Monday, January 31, 2011

Comfort Quest

Thanks to Jordan Rich for having me on WBZ this past weekend talking “comfort foods” with you and the nationwide audience. I can’t of too many things more fun than talking food through the wee hours of the morning.

As I waddled my way around comforting myself with foods, I came to the realization that unless I could choose a specific “comfort” food to compare, I would just be feeding at the trough, so to speak. With that in mind, I tried to eat a variety of different foods that people would consider “comfort foods”.

I suppose “comfort foods” are foods that make you feel good. Maybe you’re feeling a little down because I haven’t written much lately, or maybe you’re coming in from a cold commute home, or from shoveling (which here in Massachusetts, we’ll be doing in July). In any event, there are just some times you want something to make you say “ahhhh”. For some people, it could be as simple as a cup of hot chocolate, but for others, it’s real food. Though no day would be started properly without a hot cup of coffee, the stronger the better.

With my ethnicity, as I mentioned in an earlier post, chicken soup, the namesake for the book series, is among the top comfort foods in my book. There are several others: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy…anything with gravy! While mac and cheese is among many people’s favorites, I love things with melted cheese on them, but not a giant fan of mac and cheese. I did sample a variety of mac and cheese, and I do love a crispy crumb topping, but when it comes to melted cheese, I am partial to a grilled cheese sandwich. Enter “Cheeseboy”.

“Cheeseboy” is an interesting concept…a quick-serve kiosk in South Station in Boston that serves a few varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, along with a soup or two. Soda and a bag of chips rounds out the menu. When it comes to a winter day, a long cold train ride into or out of the city, nothing says “Welcome to the daily grind” like a grilled cheese from “Cheeseboy”.

The factor that interests me is the price point. At under four dollars for the just the sandwich, is this a concept that people are willing to pay for? Two slices of bread and three slices of cheese, and maybe a slice of tomato, can be made at home for about 75 cents. Will people pay $3.99 for essentially a “snack”? Time will tell, but if you read this article from the Boston Globe, you’ll see that the founder is trying to take the comfort food grilled cheese to the masses and is doing fairly well.

For me, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with lots of mushroom gravy is a real winner. There’s something very comforting, and filling, eating a nice piece of meatloaf sitting on top of mashed potatoes with a small lake of gravy. Just about every diner known to man-kind, including my father’s, serves meatloaf. Some much better than others. Diners, by their very nature are designed to offer comfort food, and comfort. Chatty waitresses, gruff, but loveable (at some places), line cooks (“Order up”…), hearty, filling foods, like meatloaf…diners scream “comfort”.

Then there are sit-down places that can cultivate a recipe, like meatloaf, and take it to a higher plain. I personally like an all-beef meatloaf, but many places add pork or ground veal. If you watch that clown Emeril, formerly of the food network, he preached the three-meat combo-veal, beef and pork. Personally, when talking comfort foods, I prefer simplicity. Places like “John Harvard’s Brew House” make a very pleasant all-beef meatloaf, served with garlic mashed potatoes, while the “Cottage” in Wellesley makes a pleasant meatloaf (even if they do add ground turkey) with sweet potatoes.

Growing up, was there anything better than a Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie? I love CPP. I like a CPP with crust all the way around…top and bottom. Lots of places make a CPP with a giant piece of puff pastry across the top (like John Harvard’s), which is tasty, but not what I like. Harrow’s chicken pies has the thick, pie-like crust which is just perfect to hold in all the CPP goodness.

Speaking of pies, Shepard’s pie is a big winner for me. Seasoned ground meat, covered with either corn or peas, then covered in mashed potatoes. Baked like a pie, with the potatoes as a top crust….yum. Put gravy on this, and it’s pure heaven on a plate; a party in your mouth. Desmond O’Malley’s, late of Framingham, and the Kinsale, in Boston, make decent Shepard’s Pie. Also British Beer works.

Thanksgiving-the ultimate comfort food holiday. Is’t it all about eating and sleeping? I think that what the Pilgrims were thinking…let’s eat ourselves stupid, watch the Detroit Lions lose, and take a nap. What says “comfort” more than a big roast, massive plate of mashed potatos, squash, a thick green bean casserole, followed up with apple pie. I’m surpised I survive this holiday every year.

Of course, there are people who love soups…chicken soup, chili, beef stew.

Each ethnicity has their own versions of comfort foods. Greek food includes Mousaka, Pastikio; Italian food has Lasagna, Spaghetti and meatballs, red wine… Bella Costa in Framingham is my Italian restaurant of choice. Though some people like the Olive Garden, if their slogan, “when you’re here, you’re family” is true, then you must part of the Mansons.

There are so many to mention, the list could go on for weeks, but I encourage all of you to get out there and eat what makes you feel good.

Until next time...stay hungry my friends.

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