Thursday, October 7, 2010

Comfort Food and Levels of Taste


It's hard to pin down what exactly 'comfort food' really means. It's all a matter of how you grew up and your level of taste. I remember a girl I was dating once told me that her ultimate comfort food was seared foie gras. Yeah, not quite what what normally comes to mind.

Which brings me to 'levels of taste' and a distinction I like to make amongst those of us who LOVE food. There are two kinds of food lovers: so-called 'foodies' and what I like to call 'foodophiles'. In French, it's the difference between 'gourmet' and 'gourmand'. More to the point, a 'foodie' is someone who only eats the best: the freshest and rarest ingredients, the fanciest, most elaborate plates, and who generally avoids all fast food and processed foods. Basically, a food snob. Contrary to what you might have gathered, I am NOT a 'foodie', I am a foodophile (with some foodie leanings).

So what is a foodophile? Well, think of Homer Simpson as the foodophile poster boy. A foodophile is someone who loves ALL (well, most) food, whether it's beluga caviar or a Joe Louis (think Hostess cupcakes, but Canadian); Beckta or McDonald's. Now, I do have a few peccadilloes about food that might nudge me towards foodie-ness, like my aversion to McDonald's 'beef', my revulsion at the proliferation of ketchup on wonderful foods, and my sense of bewilderment at the term 'well done' applying to any cut of meat.

But, for the most part, I'll eat ANYTHING.

Which brings us back to comfort food.

Part of growing up in the 70s/80s was living through the beginning of the Age of Processed Food. Entire meals could be done up in the microwave. Burgers from the local McDick's or Harvey's was the biggest treat 10-year-old me could get. As time went on and the 90s came along, I was living off of microwaved nachos (to be fair, I was in university at the time).

All this to say that a lot of homecooked meals were hard to come by for most kids growing up around me. I was lucky enough to have a mom who cooked a lot and very well, but there were still corners cut (there was a pizza night and a take-out burger night almost every week). I know that a lot of my friends were living off KD and hot dogs. So, it's only natural that a lot of us consider things like KD, hot dogs, pizza pops and other super-processed foods to be comfort foods!

Which is really a shame when you get right down to it, because the nutritional value of this kinda stuff is on par with shoe leather, and I will stand firm on the 'foodie-esque' principle that homemade food is almost always better tasting, not to mention more nutritious as it usually uses less salt, there's no monoguanodextrine, and you can taste the love (at least that's what my girlfriend says).

So, maybe the best thing is to try and recreate store bought comfort food at home. Just today I found a recipe for homemade Joe Louis! Pretty sure you can't taste the chemicals in this version!

Now my last two posts were all about warming Fall fare that easily falls into the "comfort food" category. So, what besides chili, pasta and soup is a 'comfort food'? Well, even though I rarely had it at home growing up, many North Americans will stand with meatloaf as a comfort food standard. So, with that in mind, I present a truly remarkable version of meatloaf that I found in the paper back in '04.

Meatloaf par Excellence

2 eggs
½ cup milk
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup bread crumbs
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ grated carrot
1 cup grated cheddar
1 tsp basil (dry)
½ tsp oregano
1 lb ground beef
meat from 2 sausages (mild Italian)

- Mix eggs, milk, salt, pepper & bread crumbs till crumbs dissolve
- Add veggies, cheese and herbs and mix
- Add meat and mix together
- Pack mix into loaf pan and top with salsa
- Bake at 350 F for 75 minutes (possibly less, check to see if done) – drain fat as you go (VERY important - basically, with oven mitts, remove the loaf from the oven and pour out the fat from one of the corners into the sink)

Once finished, remove from pan with spatula, slice and serve with veggies on the side!

So, that's one comfort food recipe down. 

No. 2 is completely switching gears but reflects a cuisine that is almost all 'comfort food'. Or at least all fattening! I lived in Prague, Czech Republic for almost a year back in '98-'99 and pretty much lived off of 'smazeny syr' - which is essentially a deep fried cheese sandwich. They take a breaded disk of Edam cheese, deep fry it till it's melty, stick it on a kaiser style bun and top it with a glob of mayo. They were sold at little kiosks all over the downtown core. Oh, and you could buy cold beer at the same spot and drink it while you ate your sammich o' doom, IN PUBLIC! Ahhh, those were the days. Needless to say, I gained over 30 pounds while I was there. Now, I won't encourage you to try and make 'smazeny syr' any time soon, I'm not that sadistic! But, there is another Czech delicacy that is almost as decadent, but probably a lot easier to make and less calorically masochistic.

Bramborak is a Czech potato pancake, similar to latkes. I had it a few times here and there and tried to make it myself once, but forgot to buy a cheese grater! The result was tasty, but the texture was all wrong. So do yourself a favour and buy a cheese grater! Heck, any cook worth his or her salt should have one anyway...

Bramborak (Czech potato pancakes)

½ kg raw potatoes, peeled and grated
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 egg
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp. salt
oil for frying (veg or peanut)
milk (as much as necessary to bind mixture)

1 tsp. marjoram (or more to taste)
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp caraway seeds

- grate/mince potatoes
- mix with eggs, milk, flour, spices

- form into flat, pancake-like pieces, about 10 cm in diameter
- float cook in hot oil until golden and slightly crispy
- drain on paper towel to remove excess oil
- serve hot topped with warmed sauerkraut

So, that's about all I can think of today on comfort food. I'm sure I'll be back with more!