Hippo Manchester
September 29, 2005

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The return of comfort food

Autumn means your appetite is back and you need a little stick-to-your-ribs eating

By Michelle Saturley

All summer long, you were well behaved.

You ate lean, feather-light meals accompanied by frothy, cool drinks and lush, green salads. With the heat, the humidity and the activity, your approach to dining was more than a diet trend; it simply made sense.

Now try serving that same menu of small plates and wimpy wraps to your husband after he spends a fall afternoon raking leaves or to your son after a day at school and an evening of football practice. It’s just not going to cut it.

Autumn is the time for a heartier appetite, what I call “stick-to-your-ribs” food. Normally, I am not prone to blaming modern behavior on our cave-dwelling ancestors, but I can’t help thinking that our need to hunker down and bulk up when cooler weather arrives has something to do with our hard-wired instinct to prepare for winter and hibernation. Plus, when it’s cold outside, we just want to warm up—from the inside out. Hey, if you have to wear a big woolen sweater all season, you might as well have something to hide under it.

But, really, how many days a week can you dine on beef stew? The key to enjoying your autumn comfort food is to vary the menu. Otherwise, it’s not really comfort food, it’s a boring routine. Here are a few of my favorites to keep you warm when the temperature begins its steady descent.

Mom’s best meatloaf

Adapted from my mom’s recipe.

All over the neighborhood, my mother’s meatloaf was a thing of legend. What the neighbors didn’t know was that meatloaf was about the only thing my mom could cook all that well. After a week of pork chops that resembled hockey pucks and chicken parboiled beyond recognition, my siblings and I would look forward to our Sunday night meatloaf the way most kids looked forward to Saturday morning cartoons.

2 lbs. ground beef, 85% lean

1 tbsp. canola oil

1 cup minced onion

3/4 cup minced celery

3/4 cup minced bell pepper

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/8 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. steak seasoning (A-1 or Emeril’s are great)

1 tbsp. salt

1 cup lowfat milk

1/2 cup ketchup

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

3 eggs, beaten

1 cup bread crumbs, seasoned to taste

Glaze:

1 tsp. oil

1 tbsp. minced onion

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/2-cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp. yellow mustard

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 325°. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sauté the minced vegetables with salt and dry herbs until tender. Allow to cool. Combine milk, eggs, Worcestershire and ketchup in a bowl, mixing well. Place ground beef, cooled vegetables and egg mixture in a large mixing bowl and, using your hands, squish the ingredients together until well blended. Fold in the bread crumbs. Shape the mixture into the form of a loaf (like a homemade loaf of bread) and place in the center of a shallow baking pan. Make a slight indentation down the center of the loaf where the glaze will go, and bake for 50 minutes.

While the loaf is baking, heat the oil for the glaze over a low heat. Cook the onions and garlic for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the brown sugar and allow it to melt. Stir in the remaining ingredients.

When the loaf has baked for 50 minutes, remove from oven. Spoon the glaze down the center of the loaf and spread over the sides. Return to the oven and bake for another 20-30 minutes. Allow the loaf to rest for about 15 minutes before serving. Yields 8-10 servings. Can be frozen for up to three months.

Sundown chicken stew

Adapted from The Healthy Meals in Minutes Cookbook, BV/IMP Publishing, 2002

If you like the taste of a slow-cooked, one-pot meal, but don’t have time to sit by the stove all day, this is a good compromise.

1 can (28-oz.) Italian-style tomatoes, undrained

1 can (13-14-oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth

6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-2-inch cubes

2 large yellow onions, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

1 tbsp. chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried marjoram

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 package (10 oz.) frozen lima beans or peas

In a 5-quart Dutch oven, combine tomatoes and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the chicken, potatoes, onions, celery, marjoram and pepper and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the beans or peas and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until vegetables or fork-tender, about 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately, or store to serve later.

Homemade mac and cheese

My kids thought that macaroni and cheese came in a blue box. That’s when I knew I needed to intervene. Now they fight about who gets the crunchiest top piece of my homemade mac and cheese. But this dish isn’t just for kids: grownups fight over it, too.

12 ounces elbow macaroni

2 tsp vegetable oil, divided

1 medium red onion, chopped

1/2 cup thin red bell pepper strips

1/4 cup chopped green onions

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1 cup cottage cheese

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Cook the macaroni in boiling water, but do not add salt. While macaroni is cooking, heat 1 tsp of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add red onion, bell pepper and green onion. Sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about four minutes. Add remaining oil and mushrooms. Sauté for another four minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.

Preheat broiler. Drain macaroni and return to the pan. Add vegetable mixture, cottage cheese, tomato sauce and half of the cheddar cheese. Mix well. Heat over low heat until heated through, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle remaining cheddar over the top. Broil about 4 inches from the heat, until browned on top, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Beef Stroganoff

Adapted from The Healthy Meals in Minutes Cookbook, BV/IMP Publishing, 2002

Stroganoff. It sounds so fancy, doesn’t it? Well, behind that three-syllable name hides a classic comfort food: beef, veggies and noodles in a creamy, belly-filling sauce.

2 tsp. olive oil

12 oz. lean boneless sirloin, trimmed and cut into strips

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup chicken broth, divided

1/3 cup chopped yellow onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp. paprika

4 oz. wide egg noodles

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill or 1 tsp dried dill weed

In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add beef, sauté until well browned. Place on a plate. In the same skillet, cook the mushrooms and 1/4 cup of the broth for 5 minutes. Add the onion and the garlic, sauté for 3 minutes. Stir in the paprika until well blended. Add the remaining broth and cook for 4 minutes. While the mushroom mixture is simmering, cook the egg noodles in boiling water but do not add salt. Return the beef to the skillet, reduce the heat to low and stir sour cream into the skillet until mixed thoroughly. Drain the noodles in a colander and place on a serving plate. Top with the beef mixture and sprinkle with dill. Serves 4.

Comfort food to go

Too tired from work to cook?

Or maybe you’re on your way to the soccer field for the third time this week and just want to wrap your hands around something warm. Here are a few local places that do comfort food almost as well as your mom.

• La La’s Hungarian Restaurant, 836 Elm Street, Manchester, 647-7100

• The Red Arrow, 61 Lowell St., Manchester, 626-1118

• Three Sons Eatery, 845 Hanover St., Manchester, 627-7902

• Jewell and the Beanstalk, 793 Somerville St., Manchester, 624-3709

• Ecos Café, Route 101A, Merrimack, 881- 9635

• Madden’s Restaurant 583 D.W. Highway, Merrimack

• Norton’s Classic Restaurant, 233 Main St. Nashua, 888-4340

• Pine Street Eatery, 136 Pine St., Nashua, 886-3501