“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”

Jane Austen

butternut squash and sweet potatoes 2014

Comfort food has a reputation for being both soothing and unhealthy. Meatloaf with mashed potatoes might be the quintessential comfort food meal, tied perhaps with fettuccine Alfredo. Cream, butter, starch. Rib-sticking food. That’s comfort.

Think, though, about why those particular foods feel comforting. They feel soft in the mouth and don’t challenge taste buds. They don’t require work to eat – no steak knives or risk of breaking a tooth. There’s nothing spicy or sour or bitter about comfort food, but neither is it bland. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Saffron. Nutmeg and cinnamon. All of these are comforting flavors that can elevate something very simple from quick-fix comfort to truly soothing and satisfying.

Instead of the usual suspects, try something that has the same preparation requirements but gives an unexpected flavor – butternut squash or grits, for instance, instead of potatoes or rice.

I love to cook: If you have the time, it’s hard to beat the satisfying comfort of a butternut squash gratin, roast pork loin, and a simple Bibb or butter lettuce salad. Most of the time to prepare a meal like this is hands-off time, while things are in the oven, so it’s good for a Sunday night dinner.

Weeknight reality: If you’re trying to get a comforting meal on the table in less than an hour (on a game day, or the first chilly day, or the night before a test), you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better than stove-top cheese grits. Use stone-ground grits for best flavor and texture. If you’re short on cream or chicken stock, water will do; just stir in extra butter at the end. If you’ve got time to plan (shop) ahead, a patty melt would be another option.

Need a miracle: If your goal is comfort food, but you’re getting grocery food that’s already cooked, then a rotisserie chicken and take-and-bake loaf of bread is your best bet. Upgrade the meal with the Bibb salad (using a real head of lettuce, not a bag, and home-made dressing). Another option would be to “bake” sweet potatoes in the microwave, top them with butter, salt, and a very sparing dash of ground sage; serve with a green salad or steamed broccoli.

Comforting recipes:


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