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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comfort Food You Never Knew You Loved

The weather is cooling (more so for my northern neighbors).  The leaves are turning... er, kinda.  My ferns are turning, anyway.  What does this change of the season call for?  Comfort food.  It's this time of year that I start getting hungry for chili.  My mom makes what she calls Texas Chili that could win awards, I'm sure.   I'm hoping she will share that recipe with me sometime soon and when she does, I will share here.

So what do we think of when someone mentions comfort food?  For me comfort food means chili, of course, chicken noodle soup or chicken pot pie, french roast, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, pizza, french fries, mashed potatoes with gravy.  I think a lot of Americans will say that the ultimate in comfort food is your traditional Thanksgiving dinner: roast turkey, stuffing and/or dressing, corn, mashed potatoes with gravy, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  Until recently I requested a full Thanksgiving dinner for my birthday, even though the date falls in the middle of June.

Comfort food can be polarizing.  Everyone has their favorite chili recipe, and everyone has their favorite side to go with fried chicken. One camp loves a good beef chili with ample heat, the other swears by white bean chicken chili.  Some people love their fried chicken with waffles, others prefer to pair them with collards and mac and cheese.  No one is right.  No one is wrong.  But everyone has an opinion.

While all the above comfort food is great, and on my menu at some point during the course of the year, I'd like to share with you some less known comfort food.

Each year for Christmas my grandparents whip up countless batches of their Party Cheese Ball.  A spherical conglomerate of cream and cheddar cheeses, pimento, green pepper, and spices rolled in chopped pecans; everyone in the family looks forward to celebrating the holidays with this delicious appetizer.  And if you're a close friend of my grandparents, you can expect to receive a Party Cheese Ball as a gift!!  The recipe is easy and doesn't require too many ingredients, so I'm not sure why it has been designated only for the holidays.  It would be great for your next cocktail party or movie night with the family.

Next, the hamloaf.  You might be familiar with hamloaf's more cosmopolitan cousin, meatloaf.  Another polarizing comfort food menu item, people generally love or loathe meatloaf.  Hamloaf was common where I grew up (you can still purchase Gahr's Meatloaf at the Giant Eagle, pre-made), but as I ventured further and further from northwestern Pennsylvania it became harder and harder to find someone who didn't look at me, puzzled,  when I would mention this overlooked dish.

Moist and flavorful, Hamloaf has a crisp, sweet crust with a tangy body. When exhausted with ham lunch meat after a big ham dinner, my grandmother often would make a hamloaf to use up leftovers.  It's so good, it's usually one of the things I now request when I visit my family (since we don't often have a ham).

Finally, a recipe for a dessert I have never seen on anyone's table or menu other than my grandmother's; Shoo Fly Pie.  An old timey recipe, the pie is sweetened with molasses and has a crumb topping.  Definitely a favorite in our family, it is what my uncle requests for his birthday celebrations.  If you like ginger snaps (which are often sweetened with molasses) you might enjoy this pie.

The next time you're searching for something a little different to quench your comfort food craving, try one of these recipes!  (I will try to add photos as I make these recipes!)

Party Cheese Ball

2 8oz. Packages Philadelphia Cream Cheese, softened
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon chopped pimento
1 tablespoon chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Dash cayenne pepper
Dash salt
Finely chopped pecans

Combine softened cream cheese and cheddar cheese, mixing until well blended.  Add pimento, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice & other seasonings and mix well.  Shape into a ball & roll in nuts.  Makes 1 large ball or 2 small balls.  (You can make into a small loaf, if you prefer)

Hamloaf (Grandma Nancy's Recipe)
1 ½ lb of ham, finely ground (if you're using a leftover ham, put it through the food processor until finely ground)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
1 cup milk
¾ cup tomatoes

Baste with:
1/3 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick aluminum foil.  Mix ingredients together and form into loaf on baking sheet.  Bake at 350° for 1.5 hours. 

Shoo Fly Pie
1 cup water
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup molasses
3 cups flour
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 pie crust (recipe to follow)

In kettle, bring 1 cup water to boil.  Remove from heat.  Add teaspoon soda, stir.  Add 1 cup molasses.  Stir, set aside.  Mix together flour, shortening, sugar, and pinch salt. Add molasses mixture to pie crust, top with flour mixture.  Cook 1 hour at 375°.

Grandma Nancy's Double Pie Crust (will make enough for top and bottom of one pie)
2 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Skant Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Vinegar
1/2 Cup Cream
1 Stick Butter
1 Stick Crisco

Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Take 1 heaping tablespoon of sifted ingredients and place in separate bowl.  Mix vinegar & cream and add to teaspoon of dry ingredients.  Put in Freezer.  Mix butter, crisco, and remaining dry ingredients with hands.  Remove bowl from freezer and incorporate into the other mixture.  Do not over mix.  Roll into pie crusts between two sheets of wax paper.

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