As a child, one of my favorite meals was a Chinese style chicken soup which my dad was an absolute master at making. It was made with a whole chicken and he used aromatics like ginger, scallions and a star anise for the broth. The “shun” or broth was delicious in itself. The clear stock was enhanced with Chinese black mushrooms, cloud ear mushrooms (wanee), clear rice noodles (funcee), bean curd sticks (foo chuk) and a bit of cognac added to finish. The cooked chicken was tender and delicious in its simplicity. As it poached, it rendered subtle tones to the broth and in return the meat absorbed all of the wonderful flavors of the accompanying aromatics. My dad would remove the poached chicken, cut it up Chinese style and serve it with two sauces: a ginger scallion and a garlic infused soy. I made my bowl first by putting steamed rice, then ladling the unctuous delicious broth with mushrooms, followed by pieces of the poached chicken. I then drizzled each of the fabulous sauces over the chicken and could hardly wait to begin my experience. What an explosion of flavors this dish was on my palate. The once dried shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms had plumped and absorbed the broth. With each spoonful, the flavors popped like magic candy in my mouth. For me, it was heaven in a bowl. This will forever be my comfort food. Thankfully, I too have learned this family recipe and I make it for my family, who enjoy it as much as I do.
Another lovely food memory is one of Christmas in Guyana. In my childhood souvenirs, there is no better place to spend Christmas. Our house was always busy with everyone coming home for the holidays. The buzz of the Christmas and Old Year’s Night parties, and the food preparation at home was hectic and dizzying. The mason jars of Portuguese garlic pork marinating in the familiar brine with vinegar, tons of garlic, thyme and hot peppers lined the kitchen counter for their three day prep time. The awesome smell of my mother’s delicious pepperpot simmering on the stove enveloped the house. The scent of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel and peppers melding with the cassareep from the Pomeroon region permeated the air. There were jugs of sorrel juice and mauby drink being prepared with spices and sugar; all to be consumed during the festive days of Christmas. At some point the magical smell of the traditional black cake being baked by mom would become apparent. In preparation, several large glass jars could be seen in the kitchen filled with currants, prunes and raisins which had been marinating in rum all year long; just for Christmas baking. When the cake had baked and cooled it would be doused with brandy or rum and then a thick luscious layer of marzipan would cover the surface before being draped with royal icing or fondant. What awesome memories of Guyana.
Recently I asked friends what their favorite comfort foods were and as expected the responses were varied. What would you choose if you could eat something which could transport you to a happy time and space, evoking wonderful nostalgic thoughts? Not surprisingly, many foods like “Fries, fries, fries!!”, “Mac ‘n cheese”, and “Guyanese cook-up rice” topped several people’s list. An enticing comment was “a really good chili with gobs of melted cheese on top and hearty bread to mop it up”. The saucy goodness conjures up the most vividly delicious image. Another well loved food was ” Pasta! Plain, with butter, with cheese, with Alfredo, with marinara, with chicken, meatballs, shrimp, with just about anything:-)”. Linguine with shrimp
Grilled cheese sandwiches oozing with melted cheeses such as mozzarella, cheddar and gruyere or croque monsieurs are also much loved. I cannot think of anything which my children in their childhood enjoyed more than “fondue”: Haitian style grilled cheese sandwiches with La Vache qui Rit or American cheese. They were either made in a panini maker or pressed on a caste iron griddle atop the stove. Other favorites cited here in Haiti were fried Kibby and Kibby naie. Traditional “soupe jomou ” or pumpkin soup and the Haitian Griot ( marinated fried pork cubes) with spicy pickleez and banane peze are also perennial favorites.
Haitian delights: Griot with banane peze patate, diri kole and pickleez
Other noteworthy comments on comfort food that people shared were “My grandmother’s Pilau recipe (chicken and cabbage, Chinese heaven) and icebox cake for afters” was also a great answer as was “Dhal highlighted with flecks of sautéed garlic and toasted cumin take me to a happy place.” Many of my Guyanese friends unanimously agree that a spicy curry chicken or shrimp with a warm, soft roti or dhal puri, coconut choka, pumpkin and shrimp are the ultimate comfort foods, and I totally agree.
How delightful and comforting is a bowl of warm oatmeal, a mug of good hot chocolate , creamy rice pudding or a bread pudding? A stack of fluffy warm buttermilk pancakes with syrup or fruit topping is heaven on a plate. Warm fruit pie with velvet custard can make any sadness go away with one bite. The underlying consensus is that comfort food is associated with a happy place and time in our lives. It often embodies home, family, and friends. Comfort foods give us a sense of emotional well-being and eating them makes us forget our problems; momentarily at least. Often comfort foods are high in carbs and therefore evoke feelings of contentment and satisfaction.
Creamy Rice Pudding recipe available on blog post
Bread is also an amazing and satisfying comfort food. Its versatility is so widespread and can be used in countless preparations. The simplicity of warm buttered toast topped with a sliver of cheese or jam is heavenly. A fresh baguette or a fresh country loaf is perfect accompaniment to a stew or some other saucy dish. Fresh, warm bread is tantamount to a delicacy. The aroma and texture is different and special. Bread making is an ancient practice and its consumption is a timeless pleasure. A friend cited that one of his all time favorite things was “a thick slice of Guyanese plait bread, toasted, spread generously with salted butter.” Ah…the timeless magic of carbs!
Some other sweet favorites which many associate with comfort are ice cream, banana bread, chocolate chip cookies and pound cake. I can relate to all of these and I make them for my family. They are simple foods, but ones which fill us with a level of nostalgia of home and family or even a particular moment which we may have shared with special people.
One of my little guilty chocolate pleasures is Cadbury’s English chocolate. I realize that I am not alone in this obsession as some others cited a love of these gems : milk, whole nut, and fruit & nut bars!!
Apple Crostata or open faced apple pie
Macaroni and cheese is an all time favorite for all ages recipe available on blogpost Banana bread with brown sugar and pecans recipe on blogpost
As the weekend is upon us and we will have some time to create some nostalgic alchemy in the kitchen, why not try some of your favorite foods? You might never have thought of making them on your own before, but it would be a great opportunity to do so. I urge you to experiment in the kitchen and create new favorites. I have many great recipes which I have shared with you on previous posts. Check them out again and try something you’ve always wanted to, but have not gotten around to doing. Chances are you will make loving and lasting memories for you and yours.
For those who have had a difficult week, some comfort food is always a great soul soother. Have a great weekend everyone!
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
1tsp good vanilla
For a grown up flavor, Add a dash of cayenne * optional
In a medium pot mix cocoa powder, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Add the water to mix. Add the milk and cinnamon and put on a medium flame. Stir continuously as the mixture heats and comes to a boil, so that the cocoa does not burn on the bottom. Add the cream and vanilla and cook for about 2 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Remove the cinnamon stick and serve.