Comfort foods and an opportunity to help.

March 31st, 2009 by katie

Sorry to all my friends using Internet Explorer.  Here is the invisible post.

I was introduced to Spezzatino Magazine by one of my long time Internet idols.  The magazine is a gorgeous, fun tribute to food, cooking, and eating but the very best part is that all proceeds go to the Healthy Food Bank.  The photography is beautiful, and the articles are all intelligent and interesting.  It is really a magazine that you can feel good about supporting and, as a volunteer, contributing to.  I was honored to contribute a piece to their Comfort Food edition.  After the jump is my humble writing and a recipe, but if you really want to read some good articles-and know you are helping people at the same time-subscribe now.

Also, I have added the option to subscribe by email to chaos in the kitchen’s updates.  Just follow the link under “Follow Along!” on the right column and you will start receiving updates in your inbox, if that’s your thing.  This is purely just another option for people who might not dig RSS readers, it is not a way to steal your email and spam you.

The Cream of Mushroom Time of Year

Somewhere between the busy, festive holiday season and the weak sunshine and tightly furled buds of spring lays a cold, gray period across much of America. These are the days when we are at our weakest: post holiday excitement and spending, and still far from the fun and heat of the summer. Cravings for simple home style dishes-that warm both our ovens and our souls-become deliciously unrelenting.

Comfort foods vary widely in taste and ingredients from one person or country to the next, yet they all are recognized as being rooted in childhood. The nostalgia and familiarity of the food that made us happy as children makes us happy as adults-no matter how our tastes change over the years. I was the only child of a widowed baby boomer mother. My mother didn’t have the time or the money to make complicated meals after work but the simple foods we ate together every night are the ones my memory calls back in times of stress or uncertainty.

Growing up in the 80s, convenience foods were the future. Savvy homemakers no longer had to fuss with buying and measuring spices, delicious chicken flavored rice pilaf was available in a box-ready to serve in 15 minutes! The freezer aisle was full of impressive dishes that required only heating in the oven. Experience and intuition in the kitchen was no longer required. Not when Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup could be used as a white sauce, a gravy, and possibly even a soup.

The versatility of that canned soup made it the perfect ingredient in so many of our meals growing up. My mother could pour it over chicken breasts in the crock pot before leaving for work, or we could make it together on the stove-top after a long day. Just three ingredients: soup, chicken breasts, and rice made it both cheap and easy to have a meal together. That meal, more than any other meal of my childhood, always makes me feel deeply loved and safe. I crave it even now when the days get too hectic and the worries are seemingly insurmountable.

I don’t eat Cream of Mushroom Soup very often these days, but the idea is a timeless classic: a creamy sauce infused with mushrooms over a nicely browned chicken breast, all atop a fluffy bed of rice. When I make this dish, I use fresh mushrooms and real cream. Combined with brandy and fresh parsley this sauce is rich and deeply flavorful. The result is a delicious, fresh version of the dinner my mother used to make. Yet, while all of the components are there and the flavor is outstanding and familiar, it still is no real substitute for that three ingredient dish suffused with my mother’s love and the comforts of our tiny kitchen.

This chicken dish is one of my favorites.  It is easy and quick to make and yet so flavorful and rich that it is a true restaurant meal at home.  This recipe is great with Marsala wine and a splash of fresh lemon juice, but if you think Marsala is too sweet (like mrChaos) it is wonderful with brandy or cognac.  If you don’t cook with alcohol it also works with chicken broth and a splash of good vinegar.

Chicken with Creamy Mushroom Sauce or Chicken Marsala

serves 4, prep 10 min, cook 20 min
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup brandy or cognac (or dry Marsala wine plus 1 tbsp lemon juice)
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  1. Melt butter over medium-high heat.
  2. Sear chicken breasts on all sides until well browned. Reserve to a plate.
  3. Add onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until well browned.
  4. Remove from heat and add brandy (or Marsala), stir to loosen browned bits. Return to heat.
  5. Add cream and chicken broth and bring sauce to a boil.
  6. Add chicken breasts and accumulated juices back to sauce.
  7. Simmer and cook until sauce thickens and chicken breasts are cooked through.
  8. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve over rice, egg noodles, or mashed potatoes with steamed or roasted vegetables.

Cost Analysis:

  • 1/4 cup butter: $0.50
  • 1 lb all natural boneless skinless chicken breasts: $3.99
  • 1 lb fresh mushroom: $3.98
  • 1/2 cup cognac: $2 (note: Marsala wine or chicken broth would be much cheaper here)
  • 1/2 cup cream: $0.62
  • Total cost for 4 servings: $11.09 or $2.77 per serving

So today I am going to ask y’all to click through and tell me: what is your favorite comfort food?  I am guessing there will be some mac’n cheeses and mashed potatoes, but I bet there will be some answers that will surprise everyone (Pho anyone? Green curry? White Castle?).

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Posted in Easy, Fast, Main Dish

11 Responses

  1. DanaB

    MMmmMM comfort foods…there are so many!!
    For me, tis chicken n dumplings, chicken curry rice or chicken n biscuits…today LOL!
    Biscuits n gravy or spaghetti(marinara sauce) for nostalgic comfort foods.

  2. Tami Lyn

    I’m glad to see the post-I was concerned as I opened it several times and thought my computer was acting up!

    That plate looks fantastic!

  3. Tami Lyn

    Oooh, didn’t even get to the end. Comfort food-my all time favorite is mashed potatoes and the pot roast my late grandma made. Also fresh bread and a glass of cold milk.

  4. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

    I have two…my Nonnas artichoke omelete and crusty bread with Nutella (which I have been eating since I was a little girl, my Nonna brought it back from Sicily with her and I fell in love). Thank goodness you can readily buy it in the states now.

    You’re article was wonderful Katie…I’m going to look into subscribing. Thanks!

  5. Robin Sue

    Hmm my favorite comfort food has to be spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, or lasagna. Something about all those carbs. I love chicken marsala but I would probably use the cognac too.

  6. Nancy

    Comfort foods….an all time favorite of mine. I’d have to say biscuits with sausage gravy; vegetable beef soup from scratch; fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies with a glass of milk; and my absolute favorite is poppy seed rolls ~ a German tradition my grandmother made and passed down to her daughters (my mother & aunt) who have now passed it on to me.

    Glad to see the post. I’d checked a couple of times this morning and got the ‘invisible’ version.

  7. nita scot

    My favorite comfort would have to be my mother’s fried chicken wings and mac and cheese. But thanks for this post, and your awesome article Katie. I was just thinking of wanting to make cream of mushroom from scratch, not being a big fan of buying the canned version. Can’t wait to try it.

  8. sweetbird

    I think my all-time comfort foods are my mom’s biscuits and sausage gravy, creamed spinach/greens, and my mom’s meatloaf. All bring back lovely memories…

  9. Melissa

    Great article Katie! And I will check out the philanthropic mag.

    I love comfort foods like this, but Asian comfort foods make me the happiest. You already know I love green curry, but also, pho. Yeeeah.

  10. p-chan

    Warm fresh biscuits with homemade jam and cold milk.

  11. MaGoo

    Ground beef Stroganoff made with cream of mushroom soup and sour cream over noodles.

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About chaos

cha·os -noun 1. a condition or place of great disorder or confusion. My chaotic kitchen is the result of three kids, two adults, dog, cat, and fish, a food obsession, a wine drinking hobby, and too few hours in the day. Between trying to feed a family of five healthy, happy meals, watching my weight, saving my pennies, and staying partially sane I have picked up a few tricks along the way. So here they are: the very best tips, tricks, and recipes from my chaotic kitchen-to yours!

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