COMFORT FOODS FOR TROUBLED TIMES

Cooking concept with vegetables and copy space in the middle on wooden background

COMFORT FOODS FOR TROUBLED TIMES

 

You’ve got your orders.  We all must hunker in place now.  What are we going to do about meals since we can’t go out or stock up at the hot bar?  I’ve a friend who sees this as a little silver lining (she’s an eternal optimist!).  She notes that many of us have pantries full of all kinds of ingredients that we can make an easy meal from and maybe this will encourage us to do so.  Pasta, dry beans, canned tomatoes and gosh knows what else. If we don’t have that stuff, there then maybe this is time to stock it up a little.

 

It’s also a time now to try some new recipes that aren’t “cheffy” (turn off the Food Network for goodness sake!) and that you might think about adding some to your regular repertoire.  We all need a couple of go-to, easy-to-do recipes to feed us and our family and friends don’t you think?

 

Here are some of my easy favorites.

 

  • Shakshuka
  • Oven Fried Corn Flake Crumbed Chicken
  • Spaghetti Alla Rustica
  • Coca Cola Braised Brisket
  • The Best Grilled Cheese

 

 

Plus 2 Simple Soups:

 

  • 15 minute “Creamy’ Tomato (but no Cream)
  • Egg Drop Soup

 

EGGS POACHED IN SPICY TOMATO SAUCE

Shakshuka

 

Serves 4 to 6

 

Also known as Shakshouka in the Middle East it is a staple throughout Israel, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. It is often served at breakfast but can be found any time of day.

 

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 small jalapeno chili, stemmed and chopped (or to taste)

1 15-ounce can garbanzos, drained and rinsed
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

1 cup or more chicken stock or water

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

4 – 6 eggs
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon crumbled dry mint
Warm pita, for serving

Heat oil in a heavy 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic and jalapenos and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft and just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add garbanzos, cumin and paprika and cook for another minute or two.

 

Add tomatoes and 1 cup stock; reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.  With a wooden spoon crush some of the beans to help thicken.  Add more stock if desired. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle feta over sauce.

 

Crack eggs into sauce so that eggs are evenly spaced. Cover skillet reduce heat if sauce is bubbling too frantically and cook until whites are set but yolks are runny, 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle shakshuka with parsley and mint and serve with pita, for dipping.

Alternately eggs can be poached separately and added just before serving to heat thru.

OVEN “FRIED” CORN FLAKE CRUMBED CHICKEN

 

Serves 4

 

2 cups well-shaken buttermilk

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed

3 tablespoons hot sauce, such as sriracha or to taste

1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more as desired

2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper plus more as desired

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, optional

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 skinless, bone in chicken thighs

4 skinless, bone in chicken drumsticks

1 1/4 cups crushed corn flakes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), melted

 

 

Combine buttermilk, garlic, hot sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl and stir to combine. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels, then transfer to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Pour buttermilk mixture over chicken, cover, and refrigerate overnight, turning once or twice.

 

Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Place a metal cooling rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

 

Place crushed corn flakes in a shallow dish. and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture, letting excess drip off, and place in corn flakes, turning to coat completely and gently pressing crumbs onto chicken. Transfer to the rack-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining chicken. Drizzle melted butter over chicken pieces.

 

Bake until golden and crispy and internal temperature is 160°F, about 45 minutes.

SPAGHETTI ALLA RUSTICA

 

Serves 4

 

This simple recipe has its roots in the flavorful cooking of Sardinia.   Don’t be afraid of all the anchovies.  They add a deep “Umami” richness and you won’t know they are there even if you think you don’t like them.  Feel free to add whatever else you have on hand like some drained capers, chopped olives or chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

1/2 cup fruity olive oil

3 cloves peeled garlic, slightly crushed

6 (or more) anchovy fillets in olive oil, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried

Sea salt

Red chile flakes

1/2-pound dry spaghetti

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup or so freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and gently fry garlic until they are lightly browned.  Discard them, add anchovies and cook over low heat until they dissolve into a paste.  Stir in oregano, salt to taste and a big pinch of red pepper flakes.  Set aside and keep warm.

 

Meanwhile heat plenty of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti until just tender, al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water and place spaghetti in a heated serving bowl.  Add anchovy mixture, parsley and zest and toss quickly adding a bit of reserved cooking water if desired to make a creamy sauce.  Serve immediately topped with the cheese.

 

COCA COLA BRISKET

Serves 8 to 12

 

A simple and classic way to cook brisket with Southern roots (where they use Dr. Pepper too) and very simple to do. I’m specifying “Mexican” Coca cola here.  Smithsonian Magazine describes it as a product with a discernible difference.  Aficionados claim that Coke made with “real” sugar rather than domestically produced Coke made with high fructose corn syrup has a truer, less “chemical-y” taste, a realer real thing!   Check out Costco and Mexican markets and food trucks who have made a commitment to it.  Not hard to find if you are in the right neighborhood.

1 large onion, peeled and sliced

4 pound or so beef brisket, visible fat untrimmed

1 12-ounce can or bottle Coca-Cola (Mexican origin preferred)

1 envelope dried onion soup mix (yes, seriously)

1cupbottled chili sauce


Preheat the oven to 325°F (162°C). Scatter the onions in the bottom of a nonreactive roasting pan or Pyrex baking dish. Pat the brisket dry and place on top.

Mix the Coke, chili sauce, and dried onion soup mix in a bowl and pour it over the brisket. Cover the baking dish or roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake the brisket until tender, about 30 minutes per pound, figure 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the brisket.


Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile strain the cooking liquid discarding the onions and skim and discard the fat from the surface of the pan juices. Pour the defatted pan juices into a gravy boat or, if a thicker consistency is desired, pour the juices into a saucepan and simmer until reduced slightly.  Alternately you can thicken with a little cornstarch slurry.

Trim any visible fat from the brisket and thinly slice it against the grain. Pile the slices on a platter and pass the warm pan juices on the side.

THE BEST GRILLED CHEESE

 

Serves 4

 

My Grandmother was way ahead of her time with delicious techniques. Her secret to the best and fastest grilled cheese you’ll ever have is:  Mayonnaise!  It won’t burn as easily as butter and the result is crisp and delicious.  Try it with a chilled glass of your favorite white wine. You’ll be amazed!  Of course, you can add anything to the filling including thinly sliced prosciutto or any other salumi that you like as well as spicy greens like arugula.  I’ve suggested cheddar but also experiment with other delicious melting cheeses. Go Crazy!

 

8 1/2-inch thick slices of good chewy rustic bread

1-1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup mayonnaise

8 ounces shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

 

Brush 4 of the bread slices with mustard and top with the cheese.  Place the remaining 4 slices of bread on top and spread with half the mayonnaise.

Heat a large non -stick frying pan or griddle over medium heat until hot, about 3 minutes.  Place the sandwiches mayonnaise side down in the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown, and the cheese is starting to melt, about 4 minutes.  Spread the remaining half of the mayonnaise on top of the sandwiches, turn over and cook until the second sides are golden brown, and the cheese completely melted, another 4 minutes or so.  You may have to do this in batches.  If so, heat your oven to 275 degrees and place cooked sandwiches in the oven to keep warm while you finish the rest.

Let the sandwiches cool for a minute or two before cutting in half and devouring.

15 MINUTE CREAMY TOMATO SOUP

 

Serve 4

 

This was adapted from a recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt who writes for one of my favorite web sites:  Serious Eats as well as the New York Times.  It’s delicious on its own, but I also like it as a base for any additions like roasted mushrooms or tofu or quickly sautéed spinach.  It’s also vegan if you leave out the cheese garnish.

 

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided plus more for garnish

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

Big pinch red pepper flakes

2 slices white bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-inch pieces

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

2-1/2 cups vegetable stock or water

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For garnish:  Chopped chives, freshly grated pecorino cheese and more olive oil

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.  Add garlic, onions, oregano, fennel seed and red pepper flakes.  Cook, stirring until onion are softened but not brown, about 3 minutes.  Add bread and tomatoes.  Mash the tomatoes with potato masher or whisk.  Add stock or water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

Transfer soup to a blender.  Blend soup starting at low speed.  You may have to do in two batches.  With blender running, gradually add remaining olive to form a smooth emulsion.  Season soup to your taste with salt and pepper.  Ladle into individual bowls and top with chives, pecorino and more olive oil.

EGG DROP SOUP

 

Serves 4

 

In Rome this classic soup is known as Stracciatella. Add some watercress, wilted spinach, cooked beans or whatever else you like.

6 cups good quality store-bought or homemade chicken broth

5 black peppercorns

1 sprig thyme

1 small dried bay leaf

2 large eggs

1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

4 basil leaves–stacked, rolled and thinly sliced crosswise

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lemon, quartered

In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the peppercorns, thyme and bay leaf and cook gently and covered to concentrate flavors, about 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, use a fork to beat the eggs with the Parmesan cheese. Return the soup to a simmer and while whisking the hot broth with a fork, slowly pour in the egg-cheese mixture, stirring until the eggs have formed ribbons and are just set, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Stir in the basil, salt and pepper and serve the soup with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

 

John Ash © 2020