January is typically filled with cold, dreary days. Sunshine is minimal and outside activities are few and far between. Most people I know dislike winter and are waiting for Spring to arrive. To make matters worse, the weather man (or woman) is predicting a ‘winter mix’ of sleet, snow, drizzle and freezing rain towards the end of the week. So what is a person to do? Hibernate until the conditions improve? Become a couch potato and lay around watching television? How about taking advantage of the time inside and prepare some favorite comfort recipes? This time of the year is the perfect time for dragging out the cookbooks and/or crock pot and cooking something warm, creamy and comforting.
But what exactly is ‘comfort food’? Typically, ‘comfort food’ warms more than the body. It feeds the soul too. Comfort food is food that transports you back to a simpler time. To memories of favorite people and places. To a time when the aroma of the food cooking was noticed and appreciated. To a time when the sight of Mom in the kitchen baking cookies or baking bread was etched into your memory. Today, comfort food dishes are frequently found in diners. They are usually loaded with fat, flavor and texture. Comfort foods are the dishes we turn to whenever we have had a bad day. They have a way of soothing like nothing else. Don’t believe me? Sit for a minute and think of your favorite comfort foods. What are they? Macaroni and cheese? Fried Chicken? Ham and beans? Chocolate pudding? For me, the smell of Mom’s homemade bread rolls or peach cobbler always takes me back.
Did you know that herbs and spices can add additional flavor to your treasured family recipes? By adding a pinch of this or a dab of that, your family’s favorites can become even more delectable. The dried herbs I turn to again and again include; cinnamon basil, oregano, bay laurel. hot pepper flakes, sage, rosemary and thyme. Herbal marinades are also easy to create and are simple to use. They can help to tenderize even the toughest cut of meat. A marinade is simply a mixture of oil (vegetable, olive or canola) and vinegar (white wine, red wine or even apple cider) mixed together with herbs and spices. Favorite marinade herbs and spices to use include; garlic, dried rosemary, peppercorns and dried basil. (The marinade will absorb more of the flavors if bottled and allowed to sit for several days prior to using). Combine all and add to a zip top bag along with the meat for your recipe. Place in refrigerator for several hours (preferably overnight) and drain in the morning. Add it to your favorite recipe and be surprised by the tenderness and flavor of your dish!
To get you started, I wanted to include a favorite comfort dish for our family, hearty Vegetable Soup (pictured above). The recipe varies each time we create it depending upon what is in the freezer. It is also a great way to use up small containers of vegetables from the refrigerator. Regardless of the specific vegetables and ingredients used, however, it never fails to fill our bellies and comfort our souls. A trip back in time…
Hearty Vegetable Soup (crock pot)
2-3 skinless chicken breasts, uncooked and cubed
1/2-1 lb. beef steak (or venison), cubed
1 Tbl. olive oil 1 1/2 -2 c. herbal marinade (see above)
1 clove garlic, peeled 1 onion 2 stalks celery 2 carrots, peeled
1 Tbl green pepper
2-3 potatoes, cubed 1/2 c. summer squash (frozen) 1 1/4 head cabbage, chunked
1/2 can (each) or 1 c. frozen sweet corn, green peas, green beans, broccoli (or use whatever veggies you have on hand)
1 can diced tomatoes (no added salt) 1 small can tomato paste
1 1/2- 2 c. water salt and pepper to taste 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried cinnamon basil 1 bay leaf pinch hot pepper flakes
Place beef and chicken in zip top bag. Cover with marinade and place in fridge for several hours or overnight. Turn bag several times during process making sure meat is completely coated. Drain meat and discard marinade. Turn crock pot on high and pour olive oil in bottom. Squish peeled garlic under knife on cutting board (or cut into small pieces) and place in oil along with onion, celery, carrots, herbs and spices. Allow to cook together for about 30 minutes. Add vegetables, potatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and water. Add more water if needed. Turn crock pot down to low and check time. Soup will be done in about 8 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high. Stir occasionally during cooking time. Note: Softer vegetables such as corn, green beans or peas can be added during last hour of cooking time if preferred.
Ahhhh. Hearty Vegetable Soup. Comfort in a pot and another of Life’s Simple Pleasures!
Do you have a favorite comfort food recipe using herbs and spices? Share it with us. We may even feature it on a future blog!