Post # 335 Cold Comfort

January 21, 2015 at 12:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

It’s deep winter now, and the cold has settled into the house and the carpets.  Nooks and crannies no longer hold warmth, or even the ghost of warmth.  Feet without socks are uncomfortable.  The dogs are curling up on themselves and each other.  It’s the days of wanting a fireplace if you have none, and wanting a fire if you have one.  The bright, colorful, and friendly holidays are behind us.  All that stretches before us are gray, misty days with Spring many weeks away.

Comfort food is the norm.  Cooking takes on a whole new element about now.  Fresh foods from the garden are gone.  Making something new and inventive seems too much effort.  One of my favorite books ever is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  There’s a wonderful passage where the author is describing a similar situation.  In the dark of winter, the lead character finds a time when nothing tastes good no matter how hungry she was.  It was “Big Pickle Time.”  She’d buy herself the biggest, fattest dill pickle and take it home and nibble and suck on it all day long.  She never came out and ate it, just had it.  It took all day, but finally it would be gone.  After that, everything tasted good again.  It’s the same with comfort foods in winter.

I’m always a little surprised how many of my comfort foods are about foods from my childhood.  My little brother and I loved “beengs and cornbread” growing up.  Mom never made them enough, as far as we were concerned.  Grilled cheese for lunch or dinner were red-letter days for us.  All three of us looked forward to Taco Night.  Now I’m way passed my half-century mark, and I still love all these things.

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to rain or snow.  Either way, not a day to get outside.  Tomorrow, I’m making “beengs and cornbread.”  Great white northern beans, about a cup, soaked over night.  Half an onion, roughly chopped and sweated in a pan.  Some kind of pork, but it can be almost anything.  Bacon, cubed ham, pork necks, ham hocks, salt pork, or Virginia ham.  Anything pork to impart some salty good flavor.  Trim the fat, or skim it off later.  Beans, onions, pork, and about 4-5 cups of water.  Slow simmer till the beans are done, 2-3 hours.  Add 1/2 cup to one full cup (depending on your taste) of rough chopped tomatoes (skin, seeds, pulp, and juice included) just before serving and it’s wonderful.  Been eating this stuff for nearly sixty years and never gotten tired of it.  And cornbread!  Half a stick of butter, softened, creamed with 1/2 cup of sugar.  Combine 3/4 cup milk or water to 1 egg.  Sift together 1 cup cornmeal (use a fine grit unless you want your teeth scraped) with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 cups flour.  Add the flour and water/egg mixture to the butter alternately finishing with the flour.  Pour into a prepared 8×8 baking pan and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.  But what I do, learned at my mother’s knee and reinforced by others, is put an 8 inch cast iron skillet in the cold oven.  When the oven is preheated and batter is ready, put about a tablespoon of butter in the skillet and allow it to melt and coat the pan (use a wooden spoon to assist it.)  Then pour the batter into the skillet and cook as above.  Wonderful stuff!

skillet corn bread

Can’t hardly get better than this.

Another dish I haven’t tried, but I’m looking forward to is a new grilled cheese sandwich.  I love grilled cheese and for the longest time, over 40 years, it was simply two pieces of bread heavily slathered with butter and fried with a piece of American cheese between them.  Pure simplicity.

grilled cheese sandwich

Looks good, doesn’t it?  With a handful of potato chips and a dill pickle spear, it makes for some mighty good comfort.

But as I learned more about cooking and pushed my limits more, I discovered other cheeses and other breads for making this kind of sandwich.  Rye bread with provolone, a plain bagel spread with herbed cream cheese and stacked with various other cheeses, a baguette with mozzarella and tomatoes and basil leaves.  Then, just yesterday, Partner/Spouse shared this with me.


Chef Stuart O’Kelly is a world-renowned chef from Ireland and created this amazing treat.  Caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms,  brie cheese on thickly sliced grilled rustic bread.

I can’t wait to try this.



  1. Oh, I “liked” it on his FB page, all right! But it will have to stay an unfulfilled food dream for now. Too many yummy calories. I actually prefer veggie beans – not a big fan of pork, as you may remember. I use a family recipe and play with seasonings (can’t use much salt, either. Ah, age!)

  2. I haven’t eaten American “cheese” in years, but grilled cheese made with any kind of real cheese is high on my list of comfort foods, and that brie/caramelized onion looks AMAZING. My mom used to give us real Boston baked beans and brown bread on winter nights, which is still a treat (although the beans have to be vegetarian now). I may have just come up with this Sunday’s meal… 🙂

    • It’s easy to make beans vegetarian. Leave out the meat and increase the salt “to taste.” Google the brie sandwich under the chef’s name and you should find it. Or look in Partner/Spouse’s FB newsfeed and you’ll see the link. If you make it, let me know how it turns out.

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