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Posts Tagged ‘comfort food’

Spring seems to be taking it’s time, again, to come full into itself in Minnesota. It’s early still, but those few days of balmy sunshine have teased us into wanting more. Can’t blame anyone for being tired of winter, tired of snow and ready for a change. It’s kind of a metaphor, if you think about it.

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We weathered, and are still weathering a tough time with nary an end in sight. It’s a vicious cycle and quite frankly, it’s beginning to wear me down. I’m tightening every string I can find and pushing myself to find more to pull taut but there aren’t many left to either eliminate or reduce. While we seem to manage, and I continue to put out feelers for employment that don’t go anywhere, there are times like I am now where I just want to pull a thick hood over it all and disappear. My insomnia doesn’t help it at all, and often makes it that much worse.

There are many things that if I choose to look at them will push my perspective into a brighter, sunnier spot. Mike is gainfully employed and as his own boss, he’s not facing the threat of layoff. He has a lot of work- almost too much sometimes- and he’s exceptionally good at what he does. We are blessed with excellent health, which is such a god-send because our insurance deductibles have increased from ‘much too high’ to ‘scary-high’ and all it would take would be one bad accident or a serious illness to send us spiraling into a deep shade of red. This is something to really be thankful for, and I credit our foods and eating habits with much of this piece of good fortune. And even before this woe settled upon us all, we had pledged to live simply and without a lot of the luxuries that many others have had to cut out lately in order to get their finances under control. For us, the idea of simple living isn’t born from our current hardship; for us it’s been a way of life. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t help during some of the lean times.

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So with Spring in the air, the sunshine feeling warmer on our faces and the earth awakening all around us, I try to stretch for a more hopeful point of view, one where the chill of an emotional winter and the constant snowfall of economic strain disapears into the warmth of a springtime renewal. I have, if nothing else, always been an eternal optimist. My glass is always half full; it’s just been lately I’ve had the sense that I could drain the last drop from my wellspring of hope and the tap to refill it would be empty. Still, despite it all, I remain hopeful. Maybe not positive all the time, but I am, with all else lacking, eternally hopeful that when it’s all over we’ll come out better, stronger and far more resilient. And that maybe I’ll find a job.

And the sense of seeking comfort in my meals has been strong. On a recent night when my planned recipe didn’t pan out for lack of one necessary ingredient, I turned a proposed Green Chile Rice and Beans meal into a Zesty Italian Chicken and Rice, and with one bite was transported back to one of my favorite childhood dishes.

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A one pan meal, Baked Chicken and Rice was a perfect and inexpensive dish to feed our big family. A cut up chicken was placed over a bed of rice mixed with cream soup and enough water, then baked until it was all moist and tender. It wasn’t perfect; sometimes the water proportions were off and it was either too dry and hard, or too mushy. And almost always, the chicken was overcooked. No, there was no perfection in the kitchen of my childhood. But I still loved the meal, and quite honestly, my most favorite part was to pry the crispy edges of baked rice off the pan and crunch my way through them. Later on when I was in college, I fell in love with a simple recipe of chicken marinated in italian dressing and then grilled, to be topped with a slice of melted mozzarella cheese.

This rice dish, the one that morphed itself into existence that night, gave me a comfort and sense of well-being that’s been lacking lately, all for the reason that it took me back, in my mind, to simpler and easier times. It had the flavor of childhood without the overcooked meat; it had the taste of my first years of freedom in college, and yet it was served and enjoyed with my two most favorite and treasured people, the ones that are holding me all together in this mess we call life. For a small moment it instilled in me a belief that everything would be all right- maybe not right away, but in time- and filled my gnawing hunger not only for sustenance, but for some hope as well.

(recipe after the jump)

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Beef, Barley and Leek Soup
Kate’s Version

Split three large leeks down the center and wash well. Slice thinly. It’s a massive amount but will cook down significantly. If you wish for a more onion-y flavored broth, slice a yellow onion also.

Get one pound of good quality sirloin with a little marbling; trim the fat on the edges and cut into 1/2″ chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brown meat in batches over medium-high heat, removing to a bowl as they darken. If you happen to have a good beef bone on hand, adding it to the pot for the cooking process will greatly enhance the beef flavor.

When all the meat is browned, add the onion and leek to the pan, along with 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are slightly soft and browned in some spots. Return the beef to the pan, add in about 1/2-3/4 c. of pearled barley (depending on your love of the grain- I used 3/4 c.), 1 1/2 quarts of beef broth and 1/2 c. red wine. This liquid-to-solid ratio results in a pretty thick soup- add more liquid if you want a thinner option.  If you’re like me and you keep various cheese rinds on hand in the freezer to flavor soups, toss a few in at this time. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beef is tender and barley is cooked through. This will depend on the type of barley used- mine took about an hour but I kept the heat pretty low.

Additions can be added as well; sliced carrots, cubed potatoes, mushrooms…..the list is infinite. Continue cooking the soup until added ingredient is tender. Just before serving, pour in about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, or more red wine. Season with salt and pepper.

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