What is your favorite comfort food? Is it macaroni and cheese, meat and potatoes or a tray of freshly baked brownies? In the winter, many of my clients tell me that they crave comfort foods but this means something different to each of us.
Whether it’s a favorite food from your childhood or just something that makes you feel content after you’ve eaten it, sometimes comfort foods are exactly what you need to eat! Acknowledging that food impacts us on more than just a physical level is part of establishing a healthy relationship with food.
Many people who would like to eat better fear that doing so means letting go of their comfort foods forever. This is not so. I would argue that a large Italian family who gets together once a week to share pasta (a classic Italian comfort food!) is getting a lot more than carbohydrates from the experience!
When we share a home cooked meal, and the company of people we love, we get nourishment that goes beyond the cellular level. Joshua Rosenthal, one of my teachers, calls this “Vitamin L” (as in LOVE).
Don’t underestimate the power of Vitamin L… it has the ability to heal us, it helps us digest our food better and, my personal favorite, it cancels out all the calories (OK, it doesn’t really do that!). It may be, that as you evolve the foods you eat, you’ll eat your comfort foods less often and/or that you’ll discover new comfort foods. Many of my clients try kale for the first time and then start craving it…cravings are a message from our body…what is your body telling you today?
Food Focus: Fast AND Healthy
When I was a child and we had a dinner that didn’t live up to my Mom’s ideal, she used to say, “Sometimes dinner is about just keeping body and soul together.” Many home cooks have the idea that EVERY meal has to be perfect, has to please everyone in the household, has to be completely balanced etc. We have this ideal image and when we know we can’t reach it we give up and reach for the phone or our car keys instead.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this once in a while and, for working home cooks, who need a break from the work of preparing, cooking and cleaning up a meal, going out can be a welcome respite. But how often do you go out or bring in take out when you’d really rather be eating your own food?
Mark Bittman, in an article for the New Year’s edition of the New York Times, put out a “formula” for the home cook. Three things you can make (see article link below) that can be mixed and matched for a fast and healthy home cooked dinner. His article included some interesting statistics from the Department of Agriculture, for those of you who need more than just Vitamin L (see Comfort Foods article above) to convince you to cook!
“Home cooked foods contain, on average, 31.5% of their calories from fat whereas, in foods from outside sources, 37.6% of calories come from fat.”
Need I add that your favorite food spots use the cheapest fats available while cooking at home gives you 100% control over the quality and quantity of fats in your food? This has huge ramifications for your health since good fats and bad fats bind to the same sites on our cells. Remember that food is information we give to our bodies. Good fats send messages that reduce inflammation and stimulate metabolism while bad fats do just the opposite.
What can you make if you haven’t planned at all? I’ve been working on this question a bit and I am planning to put out a collection of pantry-only recipes in the near future. If you have a favorite pantry recipe (or a recipe that can be easily made without fresh ingredients) that you’d like to share please send it to me. I will send you a copy of the recipe collection when it’s complete.
In the meantime, in the spirit of “keeping body and soul together” why not try one of Mark Bittman’s suggestions or go a little further and think outside the dinner “BOX”… How about eating breakfast for dinner? This can be fun for kids and adults alike and you can round out the meal by adding some fresh fruit. Making a hearty soup and salad can be a quick option if you stock your pantry with some good quality vegetable bouillon as in the soup recipe below. Don’t forget that eggs are a fabulous protein source and can be combined with your favorite grain (as in the polenta recipe below), pasta or some delicious toasted whole grain bread.
Recipes of the Season
Hearty Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup
1 large head or several small heads broccoli, chopped (about 3 1/2 cups)
1 head cauliflower, chopped (about 3 1/2 cups)
4 cups water, with 2 Rapunzel brand vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in it
Whole onion, sliced
1 russet baking potato, peeled and diced
4 ounces raw milk sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup whole milk
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 Tablepsoon grass-fed butter
Sea salt to taste
Fresh pepper to taste
Fresh chives for garnish
In a stockpot, sauté onions in butter, sprinkling generously with sea salt, until onions turn translucent and golden about 5 – 7 minutes. Add the bouillon broth, broccoli and cauliflower florets, potato and garlic to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook, covered for 20 – 25 minutes until vegetables are very soft. Add grated cheddar cheese, stirring constantly until cheese melts. Turn off heat and use an immersion blender (great time-siving tool!) or transfer mixture to blender or Vitamix and blend until smooth. Return purred soup to pan and add milk and more salt and pepper to taste.
Re-heat gently before serving if necessary (do not bring to boil). Garnish with chives or serve with chives on the side. Serves 4 as main course for dinner or 6 for soup course.
Corn grits aren’t just for breakfast anymore! Corn is a delicious, gluten-free whole grain and makes an easy base for a quick nutritious dinner. Note: be sure to buy organic corn grits and avoid using GMO corn. Top polenta with sautéed vegetables and beans or try veggies and a poached egg for a fast, healthy treat that just may become a new comfort food!
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup corn grits
3 cups water
In medium saucepan, bring water to a boil over high heat. Add butter and salt and stir in corn grits.
Continue stirring the grits until the water returns to a steady boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the polenta thickens — when you can “stand up” a wooden spoon in the pot the polenta is done (about 6 – 8 minutes).
Polenta can be served “soft” from the pot with your favorite toppings or you can put it in a serving dish for later use. Polenta can then be “cut” in slices and brushed with olive oil (optional) and “grilled” or reheated in a 350 oven.
Apple Cranberry Cinnamon Quinoa Cereal
You may or may not be familiar with a grain called Quinoa (pronounced – “keen-wa”). It is technically a seed, not a grain, and what makes it unique in the grain kingdom is that it is a complete protein (a cup of cooked quinoa has the same amount of protein as a glass of milk). Although quinoa is a quick cooking grain (18 minutes) you can buy Quinoa flakes which cook in 90 seconds. Quinoa flakes are a fast cooking hot cereal option…great for the winter when we tend to crave carbohydrates. Quinoa is also gluten-free, a nice added bonus! Lastly, cinnamon helps lower blood sugar. Cooking warm milk and cereal with a generous amount of cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon) helps us maintain steadier blood sugar.
2/3 cup quinoa flakes
1 cup apple cider or apple juice
1 cup milk of choice (almond, dairy, soy etc.)
Very generous sprinkling cinnamon
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Maple syrup for sweetening
Put cider or juice, milk and cranberries into small saucepan and generously sprinkle with cinnamon. Bring almost to full boil (dairy milk will separate a bit) and add quinoa flakes stirring constantly for 1 ½ to 2 minutes until cereal has a pleasing consistency. Remove pot from heat and add maple syrup to taste.
Eat and enjoy! Makes 2 servings.