I wiped away the weeds & foam. / I fetched my sea-born treasures home... Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Comfort Food

Hi! Do you have a favorite food, a special ''comfort food'' that just makes you feel all better when times are tough or life is stressful?

Maybe...chocolate? Or moon pies and an ice cold glass of milk? I have a friend who yearns for her mom's saurkraut pierogies, my dad loved southern style buttermilk fried chicken, my brother loves roast turkey and Boston creme pie!

Funny how everyone has a special something. Last month when we drove home after Hurricane Sandy, I idly mentioned that when we stopped at a hopefully stocked, or at least open, supermarket, I planned to get the makings for a big pot of my pasta red sauce, or Bolognese.

"I am dying for a big rich fragrant bowl of spaghetti!" I proclaimed.

Silence then, "But mom. Not tonight, we're hungry now!"

The whole time I was in NYC I had a hankering for spaghetti. Our host does not cook. At. All. But one night he very kindly brought home reheatable spaghetti and meatballs and a big green salad. Fancy chocolate pudding, even! So sweet. But you know, it wasn't *my* sauce, read : my mom's sauce. But the kids were right, it was chilly and very dark, the trip was very long, so I agreed, "No. Not tonight. Maybe, um, chicken salad?"
More silence. Then, "Mom, do you think you could make stir-fry?"
Now the last thing I wanted to do that night was wash and chop and cook a slew of fresh veggies. But my kids love healthy fresh foods [Heaven forbid I serve the kids McDonald's, horrors. Too bad...but anyway the McDonald's got washed away, so not an option. lol]....

They wanted a hot, nourishing, comforting homecooked dinner---and my peanut stirfry, is, I now understand, their version of comfort food.

One thing my family all agree on....we love fresh colorful veggies, and lucky for us,  some were just delivered to the reopened store.  No Vidalia [sweet white] onions, no tofu! But they had everything else.

This recipe can be changed to feature whatever catches your eye. That night we chose:
Colorful peppers. Zucchini squash....



White Spanish onions and green onions. Minced garlic.

Lots of fresh green cabbage cut in 1 1/2" - 2" dice. You could use broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, whatever. But we especially like cabbage so...

***The trick is to wash, dry, peel and chop ALL the ingredients *before* you begin to cook. ***
I make the veggies and sauce in one big pan, the chicken and/or beef strips in smaller pans. That accommodates everyone's varying tastes.

I happened to have a packet of some sort of stirfry seasoning, which I added to a bit of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and whatever else looked hopeful and unopened, since I had emptied the fridge before we evacuated.

So big pan, olive oil, bit of sesame oil: get it pretty hot, add the onions, then in a minute or two add the squash and the garlic and peppers. Don't overcook anything, just get it going and hot. Add the cabbage on top, add about 3/4 Cup of liquid to be the sauce. You don't want it all wet and soggy. Don't stir it, leave the cabbage on top. Cover with a lid or some aluminum foil, let the steam escape though. Steam the veggies for about 3-4 minutes while you cook the meats:

Saute thin strips of chicken and or good steak in hot sesame oil, not too much. I use Teflon pans. Shake on some soy sauce.  

While the meats cook, uncover the veggies and toss like a salad, there should be maybe 1/4 " of sauce in the big pan. Push the vegs aside and in the hot sauce, melt 2 or 3 Tablespoons of peanut butter.

Speaking of hot, I do add a pinch of cayenne pepper flakes, because we like this dish spicy. Up to you. Shake on some basil and tarragon, if possible; some black pepper, some lemon pepper. Turn off the heat, finish the meats and drain them.

I often use fresh lo mein noodles or rice noodles but didn't have any. I made white sticky rice with sesame oil and chopped peanuts.

Warm the plates. Put the meat of choice on the bottom, veggies on top. Garnish with chopped peanuts and slivered scallions. Optional rice on the side.

Hot, delicious, yummy.

Over the next couple days, we did have spaghetti with Bolognese [meat] sauce, then grilled chicken on baby greens with balsamic vinaigrette and Gorgonzola. Meatloaf, with mashed potatoes and peas.  Homemade pizza. We soothed our frazzled nerves with every possible favorite dish. And even though I am always thrilled to pick up the phone [if indeed it was working, which it was not. Nor were the restaurants open, or delivering...] and order in, it was somehow healing to stand in my own kitchen again, and make favorite meals again, for the ones I love.


What are your favorite foods? Are your faves and comfort foods the same? I guess not, for me, because I never did get my longed for chocolate root beer float!



 .... gone to the beach      

PS if you love tofu or just want to do the stirfry vegetarian with a bit of extra protein, the well-drained, diced tofu goes in the veggie pan at the beginning, brown it a bit before you begin the onions. Yum!