I have come across several variations of this recipe in print and online. Its premise is that everything that was available at the time (think wind-driven ships, spice trading, ginger, saffron, curry), and within the immediate geographic location, or within reach (maybe pillaged or part of the cargo being transported), was thrown into a pot and stirred together to create very regionally based meals, and because of their premises and histories and traditions, these dishes certainly qualify as comfort food.
Under the same premise, I am reminded of a dish that my Mom made a lot when we were growing up called “Country Captain” which is this wonderful concoction of chicken, tomatoes, butter-toasted whole almonds, currants, and eastern spices. Its smell alone is captivating; all stew-like and served over steamed long grain rice, its flavors dance at many levels, and it’s one of my favorites.
Other versions of this dish below have been called “Safari Supper” and were served often as a standard in my home for years. Many were the conversations that took place before, during, and after the preparation of the basic recipe. My version is a little sweeter, a little “peanutier”, and with a little more kick. Play with any or all of it; it’s very flexible in terms of flavor layers. Have fun and enjoy!
2-3 TBSPS bacon fat (equal amounts of butter and olive oil can substitute)
1 medium sweet/Spanish onion, chopped medium
½ medium green bell pepper, chopped
Approximately 1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey meat
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of ground clove
A pinch of allspice
¼ – ½ tsp dried red chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup raisins, or dried currants, or dried cranberries
¼ cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoon honey
1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup water
½ cup finely chopped curly parsley
½ cup sliced almonds
In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onion and pepper, in the bacon fat, until tender. Add the ground turkey and fry the meat with the vegetables, chopping the meat into smaller pieces as it cooks. You get to decide the texture of the finished product by deciding how small you chop the turkey pieces as it cooks. I like the pieces fairly small so there is some consistency with some of the other ingredients. I have also made this with bulk sweet Italian sausage (same quantity), fried crispy, and with any extra fat drained, if needed. Combine all the other ingredients; except the last two, the chopped parsley and almonds, with the sautéed vegetables and meat, stirring well to combine. There are two methods to cook this mixture off and steam the rice; they are:
Oven Method: Turn the mixture into an ungreased 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake at 350°F, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 50 to 60 minutes. (A small amount of water, or chicken stock, can be added if necessary)
Skillet Method: Heat the mixture to boiling over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender, about 35 minutes. (A small amount of water, or chicken stock, can be added if necessary)
Serve either version with the chopped parsley stirred in to the finished product and topped with the sliced almonds to garnish.
I first fell in love with cornbread when I was a young child. My maternal grandmother would make cornbread in a cast-iron “pan” that was shaped like little cobs of corn. Being raised in New England, cornbread was not really considered a staple, however it could easily be called a standard, and for me, it was a real treat whenever it was served. (Hush-Puppies, too!) My Mom was renowned for what she did with leftover cornbread and biscuits. She would crumble them loosely into a small pan and then pour melted butter and maple syrup, mixed with a little cream, over the crumbles to coat them. She would sprinkle a little cinnamon and nutmeg on them and would then bake them in the oven for about 20 minutes. She called them “rag-a-muffins” and they were gooey and sweet and yummy.
My first wife’s mother, who was born and raised in Texas, would make the Southern traditional version. The batter ingredients were from scratch. She used melted butter in the recipe and melted bacon fat sprinkled with cornmeal in the cast-iron “spider” (skillet) to bake her cornbread. I never saw her make a bad batch. It was always perfectly cooked with that deep brown crispy bacony crust on the outside; steamy, moist, and delicious on the inside. (It’s a great technique for cornbread: three musts; 1) cast iron skillet only, 2) about 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease must be melted in the pan in the oven and must be pretty hot, in order to, 3) foam the cornmeal in the bacon fat, about 2 teaspoons, sprinkled onto the hot bacon fat.)
Be it that wonderful “homey” nature of cornbread; or that textural thrill of crunching through the crust; or the nutritional and health benefits of corn; the history of corn having sustained centuries of civilization; or, that “I-just-plain-like-because-it-makes-me-feel-good-when-I-eat-it” thing, but, I consider cornbread to truly be one of those comfort foods that should be on the list of “The Top 10 Comfort Foods I Would Never Be Without”.
I first tasted this recipe at a well-attended backyard summer birthday party. Our hostesses had set out amazingly copious amounts of foods. There were large casseroles of au gratin potatoes, roasted veggies, peppers and onions, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and crock-pots brimming with sausages and ham. There were bowls and bowls of salads and baskets of bread and rolls; there was a lot of food served…all of it delicious and certainly plentiful. But, nestled in amongst all the goodies, was this aluminum 9 x 13 pan that held the concoction described below. After my first bite of this warm and rich, rustic and artisanal casserole, the aluminum pan that held it seemed to take on this angelic glow, showing me the way, so to speak; a beacon, a marker of comfort food goodness that would not be denied. Yup, I went back two more times to that casserole that night and did not leave the festivities until I had the recipe in hand.
I just had the chance to visit with my sister Jane not too long ago when she and her clan had come to Florida to visit for Easter. During one of those awesome “kitchen-table” conversations, she revealed to me that she makes this recipe at least a couple of times a month, considering it a staple in their family-meal repertoire, after having eaten some at a Thanksgiving dinner at my place several years earlier. I honestly can’t think of a nicer testimony to the value of this dish. It is one of those throw it all in a bowl to mix it up, dump it in a pan, bake it, eat it…pretty simple, amazingly delicious, and great comfort food.
I’m going to give this to you in two versions. I still have the original recipe card that my friend Kim gave me on the night of the birthday party. She called it “Johnnycakes” and it was a single recipe, about big enough for a 9 x 9 pan. I’ll include it at the end of this article. First, though, I’ll give you my rendition. It has, of course, been tweaked. It’s large enough to fill a 9 x 13 pan and can feed the whole crew; usually reserved for holiday dinners.
Corn Pudding Bread (I)
2 boxes of Jiffy Cornbread mix (or enough dry batter from scratch for two recipes)
2 regular sized cans of white kernel corn, drained
2 regular sized cans of creamed style corn
2 pints of sour cream
2 sticks (1/2 pound) of butter, melted
1 ½ cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
1 medium-sized jalapeno pepper, seeded, and minced (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for ½ cup of the grated cheese, and mix to evenly distribute the ingredients; but, don’t over-stir, which can give you tougher bread. A few small lumps are OK. Spray a 9 x 13 baking pan (glass or otherwise) with some butter flavored cooking spray, or lightly coat with softened butter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top of the dish with the remaining ½ cup of grated cheese. Bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until firm and the cheese is crispy and the edges of the batter are browned and beginning to pull away from the edges of the baking pan. To keep things simple, I serve it right from the dish it bakes in and I simply put a spoon in it and let folks scoop out however much they’d like. This is a recipe that is best left alone. Leave out the cheese and jalapeno pepper, either individually, or collectively, and you will have a reasonable facsimile of the original (un-tweaked) recipe. Serves a bunch and can be halved easily.
Corn Pudding Bread (II)
One regular sized can of creamed corn
One regular sized can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 stick (1/4 lb.) melted butter
1 pint (8 oz.) sour cream
Mix all ingredients together. Bake in an 8 x 8, or 9 x 9 baking pan for 40 to 45 minutes at 375 degrees until firm. Cut into squares.
I have three sisters. Because of this fact, I do know that there is a special bond between Dads and daughters. Conversely, I absolutely know that there is a special bond between Moms and sons, as well. It is no different for me. I’m pretty proud of my Mom, too. She was a loving wife for 63 years; raised five kids, taught elementary gifted and talented kids, and ran the household for years. Dad has since left us, and Mom continues to carry on like a trooper. She is currently in her late 80’s and is still very active with caring for her rescue terrier Sam, bridge clubs, garden club, altar guild, and redecorating/remodeling her home; and she does this undeterred by titanium knees and degenerative arthritis.
Despite working full-time, maintaining a long-distance relationship of 80 miles or so, being a stained-glass/mosaic artist, and a food blogger, I did manage to schedule to be home for Mother’s Day this year and was proud to honor my Mom by doing what we did when we were kids. Essentially, Mom doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to for the entire day, and all the necessary stuff is done for her. So, went last Sunday. For breakfast, I made Mom some French-toasted oatmeal bread, with maple syrup and sliced strawberries and sausage links. I made sure I stayed up with the dishes, took Sam for his walks, got Mom her Sunday paper, and generally tried to stay out of her way. For her dinner:
- Delmonico Tips Stroganoff/Buttered Egg Noodles
- Sweet Potato Casseroles
- Iceberg Wedges with Blue Cheese and slivered almonds
- Cherry Crepes
Delmonico Tips Stroganoff
I took a big Delmonico Rib-Eye steak and trimmed the fat, then cubed the meat, and then cut them diagonally across the cube to make triangular tips. I dredged these in some flour that had been salted and peppered. I browned the tips in butter and olive oil and combined them with 2 Vidalia onions that had been chopped and then caramelized. I sautéed an 8 oz. package of sliced baby portabella mushrooms and tossed these in, too. I then added 1 cup of red wine and a can of beef consommé and stirred it all to combine. I put a cover on it and baked it off in a 350°F oven for about an hour. I took it out and let it sit for about 30 minutes to cool down and then stirred in about a pint of sour cream. It was a wonderful sauce and I spooned it out over some medium egg noodles that had been sauced with melted butter and about 2 teaspoons of poppy seed.
Sweet Potato Casseroles
Mom loves sweet potatoes. And, they’re always on everybody’s Super Foods list. You know; the lists with blueberries and almonds on them. I baked two average sized sweets in a 350°F oven for about an hour and a quarter. You can poke them with a fork to make sure they are done all the way through. I usually slice off the pointy ends and don’t forget to scrub them and poke a few holes in them so steam can escape while they are cooking. Peel the skins off of them when they are cool enough to handle. I lightly mashed the cooked potato and added to them a small drained can of pineapple chunks, about 1 cup of chopped walnuts (not too finely chopped, just run your knife through them to make the pieces chunky), about 3 TBSPS softened butter, about ½ cup of dark brown sugar, and about ¼ cup of dark rum. Everything was stirred to combine and I split it back out amongst two oven-proof personal casseroles. Lastly, they were sprinkled with some grated sharp cheddar cheese and baked for about 30-40 minutes, until the cheese was crispy and crunchy and the potato mixture is heated through. Be careful, these dishes come out of the oven real hot and you want to put some trivets or potholders under them for serving.
I started with a can of cherry pie filling and here I would recommend paying a little more and getting the better quality brand. I opened the can into a small saucepan and added to it a ¼ cup of Chambord Raspberry Liqueur, a ¼ cup of sherry, and the juice of half a lemon. Simmer this filling on low for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning. I then took about ¾ of a cup of sour cream and added about 2 TBSPS of sugar, the juice of half of a lemon, about ¼ cup of Kirshwasser (cherry liqueur); then stirred it all together and set it aside to let the sugar dissolve and the flavors assimilate. (Knowing that crepe batter likes to rest a bit before using, I had the cherries, the sour cream topping, and the crepe batter all prepared and done before the Stroganoff came out of the oven) The crepe batter is pretty simple. I think the key to a good crepe batter is to spend some time with the first step which is combining 2 eggs with a cup of flour. The egg tends to capture some of the flour, creating lumps that will need your attention to stir out. So, I combined my two eggs with a level cup of flour, working out those lumps with a wire whisk. Then I slowly added ½ cup each of water and of milk, adding a little bit at a time and taking some time to incorporate the liquids. You’ll end up with a slightly gummy batter that you finish with a couple of pinches of salt and 2 TBSPS of melted butter. Stir it all one more time and set it aside to rest.
Mom has a cast-iron crepe pan that she has had for over forty years. It was a Christmas gift from her husband and it has a thumb notch at the base of the handle for spreading the batter and is perfectly sized for ¼ cup of batter which is the right amount for one individual crepe. Mom has seasoned the gently sloping sides and bottom of this pan to perfection and it is a wonder to use. However, regardless of whatever pan or skillet that you use (a small non-stick/”Teflon” skillet with sloping sides will work just as well), the temperature that you use under it is important. Too cool and the crepe batter runs and forms weird shaped crepes, too warm and they set too quickly (another shape/form issue) and they tend to burn, too. Patience is a true virtue in making crepes, but well worth the effort. (Always an impressive presentation, too.) Invariably, you will always waste one or two per batch, as well. That’s how you test for the correct temperature. The last thing you will need is a thin bladed, small, spatula. We have a little spreader that works perfect.
So, you heat the pan; wipe it with a paper towel moistened with cooking oil. Pour a ¼ cup of the batter in the center of the pan. Pick up the pan and slowly tilt it in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the pan with the batter to the preferred finished size of about 6-7“across in diameter. Now, the uncooked side of the crepe will show some signs of being ready like bubbling like a pancake; but, you really want to think in terms of time. About a minute and a half on the first side; when the first side is ready, it will be able to be lifted up on the side with the small spatula. When released all around, and lightly browned on the first cooked side, flip the crepe in the pan with the small spatula. It’s elastic dough and will stand up to more punishment than you think. About thirty seconds only are needed on the second side and it will be lightly browned. You can make and fill these individually, or, you can keep them individually separated by clear plastic wrap and they will keep in the freezer for a long time.
I filled each one of Mom’s by spooning a generous serving of the flavored cherry filling onto the bottom quarter of each of two crepes. Fold them in half and then in half again, leaving the cherries in the bottom pocket, and a double layer of crepe on top. Top the crepes with a dollop of the flavored sour cream and serve warm. Enjoy!
And please remember, honor your Mothers every day for the love they have shown you and the sacrifices they have made. I love you, Mom!
Almost every Friday night, one of our latest (also reads: quickest, not very costly, convenient, etc.) “go-to” comfort foods would be a simple beans and franks casserole, humbly called “Frisky Farm Beanie Weenies”. Even if you have difficulty boiling water, you could do this one. Honest. Here’s how:
1 large (tall) can any brand pork and beans, or baked beans*, un-drained (you’ll want to use the juice) (or, two small cans)
1 package of your favorite hot dogs, cut into bite sized (coin shaped) pieces; with a little slant, you will be cutting “on the bias” and it looks good, it’s up to you; bite-sized is the operative term
1 medium onion, chopped
4 TBSPS softened butter
2 TBSP olive oil
8 ozs. (no less than a full cup) grated sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a small non-stick skillet, melt 2 TBSPS of the butter (1/2 of the ingredient amount), add the olive oil and sauté the chopped onion until soft and slightly transparent. With a spatula, scrape all the sautéed onion and drippings into a medium sized glass casserole dish. Add the remaining 2 TBSPS of butter to the scraped-clean skillet and add the hot dog pieces; cooking them slowly over medium heat until done to how you like them. (We like ours a little dark and crispy, slower is better) When done, scrape the hot dog pieces and drippings into the casserole with the onions. (If you’re going to get adventurous and experiment with some additional ingredients, here is where you would put it/them in.) Add the entire can of beans and stir all of the ingredients in the casserole to combine well. Sprinkle the top with the grated cheese. Bake, uncovered, for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes; this is completely up to you based on how you like your cheese. Shorter time yields a soft gooey kind of topping. We like to let it cook longer, so that the cheese gets crunchy and crispy. It’s entirely up to you…Enjoy!
*There are so many different flavors of canned pork and beans, and, baked beans; that it is entirely possible that you could develop your own favorite version of this dish just by choosing your favorite flavored beans, and not change anything else with the recipe.
- Barbeque Sauce
- Brown sugar, molasses, or honey
- Some heat; hot sauce, chili pepper flakes, tabasco, diced & seeded jalapeno pepper
Many other meat options: Sausage, Kielbasa, Bratwurst, ground beef or turkey, even chicken