Kitchener-Waterloo

Homemade comfort food in small numbers: Andrew Coppolino

Holiday meals and food preparation will no doubt be different this year. With lockdown upon us, family gatherings will be smaller, if they happen at all. In lieu of heading last-minute to a grocery store, here are suggestions for finding comfort in what’s in your larder.

Here are suggestions for finding comfort in what’s in your larder

Be a bit crazy, says Andrew Coppolino, open a jar of spaghetti sauce into a pot and directly add pasta and cook it all together. It saves a step (and water) and helps the starchy pasta absorb flavours. (Submitted by Andrew Coppolino)

Holiday meals and food preparation will no doubt be different this year. With lockdown upon us, family gatherings will be smaller, if they happen at all.

In lieu of heading last-minute to a grocery store, here are suggestions for finding comfort in what's in your larder. Keeping things simple can still make for delicious eating.

Dig around in the pantry and deep in the fridge for ingredients. Look to spices and seasonings to give ordinary foods a boost of flavour. Wintry spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg and allspice can stir the memory and satisfy the palate.
Kraft Dinner makes for an easy meal. (Submitted by Andrew Coppolino)

Be experimental and mix sweet with savoury in what you cook. Be a bit crazy too: open a jar of spaghetti sauce into a pot and directly add pasta and cook it all together. It saves a step (and water) and helps the starchy pasta absorb flavours.

Got a box of Kraft Dinner hanging around? Doctor it up with a host of vegetables and add some extra cheese. Shred a bit of sandwich meats, give them a quick fry and add to the KD. Garnish with some scallions and you've got an easy meal that takes you back to your hungry student days.

Experimenting with flavour

If you have something like frozen salmon portions, try poaching them. I've been experimenting with different flavour bases: conventional French herbs or robust Thai flavours like ginger, garlic and lime. Set your salmon into a simmering pan of the poaching liquid and let it gently cook for 10 minutes, depending on thickness. Serve with rice.

Rice, in fact, can be very versatile in that it's a blank slate for flavour: be sure to make more than enough on day one and you can fry it as leftovers on day two. Or three. You can season it with flavours from around the world: one of you can have Asian-style rice with soy sauce; the other, a pilaf with nuts and dried fruit.

Ground beef and pork dug out of the freezer can go into a really easy and spicy chili with garlic toast – if you don't want meat, make a beany affair with lots of onions and other vegetables and perhaps a bit of chocolate or jalapeno. Try cutting dill pickles into small cubes and add them; load it onto a bun or a tortilla and you've got holiday Sloppy Joes.

Be sure to make more than enough rice on day one and you can fry it as leftovers on day two. (Submitted by Andrew Coppolino)

That half-bag of nachos can be revived by spreading them out onto a sheet pan and adding chopped tomatoes (if you don't have salsa), green and red pepper, diced onion, spices and shredded cheese. Put it under the broiler to melt the cheese and garnish with scallions and sour cream.

French chef and culinary icon Escoffier reputedly had 600 egg recipes. That's a stretch, but eggs are super versatile. A simple frittata starts as an omelette on the stove-top – packed with lots of vegetables and cheese – and finished under the broiler for a few minutes. Serve right out of the pan with a dollop of sriracha mayonnaise as sauce.

It's all in the sauce 

That sauce is the thing: sauces can add a ton of flavour and interest to simple dishes. They don't need to be fancy, French culinary-school creations either.

If you fry something – vegetables or meat – use the juices in the pan for a pan sauce. Add onion, cook, splash in some stock, water wine or beer to de-glaze, and cook to reduce the liquid slightly. Add some butter or a bit of heavy cream, season as you like, finish the cooking and use the sauce to top whatever you've cooked.

Add a can of chickpeas to level up your soup, says Coppolino. (Submitted by Andrew Coppolino)

Add a bit of jam from the fridge to your sauce for a sweet component to meat. Mayonnaise can accept many flavours; add lemon juice, cream, sour cream and a host of flavourings like garlic and it can suddenly be a fancy "aioli" that can go on many dishes.

A humble can of chickpeas can go whole into a soup with onions and vegetables and flavoured with Middle Eastern seasoning; or give it a ride in a blender followed by an addition of cream to create a different texture. Serve it with grilled, oiled bread on which you scrape raw garlic and dunk in balsamic.

I could make an entire meal of roasted potatoes. Cut them, cook them, drain them, shake them up, and then spread them out in a casserole dish and roast them at 375-F., until they are crispy. Sometime before they are done, toss in any cut-up stone fruit like a plum or a nectarine that you have. Garnish with a seasoned yogurt dip.

Comfort food for trying times is what we all need.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.

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