Comfort food that’s comfortable

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 17, 2018

Someday I’m going to write a cookbook. This dream has very little to do with my cooking abilities or organizing my stock of treasured, well used and appreciated recipes.

I have thoroughly documented the importance of food in my family traditions. We are particular about what we eat and how it is prepared.  We have expectations.  You would think I would have these family favorites memorized and would have no need of a written recipe. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

As a former caterer, there are several items which, without hesitation or exaggeration, I can say I have made hundreds of times.  The recipes have been brought out so often, I wonder if the Health Department might condemn the paper they are printed on.

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So, if I clearly have recipes for the things I like to cook, why do I feel the need to write another cookbook to crowd my shelves?   

It is all about how the recipe is actually arranged.

We used to subscribe to all manner of print magazines.  A favorite was Smithsonian. Not only was it chock full of a wide assortment of topics just like the actual place, but you could read straight through to the end of the article without having to turn somewhere else in the magazine to finish the piece.  Usually, the illustrations associated with the text were on the same page as the reference.

I need all my information presented to me in order and in the order in which it is to be used. I like my footnotes on the same page as the number. I need my visuals right there. When I finish one subject, I like the next one to start on the very next page, not way back somewhere on a previous page.

Send me on a wild goose chase through the topic and you have lost me. Don’t expect me to turn to some place right in the middle of a sentence to appreciate the subtleties of color in a painting. 

While not really important to this subject, we let all our print magazine subscriptions run out. It was a combination of factors including time and wasted paper. For several years, we were magazine free.

Along comes a granddaughter with a school fundraiser.

We signed up for a beach travel number as we do like to imagine. (That one won’t be renewed. The pictures are gorgeous, but unless I win the lottery, there is no featured destination remotely within our budget.)

However, we did go for a past tried and true publication. It is a staple in southern and southern wannabe homes. While I will likely never remove every item in my house to decorate for holidays, the topics are generally inspiring and the food is well within my southern heritage reach and interest.

My collection of cookbooks has been developed as much for the stories as the food. I look for something which will remind me of our trip or teach me about a time in food history.

This particular magazine does a good job of translating tradition into the modern kitchen.  I vowed I would tear out recipes I wanted to try from each edition and actually make them.  No more saving the whole magazine, just rip it out.  Now is the time.

Winter is the season to haul out comfort food.  Nothing says “welcome home” after a long day at work, traipsing in and out of pesky weather, than a warm dish of something bubbly. The latest edition of the magazine contained two such possibilities: shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie.  Rip.

The beauty of this sort of food is it requires very few, if any, odd ingredients.  You can find everything in a normal grocery store and very often the needed ingredients are already on premises. A few minutes in the morning, thinking ahead, will get the meat out of the freezer to thaw. 

Shepherd’s pie was to be first. It  turned out just as desired.  Warm and very yummy. There were three of us for dinner and there was very little left over. 

I will likely never use that recipe again. The entire recipe was written in text.  There was no separate ingredients list. There was no division between each step of the process.  Sentence, after sentence of instructions and ingredients. The photograph was beautiful.

I know, shepherd’s pie shouldn’t be all that tough, possibly even not require a recipe.  But, I’m the person who uses a recipe for something I’ve made maybe a hundred times.  Shepherd’s pie wouldn’t be that.

I had to read this recipe several times to be sure I had all the ingredients, of which there were many: common things, but a lot.

I had to check myself through the process multiple times. I had to be certain I planned for all elements being completed in a timely manner so that the mashed potatoes were cooked, mashed and still hot. At the same time,  the cooked meat, vegetables and sauce were ready so that the hot dish was going to be still hot when placed under the broiler for that ultimate browning of the completely cooked pie.

That’s more than I wanted to worry about.  The actual process took no more than an hour, start to finish.  A lot of that time was spent finding my place in the text.  Not doing that again.

So, someday I’m going to write a cookbook.  Maybe only one person, me, will ever use it.

I have done a bit of research on this topic.  How many recipes for shepherd’s pie do you suppose there are in the culinary universe?  How do they differ, really?  What would make my shepherd’s pie recipe any better than any of those?

Well, for one thing, an average person would be able to bring it to the table without wishing they had not started with that particular piece of paper.

There are two columns, ingredients are listed on the left divided into groups which match the directions in the right hand column right next to the group.  If the oven needs to be preheated, I will say that at the top rather than at the bottom of all the instructions.  If you need to soften butter, you will be warned, in advance.  There is more, but I won’t bore you with the details.

Comfort food should be a comfort to prepare as well as to eat.