Recipes for Comfort Foods

Cooking food that warms, including recipes for apple crunch pie, oven fried chicken, potato gratin, creamed spinach, macaroni with three cheeses.

| April/May 1995

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    Macaroni and cheese tastes so good on a chilly evening.
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    When the weather grows cold, nothing hits the spot like traditional comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach or fried chicken.

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Though early April, it's somehow managed to be shivery cold out, the sky's darkening, and spring seems to have missed us completely. I grab a woolly blanket, and muse over the hot, comforting food choices that my family is sure to demand upon tromping in the front door. It's days like these that we're not really in the mood for what my son refers to as "weird healthy stuff"; just bring on the home cooking like Grandma used to make. You know—the no-frills food that sticks to your ribs such as stews, pot roasts, or rice pudding.

Of course what's comforting to one person may not satisfy another. Some of us remember our all-time favorites, such as tapioca pudding or Mom's apple pie. Call my husband strange (and I sometimes do), but he actually looks forward to bleak days so he can skid home and eat roast chicken with gravy-soaked mashed potatoes and steamed baby carrots. So I decided that it might be possible to enter the comfort zone without attending national-chicken-chain restaurants or even pouring a can of mushroom soup on string beans. Maybe we could steam and bake and roast our way through the rough spots, concentrating on vegetables, whole grains, low-fat meats, and simple desserts, while still enjoying our guilt-free comfort foods.

Apple Crunch Pie

This is an easy pie if you use a ready-made crust and slice the apples in a food processor. I use green apples such
as Granny Smith or pippin.
1 9-inch deep-dish, ready-made frozen crust (1 use a whole -wheat crust) or roll out your own * (see above)
5 cups thinly sliced apples (about 5 medium apples)—leave on the skins
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate
3 tablespoons partially frozen butter, cut into cubes
3/4 cup sifted flour (I use whole-wheat pastry flour)

1/2 cup plus I tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss the apple slices with the flour and spices in a large bowl. Drizzle on the apple juice concentrate. Pour into a large piece of foil, wrap them up, and bake for 20 minutes while you make the topping. In a food processor (or using a pastry blender or two forks) quickly mix the butter, flour, sugar, and cinnamon just until mixture turns into large crumbs. Remove the apples from the oven and pat into the crust. The pie should be quite full. Place the pie on a cookie sheet and pat the crumb topping evenly on top of the apples. Bake (on the cookie sheet if you wish) for 50-60 minutes until lightly browned. Cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing. Serve with vanilla frozen yogurt.

*Homemade Crust:

This crust can be made easily in the food processor in three minutes. If you don't have a processor, use a pastry blender or two forks. To cut down on the fat, reduce the butter to 1/4 cup. The crust will be a little less tender.
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (sifted) (or 1/2 , cup unbleached flour plus 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour)
1/2 cup frozen butter
3-4 tablespoons ice water

Cut the butter into 1/2,-inch slices. Put into the food processor with the flour and pulse until the flour and margarine are pebble sized. Continue to pulse and slowly add the water. The dough will form a ball when enough water has been added. Press dough into a thick circle. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or freeze until pie day. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator. This recipe makes one nine-inch, one-crust pie.

Oven Fried Chicken

This chicken is the lower-in-fat answer to fried chicken and it tastes better. If you want to use white meat instead, slice the split breasts in half prior to preparation.

About 3 pounds chicken thighs (about 12 medium-sized thighs)—skinned 
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 teaspoons oil—canola or olive

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/3 cup dry bread crumbs* (I use plain whole-wheat bread)
1/4 cup finely grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper
1 large clove garlic—minced

Place the skinned thighs in a deep bowl, pour the buttermilk over the chicken, and toss until the pieces are coated.

Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Pour the coating ingredients into a large plastic (Tupperware-type) lidded bowl. Put on the lid and shake. You can also use a large paper bag.

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