Goodness in the Kitchen: Comfort Food

It’s an amazing time of year to be in the kitchen. Not only is it finally pleasant to turn on an oven or stove here in Phoenix (I don’t want to talk about how many days in the triple digits we have this year but suffice it to say that we broke records), but the seasonal flavors from October through December are varied and full of favorites (pumpkin! apple! gingerbread! peppermint!). I find so many of these flavors comforting and imbued with tradition, but today I want to talk about some of my favorite comfort foods that are there for my family year round. Warning: lots of carbs ahead…The king of comfort food for us has to be Mac and cheese. It is my son’s very favorite food and I know it was a favorite of mine as kid too. Of course, he prefers the kids from a box to the rich, five cheese decadence I want on my Thanksgiving table. I can’t really blame him though. Say what you want about packaged food, but kids know that it will basically taste the exact same every time, unlike homemade recipes where just a little switch can make a big difference. The exact reason why as an adult I now get sick of it is the reason my kids love it so much, especially during this year where it feels like nothing is predicable! (As I side note, I actually have really fond memories of eating boxed Kraft Mac n cheese at Coffee on the Corner as a poor graduate student. It was one of few vegetarian options at this coffee shop that was closest to our classes and the theatre so if I didn’t want to go home between class and the show that night I ended up eating Mac n Cheese while studying there…)

One of my main comfort foods is homemade tomato sauce. (Ideally when paired with homemade pasta, because the Italian in me won’t stop…but that only happens 2-3 times a year!) I will admit that one of my faults in life is being a pasta sauce snob. I hate buying canned stuff- it tastes sugary and fake to me. One of the grand plans I had for 2020 (ahahahahaha so many plans that were derailed) was that I would have “Sunday Sauce” as a new family tradition and make homemade sauce each week as part of our sabbath routine… The chaos of this year did not make that possible, but I’m still hoping to implement that in the future. And in the meantime, we still make homemade sauce about once a month (aside from July and August where we just cannot stand the heat) and I could honestly eat it without any pasta to go with it! I basically just pretend it is one of my family’s other favorite comfort foods…

Soup. Soup always reminds me of my grandpa. My mom gave me this amazing book of family recipes for my bridal shower and in the soup section she wrote about how my grandpa always used to say “It’s the best thing for ya!” I always get excited for soup season. Soup is so insanely diverse and warm and cozy. My very favorites are “chicken less” noodle soup and creamy tomato soup (probably thanks to my obsession with tomato sauce) And now that life is so busy I love that it is so easy to batch cook soup and freeze it for more portions later.

Pizza has also been a standby comfort food for us. Whether homemade or takeout or take and bake or eating at a fancy pizzeria, we always feel a little more joyful when pizza is on the menu. I love the variety of crusts and toppings that can suit any mood. Whether you have it on traditional crust, cauliflower crust, homemade French bread, or simple English muffins- it is just hard to disappoint when it comes to pizza.

If we do breakfast potatoes on a Sunday we go crazy and add eggs and avocado and maybe a mimosa…

Finally, a comfort food that is new to me: breakfast potatoes. This has been my “quarantine comfort” and is maybe my favorite thing to come out of this whole insanely difficult time. Much to my husband’s dismay, I have never been much of a breakfast fan in the past. He had to beg me to enjoy a brunch with him on Sundays. I will sheepishly admit that my breakfast is usually a cup of coffee and an apple or a granola bar. So much for most important meal of the day! But since my husband no longer has to commute to work, he now uses that time a few times a week to make waffles for the kids or an insanely delicious breakfast potatoes skillet. And I am hooked. I now look forward to it if I’ve had a particularly rough night with the baby, and I think breakfast potatoes will be one of my favorite, most comforting dishes for years to come…

I know turning to food to solve your stressors can be problematic. I’m not advocating that. But I DO think there is something really useful, especially as we enter the seasons where you are going to hear “hygge” tossed around on every social media account, to know what brings us comfort and gives us something reliably pleasant to look forward to when meal planning. Food connects us in such a meaningful way. There’s something about sharing recipes and talking about favorite foods that brings us together, even if we can’t share the same table.

So with that in mind, what are your comfort foods? And is that based in sheer flavor or a measure of nostalgia? I’d love to hear.

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