Comfort Food

What does “comfort food” mean to you?

I was raised on simple southern cuisine and Tex Mex. At home we ate mainly beef, potatoes, and a few bastardized vegetables. On Sundays, we ate “Mexican food,” which was usually mostly “chips and hot sauce,” and about half of whatever entree we ordered.

Not a bad culinary heritage, by any means– just a potentially unhealthy one. Recently, I have begun a quest to tweak old family favorites to support a healthier lifestyle.

With the help of my grandmother, who has carried on the tradition of her own mother’s simple, waste-nothing and “use what you grow” recipes, I’d like to present some rich, wonderful meal ideas, guaranteed to please those of us who grew up in rural Texas, and perhaps interest those of us who did not.

This is my all-time favorite family recipe, the ultimate cure-all for homesickness, the most bang for your buck on a college (or Depression Era) budget, the easiest thing to make no matter where you are on the globe… “Plain Spaghetti.”

Plain Spaghetti (Mom’s Version)

1/2 cup elbow noodles
1 can Campbell’s tomato juice (the small size from the six-pack)
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Boil about 1-1/2 cups water, or enough water to cover desired amount of elbow noodles. When water reaches a rolling boil, add noodles. Boil until tender (al dente.) Do not drain, unless you have too much water. (The ratio of tomato juice to water should be 3:1, so enough water to thin it, but still maintain a rich tomato flavor.) Add can of tomato juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy.

Plain Spaghetti (Original Version)

1/2 cup spaghetti elbow noodles
3 tbs tomato paste
black pepper to taste
salt to taste

Boil about 1-1/2 cups water, or enough water to cover desired amount of noodles. When water reaches a rolling boil, add noodles. Boil until tender (al dente.) Do not drain, unless you have too much water. (The ratio of tomato juice to water should be 3:1, so enough water to thin it, but still maintain a rich tomato flavor.) Add tomato paste. Stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy.

Fried Okra

1 pint fresh okra
2-3 cups cornmeal, enough to coat
Salt and pepper to taste
5-6 tbs oil

Remove tips of both ends and cut remainder in small pieces. Place okra in a large bowl and pour over cornmeal, salt and pepper. Coat okra well with cornmeal. Place oil in skillet. Heat until hot enough to fry, but not so hot it burns the okra. Stir often. After about 8 minutes, cover with lid and continue frying for another 5-6 minutes. Remove lid and continue frying until okra is dark and almost black.

Cheese Potatoes
2 potatoes
1 ½ cups grated cheese
3-4 tbs Earth Balance
1-2 tbs milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and dice potatoes into 1 inch cubes. (If they are too small, they cook into mush and too large, they take too long to cook). Place in saucepan, cover with water, and cook until tender.

Grate cheese. (Daiya or Heidi Ho cheddar would work well, because it’s smooshy like Velveeta, which is traditionally used in this recipe.) Pour excess water off potatoes, stir in cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Use milk to adjust the thickness of the cheese. You should have a thick cheese sauce, not runny. Serve.

Fried Potatoes (Skillet Fries)
2 potatoes
5-6 tbs oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice potatoes into short shoestring cuts. Place oil in skillet and heat to medium heat. Pour in potatoes. Add salt and pepper. Stir often. After about 10 minutes of cooking, cover to crisp potatoes. Cook covered a few minutes, then uncover and finish cooking. Serve with ketchup.

Green Pea Salad
1 can early English peas, drained
1/4 cup grated cheese, or as much as you like.
¼ cup diced pimento
¼ cup diced green onions
2 boiled eggs, diced
¼-1/2 cup vegan whipped cream, or veganaise, or a mix of veganaise and whipped cream

Grate as much cheese as you like and stir in peas. Add diced pimento as desired, salt, pepper, onion and eggs. And whipped cream or veganaise according to your taste (some people like a lot, some just a little.)

Cornbread
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg, or 2 Tbs ground flax, 6 Tbs water, or 1 ½ tsp Ener-G plus 2 tsp warm water
1-2 teaspoons diced jalapenos (optional)
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk, or ¾ to 1 cup soy milk plus 2 tbs white vinegar (thicken 5 minutes before using), or ½ cup vegan sour cream plus ½ cup water, mixed well
dash salt
1 tbs oil
“seasoned” cast iron skillet (for the traditional version–the one with triangles for cornbread works the best, but a regular one will be fine also)

Traditional Instructions:

Place all ingredients in bowl and add 3/4 cups of buttermilk first. Stir and if it is still too thick, add rest of milk.
Place small amount of oil in iron skillet on stove top. Heat until real hot. Have oven heated to 360 degrees F.
Pour cornbread into hot skillet and place in oven. Bake until golden brown on top and firm to touch in middle. Remove and turn out upside down onto a large plate. Allow to cool before slicing.

Post Punk Kitchen Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350, line a 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper or spray the bottom lightly with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soymilk and the vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt).

Add the oil and sugar to the soymilk mixture. Whisk with a wire whisk or a fork until it is foamy and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Pour the wet ingredient into the dry and mix together using a large wooden spoon or a firm spatula. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Slice into squares and serve warm or store in an airtight container.

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