Comfort Foods

Most of us feel kind of sad to see the last days of summer fade away. But if there’s one thing I look forward to this time

of year, it’s the change in diet which accompanies chilly weather. I like all kinds of soothing, hearty fare like soups and stews in fall and winter. By and large, the cooler seasons, especially the winter months, are stressors which make us think of preparing our favorite comfort foods. In my mind, the whole idea of meals which give a sense of well-being undoubtedly relates to happy moments, and especially loving people, from the past.

In researching what the phrase comfort food entails for others, I was surprised to find some of my best-loved dishes on the list. Because I grew up in the south, African-inspired soul foods figured prominently on the dining room table: Chicken and Dumplings, for instance. To prepare this dish, you simply cover a whole chicken (or even cut-up pieces) with water in a pot, adding in chopped onion, celery, carrots, fresh parsley, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil, skimming off the foam; simmer until fully cooked—about forty minutes—then remove the chicken from the bones. My grandmother always added red pepper flakes and
hard-boiled eggs when the soup was done. The biggest difference I’ve found between cookbook recipes and what I’m used to is in the dumplings. Some even suggest using Bisquick to make puffy dumplings which float on the top of the soup. No, no, no! As one fellow Arkansan’s hilarious blog posting points out, messing with the dumplings technique in this way can lead to serious marital issues! To prepare them the “right” way, you have to make them from scratch and they must be like large, flat noodles which closely resemble the chicken in the soup. To make the dumplings, mix about 2½ cups of flour with one teaspoon of sugar, salt, raw eggs, some chicken stock, celery salt, poultry seasoning, and a little oil. The dough will be a little sticky. So you then flour a board and pat out the mixture, before cutting the dumplings into rectangles or diamond-shapes. Then put them into the hot soup and cook until they float, about ten minutes. Nothing like it if you have a cold or on a frigid winter night!

Another one of my preferred comfort foods is the not-too-figure-friendly (but you've got to live, right?) fried chicken with gravy. To be honest, I don’t always make this dish the same way in terms
of spices. I put salt and pepper on the chicken pieces and then add whatever I’m in the mood for: paprika, garlic powder, maybe basil or thyme or oregano. One thing is for sure: no egg or buttermilk goes into this recipe. After the spices, I dust the chicken pieces with flour and fry them until done in a pan containing about an inch of oil. Once the meat is cooked, I remove it from the fry pan and add about two tablespoons of flour to the oil. Stir until the flour begins to brown, add salt, pepper, and enough water and milk to get the right consistency to the gravy. Serving the gravy with homemade biscuits would be ideal, but I usually settle for bread.

A close relative of fried chicken is fried fish. This is so simple: mix together yellow cornmeal and flour, about 1/3 cup each. Salt and pepper the pieces of fish, dip in the cornmeal-flour combo and fry as above. No gravy here, but delicious just the same.

Well, there you have it: some of my all time favorite dishes. I would love to know what my readers’ comfort foods are; feel free to comment on this post!

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