I may have been born and raised in California, but my family in its entirety hails from the Midwest and the South. The comfort foods that I grew up with were definitely not the same as those my friends were eating, since for a majority of them, their families had either lived in California for generations, or had roots on the East coast or in Italy. Needless to say, they thought I was a bit strange.
For them, comfort foods were Mac n’ Cheese, Spaghetti, Lasagne, Some unnamed casserole or Mom’s Sunday Roast. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with these things, they simply don’t say “comfort food” to me. They are all things that I enjoy, but when it’s time for me to feel warm, loved and safe in a world that throws far too many curves my way, I’m thinking about some good ol’ country staples. I’m thinking fried potatoes, beans and hocks, greens and cornbread.
The world has been throwing our family a lot of curves lately. There’s stresses from my wife’s job(s), the stresses of trying to keep a steady income flowing from my Internet ventures and to top it all off, there’s the news that our son, who just turned two, is very likely learning disabled and will be undergoing a fairly comprehensive evaluation and course of action very soon. Add all of that up and you have one foodie who could do nothing else but dig in the pantry for some beans and cornmeal. It was time for some comfort, and I wanted all of it as fast as I could get it.
Did it help? Of course it did. For just a few moments at least, while the house filled slowly with the aromas of slow-simmering beans, cornbread baking in the oven and potatoes sizzling in their traditional cast-iron skillet I didn’t have to worry about anything more than whether or not I needed more seasoning, or if the heat was too high. At the end I sank into bed full and content, just as warm and cozy as I would have been when my mother still tucked me off to sleep at night. All-in-all, it was a good day, and the stress of the world could wait for the morning.
This is more a collection of variations than a set of recipes, but I’m pretty confident that at least a few of you will enjoy some of the differences from the originals. I’ll link to the original basic recipe, then list the changes for each dish in turn. You may just find that one of these recipes ends up on your permanent list of comfort foods as well.
Beans, Greens, Spuds and Cornbread
Substitute three smoked ham hocks for bacon. Add these to the pot with a little oil and brown all sides thoroughly over medium low heat before adding everything else and moving forward.
this is the more traditional way to cook beans in a Southern household, and I prefer it over bacon when I can find it. The pork adds something totally umtuous and earthy to the dish that bacon just can’t manage.
Skip the salsa. Dice 1 package Goya chorizo (or equivalent) and cook for just a bit to render out some of the flavor. Add the chorizo and the fat it gives off to the batter. Also, add 2 finely diced jalapeño peppers and about 1/2 cup yellow corn kernels (frozen is fine here, but fresh if you’ve got ’em. Avoid canned at all costs. It will make the cornbread soggy)
Use red potatoes, leave skin on. Um, yeah, that was the only difference…
This one I completely winged. 1/2 bag greens, about a half cup chicken broth, few tbsp. olive oil. Three colves garlic, minced. Salt and pepper.
Add greens and broth to skillet, simmer and stir a bit until broth is nearly gone. Add oil and get sizzling. Add garlic, salt and pepper. Cook till it smells great. Serve and enjoy.
The presentation above is just a part of my quest to update some of the comfort food classics (see here and here) that a lot of us know and love. A pretty simple method, just cut rounds of cornbread with a biscuit cutter. Arrange beans and spuds on plate at an angle. Place cornbread, touch with greens and a bit of quick seared ham hock that’s been pulled off the bone, rinsed and tossed in a pan with some hot oil for a second.
I just thought it looked pretty.
Bon Appetite! Or, as we say in my house… Dig In, Y’all!