“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.”
So what is comfort food? Basically, they are foods that invoke memories of purer and simpler times, are evocative of childhood and all things ‘home made’. They are also foods that bring you comfort seasonally (images of winter in front of a roaring fire in your old ‘Onkaparinga’ dressing gown – with one tassle missing from the cord – with a bowl of steaming soup and a plate of hot buttery toast to dunk in it, a hot chocolate to come, thick and foamy with a marshmallow melting on top of it); or bring you comfort through difficult times either at work, socially or in your family life as when someone dies or gets ill. Comfort foods will vary from one person to another, and can tend to change as we get older. To me, comfort foods consist of soups, roasts, casseroles and stews, toasted sandwiches, macaroni cheese, rissoles, spag bol, pan-frued sandwiches and schnitzels. Anything with chocolate, rhubarb, hot steaming puddings, self-saucing puds, mousses, pies and tarts sum up the sweet side of things. My mother used to make this Sunday night dish she called Mock Fish. How it got it’s name i have no idea (though strangely it did taste slightly of fish), as it was basically just grated potato, squeezed, bound with an egg, then flat cakes were fried to a golden crispness. Today it is called a rosti and is served even in high class eateries. I loved them, and requested them probably more often than my mother was willing to grate all the potatoes. She was ahead of her time after all. I can still bring to mind images of them during winter, almost setting ourselves on fire in front of our open fire in the loungeroom toasting slices of bread held on a carving fork in front of the flames. I don’t know why, but the toast done in front of the fire always tasted better than that made in the toaster.. Modern additions to my comfort food catalogue would be salt and pepper prawns, Caesar salads, risotto, and just about anything with cheese.
In a world where I often hear sports-minded (read boof-headed) people declare that food is only fuel and they don’t care what they eat as long as it is healthy and uncomplicated; and having lived in a HIV world of nutritionists who basically declare the same thing, decrying the enjoyment and celebration of food (Cudo’s to Geoff Honor for reiterating this recently) it is good to see that people are still doing food for enjoyment, to bring them comfort and to celebrate the sheer exuburance of friendship and love.We could spend all day debating the healthy/unhealthy aspects of comfort foods, but it doesn’t alter the fact that a good number of us baby-boomers were raised on these diets, and there weren’t the childhood obesity problems and allegy proliferation that seems to be around these days, especially since the advent of fast-food in its many guises. The last time I had KFC- and it was a hell of a long time ago, I can tell you – it not only came out of a bain-marie but was dripping so much oil that I threw it out, and vowed ‘never again!’.
So it is time to celebrate comfort food. If you are health conscious or a nutritionist don’t read on. It will only lead you to despair. For all my other readers, get out your duna, turn up your heater and prepare to snuggle up in front of the tele with a steamy plate of memories.
LAMB SHANKS with PARSNIP LEMON & HERBS:
4 red onions, quartered
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 sprigs thyme
4 lamb shanks (about 1.2 kgs)
1 large parsnip, peeled
8 sage leaves
250ml veal stock (use beef or vegetable if veal not available)
1 tablespoon small capers, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, crushed
3 handfuls flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Make a bed of the red onions, garlic and thyme in a deep casserole dish. Put the shanks on top., then arrange the parsnip and sage leaves over them and season well. Pour over the veal stock, and cover with a lid or foil. Bake for 1 hour, then uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes, oruntil the meat is pulling away from the bones.
To make the gremolata, put the capers, garlic, lemon zest and parsley leaves on a chopping board and chop them together finely with a sharp knife. Serve sprinkledover the lambshanks.
BARBEQUE GLAZED MEATLOAF;
1 small red capsicum
400g beef mince
150g sausage mince
1 medium brown onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup packaged breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten lightly
½ cup coarsly chopped seeded green olives
¼ cup coarsly chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano
8 bacon rashers, rind removed, sliced lengthways
200g green beans, trimmed
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Quarter capsicum; remove and discard seeds and membrane. Roast under grill or in very hot oven until skin blisters and blackens. Cover in plastic or paper for 5 minutes. Peel skin away; cut capsicum into thinstrips.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a 8cm x 25cm bar tin with plastic wrap. Oil a 25cm x 30cm swiss roll pan.
Combine mince, onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, olives, basil and oregano in a large bowl. Press half the meat mixture into the bar tin. Lay capsicum strips over the top, leaving a 1cm border; press remaining meatloaf mixture over capsicums.
Turn bar tin onto prepared swiss roll tray; remove plastic wrap from meatloaf. Cover top and sides of meatloaf with bacon, overlapping bacon. Bake, uncovered, in moderate oven 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make barbeque glaze; Combine ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to the boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes.
Pour off any excess fat from meatloaf, brush with glaze; bake uncovered abiut 25 minutes or until meatloaf is cooked through. Stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve beans with meatloaf.
PEPPERY PROSCIUTTO & MOZZARELLA FRENCH TOAST
2 brioche rolls, halved (or other soft rolls)
2 tablespoons store-bought caramelised onion or chutney
4 slices prosciutto
60g mozzarella cheese, sliced
¼ cup milk
Cracked black pepper
Spread the basesof the rolls with the caramelised onion, top with the prosciutto and mozzarella and sandwich with the tops.
Whisk together the eggs, milk and pepper in a bowl. Heat the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Dip the rols in the egg mixture, drain briefly, and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden and the cheese is melted.
SELF-SAUCING CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS
½ cup plain flour
1½ tablespoons hazelnut meal
¼ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons baking oowder
3½ tablespoons cocoa, sifted
½ cup milk
35g butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup brown sugar, extra
1 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 180°C. Sift the flour, hazelnut meal, sugar, baking oowder and 2 tablespoons cocoa intoa bowl. Add the milk, butter egg and vanilla and mix well to combine. Spoon into 4 x 1 cup ramekins and place on a baking tray. Place the extra sugar and remaining cocoa in a small bowl and mix to combine. Sprinkle over the puddings and pour ¼ cup of water over each. Bake 12-15 minutes or until the tops are firm.
•When using beans and vegetables (eg cannelini, berlotti beans, capers, peppercorns, potatoes etc) from a tin, always rinse thoroughly under water before using. This removes the taste of the brine, and stops beans being ‘farty’.
•Keep unused grated mozzarella cheese n a plastic bag in the freezer. Comes in handy for pizzas.
•Keep cut cheese blocks wrapped in foil in the fridge. This stops the cheese drying out and going mouldy. The same applies to cold meats, though for no longer then 5 days.
•Keep bottles of lemon and lime juice in the fridge.It is always a shame to waste a lemon by only using a teaspoon of juice.
•Keep unused cut avocado from going brown by replacing the stone in the fruit and wrapping tightly in glad-wrap. To stop going brown when cooking, rub with lemon juice.
Tim Alderman 2014