The Comfort Food Series, Part 3

As I write, the snow continues to fall in Saratoga Springs, New York. What a better time to write about–and eat–comfort foods.  So here’s a comfort menu for a cozy day indoors, watching the snowflakes fall.

Breakfast: Blueberry Pancakes

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I didn’t sleep much at all last night. Instead, I alternated reading with crossword puzzles and some Law & Order SVU on Netflix. When I finally gave in to being wide awake, I made my way into the dark kitchen and put myself to work making blueberry pancakes. I love blueberries; and they have just that combination of sweet and the tiniest bit of tart that make them perfect in pancakes. I find that using smaller, and more, blueberries works better. Some people add the berries directly to the bowl of batter, I prefer to add the berries to the individual pancake, once I’ve ladled them onto the griddle. To finish, top with butter and/or warm maple syrup. Here’s a hint from my mother: adding a bit of lemon juice (about a tablespoon) to your batter makes your pancakes fluffier.

 

Lunch: Split Pea Soup with Bacon or Ham

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What’s better for lunch than hot, stick-to-your-ribs soup (with some good crusty  bread, of course) after a morning of shoveling snow?  Split pea is not a soup that I grew up with. My Italian mother made soups often, just not split pea–minestrone, pasta and fagioli, white bean, broths, and a fantastic blended vegetable soup, yes. I had no idea what I was missing. Needless to say it’s my “go-to” soup in winter; hearty and delicious I am never disappointed. I like to add some onion, carrots and celery, all very finely diced and I cook mine with a ham hock. If I have some good Virginia cured ham on hand (which is likely during the holiday season) I’ll shred some of that in as well.  You can also prepare it with bacon instead, if you prefer. Be careful not to make your soup too thick though, it takes away from the experience.

 

Dinner: Shepherd’s Pie

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Just like split pea soup, shepherd’s pie is not a meal from my childhood, but it is a dish that I relish making and eating. I’m not quite sure of the exact origins of this British concoction, but I’ve heard of it being prepared with either ground lamb or beef. I use beef. And I never use a recipe. In a pan I brown the ground beef with some diced onion. When the onion is softened I add finely diced carrots, peas, and sometimes diced celery as well. Seasonings are to taste: salt and pepper and anything else you like. A bay leaf added while cooking adds great flavor and fragrance. After cooking, when all the vegetables have softened a bit–not too much, the pie still has to be baked remember–remove the pan from heat and toss the bay leaf. Now, to build the pie: in a baking dish evenly layer the bottom with the meat and vegetable mixture and then add an even top layer with homemade mashed potatoes. I like both layers to be about the same thickness, if anything, more meat than potatoes. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are lightly browned and the meat is just bubbly. After removing the pie from the oven, let it sit for about five minutes before serving.

After a day like this I don’t generally have room for dessert, maybe that can be our next installment!

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