Comfort in the Kitchen

Lately, we’ve had so much snow and ice, it’s unbelievable! Schools have been closed here eight times the last few weeks due to weather, and most families are getting out only when absolutely necessary. What’s a mom to do? Create cozy meals of comfort food!

Food is such a big part of any culture, and our home is no different. I love creating meals that coincide with what’s going on with my family and our lives. In summer, we eat lots of salads and foods on the grill. Last summer (which now seems like a lifetime ago), inspired by MaryJane, I put in an organic vegetable garden, which yielded a vast amount of delicious fresh vegetables, and our daily menu revolved around what was ready to pick that day. We became spoiled with our warm from-the-sun, juicy tomatoes!

Missing my garden and its bounty, especially with over 100 inches of snow and ice in the yard now!

When winter’s cold brings its chill, we want warmth in our stomachs. Stews, roasts, and casseroles are at the top of our menu. Texas-born, chili is one of my favorites, especially when paired with homebaked cornbread! When my husband and I were first young newlyweds, we moved across the country. The first day he went back to work, I wanted to present him with a special homemade meal. I assembled my chili, and simmered it all day.  When my husband came home, he was starving and our little apartment was draped in the chili’s aroma. As we sat down to eat, he was all smiles…until he took his first bite. Being from Denmark, he was not used to anything spicy. He began to choke, sputter, and turn red. I thought I killed him! He then turned a funny shade of purple! I was horrified! I learned to tone down the spice, but to this day, almost twenty years later, he still asks me if he’s “in the doghouse” before taking a bite of chili!

There are some recipes in my recipe box that I consider “family heirlooms”. My grandmother was Greek, and she was an amazing cook. The only connections I have left to her are a handmade embroidered tablecloth she made, and a few recipes. I make her “Greek Macaroni and Cheese” recipe often as a winter side dish. One recipe I consider “sacred” is her “Koulourakia,” a traditional vanilla Greek cookie. At Christmas, I mail them to family and friends. My father once told me I’m the only one who makes them exactly like she did, something I take great pride in. Once, an acquaintance desperately wanted the recipe. She invited me to her house for a day of baking, saying we would trade special recipes. When the time came to make my batch of cookies, she decided my dough would be better with raspberry liquor, pouring in enough to turn the whole batch pink! Normally, I wouldn’t care if a recipe was changed, I “tweak” recipes all the time, but for some reason, this change made me feel like I’d been punched in the stomach. It may seem silly, but I haven’t shared that particular recipe again.

This is the tablecloth my grandmother made and gave to my parents when they were first married. Here, the table is set for St. Patrick’s Day.

One favorite dinner is from my childhood, an easy, one-dish meal my mom always made in the seventies. It’s quick and simple, just a few ingredients, but the scent as it cooks is mouth-watering! It’s a great, kid-pleasing meal. My earliest memory of it is smelling it on the stove on my first day of kindergarten, as a special hot lunch. Now, each year, I make it for dinner my daughter’s first day of school, and often during the winter, as it isn’t time consuming or require a lot of ingredients. The only change I do make is to use all organic ingredients.

Mom’s One Pot Macaroni and Beef
1-1/2 lbs ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1-1/2 cups water
2 (8oz). cans tomato sauce
2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. pepper
Brown beef with onion with and green pepper over medium heat in large skillet. Pour off fat. Add uncooked macaroni and remaining ingredients, stirring well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until pasta is tender. Stir occasionally, adding more water if needed.

Enjoy! And remember…every day brings us one day closer to Spring!

  1. Tess Sole says:

    Nicole- I can only imagine what 100 inches of snow might be like! We have NEVER lived anywhere where it snowed like that! Your story made me smile and your recipe sounds like it would be great for us to try. Thank you!!!
    Tess S.

    Tess, thanks for reading.  This winter has been quite unusual for us.  Our "typical" snowfall is usually only 20 inches per year, but I’ve been told that folks who have lived here longer remember the winters from their childhoods being this way.  Enjoy the recipe!  -Nicole

  2. Brigitte Farmgirl with a heart says:

    Funny! The differences is that my mother used Nibblets instead of the green pepper and tomato cream soup instead of the tomato sauce!!! My sister and I liked to pour a little Ketchup on it! Mmmmh!!!

  3. Rose Helmbright says:

    Nice to know Texans can go any where and be at home. Back here in Arlington we are having our second snow storm in 2 weeks. Definately different this year.  And time for chili and cornbread.

    Rose, I’ve been to Arlington many times!  A very dear friend lives there, and I hear from her as well that your winter this year is harder than usual.  Stay warm!         -Nicole

  4. Ali - Farmgirl #12 says:

    Nice blog, as usual, Nicole. I’m Armenian and your cookie recipe sounds similar to something both of my grandmas used to make. I can’t wait to try the One Pot Macaroni and Beef – thank you so much for including a recipe! xoxoxo

  5. Cheri says:

    I love many recipes and traditions from my childhood as well. I bake lots at Christmas, but the kids will tell you that toll house cookies are not for Xmas- those are get up early and make before school/work. I still make a few things that would have ended big with my mom, like peanut bars. I am still trying to master a good biscuit. But it is all good.

  6. bonnie ellis says:

    Cooking is wonderful! Especially with your own special recipes. Our s and dil live in Austin, TX, and I know what you mean about spicy chili. I laughed when I read about your husband. I reacted the same to the spice (lol). I’m going to make your hot dish (what they call them here in Minnesota) tonight. Thanks! The tablecloth is beautiful. What a treasure. Bonnie

    Thank you, Bonnie!  Enjoy!

  7. Kristy says:

    Wow! When I was growing up in Connecticut, I don’t think we ever used more than the three snow days built into the school calendar except the year Kennedy was assassinated, which used up at least one for his state funeral.
    May I tactfully ask how many servings are in that recipe. My household contains two people.

    The recipe serves 4-6.  Any leftovers are delicious the next day for lunch! Enjoy!


  8. Denise says:

    Thanks for the post! I too have great memories of food and have some "sacred" recipes from my Italian grandmom and mom. They do bring back soooo many memories and smells! My grandmom’s house always smelled like fresh perked coffee and cookies.

    Hanging on till Spring!!!

  9. Heather :) :) :) says:

    Oh, I had to laugh when you told about your husband taking a bite of that spicy chili 🙂 I lived in Norway for one year, and that was something I picked up on really quickly. They’re not as used to spicy foods as I was coming from the Northwest.  So I had to learn to tone it down a little bit, too 🙂 🙂
    Thanks for the macaroni & beef recipe!!! Awesome!!                                    Love and hugs from Oregon, Heather 🙂

  10. Shannon says:

    This recipe looks really good! Thank you so much for sharing! And yes….I will be holding on to that saying as we go through yet another snow shower here in Tennessee…Spring is getting closer! 😀

  11. Jeannie says:

    Nicole, you are a good sport with the 100" of snow. Love that you treasure your family recipes and things passed down to you. Laughed at your husband’s reaction to the chili. Poor guy. Your Mom’s recipe is similar to one my Mom made and I make a lot that we call goulash. No idea where the name came from, but a big favorite of our whole family. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Carmen says:

    100 inches! I never expected to be happy to live in Minnesota in the middle of winter. I "only" have around 48". We’ve been lucky the blizzards have passed just below our state. It’s a bit chilli: 22 below today but at least I don’t have to shovel. I agree, this is the perfect kitchen weather. Yesterday, I made my first successful batch of cheese, baked sour dough bread (from my own starter) and made a great batch of chicken stew (slightly pink due to the beets).

    Sounds like a fun day in the kitchen for sure! Congrats on that first batch of cheese! -Nicole

  13. Debbie says:

    Hey Nicole!
    Is it cold enough for you? We are missing our fresh veggies from the garden too. Like you we are still buried in lots of frozen snow and counting the days till spring.
    Let’s count together shall we.. 1,2,3,…
    Stay warm,
    Beach Blessings,

  14. Ruth says:

    Hi Nicole, Your Mom’s recipe is almost like my Mom’s for Goulash, only she used some Italian Spices in her’s. Need to make a batch of that up – thanks for reminding me.
    We had about 1 1/2 inches of snow here in the Georgia Mountains last night, it’s almost gone! Yea
    Hugs, Ruth

    Hi Ruth! Hopefully, we all are turning a corner on winter…take care.  Big hugs! -Nicole

  15. Betty McTiernan says:

    Hi Nicole:

    What a wonderful, funny story of your family life. Thank you for the recipe. My daughter is coming home this Thursday from college and I think she will be wanting some home comfort food.



  16. Kristina says:

    Wow! 100 inches is a lot of snow. I think the recipe I remember the most, from my grandmother, is her baked macaroni and cheese.

  17. Brenda says:

    Hi Nicole, I kind of go along with Ruth. Your recipe sounds like my goulash, except for the maccaroni, I use a box of mac and cheese,adding the macaroni so it can cook, or cook it, then add the cheese when it is almost done. My family likes it with bread and butter. I am ready for spring and I am already going through garden magazines and planning. It wasn’t bad here today but I don’t think winter is over yet. I also agree that the kitchen can bring a lot of comfort to people, as simple as a cup of coffee or tea and a cookie or a meal that has memories tied to it. I really enjoy what you write, makes me feel like I know you as a friend. Keep writing and spring is on the way.

    Brenda, What a sweet thing to say!  Thank you!  We are getting nice weather this week (so the weatherman says), but we ALWAYS get snow around St. Patty’s Day!  I won’t be packing up my sweaters just yet!  Thanks for reading!  – Nicole

  18. Diane says:

    That recipe sure brings back memories. We had it a lot growing up, but we called it Goulash or Slum Gulley! I make it often for my DH who does not like anything spicy. I make chili for me and goulash for him! The tablecloth is beautiful and the cookie story is priceless. Isn’t it amazing that a certain smell or recipe can bring back memories and transport you, eventhough briefly, to another time and place. Thanks for sharing with us.

    Thanks so much for reading! -Nicole

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