Falling into Comfort Foods
Fall is my favorite season of the year: cooler weather, harvest time and comforting foods that fill the kitchen with wonderful aromas. Comfort food recipes are always a hit, because they do exactly as they say: bring comfort. There are different categories that comfort foods fall into; recipes can be rich and hearty, gooey and cheesy, sinfully sweet or transport you to a place in time that envelops you in good memories and feelings of nostalgia.
When I was a girl, the first recipe I ever experimented with in the kitchen would be likened to “stone soup.” I was very young, but remember much about that day. I pushed a wooden chair oven-side and heaved a large aluminum stock pot up onto the stovetop and added water (though I dribbled most of it on the floor as I walked back and forth to the sink). I added many spices — just a pinch at a time — and experienced my first bout of cooking frustration as the cold water wouldn’t absorb and incorporate any of the spices. It didn’t hold me back, and I stirred the soup vigorously until I deemed it done. We all pretended to “eat” it, though everyone acted as if it were the elixir of life.
That day, the recipe I that I was trying so hard to recreate was my Grandma Madeline’s beef and vegetable soup. To this day, it remains one of my favorite comfort foods, part of which I think is the nostalgia that makes foods taste even better and have a more pleasant aroma.
I can still imagine walking into her home on a brisk day. As my Dad would go check the cows, I’d walk up the drive to her house to check on her, and she’d always have something for me to eat. It could’ve been her famous black walnut cookies, or a slice of fresh bread with a smear of butter. But on those brisk days, soup was often on the stovetop for her lunch and she was always happy to share.
She enjoyed talking about food — recipes she hadn’t made for a while and recipes that I’d been making. I can still remember sipping this warm soup with my dry, cracked, chilly hands wrapped around the cup, absorbing its warmth. To me, ‘comfort’ was talking to her about what great food was, and she was always clear about its basic tenants. To her, great food was simple, made-from-scratch and was always served with a side of good conversation.
Typically, this soup is made on the stovetop by browning the beef, adding onions, then mixing in the rest of the vegetables and spices, simmering for approximately 45 minutes. However, using a slow cooker this time of the year is always a bonus since it never seems like I’m home long enough to make it on the stove. To have the full comfort experience, make these simple drop biscuits to serve alongside the soup.
Slow Cooker Beef and Veggie Soup
Makes 6 – 8 servings
- 1 pound ground beef (can also use ground pork or turkey), slightly browned
- 1 medium sized yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cups red skinned potatoes, chopped to 1” cubes
- 2 cups chopped carrots
- 4 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp seasoned salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 6 cups chicken broth, divided
- 1 tsp seasoning and browning sauce, or soy sauce
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 TBSP cornstarchIn a large skillet over high heat, brown ground beef. Beef does not need color throughout because it will continue to cook in slow cooker. Remove, drain quickly and place in slow cooker.
Add onion, potatoes, carrots, celery, bay leaves, seasoned salt, garlic powder, black pepper, 5 ½ cups of chicken broth, seasoning and browning sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
Add cornstarch to remaining ½ cup of broth and mix until dissolved. Add to slow cooker.
Stir all ingredients gently. Cook on HIGH setting for 4 hours or until potatoes are tender. Serve with drop biscuits; recipe below.
Easy Drop Biscuits with Bacon, Sour Cream and Chives
Makes 1 Dozen Biscuits
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 TBSP granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 6 TBSP butter, well chilled, cut into ½” cubes
- 3/4 cup milk
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 C vegetable oil
- 1 TBSP vinegar
- 4 strips cooked bacon, chopped
- 1/4 C chopped fresh chives (substitute: finely chopped green onion tops)
- TBSP melted butter, for garnish
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt, for garnish
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, pepper, baking powder and baking soda; whisk well. Toss in chilled butter and ‘cut’ into mixture with a fork until coarse crumbs appear.
In a large liquid measuring cup, combine milk, sour cream, oil and vinegar. Whisk well. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture/butter until nearly combined. Do not overmix. Add bacon and chives. Fold only until combined. Drop mixture by 1/4 cup scoopfuls onto baking sheet.
Bake at 425° F for 12-14 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sea salt, if desired. Serve warm.