As the sun is overpowered by the grey clouds of fall, a familiar chill fills the air, reminding us that our precious summer is ending and Northwest rain will soon be dampening our days. The lighter foods we enjoy in the summer months are replaced with hearty dishes like soups, stews, and roasts.
When writing fall menus, I usually add a few menu items that I think of as comfort foods. As I thought about comfort foods, I suddenly realized how powerfully food consoles and sustains us. The birth of the neighborhood restaurant was created out a deep need of immigrants to taste and smell the foods that gave them comfort as children and into adulthood. It’s a sensation so strong that it can transport us back in time to the place where we first tasted something so amazing that is was permanently etched into our memories. The need to recreate these culinary expressions of emotional comfort drives us to not only seek out these foods, but to share them with our friends so that they too may be transported to a place that defines home.
The emotions surrounding these foods are strong and range across the spectrum from happy to sad. Some of the foods will elicit pride, others embarrassment. For example, and I will be honest, one of my guilty pleasures is the comfort I get from eating a fried bologna sandwich. When I get the need for one, I rush through the market hoping no one will see the bologna, American cheese, and soft white bread hidden under the vegetables and healthy food in my cart. In a small town, a chef has no secrets from the all-knowing cashier. As she drags my items slowly across the scanner, she hesitates for just a moment, then comments on my groceries, “Well, let’s see what the chef is having for dinner” or “With all that gourmet food in the restaurant, this is what you really eat?”
What Miss Nosey grocery lady doesn’t understand is that I am going to combine these unhealthy ingredients into a magical sandwich that, after my first bite, will wash the stress of the day and transport me back to that summer vacation after second grade when my best buddy’s dad made us fried bologna sandwiches. Summer vacation to a second-grader means three months with no school work. Are you kidding me? It’s the greatest! Now that I gotten that off my chest and have revealed one of my not-so-fancy food cravings, I wanted to share a few other comfort foods that may trigger a memory for you.
Tuna Noodle Casserole (1968 Vintage)
Directions: In a large bowl, combine cream soup, mayonnaise, milk, cream, and sour cream. Mix well in a skillet over medium-high heat and add butter. When butter is melted, add onion, celery, and mushrooms. Sauté until soft.
In a large bowl, combine sautéed onions and celery, sautéed mushrooms, tuna, cooked egg noodles, cheddar, dry sherry, peas, chopped eggs, Dijon, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and salt. Mix well, then fold in creamed soup mixture.
Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F. Pour tuna noodle casserole into a buttered casserole dish and cover with foil. Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes, then remove foil. Continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes until the temperature reaches 180˚ F (baking the casserole to a higher temperature will make the cream separated). Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. The finished casserole should be thick and creamy.
Chicken Pot Pie
“They are hot, so be careful,” Nancy warned. I used my fork to pick at the edge of the pie as my little sister copied my every move. The crust was warm and salty and tasted nothing like mom’s pie crust. The combination of the buttery flaky crust and the creamy sauce was amazing. I gave my sister an approving glance as we devoured our special dinner.
Directions: Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Place a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium-high heat and add butter. When butter has melted, add chopped chicken breast. Stir the chicken and continue cooking until the chicken has turned white on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add chopped carrots, celery, and garlic. Stir and continue cooking the vegetables until the carrots are cooked through but still firm to the bite, about 3 minutes.
Add the onions and cook for 1 minute, then sprinkle the flour over the chicken and vegetables, stir to combine well. Cook for 1 minute, then pour the chicken stock over the mixture and stir until the mixture thickens and begins to boil. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the pepper, salt, thyme, and tarragon, then stir to combine. Add the heavy cream and frozen peas, then stir the mixture and cook for about 5 minutes.
Pan Fried Oysters
Directions: Drain oysters and place on a paper towel. In a small bowl, combine flour, garlic, onion, Old Bay Seasoning, and black pepper. Mix to combine. Add drained and blotted oysters to seasoned flour and toss gently with your fingers to coat oyster evenly with flour. Prepare a serving platter lined with paper towels.
In a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, add 1½ tablespoons of oil. Add breaded oysters to skillet in a single layer. As edges of oysters begin to brown, add 1 tablespoon of melted butter to skillet. After 3 to 4 minutes or when the oysters are golden brown on the underside, turn the oyster and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes or when the opposite side is golden brown. Remove oyster and place on paper-lined platter. Clean the skillet and repeat the procedure until all the oysters are pan-fried.
Transfer the pan-fried oyster to a warm serving platter and squeeze small amount of fresh lemon juice over the top of each oyster. Serve with tartar sauce.