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Alabama Recipes: Comfort food

Polish Casserole

Soothing, nostalgic, as much about solace as sustenance…

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY | PHOTOS BY MICHAEL CORNELISON

When we were brainstorming ideas for 2017 recipe themes and comfort food came up, it instantly claimed one the 12 spots and was never challenged, even as lots of other great topics emerged. That’s no surprise. Everyone loves comfort food. But what is it, really?

Almost any dish designated “comfort food” shares at least one of a few common characteristics: filling, soothing, nostalgic, as much about solace as sustenance. But beyond that, the specific recipes that we each deem “comforting” are as varied and different as we are. And often, it’s as much the story behind them as their taste or texture that brings us such satisfaction.

I was introduced to the dish that today tops my list of comfort foods — red beans and rice — in a rather uncomfortable way. My family was having dinner with friends one night, and red beans and rice, made by our New Orleans native hostess, was on the menu. As the adults at the table passed around a bottle of Tabasco, sprinkling its tangy heat into their steaming bowls, I asked my mom what it was. I was about three. She decided on a “show not tell” approach to answer my question and put a single drop on her index finger and held it out for me to try. I did, and my tender toddler tongue was torched. I screamed, and my mother was mortified by her mistake.

Turns out, my mom had no idea how hot Tabasco was. She’d never had it either. The memory of that meal ceased to be unpleasant many moons ago; it’s now one my family laughs at. And it didn’t turn me off red beans and rice either. She got the recipe from that friend and made it regularly throughout my childhood. Even though there’s nary an ounce of Cajun or Creole heritage in my family, silky soft beans surrounding smoky, salty sausage, their flavors soaked up by fluffy white rice and punctuated by several dashes of Tabasco, tastes like home to me.

I’m sure you’ve already got a few dishes that hit the same spot for you, but check out this month’s reader-submitted recipes – some simple, some classic, some presenting familiar favorites (cheeseburgers!) in new ways – and add a few more to your list.


Cook of the Month

Whitney Bennett, Wiregrass EC

Whitney Bennett has been making her homey, hearty Chicken, Corn and Bacon Chowder for about three years. She adapted a basic corn chowder recipe to fit her family’s tastes. “We like meat, and my three girls love chicken, so I added that. And then bacon makes everything better,” she said. She loves that the rich and creamy soup is easy enough to make any time, although she usually reserves it for the colder months. “It’s so simple to do. We eat it mostly it the winter,” she said. “It really warms you up from the inside out.”

Chicken, Corn and Bacon Chowder

  • 1 pack of bacon
  • 2 cans of whole kernel corn
  • 3 boiled chicken breasts
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ chopped onion
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, optional, to taste

Cut bacon into small pieces and fry, reserving the grease for later. Drain and set aside. In reserved bacon grease, cook chopped onion and minced garlic until transparent, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of bacon grease and add ¼ cup of all-purpose flour, mixing well to create a roux. Once the mixture has thickened, gradually whisk in chicken broth. Add onion, garlic, corn, chicken, bacon and spices. Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes on low heat. Once it is warmed through, add heavy cream and simmer an additional 5-10 minutes. Add water if the chowder becomes too thick. Cook’s note: 1 rotisserie style chicken may be used in place of boiled chicken.


My Good Cornbread Cake

(Vegan-friendly)

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1½ cups Martha White Corn Meal Mix (Hot Rize)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons egg replacers (can also use flax seed)
  • Vegetable oil

Mix dry ingredients first. Then add almond milk, syrup and egg replacers to get the consistency like pancake batter. Add extra milk, if you have enough, or water until you get the pancake consistency. Put ¼ cup oil into a cornbread pan or a cast iron skillet to coat, and put the pan into a 425-degree oven. Heat until hot. Remove the pan and pour the oil into the batter and mix very well, then pour the batter back into the pan. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees.

Editor’s Note: A common formula for replacing eggs with flax seed is 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds plus 3 tablespoons of warm water-equals one egg.

Wilma Jackson, Central Alabama EC


New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

  • 1 pound small red beans, rinsed and soaked at least four hours, or overnight
  • 2 cups Kielbasa sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup cooked ham, cubed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ cup celery, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups water (or enough to cover bean mixture)
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 3 cups cooked rice

Combine all ingredients except rice into slow cooker. Cook 6-8 hours on low, stirring once. Serve over rice. Cook’s note: Remove some of the beans and juices just before serving, mash them, and pour back into the pot for a thicker mixture if desired.

Tammy Formby, Marshall-DeKalb EC


Chicken and Dumplings

  • 3 cups boiled, cut up chicken
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 2 boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ cup broth or milk

Mix flour, salt, baking powder and shortening together; add egg yolk and milk or broth. Mix together to make a stiff dough. Roll the dough thin on a floured surface and cut into small squares. Lay squares on waxed paper about 30 minutes to dry out. Drop the squares into boiling broth and chicken soup. Cook 8-10 minutes, gradually adding the chopped chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped eggs. Cover with tight lid and let sit 30 minutes. Cook’s note: The dumplings can be made ahead and frozen. Place them on cookie sheets until frozen, then put into freezer bags for later use.

Philena Peterson, Baldwin EMC


Polish Casserole

  • 4 cups uncooked penne pasta or any other pasta that holds sauce
  • 1½ pounds smoked Polish sausage, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 2 10¾-ounce cans condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 16-ounce jar sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained
  • 3 cups shredded Swiss cheese, divided
  • 1½ cups 2 percent milk
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the sausage, soup, sauerkraut, 2 cups of cheese, milk, onion, mustard and garlic. Spoon into 2 greased 8-inch square baking dishes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake uncovered 45-50 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Serve with garlic bread and a green salad.

Cook’s note: This dish is good, filling and freezer friendly. Freeze up to 3 months; to use, thaw in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown.

Kay Moore, Cullman EC


Bacon Cheeseburger Chowder

  • 1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
  • 1 tablespoon dry onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dry green pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups milk
  • 1 pound potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and diced
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (any kind)
  • 3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled; reserve until ready to use.

When the beef is drained, add the flour and stir until blended. Pour all ingredients into a large slow-cooker and cook on low for 6-7 hours. Add bacon before serving.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Southern Comfort Chicken

  • 2½ cups cubed chicken
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced, or equivalent
  • 1 medium onion, sliced in rings
  • 5 medium potatoes, diced
  • 1 cup of frozen carrots, thawed
  • 1 pint of heavy whipping cream
  • ½-1cup water
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • Parsley, salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in large skillet or Dutch oven. On medium low, cook chicken until no longer pink and onions are tender, stirring as necessary. Add garlic when “almost” done. (Do not drain any juices!) Stir in carrots, potatoes and whipping cream. Add seasonings and enough water to cover potatoes. Let simmer for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

Cyndi McConnell, Baldwin EMC


Cheesy Southern Mac and Cheese

  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1½ cups white cheddar cheese (reserve 1/2 cup for top)
  • 4 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese (reserve 1 cup for top)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare macaroni according to instructions on box. Drain and return to pot.

Add 1 cup white cheddar, 3 cups extra sharp cheddar, eggs, milk, butter, and cream cheese to pot. Add salt and pepper. Pour into 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish or pan. Cover with remaining 1 cup extra sharp cheddar and 1/2 cup white cheddar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Lisa Johnson, Tallapoosa River EC


Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 7 cups chicken or turkey broth
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 3 carrots, sliced or diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped or diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion flakes
  • 1 cup cooked chicken or turkey, chopped
  • 1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni (can use egg noodles)
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Put the first 5 ingredients into a large cooking pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Keep covered and turn heat to low; simmer for 45 minutes. Add the chopped chicken or turkey, macaroni and parsley; stir and simmer (covered) for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Julie Williquette, Joe Wheeler EMC


Recipe Themes and Deadlines:
Mar. Lemons Jan. 8
Apr. Easter Meals Feb. 8
May Shellfish/Shrimp Mar. 8

Coming up in February…
Cooking for Two!