When December turns to January and I’ve packed up my Christmas tree and decorations, there’s always a lull that falls over the house. This year I jumped right back into completing the renos on the farmhouse we’re living in, but a few days into 2016 and I found myself ready to chuck the hammer and nail gun in exchange for some warmth and sunshine.
Unfortunately, that’s not happening anytime soon, so I’ve settled for getting my Vitamin D from the sun that occasionally shines out in the yard and from my newly renovated kitchen where I can whip up some comfort food.
Comfort food means different things to different people. From American comfort food like mac and cheese, chicken noodle soup, or meatloaf and mashed potatoes to hot pot and butter chicken, there’s something for everyone.
I was raised in Saskatchewan but I lived in Georgia for 3 years, so comfort food really varies for me. I like everything from gooey pasta and cheese to jambalaya, and I recently found a cake that’s my go-to whenever I miss sunshine. Here are my favourite comfort food recipes, and if you’ve got one of your own, please share. I’d love to try it.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that warms you up better than a spicy jambalaya. I can’t count how many times I ate this while living down south, and I’ve never been able to replicate it because I just can’t find a spicy enough sausage here. I sub out the ham for chicken because I don’t do pork, but you can leave it out entirely if you’re not into either. Photo and recipe from Southern Living.
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
8 green onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 cups cubed cooked ham
1 pound Cajun-flavored or smoked sausage, sliced
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
5 cups cooked rice
Garnishes: fresh parsley sprig, chopped fresh parsley
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and next 3 ingredients; sauté until tender. Add ham, sausage, and next 4 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes.
Stir in rice, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes over low heat. Garnish, if desired.
Three-Cheese Pasta Bake
At my house, regular mac and cheese just won’t do. We’ve tried everything from homemade to Trader Joe’s and no one stands out. This recipe for three-cheese pasta is the best I’ve tried and the only one that doesn’t leave me with a lot of leftovers. Photo and recipe from myrecipes.com.
1 (16-ounce) package ziti
2 (10-ounce) containers refrigerated Alfredo sauce
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
Prepare ziti according to package directions; drain and return to pot.
Stir together Alfredo sauce and sour cream; toss with ziti until evenly coated. Spoon half of mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Stir together ricotta cheese and next 3 ingredients; spread evenly over pasta mixture in baking dish. Spoon remaining pasta mixture evenly over ricotta cheese layer; sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
Jamie Oliver’s Hummingbird Cake
I would like everyone to know that this cake is like a ray of sunshine bursting into your kitchen. I’m not ashamed to say that I love it, and the mix of lime, pineapple, bananas, and pecan is just amazing. You have to try it, especially in January when everything feels so gloomy. Photo and recipe from anexpatcooks.com.
1 cup (240 mL) olive oil, plus more for greasing
2 1/2 cups + 2 Tablespoons (350 g) self rising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups fine (caster) sugar
4 medium, very ripe bananas
16 ounces (450 g) canned pineapple, drained and diced
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (50 g) pecans
For the icing:
3 cups (400 g) powdered sugar
11 Tablespoons (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temp
7 ounces (200 g) cream cheese
For the brittle:
1/2 cup (100 g) fine (caster) sugar
1/2 cup (50 g) pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease two 9-inch (23 cm) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift the flour and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then add the sugar and a large pinch of sea salt (or table salt). Combine it all together and set aside.
Peel and mash the bananas in another mixing bowl. Add the pineapple (drained and diced), oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix until combined thoroughly. Fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture until smooth. Finely chop the pecans and fold them into the batter.
Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the cakes are golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges and allow the cakes to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing them to finish cooling on wire racks.
While the cakes are baking, sift the powdered sugar into a mixing bowl and add the butter. Beat until pale and creamy. Add the cream cheese, the zest of one lime, and the juice of half the lime. Beat until well combined, but don’t over do it. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the brittle, place the caster sugar in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add just enough water to begin dissolving the sugar (sludgy consistency). Leave the sugar alone,over medium heat, don’t touch it. If your sugar looks like dried up white grit, have no fear. I used a whisk to break it up, without stirring–it’s doing it’s thing underneath! Bump up the heat if needed. Once the sugar turns lightly golden, add a pinch of salt and the pecans. Swirl the pan so the pecans are coated. Once nicely golden (it will go fast!), pour the mixture out onto a greased parchment paper (use extreme caution, the sugar will burn you!). Allow the brittle to cool, then smash it up as fine as possible (I used then end of a wooden rolling pin and a metal pan).
To put the cake all together, place one cake on a serving plate or cake stand. Spread half the icing over the layer. Top with the other cake and spread over the rest of the icing (doesn’t need to look perfect!). Grate over the zest of the other lime, the brittle (don’t need to use all of it), and edible flowers (or other decorations). Serve with a cup of hot tea or coffee!
I hope these recipes warm up your January, and if you need a few small appliances to make your own comfort food, here’s a few of my favourites:
If you like to deep fry, the T-fal Actifry is the healthiest way to do it
Jambalya starts with cooked rice, and rice cookers are the easy way to make it.
Grab a stock pot and make comfort food for friends