shouldn’t use more than a teaspoon overall before cooking. You can always add more at the table. I also put about another half teaspoon into the cavity. If there are any fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay, etc.) lying around, those wind up in the cavity, too.

1 chicken, 2-3 lbs
granulated garlic
ground ginger
ground thyme (or rosemary)
freshly ground pepper
4 medium onions, sliced thickly
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Rinse and dry the chicken thoroughly inside and out.
3. Dust it on all sides with the spices and herbs.
4. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with the onions. Pour in the brandy and water, then place the chicken, breast side up, on the onions.
5. Cover roasting pan and bake for around 1 hour. Poke the breast or thigh with a knife at the thickest point and if the juices run just slightly pink, it’s done.
6. Take the chicken out, cover it loosely and let it rest for 15 minutes while you make onion gravy after chopping up the onions and making a gravy with the cooking liquid. If you don’t make gravy, save the liquid for the stock you should be making with your chicken carcass.


Merlin said...

Baked potato with meatloaf? It should be MASHED!

Rick Blechta said...

It would be if my wife had her way, which she sometimes does. I think it all goes back to my mother in this. When she made meatloaf, we had baked potatoes, so that’s what I gravitate to, I guess. On top of that, she used too much milk in her mashed potatoes and I never really liked that.

The other thing is The Gravy Factor. I feel mashed potatoes are best with gravy. We almost never serve meatloaf with gravy. Our recipes (Vicki and I each have our own preferred ones) rely on serving them with ketchup, so gravy is out if we’re making it that way.

For chicken and meat loaf, since they’re both made in the oven, it’s easy to just throw some potatoes in with either. I definitely learned that one from my mother.

Care to share your meatloaf recipe with all of us?

Thanks for writing in!

Merlin said...

Personally, I like meatloaf with barbecue sauce on it, not ketchup. Both of these condiments are a "no go, Wheezy Joe!" when it comes to mashed potatoes.

The trick to me is making mashed potatoes that are so good they don't need anything on them. That usually means buttermilk and butter in them. One clove of whole garlic per potato (just throw them right in when you're boiling the potatoes) really helps too.

Rick Blechta said...

Mashed potatoes are a great topic for later discussion since there are a number of good ways to make them and a few secrets to having them turn out right.

Sounds as if you have a pretty good recipe, Merlin. You’re right about garlic being a must-have ingredient. We generally pressure cook our potatoes and I do the same thing: just throw the garlic in.