Comfort-Cookin'Another New Year and my resolution is to get this blog written as frequently as I had originally promised (about every 6-8 weeks).  It has been very busy as most of you know in the United States pain community and I hope you have been following the information on our website and participating.  There are a hundred million of us and our voices need to be heard.

I anticipate you had very nice holidays.  I took my mantra of “keep it easy” to heart and served good food without tiring myself out too much. One practice I have put into place (several months ago, actually, is unless I have to start something much earlier (because of a long cooking time or such) I am getting into the kitchen between 3:00 and 3:30 (for a 5:30 dinner).  This allows me to empty the dishwasher (from the after lunch load) as well as prep early and allowing myself enough time to cook as well as take a few reading rests.  This has been working really well except my 4 year old thinks the reading rests are a good time to sit on Grammie’s lap and play the “Why” game.  I still will do some of prep work earlier in the day.  Of course this is only possible if you are not working outside the home and can juggle your own hours.  I tell you, when the girls were off of school for Christmas vacation I was looking forward to that two hours to get some rest on some days.

The other practice I have taken up is making a point of playing music while I am in the kitchen.  I hope you have read some of the blogs we have had on using music for pain relief.  I find it reduces stress for me as well.  Be sure to only play what you really like (I have eclectic tastes-they run from country to Sinatra, folk music to Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly to show tunes-including Frozen).  I was trapped when I was having my brain MRI once with a country song I really hated. Boy, did that increase the tension.  If I forget to turn the music on, it makes a noticeable amount of difference in how I feel.

One other tip I wanted to pass along.  I have a good selection of binder clips in the kitchen.  The largest ones you can get at an office supply store or Amazon.  I use them for potato chip and other snack bags (those plastic clips you buy for that purpose break frequently and sometimes don’t close too well) as well as things like potting soil and bird seed.  The common large size I use for smaller bags, the bags in a cereal box (prevents spills) or crackers. The small and medium work for many other size bags (coffee beans are one example) I use the smallest to clip closed the bisque (in a packet) cat snack I give the kitties at night (the two get half an envelope each night).  You’ll find these clips will become essential.  I have even used them when the Zip-loc failed on lunch meat or the cover just peels up.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of anxiety/stress.

Continuing our discussion on special diets, I would like to talk about allergies to food items and gluten free diets. They have some similarity in that you are sensitive and have a reaction or intolerance to some food or ingredient. There seems to be a cross between the two as well.  My son’s SO, besides being gluten intolerant is allergic to soy and corn products. There is a lot out there for dealing with and cooking for gluten free diets, not so much so on the allergies.  A website called Gluten Free Living has a lot of information from foods to recipes, from gluten free life style to articles and blogs.  One site I would definitely check out is King Arthur’s Flour Complete Guide to Gluten Free Baking. They also have more recipes on their blog. I have noticed more gluten free King Arthur products in stores. For food allergies in general, the Cleveland Clinic has good information on allergy diets.  A site that is actually geared more towards kids, My Allergy Kingdom, I find is great for adults as well. My husband is allergic to food dyes; Red #40 and Yellow #5.  This is more difficult to find sound science on (a lot of pseudo-science out there).  It is amazing what they will add food coloring to especially “convenience” foods.  More and more foods are starting to go to natural colorings instead.  For example, Kraft will be eliminating food coloring from their Mac and Cheese. Ocean Spray Cranberry Cherry juice used to contain Red #40 but now it is going with the natural.  Best you can do for any allergy or gluten intolerance is to read labels well and never assume.

What to do if you are gluten free and/or have allergies and you are going out to eat (friends or restaurant).

“Dinner Party Etiquette: How to Handle Dietary Restrictions?” from Quick and Dirty Tips has a lot of great advice. If you are going to a restaurant, call ahead and ask if they will be able to work with you (give you ingredients, make some changes, or even let you order off menu).  Some eating places will be very helpful others are very rigid. Many have Gluten Free menu choices. My grandson has a lot of restrictions and allergies and the restaurant we usually go to when family is visiting puts a lot of effort into working with his mom and between the waitress and the chef, to make a meal he can have (this is a big reason it is our favorite restaurant).  Unfortunately, other places just will not put any effort in; “can’t” is their only response.

Here is a tip from our own Maggie Buckley: There are lots of options for thickeners instead of flour: potato flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch, arrowroot, etc. Depending on your tolerances or a flavor profile preference you might find one you like better. In general all of these are more effective at thickening than wheat flour so you probably wont use as much. The same cooking technique applies where you want to dissolve the thickener in a bit of the hot cooking liquid before adding it to the whole pot in order to avoid lumps. I start with 1 teaspoon of the thickener of choice and add in a teaspoon of the liquid at a time until I have about a 1/4 cup of liquid with the thickener.. I usually end up using up to 2 teaspoons of these gf thickeners in place of 1 tablespoon of wheat flour. It is possible to use a combination of these thickeners by mixing the dry powder first. (from Janice, when Sylvia was going to be here for dinner I was making a rib roast with a blackberry sauce.  She is allergic to corn so I used potato starch. It is not an equal exchange; the sauce was so thick a spoon could stand straight up in it!)

Since it’s been a while, let me throw in a couple of bonus recipes today.

Nuts and Bolts

I know I missed the holidays but here is an easy confection which is good any time (in fact it is one of those things it is hard to stop eating).  Many years ago I had a home cake decorating business.  I ordered much of my supplies from a company called Maid of Scandinavia.  They had a magazine named the Mailbox News and while it primarily shared pictures and stories of decorated cakes (a life-sized Abraham Lincoln!) it also had recipes for cakes, frostings and icings, cookies, and candy.  This recipe was adapted from a December 1988 issue.

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

½ cup water

¼ tsp. vanilla

3 cups (generous) pretzel sticks

½ cup Spanish peanuts

Using a 15 x 7 inch pan or a cookie sheet, line with waxed paper, parchment, or non-stick foil.  Tape waxed paper or parchment down.

In a 3-quart oven safe (at least to 400 degrees) glass bowl combine sugars and water.  Cover and microwave for 3 minutes; stir well.  Microwave uncovered stirring every 2 to 3 minutes until it’s at the firm ball stage (use a candy thermometer [not in the microwave] or drop a small amount in cold water.  Watch carefully as it will burn if you go past firm ball stage (this is all really easier than it sounds).

Stir in vanilla, pretzels, and peanuts.  Spread on a prepared pan (it will be really sticky).  Let stand until firm.  Separate and break into small pieces. Store in airtight container and try not to eat in one day.

Double Pork Hash

This recipe came originally off a ham steak package (don’t know which one).  This is my adaptation; moderately easy and loved by kids and grown-ups.

6 slices, thick cut bacon (the only kind I buy)

16 oz. ham steak cut in ½ in cubes

1 cup chopped onion

½ cup red pepper, seeded and diced

1 20 oz. bag frozen hash browns (either cubed or shredded)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (the meats will make it fairly salty)

Using kitchen scissors, snip bacon into pieces and cook until crisp (you can cook without cutting and crumble afterwards) in a 12-inch skillet.  Transfer bacon to paper towels.  Pour bacon grease into oven safe measuring cup. You need 5 Tbsp. and can add a little vegetable oil if necessary.

Return 3 tbsp. to the skillet and brown ham cubes for about 2 minutes turning occasionally. Add onion and pepper and cook stirring occasionally about 7 minutes until onion is golden. Add hash browns and cook until underside begins to brown about another 7 minutes.

Drizzle remaining bacon grease over top; using spatulas turn hash browns over in sections. Continue cooking until potatoes are cooked and hash is golden brown (about 5 more minutes). Stir in crumbled bacon and serve.

I get 5 servings out of this, some might get 6.

Herb Buttered Potatoes and Peas

I adapted this from a recipe in Land of Lakes All Time Favorites (1996). You want the final potato pieces bite size, so half or quarter them after cooking.  I always by frozen vegetables in the lb. bag then weigh out what I want. Moderately easy.

1 lb. small red potatoes

¼ cup butter

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp dried marjoram (can substitute, basil, oregano, or thyme)

¼ tsp. dried thyme

¼ tsp. pepper

10 oz. frozen peas partially thawed

Either in a saucepan with water to cover or in microwave steamer bag cook potatoes until almost done. Cut potatoes into bitesize pieces. Melt butter in sauté pan, add potatoes and seasoning and sauté stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender, then add peas, cover and cook over medium heat 3 minutes or until peas are heated through.

Serves 4-6

Boston Baked Corn

This is one of those recipes I have made for years. There is disappointment in my family if there isn’t enough for seconds.  The recipe originated in the New Pillsbury Family Cookbook (1973).  I, of course made a few changes.  Moderately easy.

3 cups frozen or canned corn (we like the extra sweet)

3 slices bacon

1 cup chopped onion

¾ cup catsup

2 Tbsp. Brown sugar

¼ tsp. dry mustard

¼ tsp. salt

Cut bacon up into a sauté pan and cook until crisp.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  Sauté onion in 1 Tbsp. bacon grease (discard remainder) until tender.  Combine all ingredients (including bacon) in sauté pan and pour into 1 ½ qt. casserole.  Bake, uncovered 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serves 4-6

Potato Kielbasa Skillet

Adapted from a Taste of Home recipe, this skillet is quick and fairly easy.  Even though there is a sauce, I like to offer some specialty mustards for dipping the sausage in (I love one called Winter Garden; dill and garlic in a Dijon type mustard, although Maple Mustard is good also).

5 strips bacon

1 lb. red potatoes, cubed

3 Tbsp. water, optional

1 lb. smoked sausage or Kielbasa cut in ½” slices

½ cup chopped onion

2 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard

½ tsp. dried thyme

¼ tsp. pepper

4 cups baby spinach

Cut bacon into pieces with kitchen scissors and cook in large skillet.  Remove and drain on paper towel.  Reserve 2 Tbsp. bacon grease. Cook potatoes in microwave steamer bag (if not available place in microwave safe bowl with water, cover, and cook on high for 4 minutes; drain.

Sauté sausage and onions in bacon fat until onion is tender.  Add potatoes; sauté 3-5 minutes longer or until potatoes are lightly browned. Combine brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, thyme, and pepper; stir into skillet.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, simmer, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.  Add spinach and bacon, cook, stir until spinach is wilted.

Serves 4-5

Brown Butter Crumb Sauce (for vegetables)

This is a very easy dress up for vegetables whether canned, frozen, or fresh.  Original recipe was in the Farm Journal’s Busy Woman’s Cookbook (1971).  I love it for green beans and broccoli but it works for any vegetable I have tried.

¼ cup plain panko crumbs

½ cup butter, divided

Brown panko crumbs in ¼ of butter in skillet.  Melt other ¼ cup of butter with the crumbs over low heat and serve over vegetables.  Extra keeps well in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Beefy Baked Bean Bake

The original recipe was download 12/7/14 from Sweet Tea and Cornbread blog.  Great dinner that my family loves (except for the one who has decided she won’t eat beans).  In fact, if you have teenagers I would probably double the recipe.  Cornbread is nice with this but so is a supermarket peasant bread.  Moderately easy.

4 slices bacon

1 lb. ground beef

1 cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped green pepper (optional)

1 cup catsup

¾ cup brown sugar

½ cup cola or Dr. Pepper type drink, preferably not diet

½ tsp. black pepper

½ tsp, garlic powder

½ tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. yellow mustard

2 15 oz. cans pork and bean


Cut up bacon pieces with kitchen scissors and brown in large skillet.  Drain on paper towel and set aside. Leave 1 Tbsp. Bacon grease in skillet and discard remainder.

Brown ground beef, onions, and green pepper (if using).  Add remaining ingredients except for pork and beans.  After mixing stir in pork and beans and bacon.  Turn into a 2 ½ qt. greased casserole.  Place in preheated 350-degree oven and cook 45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Pretzel Crusted Chicken

These are so tasty; everyone loves them.  Good with a green vegetable or in a sandwich. Probably moderately easy to moderate to do.  The recipe was adapted from one in Taste of Home in 2013.

2 cups sour dough pretzel nuggets

½ cup flour

2 eggs

¼ cup buttermilk (or sour milk-1/ cup milk + ¼ tsp. white vinegar)

2 tsp. minced garlic

1/8 tsp. pepper

5 Tbsp. (or more) olive oil

2 -2 ½ lbs chicken cutlets

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 tsp. cider vinegar

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

Process pretzels in blender or food processor until finely crushed. Place pretzel crumbs and flour in separate shallow bowls.  In third shallow bowl whisk eggs, buttermilk, garlic, and pepper.  Dip both sides of cutlets first in flour, then egg mixture, lastly pretzels.

In large skillet heat 3 Tbsp. of oil over medium heat.  Add chicken and cook 4-6 minutes each side (less if cutlet very thin).  Add more oil if necessary. Whisk 2 Tbsp. olive oil and remaining ingredients. Serve on cutlet or use on sandwich bun.

Serves 4.

Gluten Free Gingerbread Cake

This comes from Maggie as well.

2½ cups gluten-free baking flour

1½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup molasses

½ cup solid shortening – I use Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Set aside.
  1. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine molasses and shortening and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
  1. Stir the dry ingredients into the cooled molasses/shortening mixture until a thick dough forms. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 2 hours.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface, roll to about ¼-inch thick and cut out shapes using cookie cutters. Place on cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or slightly less if you like your gingerbread soft.
Share This