Cold comfort

I’m sick. I felt it coming Monday night, and sure enough, when I woke up on Tuesday – full-blown cold. Hubby is enjoying a weekend of work in sunny Florida while I’m stuck at home trying to balance languishing and taking care of the baby. I was briefly tempted to hop on a plane and head down there with him to enjoy a few days of sunshine and warm temps, but decided in light of our quickly approaching trip to Europe next week, it was probably more prudent to stay home. Hope he’s having a good time, &*#@*&#@. Actually, I’m exaggerating. I’m not really that sick right now. Tuesday and Wednesday were the roughest days, and hubby was here to take great care of me before he had to leave. Things have improved steadily each day since and although I’m still not quite fully recovered just yet, I imagine I should be back at full strength in another day or two. 

What’s the old saying – “Starve a fever, feed a cold?” Or is it the other way around? I can never remember. I’m not sure I had a fever, but I definitely have a cold. In any case, I didn’t have much appetite this week and my culinary thoughts turned to comfort foods. Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, soups, chocolate pudding and the like. For me, anything warm, soothing and creamy fits the fill just fine. Another appeal of comfort foods is that they’re easy to make, which is very much appreciated when you’re feeling too woozy to stand at the stove for very long. You can even make a game of it! Play along for a minute and I’ll show you what I mean. Open up your fridge and take a look at what’s inside. Select almost any cooked meat and a vegetable. Now open up a can of cream of mushroom soup (you know you’ve all got one lurking in your pantry) and mix it all together. Dump the whole concoction into a casserole dish, throw some cheese on top and bake it until bubbly. There ya go. This sort of thing makes me happy as a duck in water. It’s not the kind of food I could eat every day, mind you, but when I’m sick, it’s just the ticket.  

I pride myself on having a pretty diverse palate, but comfort foods will always hold a special place in my taste buds. Don’t they for us all? There are such important memories wrapped up in them. Years from now, I will tell my son that for the first couple of months of my pregnancy with him, I survived on little more than cottage cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice and Triscuits. Those were the only foods that sounded good, and they were just what I wanted. 

When I was under the weather as a little girl, the first comfort foods I can remember my mom making for me were hot tea and cinnamon toast. Hot tea seemed like such a grown-up thing to have when you’re small, I always felt so important and loved whenever a cup of this magical potion appeared before me. And sure enough, it always seemed to cure whatever was ailing me at the time. I’m a coffee drinker today, but it just doesn’t have the same connotation. I still enjoy the occasional cup of hot tea and look forward to quite a few cuppas next week when we are back in Ireland.

More of my favorite comfort foods from childhood and beyond include Cocoa Krispies, Spaghettios with hot dogs cut up into it, broasted chicken from Miller’s Cafeteria in Richmond IN (long since closed, but still to this day, the BEST chicken I’ve ever had), the stewed chicken and dumplings my mom used to make every Christmas, hash brown potato casserole, my mom’s beef vegetable soup and her chocolate chip coffeecake, my hubby’s Guinness beef stew, and porcupine meatballs. (Note of explanation: porcupine meatballs are not made from porcupines. Relax. They are named porcupines because the rice that sticks out of them when they’re cooked looks like little quills.) Which reminds me, hidden somewhere in my dad’s house are several cookbooks full of recipes contributed by members of our church, a GREAT source of comfort food inspiration. Note to self – find these books and steal, I mean, er, borrow them next time I’m home…

Another favorite comfort food tradition in my family came from a surprising source, but has definitely stood the test of time. In the early 1980s, my brother brought home a recipe for chicken rice pilaf from his 7th grade home economics class and proudly made it for us for dinner. We loved it, and were somewhat amazed by his up-to-then hidden culinary talents. It’s been a staple in our family ever since, and my brother’s turned into quite a good cook by his own merits. It’s simple to make, not exactly low-cal (but who cares about that when you’re sick and need some good nourishment) and reheats splendidly. Kids love this, too. Chicken, noodles, rice – what’s not to like?? You can easily jazz the recipe up by adding in any variety of vegetables, fresh herbs, perhaps a splash of white wine, but the unadulterated version is perfect on a cold day or when you’re not feeling well. Whip up a batch next time you’re feeling puny, or better yet, have your significant other make it for you. Don’t forget to sprinkle in some extra love!


Get-well-quick Chicken Pilaf

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 2 c. uncooked pasta (I like rotini or good old fashioned egg noodles)
  • 1/2 c. rice (NOT instant)
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. shredded cooked chicken (about two boneless breasts worth, poached and cooled, or you can go the super-easy way out and use your favorite ready-to-go rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)


Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the dry pasta and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Don’t skip this step, it gives the dish a wonderful nutty flavor, but be forewarned – once the pasta starts to get toasty, it can go from browned to burnt in a hurry, so be ready to dump in the broth as soon as the noodles start to become evenly browned. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a low simmer and cook uncovered until the rice is done and noodles are soft, about 20 minutes. Can add a little more water if needed as the rice and noodles soak up the liquid. Makes about 3 servings.

Chili power

It’s turning super cold this week in Indiana, which means one thing – it’s chili weather! Every fall when football season gets underway, I think of chili, and when the weather outside is frightful, a deep steamy bowl of spicy chili is certainly delightful.

Now, I’m a little picky about my chili. For years, the only chili I would eat was my dad’s, a watery soupy version with beef and beans. My dad’s a hunter and I suspect he often substituted venison hamburger for beef on the sly, tricking me into eating it by keeping mum. (I can’t bear the thought of supping on Bambi.) I also used to have a long-standing aversion to kidney beans, which I’ve sort of overcome in recent years. I’m still not crazy about them, but I tolerate them now in some recipes.

When I was last in Ireland visiting my inlaws, my sister-in-law Margaret (who manages to cook creatively for her husband, four kids, au pair and whoever else is around and make it all taste fabulous) whipped up a huge pot of a deliciously sweet chili con carne with rice. It was all meat, no beans and thick enough to be a spaghetti bolognese sauce. I asked her the secret to her recipe and she said it was the addition of sweet chili paste, which I can’t seem to find here in the U.S. grocery store. Bummer. I have added her suggestions of cinnamon and cardamom to my own recipe, which really adds to the flavor and makes a huge difference tastewise.

This season, I’ve been trying to perfect a good turkey chili recipe that I keep tweaking slightly each time I make it. I think I’ve got it pretty well sussed, in spite of the fact that I am not allowed to include onions anytime I cook it for my husband. (One doesn’t realize how often onions are called for until one is forbidden from using them.) It seems like a lot of ingredients upon the first read through, but I find measuring all of the spices and seasonings out into a small bowl before you get started makes it much easier to dump them in all at once when you get to that stage.

Chili purists eat only the soup itself, but I like to jazz it up with some rice, a little diced avocado and oyster crackers or maybe a few crushed corn chips on top. Cheddar cheese doesn’t really work too well with the seasonings in this recipe, but a little dollop of sour cream goes quite well.

Try it and enjoy!

Amy’s Tweaked Turkey Chili

Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 hr
Makes: 5 smallish 1-cup servings (I often double the recipe, it freezes and reheats superbly)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 cup chopped yellow onion
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1/4 cup chopped yellow bell peppers
    1 pound ground turkey
    1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
    1 (16-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (1 can)
    2 tablespoons chili powder
    1 tablespoon sugar
    a few sprinkles of red pepper flakes (to taste)
    1 teaspoon Kosher salt
    1 teaspoon dried basil
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    couple dashes of ground cloves

In a large skillet, saute the onion, garlic and bell pepper in the olive oil over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon.

Add the remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Alternately, you can put the browned turkey and veggies in a crock pot, add the other ingredients and cook on low for 4 – 6 hours.