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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Comfort Food and Beautiful Noise

January 17, 2011

This is the best time of year for comfort food.

After all of the leaves have fallen there is a small window of opportunity where one can share a quiet, peaceful, and hearty one-pot meal beside a crackling fire.

To me, all of the best comfort foods are wholesome one-pot meals. They don’t require too much prep time and should be easy to clean up afterwards. Pot Roast might be the king of comfort foods. Gumbo should probably hold that title in this part of the world, but the prep work involved in making a true, rich-stock, dark-roux gumbo knocks it out of the running.

Vegetable beef soup is a classic comfort food, though it might be more popular up North than down here. Chicken and dumplings, on the other hand, would be more of a Southern comfort food.

In my house there is much debate over comfort food. My wife’s ultimate comfort food is potato soup. I opt for chicken potpie. My two children side with my wife on the issue, which is fine, because there is always extra chicken potpie left over for me.

The term comfort food has only been in use since 1977, but last night, the expression might have been redefined for the ages. Yesterday morning my wife began making potato soup for an army— a small dwarf-like army, but an army nonetheless.

Beginning in the late afternoon, while I was watching the NFL Playoffs, SUVs began pulling through the driveway and dropping off children. By early evening my house was filled with ten 13-year old girls and four nine-year old boys who were all there for a spend-the-night party with my son and daughter.

They went through two gallons of potato soup and four king cakes. It was shortly after the king cakes, and the arrival of two more 13-year olds— boys this time— that people started getting thrown into the pool. Once they dried off, and warmed up, the dancing began. Around 10pm the two older boys went home and the teenage girls began giving the nine-year old boys dance lessons.

At 10:30, the girls broke into my supply of 5-Hour Energy drinks, and I went to bed, leaving my wife and our friend Jessica to police the troops.

This was comfort food on steroids. There was no crackling fire, no wool blankets, and no extra portions of chicken potpie. There was a lot of giggling, squealing, screaming, running, and laughing.

Before I went to sleep, I lay in my bed listening to the sounds of the house. Kids having fun is truly a beautiful noise. I know it will be gone soon, so I listened with more intent. Before long they’ll be driving, and the giggling will turn into whispering, and boyfriends will replace best girl friends, and Sunday night potato soup will be replaced by date nights and formals.

Webster defines comfort food as, “Food prepared in a traditional style having a usually nostalgic or sentimental appeal.” For me, potato soup will forevermore remind me of kids having fun.

Robert’s Sunday Night Potato Soup

1 /2 lb Bacon, diced
1 Tbl. Butter
1 cup Onion, small dice
1 /2 cup Celery, small dice
1 /2 cup Carrot, small dice
2 tsp Garlic, minced
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black pepper, fresh ground
2 lbs Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 /2-inch cubes
6 cups Chicken broth
1 /2 cup Butter
3 /4 cup Flour
3 cups Heavy whipping cream
1 cup Sour cream
1 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 tsp Hot Sauce
1 /2 cup Green onion, freshly chopped

Place bacon and butter in a six-quart stockpot over medium heat and cook bacon until golden brown. Drain fat and add vegetables, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for four to five minutes. Add potatoes and chicken broth and bring to a slow simmer. Cook until potatoes become tender, about 15 minutes. In a separate skillet, melt butter and stir in flour to make a roux. Cook until the roux is light blond and gently whisk roux into soup mixture. Be careful not to break up the potatoes. Mix the heavy cream and sour cream together and heat in the microwave. Add cream mixture to potato stock. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer once more. Remove from heat and serve. Yield: one gallon

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