When I hear the term "Comfort Food," I've always thought of a hot bowl of chili on a cold winter day... or grits, eggs, and biscuits for breakfast when you have to get up extra-early... or a piece of my Mom's chocolate pie made special when I come to visit.
When I was young and newly married, I would look inside my refrigerator and think, "I do not know how my Mom has so much stuff in her fridge." I thought mine would never be full.
I can remember going to the grocery store with a one hundred dollar bill and fretting over everything I put in the cart. I carried a calculator with me so that, as each item was finally chosen, I could enter the amount plus a little more for tax to be sure I would not overspend.
At the checkout counter, I would mentally add every item as I put it on the belt. The dollar total would climb and climb as the person checking me out scanned each item. I was constantly fretting and thinking, "Did I forget to put that in the calculator? Did that milk scan for more than I thought it was? What if it goes over $100?"
By the time my groceries were all scanned and it was time to pay, I was a nervous wreck. Still, with these $100 trips to the grocery store, my fridge was never full like my Mom's and my Mother-in-law's and my Grandmother's.
The years have passed (quickly, I might add), and one day as the leftovers were being put away into my own refrigerator, someone said, "There's no room in the fridge!" It took more than 15 years of living outside my parent's home, but, finally, my fridge is full.
It seems that any time one of my sons or their friends walk past the kitchen, they open the refrigerator to have a look. They may or may not actually get anything out of it, but they always open the door and have a little peek. Maybe it gives them comfort just to see what's inside.
Yes, life is good, because the fridge is full. It makes me realize that when I go to Mom's house, I just about always have a look in her fridge. I may or may not actually get anything out of it, but, I guess, it makes me feel like I'm home to see her refrigerator full. Besides, I have to see if she has any left-over macaroni and cheese I can grab.
It's funny to me that Mom and I can both have refrigerators so full yet have such different things inside. My Mom has blocks of cheese, liverwurst, Blue Plate mayonnaise, whole milk, apple jelly... while we have pre-shredded cheese, ham, Kraft mayonnaise, 2% milk, grape jelly... and, of course, for both of us, a lot more.
I'll bet money, though, that Mom doesn't have worms in her fridge. Yes, the worms Ryan and Nicholas will use for fishing later this afternoon are there in the bottom of my fridge safely tucked away from the food.
One thing Mom and I do have in common... there is never a shortage of leftovers. The left-overs in my fridge today are from dinner last night -- Fancy Filet Mignon, Coconut Pasta and Shrimp, and sliced cucumbers -- plus the last slice of Coconut Cake from Sunday. Someone will come along and eat those, but more will soon take their place.
The fridge is full... Life is good.
Fancy Filet Mignon
4 filet mignon
2 to 3 teaspoons coarse black pepper
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided
3 to 6 shallots, sliced in half and separated
1/2 cup beef broth (or 1 beef bullion cube in 1/2 cup water)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle both sides of filets with black pepper. Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook filets 5 to 6 minutes each side; remove to oven-safe platter. Place filets in oven then turn the oven off so the filets remain warm but not continue to cook. Pour excess drippings from skillet and 3 tablespoons butter. Saute shallots over medium heat until soft. Add broth, increase heat, and boil to reduce juice to about 2 tablespoons. Add vinegar and Worcestershire; boil 1 minute. Add remaining butter, mix with pan juices, and pour over filets. Serve immediately.
Coconut Pasta and Shrimp
1 (12- to 16-ounce) package vermicelli pasta
1 package pre-breaded shrimp (18 to 24)
4 tablespoons butter
1 (12- to 16-ounce) can cream of coconut
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup cornstarch
Cook pasta and shrimp per directions on packages. While they are cooking, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a small skillet. Add cream of coconut and bring to a light boil. Stir in about 1/2 can evaporated milk and bring back to a light boil. Stir in cornstarch and cook until thickened. Add additional evaporated milk to thin, if needed. Stir 1/2 coconut sauce into cooked and drained pasta. Place a serving of pasta on each plate, top with 3 to 4 shrimp, and serve additional coconut sauce on the side for dipping shrimp. Serves 4.
Layered Coconut Sour Cream Cake
1 white cake mix
2 cups sugar
1 (16-ounce) carton sour cream
12 ounces coconut
12 ounces whipped topping
Make 2 (8-inch) cake layers using the package directions. When completely cool, split each layer to create four layers. Combine sugar and sour cream; add coconut and mix well. Reserve one cup sour cream mixture and spread the rest (in thirds) between the cake layers. Combine reserved sour cream mixture with whipped topping and frost cake. May be served immediately, but I highly recommend placing in an airtight container and refrigerating 3 days before serving.
Note: If you have only a yellow cake mix, that will work also. At Christmas, I take cup coconut and add red food coloring to half and green food coloring to half and sprinkle both over the top of the cake for a delightfully festive look.
Sheila Simmons (Bio here) is publisher at Great American Publishers and co-author of the State Hometown Cookbook Series with Kent Whitaker (A Hometown Taste of America, One State at a Time) www.greatamericanpublishers.com