Tag Archives: Life

Stir a Pot, Feed a Soul: Real Comfort Food

Chicken & Dumplings -- click on photo for recipe

When we hear someone say, “comfort food” thoughts drift to dinners from childhood imagining something warm, full of carbs, or sweetly satisfying. We dream of flavors and textures to feed our emotional funk or exhaustive schedule to quench and satisfy.  The focus is inward, self-gratifying.

What if our focus shifted outward instead?

This is not intended to make you feel guilty about surrounding yourself with good food or savoring a favorite meal, simply to think about comfort food differently.  Food not only soothes our moods and maladies, it brings comfort to those hurting, recovering, or overwhelmed. Of course, it fills a practical need, but so do restaurants and pizza delivery. Taking a meal to someone invests in community with a personal touch that goes far beyond the food itself.

When someone notices our need and offers to lift our burden for a moment we feel valued, encouraged, and less alone.

Our family has been the beneficiary of meals arriving at our door after a major car accident, sudden illness, and crisis.  The concern and kindness of friends, as well as others we didn’t even know, created emotional margin and physical relief when doctor appointments, decision-making, and grief consumed daily routine.  They were life-givers, every one, with encouraging words and reassurance they were there to do whatever they could … taking care of one of the basic needs like dinner or groceries was a vital part of the help we needed.

According to 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  When we serve others, it is a blessing no matter how big or small the gesture.  It doesn’t have to be a whole meal, if you bake amazing bread, make an extra loaf to give away.  I believe good food is one of the various forms of God’s grace we can use to meet someone’s need—real comfort food.

So what does that really look like?

You can start by responding to needs in your own sphere of influence at church, school, work, club, or neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be someone in crisis, it can be a single mom with a maxed schedule, a college student missing home, or a co-worker trying to finish a big project who would be grateful to know you care. Yes, it might feel weird to be the first one to do something like this, but caring for others is worth feeling a little awkward.

10 Tips for Stirring a Pot and Feeding a Soul:

1. Simple food is best. Make what you know and do well; this is not the time to try new recipes.  Check for allergies and strong dislikes. For food sensitivities and allergies, think outside the casserole. Casseroles are great comfort food for many, but are more apt to contain common food allergens like corn, wheat, milk, or soy.  Braised meats, steamed vegetables, soups, and salads easily accommodate those with food restrictions or strong dislikes of certain foods.

2. Use disposable containers.  Unless it is a neighbor or someone you see regularly, deliver meals in containers that do not need to be returned.  Keep it as simple as possible for those you are trying to bless.

3. Deliver the meal at dinnertime, if possible. If not, make it as close to ready with clear instructions. If delivering food to a family with a new baby, don’t ring the door bell.  Arrange a specific time and arrive with a gentle knock at the door in case the baby is sleeping.

4. Consider everyone in a family. Crisis, surgery, new babies, grief, affects everyone within a family. Try to include at least one thing everyone will like with the meal. If the family has small children, make sure you show up with ice cream or something specifically for them if you can.

5. Customize the meal for the event/purpose. Bereavement, nursing mothers, recovering from surgery or illness can each pose a different need.
New moms
, especially nursing moms, eat often so snacks and easy breakfast foods are great too.  Avoiding spicy, acidic food is helpful to prevent adverse reactions from the baby.
Surgery
is hard on the body, when someone undergoes general anesthesia the entire digestive system shuts down. Provide a gentle and nourishing meal like chicken soup made from homemade bone broth. Consider foods that are soft, nourishing, and easy to digest. If you know they like smoothies, provide a few pre-packaged frozen smoothies easily assembled at home.

6. Offer to coordinate the meals.  Major crisis, trauma, accidents can be overwhelming and having an infant with the phone constantly ringing is no picnic either.  Having one person collect primary information and receive questions regarding meals is truly helpful.  Organizing a handful of suppers for a friend is pretty straight forward, but when a larger group or longer-term need is part of the equation, there are services to help.

Care Calendar
Meal Baby
Food Tidings
Lotsa Helping Hands
Take Them A Meal

7. Providing a meal is not the time to impose your nutritional agenda on someone else or “teach” them how to eat.  Try to understand what would bring comfort to them, even well-meaning advice can be overwhelming when someone is stressed.

8. Include the recipe. This can be especially helpful for those with food sensitivities or allergies too—they can have a little more confidence when they can review the recipe.

9. Include a note of encouragement, which mentions what you brought. This is helpful when a number of meals are provided. It can be difficult to remember and sort out who brought what when writing thank you cards. (Yes, I know, you didn’t do it to be thanked.)

10. Even if you don’t cook or have time to prepare a meal, you can help. Offer to run errands, clean, babysit, carpool kids, or provide a gift card for take-out.

What is comfort food to you? 

Have you comforted others with food or received this kind of comfort food from someone?  If so, what was your experience?

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Emeril’s Wok-Seared Duck Salad Recipe: Romantic Sizzling Skillets

When the email arrived from The Secret Ingredient with three recipes we could share from Emeril’s Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders, I admit, there was a hint of skepticism when I saw this one.  Not really a big fan of duck, but I knew I could not recommend something I hadn’t tried.  Although there was no requirement to use these recipes (see Cajun Shrimp Stew here), it is the ideal “try before you buy” kind of experience. With this in mind, I decided to give duck another chance and Wok-Seared Duck Salad was on the menu.

Oh, man, I am so glad I did not pass this one up!  We loved it! Emeril’s inspiration for this salad marries citrus, ginger, fresh herbs and Thai chiles—and as you might have guessed the seared duck breast tops it off superbly. While it is lighter fare, it is a satisfying main-course salad.

Friday night was dine-in date night, so I served it on one large plate for us to share.  We could not stop talking about the deep heat of the red Thai bird chili, the luscious duck breast, or the playfulness of the fresh herbs with citrus-ginger sauce (okay, maybe that was the one-plate effect). Let the spice in this salad bring a little spice to life and plan a special evening with your sweetheart—yes, salad can be romantic. As it turns out, Wok-Seared Duck Salad is great date food … like me, you might even see duck in a whole new way. 😉

Wok-Seared Duck Salad

This recipe was inspired by a Thai dish called laap, which is made with minced or ground chicken, fish, pork, or duck and seasoned with the wonderful flavors of chiles, ginger, fish sauce, and citrus. I decided to use the same flavors with a seared duck breast and make it into more of a main-course salad. This is a refreshing take on northern Thai street food.
Serves 4

2      tablespoons uncooked jasmine rice
1      tablespoon minced fresh red Thai bird chile
2      magret duck breasts (about 12 ounces each) or 1 ½ pounds other domestic duck breasts
1/3   cup minced shallot
1 ½  tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
¼     cup fish sauce (see note below)
¼     cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼     cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ½  teaspoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
½     cup fresh cilantro leaves
½     cup fresh mint leaves
½     cup fresh basil leaves
1       medium head of red leaf lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
2       cups bean sprouts
1       cup julienned red bell pepper

1. Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the rice. Toast the rice, shaking the wok constantly, until all the grains have turned golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the rice to a mortar and set aside to cool. Once the rice has cooled, grind it using a pestle until it reaches a sandy consistency. Alternatively, grind the toasted rice in a clean spice grinder. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

2. Place the chile in the wok over medium-high heat and cook, shaking the wok, until lightly colored and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Remove the chile from the pan and add to the bowl with the rice.

3. Using a paring knife, score the fatty side of the duck breasts by making shallow cuts in a diamond pattern; this allows the fat to render more easily. Place the duck breasts in the wok, fatty side down, and cook over medium heat until the skin is golden brown and slightly crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the duck breasts to a cutting board, slice them into thin strips, and return the strips to the wok. Add the shallot and ginger and stir-fry over medium-high heat until the duck is just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer the duck from the wok to the bowl with the rice and chile and set aside.

4. In a small bowl, combine the fish sauce, lime juice, orange juice, and palm sugar and mix well. Pour the mixture over the duck and toss until well coated. Add the cilantro, mint, basil, lettuce, bean sprouts, and julienned red pepper and toss to combine.  Serve the salad immediately.

Notes: Fish sauce can be found in Asian markets and sometimes the international food aisle of the grocery store. There are many brands of fish sauce, but we (Emeril) prefer Three Crabs, Golden Boy, and Tiparos brands.

Additional Notes from Savoring Today:
I recommend Red Boat Fish Sauce based on my own taste test and because it has so few ingredients, just anchovies and sea salt.

If you cannot find fresh red Thai bird chile, dried will work, however be careful when heating the dried chiles in a wok or skillet so the area is well ventilated.  The dried chiles can cause lung irritation when heated in a dry skillet (learned from experience 😉 ).  Also, 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of the dried chile will give a lot of spice, so use sparingly unless you are familiar with it (or have a fire hydrant nearby).

Pre-order a copy of Emeril’s Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders here.

Disclosure: For my participation in The Secret Ingredient’s One-Pot Blogger Cooking Party, I received a copy of Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders, a jar of Emeril’s Essence seasoning, and a set of Emeril – by zak! Table Art 7-piece. Once the party concludes, upon my successful completion, I will receive a $50 grocery reimbursement and a set of Emeril’s cookbooks.

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Let’s Get Cooking: Emeril’s One-Pot Blogger Cooking Party!

Click on the Photo for Pre-order Info

I have been a fan of Emeril Lagasse since the first time I saw him on Emeril Live, his unpretentious style and love of food infectious.  It is an honor to be chosen to participate in Emeril’s One-Pot Blogger Cooking Party to help spread the word about his newest release, Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders.

So what does this mean?

♦  For Emeril, 20 bloggers will create some buzz for the launch with three posts each week about what they are cooking from the book. If you are familiar with him at all, you know that any party Emeril-style is filled with fantastic food and fun!

♦  The bloggers receive some sweet perks like Emeril’s book, serving bowls, a jar of Essence, and a $50 reimbursement for foodstuff.

♦  YOU get the inside scoop, a preview of recipes, and a chance to win a copy of Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders and the zak! Emeril Flames 7-piece Table Art Serving Bowl Set.

So, stay tuned, Monday we’ll start with a recipe preview of Cajun Shrimp Stew—I’ll have it posted early so there’s time to get it going for Monday Night Football. Of course, I’ll include tips for gluten-free or any other customized versions you would like to see.  Let’s get cooking!

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Labor Day Eats: Feature Fridays

Labor Day became a federal holiday 117 years ago, marked by parades and parties recognizing trade and labor organizations.  Today, families enjoy one last vacation before school starts, NFL and college football seasons begin, and backyard parties abound.  If entertaining or creating a dish for a potluck is on the agenda for this three-day weekend, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.  Instead of featuring just one site this week, there is a whole list—Enjoy!

Menus:

Barbeque Menu – Savoring Today
10 Labor Day Menus – Ezra Pound Cake
Labor Day Gourmet Grilling Party Menu – Recipe Girl


Main Dishes/Meat:

Grilled Thai Ginger-Garlic Pork Chops – Fine Cooking
Grilled Chicken Kebabs with Roasted Red Pepper Dip – Family Fresh Cooking
Sausage Kebabs – Bell’ Alimento
Jamaican Jerk Chicken – Kayotic Kitchen
Pancetta-Gruyere Burger with Grilled Vidalia Onions – Savoring Today
Vegetarian Recipes for Barbecue Season – New York Times

Appetizers & Sides:

Melon & Mint Salad – Shutterbean
Roasted Garlic and Dill White Bean Dip – How Sweet It Is
Roasted Carrots with Goat Cheese – Jungle Frog Cooking
Sauteed Corn with Chile Peppers, Ginger and Garlic – Cinnamon Spice
Grilled Summer Sweet Corn – Simply Sugar & Gluten Free
Romaine Salad with Hatch Chile Dressing – A Communal Table
Goat Cheese Balls with Herbs, Pecans, & Bacon – The Kitchn
Parmesan Rice Crisps with Roasted Tomato Salsa – Gluten-Free Goddess

Desserts:

Brownies for Grown Ups – The 21st Century Housewife’s Kitchen
S’mores Pie – Foodess
Chocolate Caramel Peanut Bites– Sweet Pea’s Kitchen
Limoncello Cheesecake Bites – Bitter Sweet
Rustic Peach & Plum Tart – Eyes Bigger Than My Stomach
Honey Cinnamon Peach Pie – My Kitchen Addiction

Cleaning the Kitchen and Ordering My World: Soul Food

Yesterday, my kitchen and dining room was an outward expression of an inward condition. A collection of displaced items, useful items like shoes, books, platters, bowls, foodstuff, mixed with things beyond their usefulness like empty boxes, trash, dead flowers from weekends past, and a grimy counter. None of it required urgent attention, but the mess noisily taunted.

Of course, I could have retreated to my computer to assuage the echo in my head of all the undone to-do list items, like, oh yeah, WRITE A BLOG POST, dovetailing nicely with the burgeoning angst of what will this ever amount to? The restlessness has been palpable, a host of ideas without clear plans to implement, seemingly stalled in the fast lane of life. Clean, write, plan, develop recipes and projects, exercise, read, learn new technology, laundry, dinner (just to eat), and the demands of family all weigh in at the same time. With all these things thrown together without a plan, tackling life is more akin to Whack-a-Mole game than savored living, hence the restlessness.

However, just the day before, the greater need with the quieter voice brought this plea to the forefront, “God, order my world.”  I decided I should cooperate with my own prayer; starting the day quietly with my bible, I then began to return each item in the cluttered chaos to its rightful place. No inspired music to move me along, just whispered conversation with the lover of my soul, wooing me to loosen my grip just a little from the cares I held.  It did not happen all at once, there were plenty of interruptions–this life I lead is real–but I did not miss the lesson.

In the still, UN-busy and quieted place, yielded before God, I gained the intangible peace and confidence for all else before me. It is not an escape, but a solace–a soul-centering constant–momentary, yet lasting. Whether by drip or deluge, this renews me time and again when my self-imposed, imbalanced struggle for _____ has tipped the scales once more.

It is a simple petition, “God, order my world.” He knows the details of the request. He has watched the fruitless flailing and held-back tears. Waiting, wondering when it will be enough, what will it take for me to relent and yield. It is all right there–peace, revelation, strength, provision, guidance, wisdom–ready for my cooperation with the divine.  He has shown me in this stillness is the exchange of restlessness for repose.

As you might guess, when the counter was free of crumb and crust, the last item secured, creativity returned as I imagined what I might cook next. It was okay no post was written and I still do not know what all this will amount to … with my world in order, both external and internal, I am refreshed and renewed for whatever lies ahead.

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Foods That Look Like Body Parts They’re Good For [via: Woman’s Day]: Feature Fridays

Foods That Look Like Body Parts They’re Good For was published last year by Woman’s Day, but somehow I missed it. If we were still home schooling, this would be a great topic for health or science class—Ah, those were the days. Pretty cool imagery and one more way to think about the foods we eat. Enjoy!

It Won!

THIS …

Pancetta-Gruyere Burger with Grilled Vidalia Onions

WON THIS … for Burger and Brat Week

Looftlighter Grill Lighter

AND THIS …  The Grand Prize

COMMERCIAL SERIES™ QUANTUM® INFRARED URBAN GRILL

Thank you, Fine Cooking for hosting the Grill-lympics Challenge and all the sponsors, especially Fire Craft and Char-Broil for sponsoring terrific prizes. There were a lot of delicious entries in this challenge, you’ll want to see for yourself.

I love sharing good food, having someone like it is what it’s all about—so grateful!