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Favourite comfort food when nothing else will do? Some surprising answers revealed

October 28, 2019
marmite toast and tea ready for breakfast
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You may be thinking shepherd’s pie with a fluffy, crunchy mash hat, a bowl of soothing dahl, a dish of slippery, spicy noodles, a full English roast. But we’re not talking about that kind of comfort food. I mean the thing you want when you’ve taken to your bed or crawled through the day feeling distinctly below average. You need to eat but you fancy nothing – except that one thing. It has no rhyme or reason. A deep craving that often makes no sense at all but it’s the only edible thing to tempt your palette. If you’re lucky it will be made for you and brought to you on a tray to eat in bed. We’re not talking high end cuisine here. It could be from a tin, a packet or a jar.
I pondered this question as I found myself in that situation, savouring each bite of Marmite toast. Brown toast, maybe sour dough if I’m lucky but anything will do. The butter has been hacked off the block so some of it has melted and some is floating like little yellow islands. The Marmite is glossy, dark and scraped on in exactly the right measure,  not too thick, not too thin. Crunchy, creamy, buttery, savoury, salty and restorative.
I asked a few people I like and admire to share this inner secret.  It’s interesting how many draw on childhood memories, reaching for an edible comfort blanket when life was simpler. I think it’s a confession of what we crave when we feel most vulnerable so I’m very grateful for their honesty. Here are their answers, in no particular order…
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Leyla Kazim – The Cutlery Chronicles

Leyla Kazim of The Cutlery Chronicles a beautiful food and travel blog. Among her long list of accomplishments she’s been a judge for BBC Food & Farming Awards 2019 and a judge on Channel 4’s brand new TV series “Beat The Chef” She lives in London (when not discovering delicious things round the globe).

“My ‘go to’ comfort food is a Cypriot pasta dish, and probably in my top 3 noodle / pasta dishes ever. We in my family call it ‘Turkish macaroni’. It’s just five ingredients and is incredible.

You finely grate halloumi and mix it with a ton of dried mint. You boil some pasta in chicken stock but don’t drain it, you want to keep it pretty wet. When the pasta is cooked, add the cheese and mint mix. Add inordinate amounts of lemon juice, fully combine and that’s it. A chicken-y, salty, lemony, carby hot plate of pure comfort. It is THE best.”
Find the recipe on Leyla’s blog).

 

a plate of halloumi pasta

Image by Leyla Kazim – Cutlery Chronicles

 


Diana Henry

Diana Henry is an award-winning food writer, journalist, broadcaster and the author of ten cookbooks. She grew up in Northern Ireland and now lives in London. I have a lot of cookbooks, including four of Diana’s which all have well splattered pages from use. My collection pales into insignificance compared to hers of over 4000 which line the walls of her house in multiple book cases.
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“Cheese on toast is my thing (even toast with Dairylea cheese spread, shock horror). Also, fish fingers, baked beans and Heinz tomato soup. You seem to go back to the things you had as a child or teenager. If I make a proper meal for comfort it is generally shepherd’s pie or a baked potato with butter and yoghurt, grated cheddar and spring onions.
A cup of tea – quite sweet – also always soothes, as does a glass of milk.”
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collection of Diana Henry cookbooks

My collection of Diana Henry cookbooks

Read more about a visit to Diana’s house and her book Salt Sugar Smoke about preserving including a recipe for purple pickled eggs.

Sara Tasker – Me and Orla

Sara Tasker is a photographer, writer and business coach offering advice for a huge community of online creatives. She’s an Instagram expert (which is a understatement) and, if you’ve been anywhere near the platform, you’ll know her as Me and Orla.  I joined Sara’s inaugural online ‘Instaretreat’ and have benefited from her wise words on an almost daily basis.  She lives in rural in Yorkshire in a house with a cosy (and Instagrammable – check her IGTV) kitchen.
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“My absolute favourite comfort-in-a-bowl is hash browns and baked beans. Bonus points if there’s crispy bacon too, but I’m honestly happy either way.”
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a bowl on hash browns and baked beans about to be eaten

Image by Sara Tasker – Me and Orla

 


Kellie Anderson – Food to Glow

Kellie Anderson is a health educator, food writer and recipe developer with a beautiful blog called Food to Glow. I’ve known her from the early days of our blogs and have no idea how she comes up with delicious healthy recipes consistently while also working as health educationist and nutrition adviser with Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centres. She’s from Florida but met up for a cuppa the summer in Edinburgh, Scotland where she now lives.
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“I would say toast too, from my homemade sourdough bread. But, upon reflection, I have a stash of grits – stoneground, dried white corn that’s a southern US staple – that I turn to for comfort. Fortunately I rarely need to dip into it – thank God, because I have to bring it over specially from the States so it is very precious. But when I do it works like a magic balm to soothe me. Grits, with a big knob of good salted butter and grinds of black pepper, remind of being at my grandmother’s kitchen table. The breakfast table would always be overflowing with fantastically fresh food from her huge garden, but there was always grits and fried eggs from the hens scratching around outside. Just typing this is making me hungry!”
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Not grits but definitely comforting. Creamy roasted cauliflower soup recipe and image by Kellie – Food to Glow

 


Claire Robinson – Weekend Candy

Claire Robinson is the founder and editor of UK online travel magazine Weekend Candy. Claire’s mantra is “two days – make them count” – and she does. You can find a treasure of ideas for short trips in the UK on the site. Claire’s an award-winning writer, advertising creative and digital creative director.

She’s worked on many creative campaigns over the years for comfort food and drink brands (think Lurpak, Anchor Cream, Pukka Teas, Carte Noir and Philadelphia).

We met up at Blogtacular but Claire lives in my home county of Gloucestershire in the UK.a

 
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“My go-to comfort food is far from fancy but as close to healing magic as you can get: a good old-fashioned, please don’t judge me for it, crisp butty. Yup. Slice me some thick white tiger bread, cement it with real butter, layer with salt and vinegar crisps, and dollop with mayo. Voila! Bob’s your uncle, Fanny’s your aunt and all things in life feel delicious again.”
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Claire from weekend candy on a boat

Claire on a Weekend Candy weekend. Perhaps the secret sandwich is in the canal boat?


Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures

My friends Arva and Farida Ahmed from Frying Pan Adventures were pioneers when they set up the first food tour company in Dubai. It was so unprecedented that the trade license bods were at a loss for a while. I’ve lost track of the amount of tours I’ve done with them – the original and best food tour company in Dubai. They live in an area of Dubai that’s chock a block with little restaurants of tempting food – and they all deliver within half an hour. Their extended family is nearby so if they are under the weather they all support each other. I say all this as it explains why they sent lists of comfort foods!

Arva

“1. Tomato soup, the super processed cup-a-soup kinds, with croutons, less water than the ratio recommended on the packet so it’s really thick (I love if some of the bits of soup powder remain clumpy cause it’s like a knob of concentrated flavour) – alongside 2 slices of well-browned toast with salted butter.
2. Grilled chicken wings with lemon and garlic. Dipped in hummus and Arabic style red shatta (chilli sauce), yes in both simultaneously.
3. Chicken Won Tons with soy sauce and chilli – the kind at Din Tai Fung.”

Farida

“My go to comfort foods when I am under the weather (or when I have the blues) are:
Home-made khichdi (the forefather of kedgree & perhaps even koshari!). Simple rice and lentils (moong, masoor or toor/tuvar) cooked with turmeric, a pinch of salt and softened to a slightly mushy consistency with desi ghee. Mum will sometimes temper this with cumin and onions for added flavor and aroma.
I usually like to pair that with Pepper Rasam (the forefather of Mulligatawny some would say) which is a soupy concoction that consists of tomatoes, ground whole black pepper corns, cumin, garlic (optional) and tamarind; tempered with ghee, red chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds.
These have always served to rejuvenate my flagging spirits and bring back zen to my soul :)”
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Samantha Wood – Foodiva

I met Sam just before she set up the first independent, impartial restaurant review site in the UAE, about 10 years ago.  With more restaurants per capita in Dubai than anywhere else in the world, intelligent and entertaining reviews are vital and it’s become a trusted, authoritative guide which has, deservedly, won many awards. You can also join her for high-end food tours. I asked where she got the recipe for her bowl of comfort (see end of quote). Due to KP’s distant Cypriot heritage, we make it at Christmas – find his family recipe here.
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I grew up mostly in Cyprus (and the Caribbean), and the one dish that is etched in my memory from my childhood and that I still make to this day is avgolemono soup. A dish that takes a patient cook to concoct – all thanks to my Cypriot mother’s fair hand, as well as my grand-mother’s. Avgolemono literally translates to egg and lemon soup – however chicken and rice are also key ingredients. A chicken-infused rice broth was whisked with farm-fresh eggs and the juice of lemons from our neighbourhood orchard. Pure soul food – so comforting and therapeutic that I was always begging for seconds and could happily finish off the pot by myself.
I buy every new Greek or Cypriot cookbook that is released, so am always trying out new recipes! The latest one is from Georgina Hayden’s Taverna cookbook.”
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avgolemono soup with ingredients eggs and lemons

Avgolemono soup – click for recipe

 

I hope you enjoyed these answers that are a small jigsaw puzzle piece in everyone’s lives formed by a myriad of things from upbringing, tradition, television advertising to what was available at the corner shop. I’m really very grateful to everyone who gave me their candid responses to share with you.
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Here’s where to find everyone:
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So will you share your ‘comfort food in the darkest hour’ with me?  Confess all – no judgement!
14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2019 11:00 am

    There are always portions of my homemade bolognese ragu in the freezer for some quick comfort food, the supply often raided by son if he pops in. If I have a cold I crave chilli and something like the roasted squash and tomato soup I make with a good hit of heat.

    • October 29, 2019 8:50 am

      I think chilli definitely tempts a jaded palate doesn’t it.

  2. October 28, 2019 12:33 pm

    Thank you so much for including me with these superstar food writers and adventurers, Sally. Other than toast and buttery, salty grits, I also love a crackly skinned baked potato, filled with grated cheese and sour cream. I didn’t realise until you made me think about it that rich, full-fat dairy is a foundational layer of my comfort dishes and treats. This from a cancer nutrition adviser! I am completely of the mind that when you need comfort health rules and norms invariably go out the window. And in any case, dairy can most definitely be part of a nutritious diet. Comfort food for me is all about reconnecting to my roots. Now let me go make a pan of grits. 🙂 PS it is lovely to read others’ comfort foods: I am making a version of Leyla’s “Turkish macaroni” as soon as I can. This simple dish sounds absolutely delicious!

    • October 29, 2019 8:51 am

      I’m with you on a baked potato – cheese and sour cream de rigeur. But if feeling under the weather it would have to be made for me!
      And yes everything in moderation including dairy if you fancy it.

  3. Justine permalink
    October 28, 2019 6:04 pm

    This was delightful to read! For me, it’s pasta – either tomatoey, garlicky, olive-ey, with maybe some chunks of feta cheese (sometime with smoked tuna chunks added), or Singapore noodles from my teenage years in Hong Kong! But I also love the sound of the “Turkish macaroni”! 😋

    • October 29, 2019 8:53 am

      Pasta in all its guises is so easy to eat isn’t it – needs that intensity of tomatoes and garlic. Not sure I could cope with tuna if I felt below par though. Noodles seem to be a popular choice

  4. October 28, 2019 6:45 pm

    Very interesting read, Sally. Some answers are definitely surprising. I don’t think I would be able to name one comfort food, if you would ask me. Maybe potatoes, though – in any form. Just a simple boiled potato with sour cream would make me happy.

  5. October 29, 2019 8:54 am

    Has to be a really good potato if it’s that simple imo. Beautiful new potatoes are very hard to beat – especially if you are feeling under the weather, while an average one might get you to eat one mouthful and then abandon it.

  6. October 29, 2019 10:14 am

    I went down with the ‘flu when I was visiting my parents in my twenties. I went to bed and my mum served me scrambled eggs on toast with a cup of tea. But the thing I really remember is the small jar of flowers from the garden on my meal tray. That was priceless and I still find the memory comforting to this day!

  7. October 29, 2019 1:34 pm

    I think so many Italian dishes are just plain comfort foods, but of course the weather would influence what we crave, no? Some cool in hot weather, something hot when it’s freezing. I often say that fragrant buttered toast is pretty much unbeatable. Soup. Rice. Pasta. I find that pasta dishes are ‘uplifting’ and that chicken soup is ‘soothing’. Comfort foods, how do I love Ye? Let me count the ways … hmmm. Too many! 🙂

  8. Sally Pederson permalink
    October 29, 2019 7:24 pm

    Those are some great comfort food dishes. A couple was a little surprising, but it is always great to have different dishes.

  9. kavitafavelle permalink
    October 29, 2019 11:40 pm

    Love reading about people’s comfort foods. For me it’s foods from childhood, which is a mix of traditional British dishes and my mum’s Indian ones.

  10. October 30, 2019 2:12 pm

    For me, baked beans on very buttery toast when I’m feeling lazy. And risotto when I am not. I find the process of making risotto really cathartic and actually like standing there stirring to make a pan of rice turn into something quite magical!

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