Cooking and Comfort



Steelers fans who needed some comforting after Sunday’s game:  Beez, Bill, UFR and Billy


Monday:                              Herbed Ricotta with crudités / Roasted Sweet Potato with Sautèed Chard and Black Rice


Tuesday:                              Antipasti of salumi and cheese / Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with pickles  (this grilled cheese and this tomato soup were, simply, decadent)


Wednesday:                      Soy-Honey Chicken with Lemon Broccoli (meh)


Thursday:                            Polpette Toscana with Green Beans (always a winner)


Friday:                                  Fountainbleau Cheese with crudités, Seafood Chowder (J. Pepin)

Saturday:                             F.C. Follies


Sunday:                                Salmon Mousse (J. Pepin) / Beef and Pork Chili (Raichlen)

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.” – Tim Robbins

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.”  – Edith Sitwell

“All food is comfort food.  Maybe I just like to chew.” – Lewis Black

Well, there you have three interesting quotes from two authors and a comedian who just don’t interest me at all.  Just goes to show how food can bring people together.  Of course, when we say that, most of us are referring to family and friends.  But I’ve often wondered what would happen if, say, Elizabeth Warren and Mitch McConnell had a good meal together.  Would it turn into a food fight?  Would Mitch warm up and Elizabeth climb down from her high horse?  Well – we’re not inviting them to our house to find out, but we think you should, for the good of the nation.

Which brings us to the anticipation of the horde that will be descending on our house next week for Thanksgiving.  We are happy to have them but, honestly, we’ll put aside all thought of the preparation, the need to hire police for crowd control, buy extra napkins, restock the liquor cabinet, etc. . . . until next week.  We know that our Thanksgiving meal will be comforting to everyone else, but in the meantime, we need a little comfort ourselves.   Which reminds us that . . .

Comfort food is not always comfortable to cook.  And with Thanksgiving looming over home cooks like an arrogant, French Michelin Guide rater over a restaurant chef, this week should be a time to relax for the cook as well as for the diners.  Eggplant Parmigiano and Lasagna are both comfort foods – but to cook them in the traditional way is not an easy task.  And Thanksgiving itself is at least a two-day exercise in cooking, prepping and organization worthy of an Army logistics engineer.

So, last week, to rest up (and we’ll be doing that again this week), we cooked simply, quickly and with an eye to the chilly weather and the rain.  I’ve already shared the tomato soup recipe with you (whoops – I never did – but you’ll hear about this soup again), but your family, particularly if you have any grade-school children or grandchildren, needs to be fed the grilled cheese described below and soon.  At the merest hint of discord, strife or bad temper, I would put this soup and these grilled cheese sandwiches in front of them.  We have a theory that a shipment of tomato soup and grilled cheese to Pittsburgh would have averted the Whiskey Rebellion.  But we like the name of the incident so much that we’re not sure we’d have sent it.  And it was tough to get Gruyère outside of Switzerland, back in the 18th century.

So rest up, have some tomato soup and grilled cheese, and get ready for the big cook next week.  And . . .  . .

As an extra – Surely the ultimate comfort food for a Sunday football night, particularly to sooth the raw emotions of Steelers fans who watched victory slip away in the last 42 seconds of last Sunday’s game, is chili.  The version below is rougher and somehow, at the same time, more comforting, than the tame stuff most people cook at home.  It has a deep, savory heat, a ton of meat and works with a wide array of toppings and chips or cornbread.  You should never make more of this than a serving or two per person because you, and they, will keep eating until it’s gone.



There is no one or perfect way to make a grilled cheese sandwich.  But if you want to indulge yourself, now and then, try this version.  I call it a ‘version’ but you can substitute different cheeses, omit the tomato and even some of the butter and salt.  If you do, however, while you’ll save some calories and stroke your food fetishes, you’ll miss the sheer mouth-filling luxury of this sandwich.


Bread – Obviously, there are a million choices here.  For our money, a good sourdough or ciabatta are ideal.  If you have access to a good version of French boule (not baguette – too narrow), go for that.  You want to avoid the whole wheats and other tasty breads whose flavor will overwhelm the cheese or any mealy bread, like soda bread, that is too heavy.

Cheese – Again, use what you like, if it melts well.  A good cheddar or Swiss would be my choice.  But Brie and soft and semi-soft Italian cheeses also work.  My advice is a mixture of a good cheddar and Gruyère, the first to give you some tang and the second to add a base note of bitter saltiness.

Additions – Tomatoes, apples (especially with brie), figs or grapes would work.  Personally, we use a large slice of tomato – perfect.

Cooking and Assembling

Again, there are many approaches – butter the bread, put mayonnaise on the outside of the bread, even, God help us, don’t use any butter (you should have the Heimlich maneuver down pat, because if you try this version, someone is going to choke).

Here is our approach:

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat – a little lower if you’re using a high BTU burner –  (amount depends on size of skillet and how many sandwiches – in a normal sized skillet, for two sandwiches, you’ll use about 2 tablespoons for starters and add more as needed)

Sprinkle some salt into the melted butter and (for two sandwiches), brown four pieces of bread on one side and then (this tip comes from a chef name Adam Kuban), flip them over and brown the other sides, while you build the sandwich in the skillet.  To two of the bread slices, add the sliced cheddar and the tomato slice, if using, then top with sliced Gruyère, then the other slices of the grilled bread, .  Keep cooking until the underside is a nice, deep brown.  Serve with napkins and a bib.


EXTRA                                   Beef and Pork Chili (adapted from Steve Raichlen – Man Made Meals)

Timing:                 The recipe looks time-consuming – it is not.  It took us 1 hour to cook this, and a lot of that was hands-off.  If you are not skilled at chopping or butchering, allow another ½ hour.

Ingredients                                         This serves 8

1 lb. beef sirloin tips (also known as tri-tip) cut into ¼ – ½ inch dice– Note:  Raichlen calls for tenderloin, but we think the sirloin Is tastier – and it’s less expensive.  It will take a while to do the dicing, but you’ll be able to remove any hard fat or silver skin, and you’ll feel more righteous when you eat the dish.

2 lbs. lean ground beef
¼ lb. ground pork
Large onion, finely chopped
Poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2-3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and finely chopped (I would urge you to use 3, but no fewer than 2)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 Cup Chile Powder (if you don’t have enough of the blend – you can use Guajillo chili powder)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 quarts of beef or chicken stock (we used chicken since packaged beef stocks taste off to us, but if you make your own, have at it)
1 bottle of beer (any kind)
1 can of tomato sauce (8 oz.)
2 cans of pinto beans (15 oz.), drained
2 cans of kidney beans (15 oz.), drained
1 tablespoon or more of dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons – extra virgin olive oil*
Kosher or sea salt (coarse grind)

Optional (we didn’t use) – 1 teaspoon of tabasco sauce (Note:  You probably won’t need this, if you’ve used 3 jalapeños – but you’ll be adding this in at the end, so taste the chili to see if you want the extra heat)

Optional (we did use and urge you to do the same – it gives a great under-flavor to the whole shooting match) – 1 oz. bittersweet chocolate

*It’s been a while since we discussed ingredients and I explained that olive oil always means extra virgin olive oil at our house.  The only exception is when you are sautéing something delicate – flounder maybe – and you don’t want the flavor of the oil to overwhelm it.  We’d just use canola oil with a touch of butter for that.


You’re on your own here.  We like the following:

Sour Cream  –  Sliced Scallions  –  Diced Sweet onion  –  Grated Cheddar  –  Chopped Tomatoes  –  Sliced Black Olives

A lot of folks serve chili with tortilla chips or corn bread.  We don’t, but think that’s just fine.


Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over high,* then add the diced steak and cook, browning on all sides (about 5 minutes), the remove to a large plate.

*Look, if things begin to burn, lower the heat – if you’re not hearing a sizzle or the meat isn’t browning, increase the heat.  We’re talking about cooking here – not dumping something in a pot and surfing the web on your iPhone.

Working in 2 batches, add the ground beef, mixed with the pork and brown over high (about 4 minutes per batch), then remove to a plate.

Add the onion, poblano and garlic to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-high or a bit lower and cook until browned (about 4 minutes).  Stir in the chile powder, cumin, black pepper, oregano and cinnamon and cook about 2 minutes.  (Careful – the fumes can make your eyes water)

Stir in the ¾ of the stock, beer and tomato sauce and put the meat back into the pot.  Simmer gently for about 40 minutes, until the steak is tender.  Stir from time to time and reduce the heat as needed – or increase it – to maintain a gentle simmer.  Add more stock if needed.  You want the chili to thicken a bit as it cooks – and we found that 2 quarts was too much stock for our cooking temperature.

Stir in the beans, brown sugar and chocolate.  Add the tabasco if using (taste first – see if you can handle more heat – the heat of the chili will mellow some as it cooks and when you add the sour cream and fixings).  Let it simmer until thicker and highly flavored (5 minutes or so more).  Taste for seasoning, adding salt and any of the other spices you think it needs.

Serve the chili – or let it sit for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator to develop even more flavor.

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