Do people who live in hot climates get into the concept of comfort food, as we do here where winters can be harsh? In my mind, comfort food should be warm, and generally also soft, sticking to the ribs — with a spoonful of nostalgia stirred in, of course. With temperatures having been unexpectedly low recently, I’ve found myself keeping warm over the stove.
Enter therefore quiche. I was a little embarrassed to realize that my almost-12-year-old grandson had become proficient at making a dish that I have always been hesitant to attempt. But I didn’t admit to him that I was a novice when, one recent afternoon, the pantry and refrigerator were almost empty — but for some eggs and a pre-made pie shell.
The truth is, I love cookbooks, although it must be said that I read them more for entertainment than to follow directions. The quiche recipes I perused called for things I didn’t have on hand (ham and gruyere, for example), and I didn’t fancy a trip to the grocery store over slick roads. But the fine print suggested using whatever was on hand, so instead of announcing we had nothing for dinner that night, I made a quiche with a sauteed mix of onions, green pepper, and mushrooms, along with a goat-cheese filling. It was easy. Never fear the quiche!
On another frigid day, I found myself cozily reading “At Oma’s Table,” a Jewish-cookery book by Doris Schechter — a friend of a friend — when a recipe for Flanken With Vegetables caught my eye. It called for short ribs, turnips, parsnips, and a new jar of Gold’s horseradish. I went a bit overboard at the market on the vegetables and wound up with a huge amount of stock in addition to dinner for four. Those who shared the meal thought it a little bland, but, nostalgia being what it is, I liked it a lot.
(Anyway, if you ask me, “slightly bland” is practically a requirement of the best comfort dishes. How else would you characterize the dense, stodgy, classic mac and cheese, or mashed potatoes — which, by popular acclaim, are the ultimate American comfort foods?)
The vast quantity of beef-vegetable broth leftover from the flanken presented something of a challenge. After pondering the variables, I put most of it to work as the base of the best lentil soup I ever made . . . with a little help from Mollie Katzen’s original “Moosewood Cookbook.” In addition to the starchy favorites mentioned above, soup — glorious, hot soup — is a standby for winter comfort. Where would we all be without chicken noodle?
There is one old-time, local comfort food, however, that I am long overdue to make again: samp, the hulled and dried kernels of corn that were a once-upon-a-time staple of the East End diet. I never made it the old-fashioned way, as a porridge served with milk, but many years ago developed a recipe that called for the broth that results when you braise a ham, French-style. Perhaps if the weather stays nasty into February, we’ll have samp for Valentine’s Day. Not terribly romantic, I admit. But heartwarming? Yes.