Monday, October 19, 2009

Comfort Food

It's that time of year. The leaves are falling, the air is chilly and I start to crave rich, comforting dishes. Grilled chicken breast and salad just won't cut it this time of year. The problem is that most comfort food is stodgy, laden with starch and fat and while delicious, definitely not nutritious. If you absolutely must have your favorite comfort food classic in all it's original glory, just remember that portion control is your friend. If you can't "have just one" then try a different approach.

There are so many great recipes out there now that put a lighter touch on traditional comfort classics. Eating Well magazine and the companion website is a fantastic resource for comfort foods for a healthier lifestyle. As does and Taste of Home! Searching for "healthy comfort food recipes" in Google yielded lots of results.

Making tweaks to your favorite recipes like replacing heavy cream with 2% Greek yogurt or milk is a good strategy. Reducing the amount of oil or butter in a recipe (I'm talking food here, not baking) is another way of reducing the fatty impact. I like Mark Bittman's idea of using less meat and more veggies in a recipe. You still get that meaty goodness with all the nutrition of filling, tasty veggies. If you haven't had a chance to read Bittman's latest and greatest, Food Matters, get a copy. I love the idea that making a few small changes to the way we eat can make a huge impact on our health and the health of our planet. I just returned the copy to the library but I'm going to purchase a copy as soon as it's released on paperback.

I used Bittman's Chicken Not Pie recipe as the basis for a fantastic comforting meal the other night. The toasted and lightly buttered whole wheat flat bread made a wonderful stand-in for the traditional buttery crust. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything. If you're a fan of chicken pot pie, try this delicious version. It got my comfort food and casserole loving English husband's highest marks.

Chicken Stew with Toasted Flat Bread
Adapted from "Chicken Not Pie" from Food Matters by Mark Bittman

Makes 6-8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 leeks, chopped
1 large potato, cut into 1 inch chunks
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
fresh thyme and tarragon
kosher salt and white pepper
4 carrots, sliced into half inch thick rounds
4 parsnips, sliced into half inch thick rounds
1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 bunch of white asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 pound snap peas, ends trimmed, cut in half
1 cup 2% milk
1 teaspoon corn starch

Heat olive oil in heavy bottom stock pot over medium high heat, add leeks and saute until tender. Add chicken stock and herbs (I leave them right on the stems and pick them out at the end) and bring to boil. Add chicken and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken. Bring liquid back up to a gentle boil over medium high heat and add potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add carrots and parsnips and cook for 5 minutes. Add green and white asparagus and snap peas and cook until the vegetables are the texture of your preference. I like them tender but toothsome. Cut up the chicken and add it back to the pot to finish cooking. Make a slurry of the milk and corn starch and stir it in. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously until it's hot, bubbly and thick. Serve with toasted whole wheat flat bread for dunking. Devour!


  1. Mmmm, yes, there is nothing like good, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food when the weather starts getting cold. I love oatmeal for breakfast! And next Saturday I am having some vegetarian chili with friends. This weekend I made apple crumb pie and pumpkin bread…all very good autumn comfort foods that are super delicious! Although the apple crumb pie and pumpkin bread are probably not healthy.

  2. That sounds like a great book! I'll have to look for it :)

  3. I am really feeling t he comfort food thing. I just had a baby about a month ago. I am tired and unmotivated. The weather has been cold and cloudy.All I want to do is curl up in a blanket and eat yummy fattening foods.
    Healthy Lifestyle

  4. I want to make this recipe! Thanks for the tips!