Comfort food: who doesn't love it? Easy to inhale, non-figure-friendly, often cheesy, buttery, carb-laden, saucy, meaty--that's comfort food to me. Lately on television and in foodie magazines the main focus has been heart-warming foods but not really heart-healthy foods, but let's not go there right now! You name it: Mac n' cheese, pot roast, pork chops, fried chicken, bbq brisket, banana pudding--the list goes on. Competitive cooking show winners do seem to score points on innovation but most frequently, foods that remind one of home.
When I close my eyes and think of my mom's cooking I remember the yeasty smell of fresh baked cinnamon rolls loaded with apples, raisins and walnuts and the warm heat clouding our windows from moose or chicken stews brewing away all day on our stove. But I hated the acrid garlicky smell of beans cooking because we dined on plain pinto bean soup at least once a week. It tasted like pasty sludge in my mouth. To this day, I can barely tolerate bean soups unless they are "savvy" like Italian White Bean, Sausage and Kale!
I would say to my mother, "why can't I have a normal sandwich like the other kids?" as I grumpily stuffed my handmade hummus, cucumber and tomato sandwich on fresh whole-wheat bread into my bag. Oh, how I longed for a sandwich with packaged white bread, American cheese and soggy bologne slathered with greasy mayo. Huddling on the bench at lunch-hour, I would wolf the sandwich down as humanly fast as possible; it would be so embarrassing if my friends saw the offending matter!
Then at night after my parents lazily climbed into bed, my sister and I would creep downstairs like little black cats into the kitchen pantry and pull out our beloved secret stashes of M&Ms, Cheese Whiz on Ritz Crackers and Shrimp Cup o' Noodles.
I was such a horrible child. Who does that?
As an adult, who basically makes comfort food all the time for a living, and has learned the significance of mass appeal, I laugh inside. My Filipina-Chinese mother makes the best homey delicious food of all time, and I know that now! I look forward to her cooking like Pork Adobo, thick with soft onions, fragrant ginger, coconut vinegar, cloves, bay leaf and a whaft of cinnamon stick (no one knows this so I just spilled the "beans"), and dishes like her Chicken Curry with creamy potatoes, basil, lime juice and the ever present fish sauce, all served on a mountain of steamed Jasmine rice. This is our food.
Today, Chef Tony, told me he made Chicken and Dumplings for some clients, brimming with chunks of tender chicken, herbed gravy, and root vegetables. He said, "I saw it on 'Diner, Drive-ins and Dives!'" See what I mean? Warm, pillowy and cozy, I'm practically drooling just thinking about it. Every restaurant on Guy Fieri's show is based on their personal interpretation of comfort food no matter who they are or what country they're from.
We make a lot of dishes like such--chicken pot pie, braised beef and mushroom burgundy, chunks of cornbread lathered with honey butter, and they involve some serious eye-closing savoring moments. What's ironic is that Comfort Food is the simplest and honest food a person can make, yet the most craved. No matter how fancy, trendy, modern or innovative we can be with our offerings, no one will ever get tired of Comfort Food. I bet my gravy on that!
(Afternote: There are so many recipes out there valiantly trying to re-make your favorite childhood foods into low-fat, dairy-free or wheat-free. It will never taste the same as you remember. I would honesty just make something else that's sauteed, poached, roasted or steamed. Replace butter with a little olive-oil or grapeseed oil, and use the freshness of herbs, greens and vegetables to shine through. Just call it your "New Food" and save the "Comfort Food" as a treat for here and there.)