Comfort Food

Roast Pork & Roasted Veal with Gravy
What exactly is comfort food? In my case it would have to be any of the German foods mentioned in this Blog, followed by a vast assortment of foods like Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner with Stuffing on Thanksgiving, open faced turkey sandwich with gravy, Aunt Mary's meatloaf, chicken soup, chili, fried chicken, Mom's chicken a la king, eggs a la goldenrod, chipped beef on toast (SOS), Welsh rarebit, lasagna, spaghetti & meatballs, any kind of casseroles, shrimp, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, brisket,  corned beef and cabbage, steak, etc. You get the idea. 
Unfortunately over the last several years I have had to change my diet and search out healthier, low fat, carbohydrates, and lower cholesterol,  food choices. Several years ago, after learning that I had diabetes, I decided to make changes and started attending diabetes support sessions at the local hospital. One of the instructors, for a class of newly diagnosed patients was explaining portion sizes. She held up a deck of cards and said that this size is exactly what we should be eating when it comes to meat and fish. One of the older Italian woman in the audience came to learn how to cook for her diabetic Italian husband. After seeing the deck of cards portion size she raised her hand and when called on said "He's gonna die!" So how do I satisfy my occasional need for Comfort Food? I have bought many cooking with diabetes cookbooks and have not found the one that allows you to make a meal that can only be loosely considered "Comfort Food."      
Thanksgiving Dinner
While I was traveling during my younger years, often, while enjoying a Caesar salad, and Dover Sole, my mind would wander thinking about getting back home and sitting down to dinner with my family while enjoying a meatloaf and mashed potato dinner. Really! You can eat a lot of good food on the road, but home cooking is hard to come by.

Pizza on the grill
My brother migrated to the south after getting married and ended up in the BBQ belt in Tennessee. The home of the annual "Memphis in May." He adapted to this new life style like a fish in water. Whenever he came back home however his craving for Midwestern comfort foods always returned. Not a hard guy to shop for, his tastes were not extravagant. When back home he just had to have Chicago style hot dogs, pizza, Italian beef, more Italian beef, more pizza and more hot dogs. These are all comfort foods to him.

Each generation brings with them a set of foods that would fit into the comfort food category. To this set, they are constantly adding new foods to it. They then pass this set on to their children as well. For now I will concentrate on my generation and my family.
One night for dinner mom told us that she was making "Francheesies." It was a a hot dog (Vienna), slit 2/3rds of the way through, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon secured with tooth picks and grilled to perfection. The Francheesie is believed to been invented in Chicago at a local restaurant. This restaurant is no longer in business, but left behind a true Chicago classic. I didn't say it was health food did I?

Mom's Welsh Rarebit
My mom also introduced us to a dish called Welsh Rarebit. With a name like that most kids wouldn't touch it. Welsh Rarebit came frozen in a orange and black box from Stouffer's. Welsh Rarebit was frequently sold out in the store back then, so my mom did some research (no Google at that time) and developed her own recipe for it. One of my cousins worked nearby and often called my mom and asked her what she was having for lunch. She knew what he wanted, took a box from the freezer and made it for him. Welsh Rarebit is nothing more than a savory cheese sauce, served over toast, bacon and tomato slices.  
Aunt Mary's Meatloaf
Very often I would end up at my cousins on the weekend. My Aunt made a really terrific meatloaf. Often I would stay overnight and be the first one up in the morning. I could smell something coming from the kitchen. As I entered the kitchen, my Uncle would be making some breakfast. "What are you making?" I asked. "Fried Eggplant!" The name alone was enough to make most kids run from the kitchen, but it did smell good. As he fried them, the cooked ones were placed on paper towels and allowed to drain and cool slightly. My Uncle handed me one. I carefully examined it and noticed that it had a nice golden breadcrumb coating on it and smelled very good. As I took a bite through the crispy exterior, and found a slightly soft interior which was truly amazing. So what does one served with fried eggplant? Fried Bologna, or Liver Sausage. You heard me right. Today, I will eat the eggplant from time to time, but the fried Bologna or liver sausage, not so much.   

Chicago-Style Baby Back Ribs
Comfort foods are not only regional, but seasonal as well. In the Midwest we pull out the BBQ grill, in early April and give them a good cleaning. Our grilling season is generally from early April through late October.  
Today, most families find that both spouses must work just to get by. In addition to working a full time job, parents today have a much more stress filled life. Yes we had baseball games and football games, back in the day. There were local teams with minimal travel involved.
Uncle Ray's Fried Eggplant
Recently my wife and I went to my cousin’s house. Walking by their calendar, hanging on the kitchen wall, I noticed that they had something written down for each and every day of the month. I asked them about their busy schedule, since their children are grown, married with children, and moved away. They’re grandparents! My cousins wife began to explain all of the activities her children and grandchildren are involved in. So if the grandparents are that busy, I can’t imagine what parents do today. 
The consequence of this busy lifestyle is that today's comfort foods are often no longer home cooked meals, but those chosen from the many refrigerated and frozen home meal replacements, or fast-food offerings available to families today. I'm not suggesting that we eliminate prepared and fast foods, but somehow balance it with work and home-cooked meals. 
So where would we be without a "Chicago-Style Hot Dog"? Everyone that moves away from the Chicago area will soon begin to miss the "Chicago-Style Hot Dog". So what's the difference between a regular hot dog and a "Chicago-Style Hot Dog"?  
The following is not just a suggestion; it’s a way of life. You will need the following: 
Chicago Style Hot Dog
01. Poppy seed bun (steamed)
02. Steamed all beef hot dog (Vienna)
03. Mustard
04. Electric green sweet pickle relish
05. Sweet onions (chopped fine)
06. Sport peppers
07. Tomato wedges
08. Pickle spear
09. Celery salt
10. Serve with French fries
t dogs mac & cheese fried chicken

To quote a couple of Clint Eastwood (Harry) lines from the movie “Sudden Impact”, the matter of ketchup on a hot dog is clearly addressed:
Harry: “the shootings, the knifing's, the beatings, old ladies being bashed in the head for their social security checks. Nah that doesn't bother me. But you know what does bother me? You know what makes me really sick to my stomach? It's watching you stuff your face with those hot dogs! Nobody, I mean nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog!” So there you have it. I didn't say it was healthy food... We're talking comfort food here.

© TMelle 1998-2011