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Comfort Food Reinterpreted


edemuth
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Comfort food, from a 40 year old NJ gal....

Cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Fried flounder with tarter sauce, every Friday during lent

ham steak and mashed potatoes

snickerdoodles

captain Crunch cereal...still my favorite

macaroni and cheese, and fight for the bread crumb topping crust before your sisters got to it!

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What we're doing is somewhere in between completely turning the concept of a particular dish on its ear and using convenience products. For example, I'm cranking out fresh homemade egg noodles for the casserole, but I'm using Italian canned tune (the kind that comes in olive oil). I'm using a sour cherry jam I picked up recently as the base for the sour cherry sauce on the pineapple upside down cake. And the cocktail pumpernickel that goes with the liptauer cheese is the good ol' Rubischlager you can buy in the deli section of any big grocery store. There just isn't enough time or energy to absolutely make everything from scratch in a unique and amusing way.

About those noodles: I've decided to use all unbleached white flour in the dough. Normally I would use all semolina or 50-50 semolina-white. I'm considering replacing a small portion of the flour with cake flour which is still lower in gluten and therefore chewiness to make the noodles really tender and innocuous.

I do a retro dinner party maybe once a year. One out of a dozen or so bigger parties, plus another 20 or so nights when we have just a couple people over, is not a lot of retro food cooking. The last time I did one I made individual tofu pot pies in puff pastry crusts. People loved 'em. But I don't think that cooking this kind of food is as interesting as exploring less familiar cuisines or tackling new dishes. I like to do the retro thing when it's cold, because that's when I think of eating these kinds of rich creamy food. I'm already starting to dream of asparagus with eggs and little baby green salads with nasturtium blossoms, so I guess it's good we're almost done with winter.

Some of my personal comfort foods include cream cheese and olive sammiches, PB&J on toasted whole wheat bread, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, gefilte fish with chrain, apples with peanut butter. Simple foods, caloric foods, foods that take no time to prepare or assemble. I eat all of these on a fairly regular basis and I don't mentally attach them to any particular time period. I have associations with things like tuna casserole, but I see no reason to eat that sort of thing regularly...you can't make just one serving easily, and it's not a set of tastes I need often. Cream cheese and olive sammiches, particularly those made with Santa Barbara Olive Company Martini Olives...I need those once a week!

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Just a suggestion -- my mother's recipe for tuna noodle casserole (which does in fact include canned cream of mushroom soup -- atypical of her recipes) has a topping of sliced almonds.  This is amazing.  It really makes the dish, and I think strikes a nice balance between too retro, and too tarted up!

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By the way, I picked up some luxury comfort food last night from the French Butcher (2nd Avenue between 22nd and 23rd, Manhattan).  He makes a meat loaf which he sells you for $16.  However, he pumps some nice meat into it, including, I suspect, a little foie gras.  It will feed two gluttons, or three normal people, so it's not quite as outrageously expensive as it might sound.  Popular with fourteen month old babies too, we discovered.

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Broccoli-cheddar-rice casserole, tuna casserole—never tried these. Maybe it’s true you have to grow up with them to appreciate them.

That's exactly MY point Yvonne.  I (and I suppose I'm only speaking for myself here) am about 20 years too young to have grown up with these "delights".  For me it's totally retro-food.  Retro of a time when my parents were kids.  I may have seen the occasional tuna casserole at some friend's house when I was a kid... but we always thought those folks were weird.

Fondue on the other hand... now that was the 1970's!!!  :raz:

jhlurie, I was born in 1970.  So I guess I was one of those kids you thought were weird!  :biggrin:

My parents have never been hip when it comes to food.  Plus, their parents were fairly old when they had them and my parents were fairly old when they had me, so that may have something to do with why I grew up eating tuna noodle casserole.  I also think casseroles are mostly an American southern/midwestern thing, and I have relatives in both regions.

I have suggested doing a fondue party to Malawry but got vetoed.  She returned a fondue set she received as a gift because it didn't meet the utility criteria.  And personally, I don't think it's worth spending money to buy one since I wouldn't use it that often.  So... no fondue for us!

Erin
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jhlurie, I was born in 1970.  So I guess I was one of those kids you thought were weird!  :biggrin:

1970?  Hah... youngster.   :smile:

Actually I was twisting the truth a bit.  I've always hated canned tuna, so my mother never made anything with it.  I also had (and still have) a strong dislike of mayo, so that eliminated a lot of these "traditional" suburban foods.

Besides... it was the parents who I thought were weird, not the kids.  Unless, of course, the kid was eagerly slurping the stuff down instead of complaining "Mom! Not tuna cassarole again!!!"

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Comfort food isnt comfort food unless its just the plain awful food you loved growing up. For example:

Mustard and Peanut Butter Sandwiches

"Slop" (When all my mom had was tomato sauce and egg noodles)

"Noodle Soup" (When all my mom had was beef broth and egg noodles... we ate a lot of egg noodles!)

Hushpuppies from Long John Silvers

Mashed Potatoes straight from the Hungry Jack (might as well be called Foam Potatoes)

Jeno's pizza

Spaghettios (in my grosser teenage days, enjoying it cold from the can... giving me the iron i need to make it through the day)

Spam sandwiches on boy scout sandwiches.

From college: White Castle.... (this had to do with a bizzare fraternity hazing ritual that I shouldnt get into for fear of embarrassment.)

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I note in this connection that the latest issue of Saveur contains a recipe for Frito pie: Basically, you slit a bag of Fritos lengthwise and pour on chili and onions.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, it's not a recipe per se, I don't think. It's just described in the back section where they're supposed to talk about cooking technique but mostly talk about what color tiles the editors use in their kitchens.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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tommy, your "frito dog" actually sounds pretty good!

you should seriously give it a try.  although i was only about 14 years old when i thought it was really good, i still do think it's really good.  i think it works better with boiled hot dogs, rather than grilled or fried.  but i haven't put that much thought into that aspect.

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I definitely agree about the hot dog being boiled, so you get that contrast of textures thing goin' on.  I've never had a chili dog before, but I think one could also make a chili dog, and top it with fritos.  It would be almost like a frito pie chili dog.  How's that for comfort food?  (served with tums, of course!)

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yes, the contrast in texture was the one thing i thought of while typing.  giving it further thought, i think the greasiness of the fritos would play well off of the "clean" boiled flavor of the dog much better than the already greasy flavor of a fried or grilled.  if this keeps up, i'll be having 3 frito dogs for lunch tomorrow.  :biggrin:

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I loooooove Fritos Pie, and if you use vegetarian chili it's just as good. I haven't made one of those ina  long time. A Fritos Dawg sounds pretty good too.

Thought I'd post a postmortem on our menu. Some things worked better than others, of course. Edemuth's liptauer cheese was very popular...we couldn't keep our hands outta it and kept smearing it on cocktail rye, Stoned Wheat Thins and celery. I was unable to procure pomegranates anywhere, and I tried a lot of stores (I thought they were in season in the dead of winter? I guess I was wrong.) So I ended up using grenadine (it's pomegranate syrup, right?) on the cut up grapefruit. Just a small splash. It actually tasted pretty good, plus it make the already pink grapefruit look somewhat flourescent. Space-age grapefruit. Most of those old-style fruit cocktails used some kind of syrup or else a syrup-based sauce (I saw recipes for dousing fruit in ginger ale in the aforementioned Settlement Cookbook).

The entree was a little more mixed in its reception. The casserole was tasty, and the noodles appropriately delicate, but it was a little bit on the dry side plus I think the baking and reheating made it a little overdone. I think my bechamel was a little too thick. My overall assessment of making a tuna noodle casserole from scratch is that it is better than the Campbell's cream of mushroom-Mueller's egg noodle type, but it's not significantly better...not so much better to be worth the effort. If you're going to make part of the effort and you have a machine, expend the effort on making the noodles. Use the canned stuff for the sauce. The noodles made the biggest difference. Everybody seemed to like the onion rings we plated on the top, which were dunked in a thick beer batter and fried in small "nests." And the green beans in lemon vinaigrette were not as lemony as we would have liked, but they were still pretty good all told.

The dessert was a big hit. The pineapple was nicely spicy and a little syrupy in its butter-rum-brown sugar sauce. The cake was delicate and buttery and very light without being too egg-y. And the sour cherry sauce was incredibly satisfying for such a simple concoction (sour cherry jam, reconstituted chopped dried cherries, the cherry soaking water, and lemon juice). I bought coconut sorbet and bourbon vanilla ice cream to go on top from Sutton (the pints carried the Balducci's label) and most people chose both. They were pretty good, too. I'd definitely make this again for the right occasion...way better than the classic pineapple upside-down cake with canned pineapple and maraschino cherries.

I think I'm done with "comfort food" until next winter, though. This stuff is way too rich to eat regularly.

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Thanks for the postmortem, Malawry.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Retro and comfort seem to be relative...those of us here who grew up in the '50s and '60s think it was our parents who first cooked with canned soups, spam and all of those other convenience foods we associate with childhood. But my 1931 Joy of Cooking is loaded with canned soup recipes.

There's a great book about American eating (Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet, by Harvey A. Levenstein, Oxford, 1988) that describes the various phases we ate through as society moved from the farm to the city.

Freedom from spending all day over a hot stove (fired by wood or coal that had to be split or carried, and the water usually had be to hauled in as well) was a big deal, and a can of Campbells soup could save a couple of hours.

I once made green bean casserole from scratch, too. The occasion was my first seder (I'm just a country goy), and the host was an old friend who was also my editor. One of the guests was the paper's restaurant reviewer, so I wanted to do it right. I was also surprised that the same thing I had eaten almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas of my life was considered an integral part of this Jewish celebration.

Anyway, I used fresh beans with a mushroom-sherry sauce. Still used the Durkee canned onions (and I still them call them that even though French's name has been on the label for years). Everybody hated it. The wanted the comfort food they had grown up with.

I still make it on Thanksgiving, pretty much as Rachel described (but the water chestnuts are out...must be an east coast thing), including no extra milk. And our (almost) grown boys love it.

Jim

olive oil + salt

Real Good Food

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my mother used to make banana pudding from scratch--of course, the 'nilla wafers came from a box.  she used the recipe on the back.  i haven't had that in years.  real meringue on top.

comfort food is rich, but i find myself able to eat it regularly in the cold winter months.  of course, I am in georgia, where cold is warm, but our house is drafty.  meatloaf and mashed potatoes would be gross in july.

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Homemade banana pudding with fresh ingredients is really otherwordly.  I recently tried it at Magnolia Bakery in New York City, the quintessential purveyor of comfort/nostalgic American desserts - mile-high and pillowy, moist cakes, buttercream icing . . . red velvet!  It's tiny and packed at night.  A fun place to visit if you're ever in the city, Stellabella, and cute counter boys.

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I note in this connection that the latest issue of Saveur contains a recipe for Frito pie: Basically, you slit a bag of Fritos lengthwise and pour on chili and onions.

Frito pie was a regular feature of school lunches when I was growing up in Lubbock, Texas.  Unfortunately, there was no bag, just a casserole of chili topped with cheese and fritos.

I think Frito pie originated in the hill country around Austin and San Antonio.  There were a couple of places in Austin still serving it last time I was there.

The only thing more common than Frito pie at school was chicken-fried steak.  It was always served with mashed potatoes, cream gravy, mushy green beans, and a fluffy white roll.  Now that's West Texas comfort food.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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  • 11 months later...
I note in this connection that the latest issue of Saveur contains a recipe for Frito pie: Basically, you slit a bag of Fritos lengthwise and pour on chili and onions.

John Schwartz has a piece in today's NY Times About Frito Pie. (Glad I checked the search engine.)

The description gave me a frisson that was almost erotic. I wish I had never heard of this dish. I want it sooooo bad!

His recipe:

"1) Take bag of Fritos. Slice lengthwise.

2)Pour in a cup of hot chili---he says Wolf Brand canned chili is esssential

3)Add cheese. Velveeta is fine. Add onions and jalapenos if you like

4)Eat it before it congeals"

I cannot, in good conscience, ever prepare this. Not from the obvious health concerns. From the "maintain girlish figure" concerns.

Maybe the amuse at my deathbed meal. :sad:

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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