Tag Archives: comfort food

To comfort or not to comfort

Truth: sometimes we all have bad days. Today was one for me. Most people I know turn to comfort foods when times are tough. Desserts, ice cream, and candy are common. Or maybe it is take-out chinese food for you. I know someone whose comfort food is chicken noodle soup over mashed potatoes. I sometimes find a Big Mac comforting. We all have our food.

But does that food actually make us feel better? I can’t find the reference now, but I recently heard about some research done that indicates the answer is no. Eating a healthy food had the same effect as the comfort food. Some research has shown that not eating has the same effect.

I’m curious if this rings true for any of you readers out there. I have mixed thoughts on this.

1) I’m not convinced that a lab stimulated “depressed” mood from watching a sad movie is the same as how we feel after a bad day.

2) Not all comfort foods are created equal. No one food is the right answer every time (or any time if you believe the research).

3) I will admit that sometimes eating something healthy gives me enough of a positive boost (Hey look, I did something good for myself) to get through. And exercising can have the same effect as well.

4) Most of the time, the effects of anything, comfort food or otherwise, are fairly short lived on your overall mood for the day.

I’ll admit without shame that I ate some ice cream to help me through my rough day.

Let me know in the comments what your comfort foods are and if this research rings true for you or not!

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Crockpot Vegetable Pot Pie

Pot pie is not the recipe you expect to appear on a food blog right before Memorial Day. It should be burgers, fries, summery salads, fruity desserts, etc. But I’m sitting in my slippers and wearing a sweatshirt in my chilly house, since I refuse to turn on the heater this late in May. From my friends’ posts on Facebook, many others have a weekend ahead lacking in sunshine and summer.

While I fully intend to do my cookout on Monday (rain or shine), until then, I’m basking in some warm, hearty comfort food. This pot pie is on my list. I made this for company recently, and there were no leftovers with smiles all around on how delicious it was. Honestly, I think I even liked this better than most chicken pot pies I’ve had. So many more flavors with all the different vegetables. Enjoy!

Crockpot Vegetable Pot Pie (Serves 6-8)

Crockpot Vegetable Pot Pie

Filling:
1 ½ tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 cups diced baking potato
1 ½ cup diced carrot
1 ½ cup diced parsnip
1 cup chopped celery
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 (8-ounce) packages white mushrooms, sliced
1 large zucchini, sliced in half moons
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups skim milk
¾ cup low sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)
2 cups frozen green peas
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme

Biscuit topping:
1 ⅔ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup low-fat buttermilk

Preparation

1. Spray a crockpot with cooking spray.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet with 1 teaspoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add potato, carrot, parsnips, and celery. Sauté 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker. Add 1 teaspoon of oil to pan and return to heat. When oil is heated, add onion, mushrooms, and zucchini. Saute until beginning to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Add to crockpot. Add salt and pepper to vegetable mixture, stirring to combine.

3. Heat remaining 1 ½ tablespoons oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 ½ tablespoons flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Gradually whisk in milk and broth. Cook 3-5 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Pour sauce into slow cooker. Add peas and thyme. Stir contents of crockpot to combine.

4. Cover crockpot and cook on low for 3 ½ hours.

5. When vegetable mixture is almost done, make biscuit topping, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and black pepper in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese. Add buttermilk, stirring just until moist.

6. Increase heat to high. Drop biscuits onto filling in 8 equal mounds. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until biscuits are done. Uncover and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 365
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 13 g
Saturated Fat: 6 g
Cholesterol: 25 mg
Carbohydrates: 50 g
Fiber: 7 g
Sodium: 555 mg

Recipe Notes: I normally don’t like recipes that require any cooking before you put things in the crockpot. But it is nice to get a little bit of color on the veggies first. I’m sure it would still turn out if you skipped that step. Feel free to adjust the vegetable amounts or types. I was probably a little under on the mushrooms – a few were bad in my packages and my husband doesn’t love them anyway – and a little over on the potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. I never have buttermilk; I just make it with skim milk and lemon juice.

Source: slightly adapted from Cooking Light

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BBQ Pork Macaroni and Cheese

My apologies for my 2+ week disappearance.  Between moving and internet struggles, I have been a slacker.  Now that my life has calmed down a bit, I should be more regular in posting.

Macaroni and cheese finds its way on to my menu more often than not since it is delicious, easy, quick, and sure to please everyone.  While the boxed stuff is just fine for lunch every now and then, homemade mac and cheese casserole-style makes something ordinary a little more special for dinner.

The basic recipe is great, but I do like to make things interesting with “mix-ins” occasionally.  One of my favorites for a special treat is caramelized onions and BBQ pork.  Inspired by a restaurant meal I had years ago, this dish makes an average dinner worthy of company or any special occasion.

Enjoy!

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BBQ Pork Macaroni and Cheese (Serves 6)

½ tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 box (13.25 ounce) whole wheat macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup flour
2 ½ cups skim milk
1½-2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, colby, or colby jack work well)
8 ounces cooked, shredded pork
½ cup BBQ sauce (more per personal preference)
½ cup breadcrumbs, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Melt ½ tablespoon olive oil or butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion slices; sauté for 3-5 minutes until beginning to soften and brown. Reduce heat to low. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until onions are a nice brown color, about 15-30 minutes. Place in the bottom of a well-greased 2 quart or 8×11 baking dish.

3. Mix pork with BBQ sauce until well moistened (add more if you really like BBQ). Layer on top of onions in baking dish.

4. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add macaroni and cook until just al dente – the minimum time on the box or even a minute less. Drain.

5. While macaroni cooks, melt 2 tablespoons butter in large saucepan. When melted and beginning to bubble, add in black pepper and flour. Stir constantly, cooking for 1-2 minutes until just beginning to brown. Whisk in milk, stirring constantly. Cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently to prevent lumps, about 5 minutes.

6. Remove sauce from heat. Stir in cheese until melted and smooth. Add in drained pasta. Stir until well combined. Layer over pork in baking dish.

7. If using, lightly toast breadcrumbs in a small skillet over medium heat, about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle over the top of casserole.

8. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until casserole is bubbling.

Nutritional Information: (Amount per Serving)

Calories: 606
Protein: 32 g
Fat: 21 g
Saturated Fat: 10 g
Cholesterol: 79 g
Carbohydrates: 75 g
Fiber: 6 g
Sodium: 561 mg

Recipe notes: Any short pasta will work. I often use rotini or penne. But there is something extra satisfying about macaroni and cheese made with actual macaroni noodles. You may need more or less BBQ sauce. It depends on how moist your meat is and how saucy you like it. I use meat leftover from making BBQ pork sandwiches, which is generally pork shoulder. Any shredded pork will work. You can save some cheese out from the sauce to sprinkle on top. I usually forget, but it is delicious that way.

Skip the steps about the onion and pork, and this is my go-to macaroni and cheese. I often add just the onions. They don’t take much effort and cook in about the same time as getting the noodles and sauce together.

I know the nutrition doesn’t look great on this. But I cut down to skim milk and scaled back the cheese a lot. Think how much worse it could be!

Source: adapted from The Pioneer Woman and inspired by a restaurant meal

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Back to School: Comfort Foods

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I read this fascinating article by Mark Bittman talking about comfort foods.  For each of us, our comfort foods are different.  Eating Kraft Mac and Cheese makes me feel like I’m home, while my husband would rather go hungry.  One of my college roommates loved macaroni cooked in homemade tomato juice (think spaghetios without ketchup) which I avoided like the plague.

But as Bittman points out:  it doesn’t matter what your comfort food is.  Just think about what little changes make it a slightly healthier choice.  Even burgers and fries are likely better for you if you make them at home.  Swap your canned vegetables for frozen.  Upgrade to a whole grain pasta or brown rice.

Comfort foods are important meals for your family.  They make meal time a happy, hopefully battle-free zone.  Also, they shouldn’t be stressful for you to make.  These are the recipes that you no longer look at, you can just make it from off the top of your head.

So, as school is getting back in session and your lives are getting much busier, remember to occasionally go back to those comfort foods.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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