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Comforting food and friends

Posted: November 2, 2010 9:31 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Merry’s potato soup.

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I knew it would happen ... the extended Indian summer would finally end, and cooler weather would dictate what I should stir up in the kitchen.

A simmering pot of savory delicious soup would replace my favorite cool, crisp summer salad. A craving for creamy homemade chicken pot pie would scoot grilled chicken right off the menu.

Ah, the joy and need for comfort food.

What is comfort food? Why do we crave it?

Scientists report that comfort foods create a chemical reaction in the brain.

After eating comfort food, the brain releases a “feel-good” hormone into our bodies that perks us right up after a stressful day or even gloomy weather.  (Ask a woman, and she will confirm that a little chocolate can mark a big change in her mood).

I have my own Merry comfort-food theory. I inquired on Facebook, asking several friends what foods brought them comfort and why. While I thought everyone would declare chicken pot pie, not so.

People’s comfort-food selection varies drastically depending on their cultural upbringing and personal experience.

Comfort foods don’t have to be gooey, buttery, rich, calorie-laden dishes. My girlfriend didn’t hesitate to declare her favorite comfort food was cinnamon toast, just like her auntie made it.

Comfort foods are like a bridge that takes us to a place and time when we experienced safety, joy, love, good times and well, comfort.

That’s why the first peach of the season comforts my heart and delights my taste buds. It brings my dad back, even if for just a moment.

This year, when the weather began to change, I had a fun idea to ask my girlfriends over for dinner and bring their favorite comfort food. I eagerly awaited their reply. What would they bring?

Perhaps we would feast on chicken and dumplings, cheddar-packed mac-and-cheese, meatloaf and the creamiest broccoli soup. I knew what I wanted to make, our families favorite thick potato soup topped with grated cheese, chives and bacon. A fun culinary adventure had begun.

Our menu shaped up in an unexpected way.

Lynne’s e-mail stated, “Count me in. I’m bringing my mom’s chocolate cake.” Thanks Lynne, that will be a perfect way to end our comfort dinner.

Judy left me a phone message, “I’m coming with my grandmother’s carrot, pineapple, apple salad.”

Huh? Carrot salad as a comfort food?

That took me by surprise, but confirmed that a comfort food is whatever awakens the soul to an association of familiarity to peace, assurance, and well-being. (Later, when I ate Judy’s salad, I realized that my mom’s carrot raisin salad actually was a comfort food for me, too).

There is one thing I love more than comfort foods, and that’s enjoying a meal at a table full of friends.

Dail called to say she could make the dinner, but due to her work schedule and leaving for a missionary trip, she didn’t have time to cook.

Her presence would infuse the evening in a special way, so I volunteered for “us” to make Tim’s favorite chicken pot pie together.

After all, we both have sons named Timothy, and young men always love their mama’s homemade chicken pot pie.

As Dail and I flipped the crust onto the chicken pot pie, we giggled, hoping for the best. The best did turn out.

All of our comfort dishes were soothing and delicious.

I loved how Lynne summarized our culinary adventure, “The food is great but I am comforted just by sitting at the table with you all!”

Tim’s favorite pot pie
1 pound chicken breast
 (boneless and skinless) 
  cubed
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup cubed potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon fresh minced
   rosemary
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon poultry
     seasoning
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2/3 cup milk
1 (9-inch) package
  unbaked pie crusts

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In saucepan, combine chicken, carrots, celery, and potatoes. Add water to cover and boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and set aside. In the saucepan over medium heat, cook onions and rosemary in butter until onions are soft and translucent. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Slowly stir in chicken broth and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick. Remove from heat and set aside. Place the chicken mixture in bottom pie crust. Pour hot liquid mixture over. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make several small slits in the top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cover with foil, if before serving. Serves 4-6.

Merry’s potato soup

Okay, now this has always been a throw together. Just taste and adjust soup as you go along.
8 pounds potatoes
Whole milk
Butter
Cheddar cheese
Chives
Bacon bits
Peel and quarter potatoes. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Blend in batches potatoes, potato water, milk and butter until smooth. Add lots of salt and any herb blended seasoning.
There you have it, creamy delicious potato soup.
Grated cheddar cheese on top is a must, along with bacon bits and chives. If you want to flavor the soup, garlic salt, sour cream or ranch dressing are tasty toss-ins.
This recipe should make about 10-12 bowls.

Judy’s carrot apple
pineapple salad

1 can crushed
pineapple
Carrots
Apple
Raisins (optional)

I loved the salad Judy brought for us because it was so juicy and packed with crunch. Just toss pineapple with lots of grated carrots and a peeled, chopped apple. If you want my mama’s version, add the raisins.

Lynne’s fudge
pudding cake

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking
   powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsweet-
   ened baking cocoa
1 teaspoon espresso
   powder
Combine:
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons melted
   butter

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. If you wish, stir in half cup chopped walnuts or pecans.

Spread into a buttered six cup casserole dish. Combine one cup brown sugar with 1/4 cup cocoa and sprinkle over the batter. Bake for 50 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Merry Graham is a Newhall resident, fantastic home cook and winner of numerous recipe contests. Vote for Merry’s triple stuffed poblano peppers recipe in a Cacique cheese cooking competition right now. Give it a 5-star, and click the red VOTE button! Go to http://www.caciqueusa.com/goautentico/50/triple_stuffed_poblano_peppers.

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