Tag Archives: comfort foods

Cozy Food: Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms and Squash

I’ve been feeling cozy. To increase the feeling, I keep my overhead light low and turn on two auxiliary lamps (one bedside, one tabletop). I light a candle. My current candle is fig, but pine is next on the schedule. I also bundle in large, homely clothes to increase my personal warmth. We do have a functional furnace, but my roommates prefer much lower temperatures than I do.

Yesterday, I bought the loveliest sweater that, when worn, morphs into the most hideous sweater. It is wool, Scottish, and vaguely Fair Isle. It’s also two sizes too big. I guess I’m the uglifying factor?

No matter: warmth is what’s important here.

Late last weekend, I had a keen craving for my mom’s pasta sauce. Saturdays of my youth, my mom would make this sauce for immediate and future use. She didn’t chop her garlic by hand, but instead used a press. That press, weatherbeaten, is still in my childhood kitchen.

For a Saturday dinner, we might have spaghetti with sauce, garlic toast (made with store-bought French bread spread with butter, sprinkled with garlic powder, and toasted at 350), and a green salad. One chore I hated was tearing the lettuce — I could never quite get it dry enough. The emergence of pre-bagged salads has all but extincted this task.

Here is my own cobbled recipe for pasta sauce. I used San Marzano tomatoes, 90/10 ground beef, yellow crookneck squash, and baby bella mushrooms, among other things. Not too spicy and not too sweet, the sauce is perfect with thick spaghetti.

Pasta Sauce with Mushrooms and Squash

Ingredients

  • One medium yellow onion, diced
  • Five cloves garlic, smashed and then minced
  • Approximately one pound lean ground beef (turkey, TVP, or Boca Crumbles may be used instead)
  • Two yellow squash, cut into like-sized pieces
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • Two 28-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
  • One can tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • White pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Herbes de Provence
  • White sugar — about 2/3 tablespoon (or to taste)

Method

  1. Start by browning your beef (or turkey, or alternate protein): heat a large skillet (lightly coated with olive oil), crumble the meat, and cook until browned. Drain meat, reserving in a dish, and discard excess fat.
  2. Using that same skillet (+ a dash of olive oil), cook your onions and garlic until onions are soft.
  3. Before proceeding, heat a large pot (soup pot, Dutch oven, or what have you) on a separate burner. Add a little splash of olive oil. Keep over low-medium heat until you’re ready to use it.
  4. To the onions/garlic, add your squash and mushrooms. Sautee the veggies for a few minutes until they’re starting to look soft. These veggies will be simmering in sauce for a bit, though, so don’t cook them fully.
  5. Transfer the veggies to your large pot. Add the meat. Add the two cans of tomatoes (and all accompanying juices) and the tomato paste. Also, add your spices: generous shakes of salt and pepper, a dash of white pepper, red pepper flakes, Herbes de Provence, and a little bit of sugar. The sugar is important — it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. Also, it reminds me of my mom’s sauce. Maybe it reminds you of your mom’s sauce, too.
  6. Reduce the heat, allowing the sauce to simmer. Stir occasionally.
  7. Allow sauce to cool. Serve.

Baked Beans and Sweet Potatoes

Oof: last night involved too much networking and too many French fries. Re: the former: Sarah, Paul, Alex, and I hit up the Mediabistro party at Medjool. Our hope was to meet cool people who work in our general field — or at least snag some free drinks. Neither goal was  achieved. Spoiler: I didn’t network! Nope, I sat on a sofa, sipping scotch and eating flatbread crisps with goat cheese. This, folks, is why I don’t work in sales, advertising, finance, or, uh, any other job that requires networking.

Re: the latter, SS and I hit up Jay’s Cheesesteak for dinner. Pros: it was quick, cheap, none too crowded, and filling. That, and it boasts plentiful carnivorous, veggie, and vegan options. Cons: the seating area is small, my Boca burger was no more flavorful than cardboard (the bun, too, was papery), and the bathroom was kind of a torture closet, both w/r/t size and smell.

My fries, however, were solid — skinny, deep yellow, and crisp. Those weren’t the only fries I had: oh, no! Later, when Alex got Rosamunde for his dinner, I snagged a few frites dipped in curry ketchup. And then I had some ice cream. And then I slept.

I was going somewhere with this, and the somewhere is that yesterday’s indulgence marathon left me feeling kind of greasy and sluggish today. Attractive, I know. As happens so rarely, I did not feel like eating sandwiches, tacos, jalapeno poppers, or cake. Mostly, I wanted vegetables. Vegetables and chilled green tea, sweetened with a little honey (or stevia). I find it totally rad that my gut serves as a healthy-eating compass; no matter how I stray from the course of complex carbs and good-for-you fats, my gut gets me back on track. It takes a few days, sometimes, but I’ve never not experienced a craving for veggies after a day of fats, oils, and sweets.

Tonight’s dinner was simple and quick. For my main dish, I tried this recipe (“recipe”) from Healthy Tipping Point: sweet potato with baked beans. Seeing it, I thought, “Shit: I like sweet potatoes, and I have baked beans in my cupboard.” Plus, eating beans coupled with a sweet potato seemed less losery than eating baked beans all by themselves (though eating unadorned beans is something I do without qualms).

My side was equally simple: rough-chopped kale sautéed with garlic, salt & pepper, a squirt of lemon juice, and red pepper flakes, then topped with fresh parmesan. Simple, but utterly delicious. I never thought I’d say such a thing about kale (which, for a long time, I considered boooooring), but this kale was so flavorful, so richly savory, that I wanted to eat it forever. What was my process?

  1. Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil to a skillet; allow skillet to heat.
  2. Add to the hot oil three cloves of garlic, minced.
  3. Next, add kale (cleaned, dried, and chopped roughly).
  4. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and any other seasoning you desire.
  5. Once the kale has cooked down, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it.
  6. Remove kale from heat. Top with cheese. Allow cheese to melt slightly before serving.

That’s it. Because I bought pre-chopped kale (#lazy), the entire cooking process took 10 minutes.

The potato with beans? Kind of blah: both the potato and beans were sweetish, and their flavors didn’t complement each other in any meaningful way. (I’d rather have eaten the beans alone, truth be told.) But the kale: oh, the kale! The brightness of the lemon juice, the nuttiness of the cheese, and the warm, sharp flavor of sautéed garlic rendered this side dish savory, balanced, and totes homey.

Secret: I might prepare more kale later and bring it for lunch tomorrow.

Comfort Lunch

My former roommate Ann once told me that her childhood comfort food was a fried egg sandwich. “My mom would make them for me with toast that was a little burned, and with a lot of salt,” she said.

“No cheese?” I asked.

“No cheese,” she said. “Just an egg and toast.”

It took me several years and a stint working as a grill cook to value the egg sandwich the way Ann did, but now that it’s in my repertoire as a Total Comfort Food, it’s there for good. I too prefer bread that’s slightly burned. (Note: Not just in the case of egg sandwiches, but always.) When I break my egg into the spitting pan, I also break the yolk. Unlike Ann’s mom, I consider cheese a necessity to any fried egg sandwich; my cheese of choice is pepper jack, covered with several heavy shakes of black pepper. Optional are bacon (though I rarely add bacon if I’m making this sandwich at home) or a few dashes of jalapeno Tabasco sauce.

Fried egg sandwich, take one.

The fried egg sandwich is a perfect comfort food for several reasons. It’s warm, so it’s ideal on cool fall or winter days. It’s a little bit greasy, a little bit heavy, but not remorsefully so — just solid enough that it makes a complete meal without giving one post-consumption gut rot. It’s hella simple to prepare and can consequently be enjoyed if one has eight minutes, a frying pan, a spatula, and a toaster. And it’s relatively texturally complex: the gooeyness of the cheese and the chewiness of the egg are pleasantly offset by the crunch of the browned bread (or bagel, or English muffin). Finally, the sandwich is endlessly adaptable: you can add or subtract cheese; you can scramble your egg or hard fry it; you can add whatever spice or seasoning you wish; you can take your pick of breads. You can even add a spread, if you wish, though I’ve never gone that far.

Take two: note the ooziness of the pepper jack.

Yes, the fried egg sandwich is an old friend of mine — one established late in my culinary life, but, like the best friends, one steady and enduring.