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Chef's Hat: Find joy in comfort foods

Even if they're high in calories, some foods provide needed emotional and social benefits

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Donna Evans/ Columnist
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Maybe it’s bitterly cold outside, or perhaps you had a bad day at work, or maybe the commute home from work took longer than normal.

Once home, you just want something that can wash away the annoyances of the day and wrap you up in a cocoon of warmth and well-being.

Enter comfort foods.

Maybe it's the macaroni and cheese from your childhood, or the fried chicken you ate at a family picnic, or that heaping pile of onion rings you shared with your best friend - these comfort foods affect our senses and associate us with a “happy place."

Food fuels us as well as provides an emotional and social benefit. The associations from our favorite comfort foods can trigger a happy memory. This connection can be wrapped up in the smell, texture or taste of a favorite meal.

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Even if the comfort food is a piece of apple pie loaded with whipped cream, it has health benefits. A comfort food stimulates substances in the brain that are associated with improved mood, enhanced energy and a positive state of mind, and makes a person less vulnerable to sad emotions.

Meatloaf is one of those foods that reminds most of us of a home-cooked meal. There are as many ways to cook meatloaf as there are banana bread.

Unfortunately, some people think of meatloaf as dry and tasteless. Add a few seasonings, some milk and a rich glaze and that boring dish turns into a flavorful evening meal that hopefully leaves a bit left over for tomorrow’s sandwiches.

An article published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science cited that comfort foods tend to be associated with our childhood or with home cooking, and they’re frequently prepared in a “simple or traditional style.”

If you have strayed away from those calorie-laden dishes, it’s time to forget a few calories and head back to a time of peace and comfort. Treat your family to a delicious meal and create more “comfort foods” that will lead to lasting memories. Happy Eating!

Rich Glazed Meatloaf

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The first recipe I tried needed a bit of amending and ended up being a cross between my old standby and a "spicy" meatloaf. It originally called for sriracha hot chili sauce, which I did not have on hand. So I replaced it with hot sauce and it ended up having a nice spicy flavor without being overpowering or extremely hot.
Donna Evans / Columnist

  • 1 medium sized onion, diced
  • 2 teaspoons jarred garlic
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Topping/glaze

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  • ¼ cup barbecue sauce
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon spicy brown mustard or Dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil for easy cleanup.
Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are fragrant and slightly brown. Make sure to stir them occasionally so the onions don’t stick. Cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes, just until the mixture is fragrant.

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, egg, breadcrumbs, milk, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, oregano, salt and cooked onions/garlic. Use your hands to mix it well, but do not overwork the meat. Shape it into a loaf and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to cut a crisscross pattern on top.

Bake uncovered in the oven for 45 minutes. While the meatloaf is cooking, combine the barbecue sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and mustard in a small bowl. Set aside.

After the meatloaf has cooked for 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and spread the barbecue/ketchup mixture over the top. Return it to the oven and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes. Check the temperature. Cook until the internal temperature is 160 degrees.

Remove meatloaf from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Wine Steamed Potatoes

  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes' or 8-10 red potatoes
  • 2 ounces white wine
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

Fill a medium-sized saucepan about two-thirds full with water. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The potatoes should be cooked, but still slightly firm. You don’t want the potatoes to fall apart and turn to mush.
Remove the pan from the heat, drain and set aside.

In a medium-sized pan, add the sugar, white wine and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn the heat to low. Add the butter and allow to simmer, stirring often so the butter melts and the liquid thickens.

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Put the potatoes in the pan and stir so the potatoes are covered in the glaze. Cook on low until the potatoes are slightly browned. Remove from heat and serve.

Donna Evans is a correspondent for the Echo Journal.

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