Comfort food: eat like a warm blanket

What a pleasant conversationalist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal is. You can safely call this Brit a culinary jack-of-all-trades. He is a chef, TV personality, journalist and food writer who is committed to healthy food and the environment. After many books, he has written a work that immediately makes you drool over every page. Dedicated to comfort foodusually translated as ‘comfort food’.

By the way, I connect comfort food more with healthy and lovingly prepared food; by ‘comfort food’ I think of bars of chocolate or bags of crisps that are consumed quickly. But it could be me.

“Please say Hugh,” says the Brit on the other end of the phone. “I’m going. It’s a cold but beautiful sunny day in Devon (South West England, ed.). Although it doesn’t necessarily have to be bad weather for that comfort food.”

“Actually, over the years I have developed quite a few recipes that fall under the heading comfort food fall. That concept is difficult, by the way, because favorite dishes can be different from person to person.”

Soft

“Nevertheless, we know which properties a dish must have to make it extra tasty and pleasant. Think of the soft inside of a cake or the sweet filling in one Shepherd’s Pie, with the creamy mash and crispy crust on top. But also a great burger, well seasoned and fried, with a tangy salsa on top. The most important thing is the feeling these dishes give us. A combination of anticipation, joy and enjoying a delicious dish.”

All the above dishes are in the book. As well as a good number of soups, preferably from real, pure broth, curries, pasta and rice dishes, stews, savory pies, pies and sweet temptations.

Hugh would like to clear up two misunderstandings. “Comfort food is not too heavy, powerful, rich or sweet. I want to prevent that, otherwise you end up in a food coma after eating. There are also more vegetables and fruit in the recipes; comfort food is not necessarily unhealthy.”

Granulated sugar

“I have tried to reduce sugar everywhere. Most cakes and cookies can be made with much less sugar before adding sweet ingredients like fruit. If I use sugar, I prefer brown icing sugar, honey or, for example, figs. The funny thing is that people like the less sweet cookies better because other flavors come out more.”

Nevertheless, the dishes in the book are bursting with flavour, Hugh promises. “You will find dairy products such as cream, butter and crème fraîche in it. Although you can replace it with a plant-based alternative. My aim is to use as many fresh, unprocessed ingredients as possible.” Hugh has tried to make the familiar dishes more exciting or give them more depth. It is sometimes in surprising elements.

“In addition to meat and fish, there are also some vegan recipes, such as the roasted vegetable chili, for example. I add black coffee and a little cocoa powder. The bitters give it a nice ‘background taste’ which makes it all the more palatable. Compare it to red wine in a barrel; you can’t taste it after cooking, but it adds richness. There is also coffee in a recipe for vegan gravy. It mimics, so to speak, the bitter residue from the pan. My macaroni and cheese has spinach, peas and roasted cherry tomatoes again for the acid.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal is looking forward to the holidays. “I am lucky that my children also like to cook. Fried chicken is on the menu anyway: nice fat, decently processed and from the local area. Vega lasagna with kale and mushrooms, but definitely also the oatmeal cookies. They are so simple to make, contain no mess and are delicious to dip in tea or coffee. It’s also comfort food!”

Sweet comfort food is not necessarily unhealthy. ©Getty Images

Recipe: Comforting Oatmeal Cookies

Needed for 8 pieces:125 grams of butter, 50 grams of light brown caster sugar, 125 grams of fine wholemeal flour, 75 grams of coarse oat flakes, pinch of salt

Preparation:Heat the (convection) oven to 160 degrees (or 180 degrees electric) and line a baking tray with baking paper. Put the butter and sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat and stir until the butter is melted. Take the pan off the heat. Mix the flour, oat flakes and salt and stir into the melted mixture. Drop dessert spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray and press the heaps with the back of the spoon into round biscuits, no more than 1cm thick. Bake them for 10-12 minutes until the edges turn golden brown. Then they are still soft; let them cool completely and become crisp before removing from the plate. Store the cakes in an airtight container for up to a week.

Fruity Cookies: After mixing the oats and flour, stir the grated rind of an orange or lemon (or both) and 30 grams of raisins, dried cranberries or chopped dried apple into the dry ingredients.

Chocolate cookies: Fold approximately 50 grams of coarsely chopped pieces of chocolate into the cookie dough.

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