Comforting meals to ease winter doldrums
Carnival ended with a bang. The Super Bowl is over. Valentine’s Day has passed. Rain and warm temperatures reduced the Ice Palace to a pile of ice cubes.
The cold temperatures and snow have returned. There are still a few weeks before the calendar says spring.
When the weather outside is frightful, a little comfort on a plate can be a ray of sun piercing the grayness to brighten your day. That warm, filling, carb-loaded dish can feel like a creamy hug.
Comfort foods are different for everyone. There are cultural variations — the homey flavors and textures that take us back to the warm security of childhood. They include fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, tomato soup with grilled cheese, chile con queso, hotdish, stew (like Brunswick stew or Sancocho), soup (like matzo ball, chicken noodle, or any chowder – clam, corn, bean or potato), tacos, burritos, empanadas, blintzes, calzones, chili, ravioli, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie … all of these dishes have their roots in different ethnic traditions.
In America, our most popular comfort foods are pasta dishes: Macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs and sauce are the three that probably top the list. Others include hamburger stroganoff and chicken alfredo. After pasta, potatoes are a close second.
We crave carbohydrates because our bodies — and our brains — need them. They help us sleep, increase our tolerance to pain and reduce our cravings for additional carbohydrates. They raise levels of tryptophan, increasing the production of serotonin.
“That blah feeling we get in the winter is related to a lack of serotonin, which is linked to lack of sunlight,” says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., author of “The Serotonin Power Diet” (Rodale, January 2007).
All those carbs and fatty sauces load on calories. For example, Olive Garden’s spaghetti and meatball platter comes to 920 calories.
Lighten them up a bit by using whole-grain or bean pasta, and adding meat and veggies to make your dish a complete meal. And a salad, and watch the portion size.
Winter doldrums call for comfort food. Pasta, potatoes, dumplings, chili, soup, stew, whole grains, custard … what’s your favorite?
Pasta with Chicken and Green Beans
A quick, cozy, creamy pasta supper. What’s not to love?
1 / 2 pound egg noodles
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast
1 or 2 onions
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 pound French-cut green beans
1 / 2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 teaspoons paprika
Put the water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, add a little salt, noodles and cook according to package directions.
Brown chicken in oil on both sides; remove and set aside. Add onions and mushrooms to skillet; cook 5 minutes, or till onions are translucent. Add French-cut green beans; cook until desired doneness. Add reserved chicken and cooked noodles. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and paprika, and serve.
Option: Use asparagus or broccoli in place of green beans.
Serves 3 to 4.
Creamy Chicken with Potatoes and Peas
This creamy, cheesy, chicken potato dish is a cozy, comforting 30-minute meal.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 or 3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
Salt and pepper
1 or 2 teaspoons butter
1 or 2 potatoes (about 2 cups, sliced, peeling optional)
1 onion (about 3/4 cup)
1 small carrot
4 ounces (about 1 cup) baby bella mushrooms
1/2 pound (half a 1-lb. bag) frozen peas
1 cup heavy cream OR 1 cup milk plus 1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 cup fresh, minced parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan or other sharp cheese, for serving
Heat oil in skillet. Add chicken; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, turning over a couple times, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through (7-10 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside.
Add a little butter to the skillet the chicken cooked in. Slice potatoes, add to the skillet. Peel and dice the onion, and add. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook on low, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, until they become caramelized. Slice or chop carrot and mushrooms and add; cook another 5 minutes. Add a half-pound (about 1 or 1 1/2 cups) frozen peas.
In a jar with tight-fitting lid, shake the milk and flour, then pour into the skillet and bring to a boil over low heat. Stir well, to scrape bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer about 2 minutes.
Slice the chicken into large pieces and add to the skillet along with the parsley and a sprinkle of the parmesan. Cook 2-3 minutes to make sure everything is warm.
Serve with additional cheese. Serves 2 – 3.
Option: Use diced cooked ham or shredded cooked rotisserie chicken and add to the skillet at the end with the parsley.
— — —
Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at email@example.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.