By Donna Wesson, Certified Culinary Scientist
We all have our own personal relationship with comfort food – whether it’s to provide that feeling of comfort and security, to take us back to fond childhood memories that we hold so dear, or to satisfy our cravings to help us feel better - not physically, but emotionally.
Some of my favorite comfort foods are mac and cheese, meat loaf and apple pie - and for all the reasons I mentioned. In my eyes, no one could make an apple pie quite like my grandmother. It was a rare occasion that there was enough to go around, so that I could have a full slice of her apple pie. She surprised me on one of my birthdays with my very own apple pie. The apple pie she made especially for me has been and will always be my best birthday present ever!
Our relationship with food is complex, and comfort foods are part of that complex equation. Covid-19 exposed us to a level of uncertainty that many in our lifetimes had not experienced before. Stocking up on food and supplies to prepare for mandatory lockdowns, restaurant shutdowns and working from home quickly became commonplace. Many of us looked for comfort at home and leaned on foods from our childhoods to help provide that comfort. One of the benefits as the trend was on the upswing, was to see people taking the extra step to create mash up comfort flavors….resulting in something that not only comforted, but also entertained our palates.
As we’re trying to get life back to some sense of normalcy, the comfort foods which we’ve become so accustomed to, are getting a new lease on life. With indulgent upgrades, mash ups, and new plant-based options, we are creating new taste sensations that make us realize the depth of our love for food and the experience, which puts a new spin on traditional comfort foods.
Creative pizza menus are trending with the addition of new toppings. The grilled cheese sandwich, our classic comfort food, has made its way onto pizza. Donatos Pizza sells their Ultimate Grilled Cheese Pizza, with provolone and Asiago cheeses. This is comfort food at its best! We’re seeing mashups where nothing is off the table with entrée profiles, options like biscuits and gravy and ethnic flavors. When we think of pizza for breakfast, it’s usually the leftover pizza we had for dinner the night before. Walmart takes one of our favorite foods and pairs it with a some of our favorite breakfast foods to create their pizza mashup. Their Marketplace Savory Breakfast Pizza with sausage crumbles, eggs and gravy on a biscuit crust is a true representation of a “new spin” on comfort food.
My ultimate favorite pizza mashup is a spinach salad pizza from New Corner Restaurant in Red Bank, NJ. Their spinach salad pizza is layered with a rich, creamy white sauce, covered with both shredded and fresh mozzarella and finally topped with their spinach salad with a surprising addition of broccoli, artichoke hearts and diced tomatoes tossed in an Italian vinaigrette.
As if French fries weren’t a guilty pleasure all by themselves, dipping sauces served with fries are now becoming the norm – creating a new twist to the traditional side dish of French fries and ketchup. The dipping sauces are not only a tasty condiment to eat with fries, but their great whether you’re eating them with a sandwich, an entrée or simply as an appetizer.
Cauliflower is the perfect healthy alternative for potatoes and rice to cut back on your carb intake. So, when you’re craving a warm cheesy potato casserole and want to avoid the carbs, try replacing your potatoes with cauliflower casserole.
The versatility of cauliflower makes it an ideal base for buffalo sauce to create a craveable mouth-watering vegetable alternative to one of our favorite apps – buffalo wings.
As much as we may want to decrease our meat consumption, there’s nothing that can curb your craving for meat other than meat…and more meat. Restaurants are offering sandwich options of piled high meats in double and triple portions, as well as different meat pairings. Can anything be more indulgent than burnt ends topped with pulled pork on a sandwich build? The Big Dozier, featured at Zarda Hickory Pit BBQ, is packed with this craveable combination. What about adding chorizo as a topping? Taco Bamba in Falls Church, VA includes chorizo, al pastor pork, an all-beef frank, which are among more than 15 ingredients in their Torta Bamba.
When it comes to desserts, calories are off the table when you want to satisfy your sweet tooth. Umami Burger has upgraded a traditional apple pie and turned it into a handheld pie.
Comfort foods are here to stay. The innovation around this new spin on comfort foods has created craveable indulgent upgrades, mash ups and new plant-based options. Consumer trends will continue to dictate what’s next for this new spin on comfort foods.
While this apple pie recipe and meatloaf recipe may not be as good as my grandmother’s, Martha Stewart’s Old Fashioned Apple Pie recipe and the Best Classic Meatloaf Recipe from The Wholesome Dish, are great alternatives when you are in the mood for a homemade meatloaf or apple pie.
Old Fashioned Apple Pie
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Pate Brisee (Pie Dough)
12 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3/4 cup sugar, plus additional for pie top
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
Heat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pate brisee into two 1/8-inch-thick circles to a diameter slightly larger than that of an 11-inch plate. Press one pastry circle into the pie plate. Place the other circle on wax paper and cover with plastic wrap. Chill all pastry until firm, about 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice, spices, and flour. Toss well. Spoon apples into pie pan. Dot with butter, and cover with remaining pastry circle. Cut several steam vents across top. Seal by crimping edges as desired. Brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle with additional sugar.
Bake until crust is brown and juices are bubbling, about 1 hour. Let cool on wire rack before serving.
Pate Brisee (Pie Dough)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
¼ to ½ cup ice water
In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, 8 to 10 seconds.
With machine running, add ice water in a slow, steady stream through feed tube. Pulse until dough holds together without being wet or sticky; be careful not to process more than 30 seconds. To test, squeeze a small amount together: If it is crumbly, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough into two equal balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill at least 1 hour. Dough may be stored, frozen, up to 1 month.
The Best Classic Meatloaf Recipe
1 lb. 90% lean ground beef
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg beaten
2 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dried parsley leaves
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
For the Topping:
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
In a large bowl, add the beef, bread crumbs, onion, milk, egg, 2 tablespoons ketchup, worcestershire sauce, parsley, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Use your hands to mush and mix these ingredients together until well combined.*
Add the meat mixture to a loaf pan. Pat the meat down into an even layer.
In a small bowl, add ¼ cup ketchup, the brown sugar, and vinegar. Stir to combine. Pour the sauce on top of the meatloaf and spread it into an even layer.
Bake uncovered for 55 minutes.
Let the meatloaf rest for 8-10 minutes before serving (or it may fall apart).**