Comfort Foods that probably won’t kill you

Who said life is fair? If it was all those good things we like to eat and drink wouldn’t be so bad for us; or are they so bad?  I mean there are all of those so called experts telling us every day that another one of our favorite vices is just another notch in our already doomed existence. The so called health experts blacklisted sugar, butter, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, and eggs and the angel of death himself, it seems was serving up the double chocolate ice cream.

So we abstained from these forbidden foods or secretly indulged and beat ourselves up for being so weak.

And then to confound us even further another one of the blathering idiots tells us the exact opposite and that these foods are less sinful than we thought, and in some cases, can actually provide health benefits!!! So I say Fuck them all…Just do what feels right, if it tastes good; it is good.

Once you’ve come to this simple assumption, you’ll find it amazingly satisfying to just stick it to the ignorant bastards who think otherwise.

So, in honor of those misspent moments of agonizing guilt we have all felt after an orgy of pure indulgence coveting our favorite foods, I present just 5 of the comfort foods that probably won’t kill you any time soon.

Butter

“I f you’re afraid of butter, as many people are nowadays, just put in cream!” Julia Child.
It seems that almost everyone is afraid of butter and think that eating the stuff will kill us. How can something be wrong when it feels so right? I love butter and true love conquers all!

So let’s dispel the myth that butter…a food that has been around for thousands of years…is bad for you.

Back in the in the 80’s and 90’s the consuming of natural and healthy products, like butter and eggs, was considered bad for you. That butter consisted of mostly saturated fat and this of course, the theory went, led to increased cholesterol. Naturally then the big margarine producers rolled out the “heart attack” bogey man bullshit and how eating butter will definitely lead to your early demises.

So we banned butter from our diets, and started consuming HUGE amounts of hydrogenated oils.

We now know through the discovery of “good” and “bad” cholesterol that butter isn’t that bad for you after all. In fact it is trans-fats that produce the bad cholesterol and the margarine products and the oils and fats we consume in most fast food restaurants are the biggest source of bad trans-fats. And just because something has cholesterol in it…doesn’t necessarily make it bad for you.

Just take the French for example. It’s been called the French Paradox:

How a nation of butter-lovers, cheese-eaters and red-wine drinkers have lower rates of obesity and a lower incidence of heart problems than most health-conscious freaks.

 In fact a Medical Research Council survey showed that those who eat butter ran half the risk of getting heart disease as those who ate margarine.

A few Buttery facts:

Butter contains lecithin, which assists in the absorption and metabolism of cholesterol and other fat constituents.

Vitamin A and the anti-oxidants in butter–vitamin E, selenium and cholesterol–protect against cancer as well as heart disease.

The concept that butter causes weight gain is a sad misconception. The short and medium chain fatty acids in butter are not stored, but are used for quick energy. Fat tissue is composed mainly of longer chain fatty acids. These come from olive oil and polyunsaturated oils as well as from refined carbohydrates.

 And my favorite buttery sin: thick slices of whole wheat bread, toasted and “slathered” with a layer of delicious un-salted butter, topped with slices of young sharp radishes, a sprinkling of seas salt and freshly ground black pepper………….

Radish, Butter and Bread Recipe

Ingredients:
1 bunch small, firm, fresh radishes
8 slices best-quality dark or white bread,sliced
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
coarse salt, or sea salt

Preparation:

Wash (don’t peel) and trim radishes; set a dozen or so tender, fresh leaves aside.

Place the washed whole radishes in a plastic container; fill container with enough water to cover the radishes, add 4 to 6 ice cubes, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Just before serving, thinly slice radishes into rounds (sliced paper thin like translucent sheets of ice). Each radish round should be tipped with color. Chop or sliver radish leaves.

Spread one side of each piece of bread generously with butter. Top with some chopped radish leaves and then cover with the slices of radishes.

Serve, offering the salt at the last minute before eating

 So what came first; the egg or the “expert”?

During the 1950s “Go to work on an egg” was an advertizing campaign used by the British Egg Marketing Board, including a series of television adverts starring the comedian Tony Hancock. The suggestion was that having an egg for breakfast was the best way to start the working day. So off we went happily consuming our daily egg. Ten years later the “experts” told us eggs were bad for us because they are high in cholesterol.

So we stopped eating eggs, and ten years later they said they were good again! So we ate twice as many. Then they said they’re good only if you eat the whites and not the yellows – for god’s sake make up your fucking mind! I need to eat breakfast! Now, the news is out that eggs are once again our friends, yolks and all! The average large egg contains less than 14% cholesterol and 41% more of vitamin D plus, eggs provide protein, iron, and lutein, a nutrient that helps stem age-related eyesight decline.

To celebrate this egg-citing news I will share with you my daughter’s favorite egg comfort food dish: Shakshouka
The name Shakshouka means “a mixture” and is a dish of North African origins consisting of eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices and which has become the number one favorite Israeli comfort food. I have many fond memories associated with Shakshouka and yes, it’s simply delicious. There’s just something about the peppers and eggs and tomatoes that forms a delicious combination which is almost ethereal. And of course don’t forget the bread. Recommended: fresh Challah bread torn off the loaf and soaked in the juices…….heaven!

Shakshuka

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 red or green bell peppers, chopped

8 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 cans diced tomatoes, strained

1-1/2 tsp. sweet paprika

1/2 tsp. hot paprika

1-1/2 tsp. turmeric

¼ tsp. ground cumin

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tsp. sugar

4 – 6 eggs

How to make it

Place large frying pan over medium heat, add oil and heat.

Add onion and sauté until lightly browned.

Add garlic and bell peppers, and sauté for a couple of minutes more.

Add fresh and canned tomatoes, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add paprikas, turmeric, salt, pepper and sugar.

Stir for 1 minute.

Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Gently crack eggs into pan, taking care not to break yolks.

Simmer until whites solidify but yolks remain slightly runny, about 8 minutes, or as per personal preference.

 Risotto – the ultimate comfort food
There are very few things as comforting and as satisfying as a piping hot bowl of homemade risotto. It is definitely one of the ultimate comfort foods.  And just to confirm that it fits into my Forbidden Favorite Comfort Foods category, my risottos have a healthy amount of butter in them, plus all the Parmesan added at the end to season the dish. Obviously there are very few foods that are not vastly improved without lashings of butter and Parmesan.

 Venetian Rice and Peas Recipe – Risi e Bisi

 Ingredients

A medium onion

50 gram pancetta or streaky bacon

400 gram or 2 cups Vialone nano, Arborio or Carnaroli rice

1/3 cup each olive oil and unsalted butter

1.5 kg unshelled or half the weight frozen peas

Chicken stock

A small bunch parsley, minced

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano and more at table

Method

Finely slice the onion and sauté in olive oil and butter with finely minced lean pancetta or bacon until clear but not brown.

Add the rice and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the rice turns translucent (3-5 minutes).

Add green peas and chicken broth a ladle at a time (make the broth before hand by cooking the shells of the peas in chicken stock and then straining the liquid)

When the rice is half done, add the peas, together with a handful of minced parsley. When the rice reaches the al dente stage, turn off the flame, stir in a chunk of unsalted butter the size of a walnut, and a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmigiano

Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve with more grated parmesan.

 Chocolate Myth or Magic
Growing up we told by teachers, health experts and parents that chocolate gives us pimples, rots our teeth, and has no health benefits. Well they were all wrong. Chocolate is packed full of minerals and has some of the same antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables that ward off disease, particularly heart disease. Unlike gummy and caramel candies, chocolate doesn’t stick to your teeth causing cavities. And don’t try to blame chocolate for skin blotches; researchers have found no connection between the two. In fact, the antioxidants may enhance the appearance of your skin by fighting inflammation. Look for dark chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa–the higher the cocoa percentage, the more healthy flavanol antioxidants it contains. An even better way to get your flavanol fix is with natural cocoa powder; when converted into chocolate bars, the cocoa beans lose some of their antioxidants. Plus, chocolate is a mood booster, increasing serotonin in the brain. In other words it makes you feel good.

Feeling a lack of energy around 3 in the afternoon? Then try this: an ice cold glass of milk and a few squares of organic 70% dark chocolate. That will get you through to dinner.

And by the way one of the best combinations is chocolate and chili.  In fact chocolate doesn’t have to be just for desserts:

Chocolate Chili Con Carne

Serves: 4

 Ingredients

2 kg beef chuck

Freshly ground black pepper

 Salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon plus 1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, plus 1/2 teaspoons

1 tablespoon chilli powder, plus 1 tablespoon

Fine corn meal

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 red onions, peeled and minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 fresh green chilli peppers, sliced thin with seeds, stems removed

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 teaspoons dried oregano

1 bottle dark beer

1 can diced tomato in juices

Chicken stock

1 can black beans

60 gram bittersweet chocolate, cut into large chunks

Directions

Cut the beef into medium size pieces and season liberally with pepper  salt , 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of cumin, and 1 tablespoon of  chilli powder. Mix this well and coat the meat with the corm meal

Preheat a heavy pot on the stove over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and then the coated meat, spreading it evenly so it covers the bottom of the pan in 1 layer. Leave it alone, without turning it, so the meat will brown and caramelize.  As it browns, slowly turn each piece

 Once all the meat is caramelized, remove the meat from the pan and place on an oven sheet to cool.  Add the onions and garlic to the pan and sauté for 5 minutes over medium heat until browned. Add the fresh chillies and cook until soft. Add the tomato paste.. Add the remaining cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and chilli powder. Add beer. Stir to incorporate everything. Add diced tomatoes, and stir. Then add the reserved meat. Add chicken stock. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours until meat is tender. Add the black beans to the chilli and bring up to simmer. Then add chunks of bittersweet chocolate. Stir until it melts. Serve immediately with rice.

  Roast chicken – In praise of crispy skin

Ok let’s be honest. What is the best part of that agonizingly delicious roasted chicken? Come on admit it…… the crispy skin, right? Yeah I knew it. And how many of you have agonized over whether you should push the offending bit  to the side of the plate or munch down on that delicious crispy, salty and magnificent morsel?  Well in my opinion roasted chicken without the skin is akin to non-alcoholic beer, decaffeinated coffee, chemical sweeteners and vegetarian burgers…..a waste of time.

Actually it isn’t the skin itself that is unhealthy it is the fat underneath. The skin on poultry is about 50% water, 40% fat, and the rest is connective tissue. In the heat of the oven, the connective tissues dissolve, the water evaporates, and the fat begins to render. What’s left behind becomes wafer-thin and crispy.

Please make sure that your chicken is free range and/or organic

 In Julia’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking she states you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by the roasted chicken and a good roasted chicken should be juicy meat, browned crispy skin, and buttery flavour.  She explains that to master cooking a bird you need to learn to listen to it crackle and pop in the oven, and most importantly make sure it continually gets basted.

 Julia’s recipe for the perfect roast chicken

Ingredients

2-3 kg roasting chicken

¼ tsp kosher salt

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

1 carrot, cut into thirds

1 yellow onion, quartered

Kitchen twine

for basting: a small sauce pan containing 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, 1Tbsp olive oil, and a basting brush.
Method

Estimated roasting time for a 2 kg bird is 1 ½ hours

Preheat oven to 220 Celsius.  Sprinkle the inside of the chicken with salt and 1 Tbsp butter.

To truss the chicken.  Place the chicken on a large plate or tray with the legs pointing toward you.  Wrap the string under the bird’s neck, pulling the strings over the breast line.  Make a knot under the breasts to plump them up. Then cross the strings and wrap them around the opposite drumstick twice and then bring the drumsticks together and knot them to finish.  Place the chicken breast side up on a roasting rack in a shallow roasting pan.  Strew the carrot and onion around in the roasting pan. Rub the rest of the butter all over the top of the chicken.

Brown the chicken at 220 Celsius for 30 minutes turning it every 10 minutes basting it while you do the turns

After roasting for 30 minutes turn the oven down to 177 degrees Celsius – leave the chicken on its side and baste every 8-10 minutes.  Halfway through the roasting time turn the chicken on its other side, and salt it with a ¼ tsp of kosher salt.  15 minutes before the estimated roasting time is up turn the chicken breast side up and salt it again with ¼ tsp kosher salt; continue basting until the juices when pricked in thighs run clear andthe bird is fully roasted.

Place the done chicken on a carving board and remove the trussing string.  Let the chicken sit for 5 minutes before carving

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