Tag Archive for Comfort food

Soft polenta with cream, butter and parmesan

Soft polenta is delicious comfort food, perfect for cold and depressing weather. It is a very rich and creamy dish, filling and belly-warming. Often it is eaten as a side-dish, but I think that it works better as the main dish, with a simple salad as a side (in this case sliced yellow courgette dressed with lemon juice, goats cheese and pine nuts).

Stirring is very important when preparing polenta, because it tends to stick quite badly to pots and pans. The original recipe said to cook the polenta for 30 minutes, but ours was ready after 15 minutes, so I guess it will depend on the brand/variety of polenta you use. When the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan it should be ready, have a test to be sure. The cream and butter can be substituted with some mascarpone.

Polenta

Soft polenta with cream, butter and parmesan (2 servings)
adapted slightly from “The Conran Cookbook”

1 tsp salt
150 g coarse-grain polenta
40 g butter
50 ml cream
25 g parmesan, freshly grated
optional: extra cream and parmesan for serving

Bring 1 liter water with the salt to the boil in a heavy bottom pan. While stirring, pour in the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and leave to cook gently, while stirring frequently.
When cooked, add the butter, cream and parmesan, stir until it is molten and absorbed. Serve immediately with the extra cream and parmesan.

Hot chocolate

I have a love-hate relationship with hot chocolate. It can be the most delicious thing in the world, warming up with a mug of smooth, creamy and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream after an autumny beach walk or an evening walk when fresh snow has fallen. But it can also be the most ghastly thing, with a thick skin on top, nasty taste of sterilized milk and the chocolate flaking in bits because the hot chocolate is cooked too long, or lumps of cocoa powder. Ick.

That is exactly why I prefer to make my own hot chocolate: I think the best hot chocolate is made with whole milk and good chocolate. Making it with cocoa powder always gives it a kind of dusty mouth feeling, while making it with chocolate gives it a very smooth, creamy and chocolaty taste. Topping it with whipped cream enhances this creamy, luxurious feeling even more. Oh, and don’t bother with warming up store-bought chocolate milk, those are way too sweet. Although since chocomel (the main brand of store-bough chocolate milk) started to sell those hot chocolate machines to cafés and coffee houses the quality of hot chocolate you get there greatly improved, it is not the best option when you are at home. And really don’t dare to call that instant powder stuff you can mix into milk hot chocolate: it really is not (its mainly sugar and something to make your milk brown).

The amount of chocolate you use for a really delicious cup of hot chocolate is a bit tricky. Too much and the hot chocolate gets too thick, making it almost a dessert. But not enough the hot chocolate is watery and not chocolaty enough. This recipe of Jeroen Meus is perfect (although he uses milk chocolate with nuts, instead of the pure chocolate I use, and he also adds a cinnamon stick). Jeroen Meus is one of my favourite chefs, he has a program on Belgian television (Dagelijkse Kost) in which he makes something else every day. I really like his vision that food should be about good food and good taste, and not about using posh expensive products and making it look mind-blowing perfect while the taste could be better. It is important that food looks appealing, but looks should not go at the expense of taste; it is exactly how I think about food.

Hot chocolate (2 large mugs)
adapted from Jeroen Meus – Dagelijkse kost

500 ml milk (preferably whole milk)
90 g chocolate (I use 55% cocoa semi-sweet chocolate, I think 70% cocoa chocolate is overkill and makes it too bitter)

125 ml whipping cream (preferably fresh cream with 35% fat as it whips and taste better, but a sterilized carton of cream with 30% fat is okay too)
2 tsp sugar
few drops of vanilla extract

Heat the milk in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling (this prevents the milk from getting that boiled taste). Meanwhile, add the sugar and vanilla extract to the cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Because it is a small amount, I prefer to do this by hand. Add the chocolate to the hot milk, stir until molten on very low heat (it should still not boil). Scoop or pour the hot chocolate in 2 large mugs, top with the cream and enjoy.

Cottage pie

There is always confusion about cottage pie and shepherd’s pie. People call a pie with beef shepherd’s pie and a pie with lamb cottage pie. But actually it is quite easy to remember: a shepherd herds sheep, not cows. When I realized that it was so simple, it wasn’t difficult any more to remember which pie contains which meat.

Cottage pie is real comfort food, it is a dish you want to eat on a cold day, cozy in a warm sweater. Some cottage pies contain stewing meat, but I love this quick version with mince. I use half pork half beef mince, not traditional, but it gives a good, hearty flavour together with the herbs and flavourings. The creamy mashed potatoes complement this perfectly, and the crispy top finishes it all. I use my trusty ovenproof Le Creuset Dutch oven to prepare the meat, so that I can top it with the mash and place it in the oven, instead of having to use another dish for this (less cleaning this way).

By cutting the potatoes in cubes they will cook faster than when leaving them whole. But take care not to cut them too small, as they will absorb a lot of water, which is not pleasant to eat. You can make this dish very well in advance, it will only get more tasty. If doing so, reheat the cottage pie on 150C in the oven, then turn it up to brown the top.

Cottage Pie

Cottage pie (2 generous servings)

500 gram mince
olive oil
1 big onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme (or rosemary)
1 small can of tomato puree
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
pepper
splosh of red wine
1 beef stock cube

600 gram potatoes, peeled and cut
knob of butter
splash of milk
salt and pepper
nutmeg (optional)
egg yolk (optional)

Cook the potatoes in salted water until soft, drain.
Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in an Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent. Then add the mince, fry until browned. Add the other ingredients and cook until the acid of the tomato puree is cooked of and the mixture starts to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the pan. Add a drop of water to dissolve the sticky bits, stir this through the mixture and turn of the heat.
Make the mashed potatoes. First, mash the potatoes, working of the heat to prevent burned bits on the bottom. By mashing before adding liquid you get rid of the lumps easily. I like to do this part with a masher. Stir in the knob of butter and some milk, using a fork. Then gradually add some more milk, while stirring, letting it absorb by the potatoes, until you have the consistency you like. Still using the fork, beat the potatoes vigorously, until you get a light and fluffy mash. Good mash needs some effort. Season with salt and pepper, and nutmeg if you like. Taste if you seasoned the mash enough, because underseasoned mash is really not nice to eat and hard to remedy after finishing the dish. If you are using the egg yolk, add it now. This adds a nice richness to the mash, but only use this trick for dishes with mash that go into the oven. Pile the mash on top of the mince, decorate with a fork (stop here when preparing in advance) and place in a preheated oven of 200C to brown the top of the mash.

Tomato Cream Soup

This soup is very easy and fast to make, but also very satisfying to eat. A generous serving in a big bowl with some bread and cheese or butter is a perfect dinner, but a small portion served in a nice deep plate, decorated with some extra cream is a perfect elegant starter.

The soup is thickened/bound slightly with a roux. Although this isn’t really necessary, I like the soup better this way. Passata/sieved tomatoes always have a slightly irregular texture which makes the mouth feeling a bit weird for me. By binding the soup (which only takes a few minutes extra), this feeling disappears.

Tomato Cream Soup (2-4 servings)

1,5 tbsp butter
1,5 tbsp flour
1 package (500 g) passata (sieved tomatoes)
1 stock cube (I used vegetable, but chicken is nice as well)
salt and pepper
75 ml coffee cream (cream with 20% fat)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour, stir until a paste has formed, making sure there are no lumps in there. I prefer to use a wooden spatula for the whole process, but some people rather use a whisk. Cook it for 1-2 minutes to cook out the flour, this makes sure that the soup will not taste like raw flour. But don’t let it brown!
Start adding the passata a small splosh at a time, stirring well before adding another splosh. Stirring well after each splosh prevents getting lumps. When the roux is already thinned out quite a bit the risk for lumps is smaller, so you can add more fluids at one time. Pour some water in the passata package, use this to get out the last bits of tomato and to thin out the soup. Leave it to boil for a few minutes to get rid of the acidity of the tomato. Add the stock cube and season the soup with salt (if necessary) and pepper. Add some more water if the soup is too thick. Make sure the soup is boiling hot.
Add 50 ml of the cream and use the other 25 ml for decoration, or just add all the cream and don’t decorate. Serve immediately.

Paella with chorizo and chicken

Paella is a versatile dish, easy to prepare in many different variations. Especially on colder nights I love this warming and filling dish, it is real comfort food! I served it with some cucumber sticks for extra vegetables and to counterbalance the spice in the rice.

Because of the chorizo, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and cumin this dish has a warm, deep and spicy flavour. The smoked paprika gives it a hint of smokiness, it is really worth looking for because it can enhance the flavour of not only this paella, but of many dishes. In Groningen you can get it at the herb stand on the market, but if you cannot find it anywhere use ordinary paprika instead… take care to use a nice one from a toko or something, because the stuff you get at the supermarket just tastes like bitter dust.

Paella with Chicken and Chorizo

Paella with chorizo and chicken (2 servings)

150 gram paella or risotto rice (I used arborio)
100 gram chorizo, diced (I used the already cooked variety, because cooking chorizo is not available around here)
2 chicken thighs
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red paprika (or yellow or orange), diced
olive oil
1 tin tomatoes
1 stock cube
2 bay leaves
2-3 tsp smoky paprika powder (depending on the strength/your preferences)
1/2 tsp cumin
cayenne pepper to taste
salt and pepper

Heat some olive oil in a heavy, big pan. Sauté the onion until soft and translucent, then add the chorizo, garlic and paprika. After frying a bit, add the rice, paprika powder, cumin and cayenne. This should be fried until the rice is coated with oil/chorizo fat and the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, stock cube and chicken, and cook in a lidded pan on low heat until the rice and chicken are cooked. Stir regularly and add some extra water when the mixture is looking too dry. When cooked, set the rice aside and take out the chicken. Heat some oil in a frying pan until quite hot, put the chicken in here skin side down (this will splatter!). Cook until it has a nice, crispy skin. Season the rice with salt, pepper and cayenne if necessary.
This dish can be made in advance, then leave the chicken in the rice and fry it only when serving, reheat the rice on low heat with a bit of extra water.

Cassoulet

Cassoulet is a classic, hearty and warming dish, a regional speciality of the Languedoc (France) consisting of meat and white beans. Its more autumn/winter than summer food, but when I cooked it, the weather was definitely not summery and I could use something warming. Lets hope that at the moment of posting this, its more like summer than it is now.

Classical cassoulet is very serious business, there are important requirements for cooking cassoulet. There are three French towns that claim to have the original recipe: Castelnaudary makes it with confit d’oie (goose), pork shoulder, sausage and pork rind; Carcassonne with partridge and lamb; Toulouse with confit de canard (duck) and Toulouse sausage. Cassoulet is named after its traditional cooking vessel, the cassole, a deep, round, earthenware pot with slanting sides, which of course is the only vessel to make cassoulet in. The origin of the beans and the water that is used, is very important as well, as is the cooking method (in a wood food fired oven, with specific wood).

And of course I made my own version of cassoulet. I used some soup pieces of chicken to make my own stock fresh and tasty stock, and used a lot of that to reduce down while cooking the beans in it. I also used borlotti beans instead of white beans. And I added some bacon, to give de stew a more hearty and savoury flavour.

Often beans from a tin are quite mushy and slimy, and of course they are already completely cooked, so you cannot let them stew any more. So I used dried bean for this dish, which was a first for me. Actually it worked really well, you do need to soak them, but once you put them in the water you don’t have to do anything but wait. The most notable was that the beans were much more firm than tinned beans, even when cooked through/stewed for a long time. It gave the dish a lot more texture, and a more filling feeling.

Oh, and if you’re making this, which you certainly should do, make a bit more: it keeps well and the flavours will be even better the next day.

Cassoulet

Cassoulet (2-4 persons)

Bouillon
1 kg soup chicken (bone-in, whole or pieces)
1 onion, unpeeled, big chunks
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled, crushed
3 carrots, big chunks
4 stalks of celery, big chunks
1 leek, washed, big chunks
1 tsp pepper corns
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
3L water

Cassoulet
250 g beans (white or borlotti), soaked overnight (8-12 hours) in cold water, and drained
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
100g bacon, in lardons
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
5 cloves
the bouillon
the soup chicken, flaked in pieces; bones, skin and sinews discarded
salt and pepper
good extra vergine olive oil

Start with making the bouillon. Put all the ingredients in a big pot an put on a very low heat. Leave it there for at least 4 hours, to infuse all the flavours into the water. Leave to cool for at least an hour with the chicken still in there, to keep it nice and moist. Take out the chicken, flake it into pieces, discard bones, skin and sinewy bits. Pour the bouillon through a sieve, pushing out the liquid from the vegetables (but not so much that you press through vegetable mash). Set aside 1/3 of the bouillon for other purposes (risotto!). Don’t add salt at this moment, that will make the skins of the beans tough when cooking the cassoulet.

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or other suitable stewing pan). Add the onion, fry until translucent. Add the bacon, fry a bit more. Then add the beans and garlic (in this way it will not burn), toast for a while. Then add a couple of ladles full of bouillon, the bay leaves, cloves and thyme, and let it bubble away. Check the cooking time of your beans, mine was 1-1,5 hours. Let the bouillon evaporate, but don’t let the beans get dry! So every 15 minutes or so, add a couple ladles of bouillon again. After 1,5 hours this will make a lovely full-bodied sauce and your beans will be nice and tender. Add in the chicken and heat it through, and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, drizzled with good olive oil (some chopped parsley would be nice as well) and accompany with a nice red wine. Cassoulet is a meal on its own, but if you want, you can accompany it with some nice crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Soto Ayam

Soto ayam is a simple Indonesian chicken soup. There are much more elaborate recipes for this dish, but I always make this soup as simple as possible to make a fast, healthy, and simple meal. I love making my own stock, but in this case I use a stock cube (or other bouillon base) for speed and convenience.
I love the salty and slightly spicy broth filled with lots of tauge (bean sprouts), spring onions, chicken, cooked egg and the contrasting crispy onions. It is a filling dish, but also very light, and perfect for hot days. But also when the weather is cold it is nice to eat a steaming hot bowl of soup.

Soto ayam (1 big serving)
500 ml water
1 chicken stock cube
1 chicken breast, cubed

100 gram tauge
2 spring onions, sliced
salt
chilli powder
1 egg, boiled and quartered
fried onions (store bought)

Bring the water to the boil with the stock cube. Add the chicken cubes, cook until almost done. Then add the tauge and spring onion. Cook until the chicken is done and the vegetables still crispy. Season with salt and chilli powder to taste, the soup should be quite salty and not too spicy.
Put the quartered egg on the bottom of a serving bowl. Spoon over the soup. Top with fried onions and serve very hot.

Variation: use ham and omelet instead of chicken and cooked egg.

Meatballs

Meatballs are one of my favourite dishes. Unfortunately we don’t eat them that often, because they take quite some time to prepare and usually we get home quite late and hungry. But the time is definitely worth it! These meatballs go well with almost anything because they are quite neutrally, savoury spiced, but we usually serve them with spaghetti and a simple tomato-vegetable sauce. Another good option is to serve them with peanut sauce and rice.

Meatballs 
300 g half and half mince (half beef, half pork)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt, pepper
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp dry bread crumbs

Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs. Roll small balls from the mixture.
Slide the balls carefully in a hot pan. Bake them on high heat, brown them per side and then shake them (don’t stir!!!) to brown the next side (about 3-4 sides). Don’t disturb them too much! Take them out of the pan.
Add the meatballs with all the juices into their sauce to cook further/to warm through. The first time you make this it is nice to slice one of the balls in two after the browning stage to see how far cooked they are, this will depend on the size of the balls, how hot the pan was, etc. Then you will know how much time they will need in the sauce to completely cook through.

Rice with mince, beans and cheese

Really nice comfort food that is fast to cook. Especially nice for those days that everything goes wrong or when you drowned in the rain while biking home. The vegetables and proteins make you feel better by their healthy-ness and the warm comforting flavours of the spices will warm your heart. Cheese is an essential part of this dish, so don’t leave it out!

Rice with mince, beans and cheese (2 generous servings)

300 gram mince (half and half beef/pork)
cooked rice
vegetable oil
1 can kidney beans
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 paprika, cubed
1/3 courgette, half moons
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp sambal badjak
splash of soy sauce
1 stock cube (beef)
1/4 tsp bay powder
1/2 tsp paprika powder
black pepper
cheese

Heat a pan on medium heat with some vegetable oil. Add the cumin and sambal, mix. Add the onion and garlic, cook on low heat until soft. Add the mince, bake on high heat. Add soy sauce, stock cube, bay powder, paprika powder and black pepper. Add the paprika, cook on high heat. Add the beans and courgette, bake until everything is cooked. Take care not to drown the dish, cook it on high heat to cook of all the liquid that comes from the mince and the vegetables.
Add the rice, fry shortly, put some thin slices of cheese on top and stir them through. In this way you will get nice pockets of melted cheese in the dish.

Poached pears

A very simple way to eat more fruit. I think that they are a perfect refreshing side dish, but also serve very well as a simple dessert after an indulgent meal. I made a big batch this time, because it is pear season, and froze 3/4 of it for later use. I used a variety that needs to be stewed for quite a while before tender and keeps its form well, Gieser Wilderman. You can off course use another variety, but take care to adjust the cooking time!

Poached pears
Family recipe
1 kg pears
piece of cinnamon and/or bit of lemon peel (I never add these, I like my pears plain)
50 gram sugar

Peel the pears, quarter them, remove the core and cut in pieces. Put them in a pan with a little water, add the cinnamon and/or lemon peel and sugar, bring to the boil and put a lid on the pan. Cook for 30-45 minutes (or until soft), or in the case of stewing pears that will turn red, cook for 3-4 hours until red. I always use the shorter cooking time, I think that you cook to much flavour and texture away if you cook them for longer. Don’t throw away the cooking liquid! I like it as it is, but you can also reduce it to make a syruppy sauce, or bind it with a little potato starch or corn starch.

Variations:
– add in a bit of berry juice or wine to achieve “artificial” red colour
– cook in red wine with some cloves instead of cinnamon/lemon
– add chai or gluhwein spices to the poaching liquid.
– use apple instead of pear. When using cooking apples you will get apple sauce (stir well to get smooth), when using eating apples you will get poached apples (that you can mash up a bit for chunky apple sauce). You can also add some raisins.