Tidewater Kitchen - February 2008

Comfort Foods for Winter


Pamela Doyle


   There is nothing like good old-fashioned American comfort foods. From a steaming bowl of chili to lasagna with garlic bread, these dishes have formed the basis of some of our traditional culinary favorites. The kitchen can be a haven for a place to get some wonderful smells and sounds of preparing dinner. This is a great time to have extra people help in the kitchen whether it is your spouse or your children.
    Comfort foods are simple, hearty and satisfying; it can’t help but make you happy. I always turn to my favorites that bring enjoyment and love. They usually share two similarities ... they are nourishing and satisfying. They are foods sometimes we crave in times of celebration or just in that low key mood. I know when I make some of these dishes they remind me of different times in my life and fond memories.
    The textures in comfort foods are creamy, filling with delicious such as the Fettuccine Alfredo, or rich lasagna, I always make sure my pantry is stocked for those nice winter snow days, or impromptu dinner parties on a chilly night. That way you can enjoy the process of making the meal rather than thinking of going out into the storm.

Winter Lasagna
This is a great dish to prepare on a cold weekend for the family, or an easy make-ahead dinner for company. The flavors aren’t too different from the classic lasagna, just a little better.

4 oz. smoked bacon, cut into small pieces
8 oz. ground veal
8 oz. ground beef
1 large, yellow onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 large can diced tomatoes
24 oz. tomato puree or sauce
¼ cup tomato paste
1 T. dry Italian seasoning (mixture of oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary)
3-4 beef bullion cubes
Dash of red pepper flakes
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
½ cup fresh basil leaves roughly chopped

You will have extra sauce left over that can be frozen.

Other ingredients
1 box dry noodles prepared following package directions
1 cup ball Buffalo Mozzarella (fresh mozzarella from the milk of water buffalo, not cow), shredded by hand
1 bag shredded mozzarella
3 cups arugula greens

Sauté the bacon pieces in a large pot until they are almost done. Drain any fat. Add the veal, beef, onion and garlic to the pot and sauté, stirring frequently until well browned.
Add all the remaining ingredients except the fresh basil. Bring just to a simmer and then allow to gently simmer for 1 hour, stirring regularly. At the end of the hour, remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the fresh basil. Adjust seasoning with more bullion or red pepper flakes, if desired. Sauce may be made up to 2 days ahead at this point and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°.
Prepare a lasagna pan by rubbing it with olive oil, butter or spraying with non-stick spray.
Glop a ladle of sauce on the bottom of the pan and spread to cover. Place a noodle sheet on top of that, and then add more sauce, ¼ of the arugula, layer ¼ of the buffalo mozzarella and ¼ of the shredded mozzarella. Continue in this manner until all ingredients are used up. On the very top should be a layer of cheese.
Lasagna may be made up to 24 hours ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to bake.
Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, then remove foil and continue baking until the edges are golden brown and the lasagna is bubbling hot (about 15-30 minutes more). Allow the lasagna to ‘rest’ for 15 minutes out of the oven before slicing. Serves 6

Garlic Bread
6 garlic cloves
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 french bread
8 T. melted butter

Rub the garlic bread with the slightly crushed garlic.
Toast the bread in a 400° oven for 3 minutes.
Cut the bread in half and brush the melted butter on both halves.
Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 4 minutes or until cheese melts and gets brown.

Pasta with Clams
This serves 4 hungry people and 6 polite people

1 package smoked, chopped bacon
1 shallot, minced
Approx. 2 pounds small, fresh clams in shell
½ cup dry white wine
1 jar clams with juice
1 large scallion, chopped (including green part)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¾ cup chopped parsley
2 T. (heaping) fresh dill, chopped
Pasta for 4-6 people (capellini, spaghetti, fettuccine or linguini)

Have everything ready before you start cooking (mise en place).

Place a large pot of very hot water on to boil for the pasta.
Rinse, or scrub if necessary, the clams’ shells under cool water, to remove any dirt/sand. Discard any clams that have broken shells.
In a very large sauté pan or pot, over medium-high heat, sauté the smoked bacon until almost cooked through, but not crisp. Add the shallot and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes.
Place the pasta in the boiling water and cook to package directions.
With the pan still at medium-high or high now, carefully, add in clams in the shells and distribute evenly in the pan; they should be in one layer. Pour in the wine, if it’s not enough to amply cover the entire bottom of the pan, add more.
Pour the jarred clams and their juice over the top of the clams in shells. Arrange the chopped herbs on top of that and cover tightly.
Drain pasta and drizzle with a bit of olive oil then toss with Parmesan cheese. Cover and keep warm.
Bring clams to a strong simmer and cook until the shells pop open (any that do not should be discarded). Give it a careful stir and pour over prepared pasta. Crack fresh black pepper over top.

Beef and Beer Chili
The addition of a nice dark beer gives it a deep rich flavor that is hard to beat. I have always used a lean ground beef the way we do here, but for a healthier choice feel free use ground chicken or turkey.
2 T. olive oil
2 cups chopped white onion
2 T. chopped jalapeño pepper
2 T. chopped garlic
2½ pounds lean ground beef
¼ cup ancho chili powder
2 T. ground cumin
1 t. paprika
½ t. cayenne pepper
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of dark beer or ale
1 14-ounce can low-salt beef broth
Sour cream
Chopped green onion
Fresh cilantro

Heat a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add the olive oil, chopped onion, jalapeño, and garlic. Cook for 4 minutes, or until the onion is softened, but make sure it doesn’t turn brown.
Add the ground beef to the pot. Cook until lightly browned, turning frequently, breaking up the meat as it cooks, which is about 5 minutes. Drain any fat and add the chili powder, cumin, paprika and cayenne to the pan. Stir this well and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes or more if you wish.
Add the tomatoes, kidney beans, beer if you wish and broth to the pot. Lower the heat to simmer and cook the chili for about 45 minutes. Serve with garnishes.
Makes 6 servings. Serve this with your favorite toppings and corn bread.

Fettuccine Alfredo
This is, by far, the most delicious, simple pasta sauce. Okay, so it’s all the fat you will need for a month, but it’s worth it, once in a while to indulge in this culinary delight, especially for that great comfort food night.

12 oz fresh egg fettuccine
1 stick butter, sliced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan (preferably Parm/Regiano)
Fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Place a large pot of water onto boil. Have another large pot warming over medium heat.
Once the pot with water boils, add pasta. Immediately, add butter to warming pan and melt butter.
Once fresh pasta is done (only about 2-3 minutes after water comes back to a boil), drain well and place into pan with butter.
Immediately add cream and cheese and toss, turning heat down to low. Add cracked pepper to taste and serve hot!

Macaroni with lots of Cheese
2 cups cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
4 T. unsalted butter
1 T. all-purpose flour
1½ cups evaporated milk
1 t. salt
¼ t. Worcestershire sauce
8 cups water
2 cups uncooked of your favorite noodle (macaroni)

Shred enough cheddar cheese to fill 2 cups. Shred enough mozzarella cheese to fill 1 cup. Set the shredded cheeses aside.
Put the butter in the large saucepan. Set the saucepan on a burner of your stove and turn the heat on to medium. When the butter is melted, add the flour and, using a whisk spoon, stir until the mixture is smooth and you no longer see any white flour. Slowly stir in the evaporated milk until the mixture is smooth, with no lumps. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens slightly, about 4 minutes.
Turn the heat off. Add the shredded cheeses, salt, Worcestershire sauce. Stir until the cheeses melt. Set the mixture aside.
Put the 8 cups water in the large pot. Set the pot on a burner of your stove and turn the heat on to high. Bring the water to a full rolling boil. Carefully drop the macaroni into the water.
Cook uncovered for about 8 minutes.
Drain the macaroni and add to the cheese sauce and serve immediately. Salt and pepper more if you wish.

Shepherd’s Pie
This is such a great dish with lots of wonderful vegetables and meat either the classic way with lamb or hamburger, I like the combination of both. My husband is a big fan of meat and potatoes so this is his all time favorite. If you know you have a busy night, this is great to put together the evening before or in the morning and just reheat.

4 cups Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
2 cups chopped white onion
½ cup each of deveined and finely chopped red, yellow and green pepper
2 t. garlic, smashed
½ cup finely chopped carrot
1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground lamb
1 t. salt
¼ t. pepper
14 oz. can of Italian style diced tomatoes
1 T. butter
½ cup whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 375°. Add the potatoes to the sauce and fill with water and a big pinch of salt, cover and bring to a boil. Once they reach a boil, which is about 10-12 minutes until they are tender. Drain and just leave the lid on.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a larger pan. Add the onion, peppers and cook until the onion is transparent which about 5 minutes is. Add the garlic and carrot and cook, stirring about 1 more minute. Stir in the ground beef and ground lamb breaking up into pieces as it browns for about 4 minutes.
Pour off any excess grease. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the tomatoes and mix well. Pour in the 1½ quart baking dish and set aside.
Drain the potatoes and put through a ricer, or mash well. Beat in the butter and milk and season well with salt and pepper. Spread the mash potatoes over the meat mixture in the baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, right out of the baking dish.

Chicken Pot Pie
4 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
5 cups chicken stock, preferably Swanson All Natural
12 T. unsalted butter
2 cups yellow onions, chopped
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
2 cups medium-diced carrots
2 cups frozen peas
1½ cups frozen small whole onions
½ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

For the Biscuit Topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 T. baking powder
1 t. sugar
1 t. kosher salt
½ t. pepper
7 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced
¾ cup milk
1 t. thyme

Preheat the oven to 375°.
Place the chicken breasts in water with a big pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, and then cook for 20 minutes on medium high. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate to cool. Once the chicken is cooled remove the meat from the bones and tear into bite size pieces.
In a large pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions and carrots over medium-low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock to the sauce. Simmer over low heat for 1 more minute, stirring, until thick. Add 1 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, thyme and heavy cream.
To make the biscuit dough: In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt until evenly combined. Rub 2 tablespoons of the butter into the flour with your fingertips, until it is completely absorbed. Work the remaining butter into the flour until it is in even pieces about the size of a pea. Gently stir the milk into the flour mixture to make loose dough.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Pat the dough by hand into a ½-inch thick rectangle. Gently roll dough out, and use any cutter you like, I prefer the round cutters.
Bring the chicken and vegetable mixture to a boil and pour into an oven safe pie pan, or dish, place the rolled biscuit dough rounds on top. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the pie rest at room temperature for 5 minutes before serving.