Food & Drink

Comfort foods: A tribute to mother's favorite recipes

In the Kitchen with Nina: Healthier versions of classic dishes can still bring up lots of memories

Marjorie Swan's famous gooseberry pie is a favorite of daughter Nina Swan-Kohler of Robins. Swan-Kohler shares recipes from her mother's collection of family favorites in honor of Mother's Day.
Marjorie Swan's famous gooseberry pie is a favorite of daughter Nina Swan-Kohler of Robins. Swan-Kohler shares recipes from her mother's collection of family favorites in honor of Mother's Day.
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Nothing seems to say comfort like mother’s home cooking.

At least most of us feel this way. I believe that many of us think of comfort food as the foods we ate when growing up at home with our parents.

Depending on your age, your comfort foods may be different from others. For me, my mother made a lot of fried chicken with fried potatoes and gravy, chicken and dumplings, pot roast with potatoes and carrots (and gravy) and fried pork chops or steaks with mashed potatoes and gravy.

We also had a garden in the summers, so we had lots of fresh lettuce, spinach, green beans, corn and other vegetables to enjoy with our meals. A lot of the foods we ate were high in carbs and fat. They tasted great then and they still taste great today, too.

As a culinary professional and nutritionist, it is my desire and commitment to help people “watch what they eat” a bit more carefully. I’ve adapted my mother’s recipes to be a bit healthier. And, while we still may enjoy these comfort foods, we may not be able to enjoy them as often. Comfort foods have become “special occasion” foods in some circles. We have them only on special occasions when the whole extended family gets together.

These foods tend to bring up lots of memories of days gone by — followed by lots of laughter and smiles, and great satisfaction.

My mother has been known in her local area as a great pie baker. I’m sure she’s baked more pies than you can count. She is especially known for her gooseberry pie. People from all over southeast Missouri would come to her church’s fundraising suppers to have a piece of her prized gooseberry pie.

One funny story about my mother and her church suppers is that she often would be assigned the job of cutting the pies. Most pies are cut into six or eight pieces depending the overall size of the pie, but she always would cut the pies into seven pieces, because she was accustomed to cutting pies at home in seven pieces, so all five kids and our parents had a piece. So cute.

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When I was just a little girl, my mother allowed me to help her in the kitchen preparing foods for our family. I’m forever blessed because of this. Because of her, my confidence-building in the kitchen started early.

My mother, Marjorie Swan, will turn 95 on May 16 this year.

I’ve recently prepared all these recipes with her and had so much fun doing so. She has been by role model, mentor, cheerleader and one of my best friends throughout my life.

I’m so thankful to be able to share a little bit about her and her recipes with you this year for my Mother’s Day tribute.

Recipes:

Chicken and Dumplings

Makes 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 5-pound hen or stewing chicken
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper
  • Water
  • Dumplings
  • 2 3/4 to 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Place chicken in a large, deep stockpot; season with salt and pepper. Add enough water to cover chicken. Bring water to boil; then reduce to low. Cover with lid and simmer for 1 hour or until chicken is tender and falls off the bones. Remove chicken to a bowl to cool; set aside. Also remove 1 cup liquid broth to cool; keep remaining liquid in stockpot. When cool enough to touch, remove chicken from bones. Cut or tear chicken into pieces, discard bones. In a separate bowl, combine flour, eggs, salt and the reserved chicken broth. Stir together to make a thick dough. Knead together about 10 times. Divide dough in half; roll out each portion to about 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 1-inch wide strips, then cut or tear into 2-inch pieces. Reheat broth in stockpot on high to boiling. Drop pieces of dough into boiling broth. Cover; cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add chicken pieces back to stockpot; heat through. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots

Makes 8 servings.

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or extra-light olive oil
  • Kosher salt and coarse-ground pepper
  • 1 beef shoulder roast, arm chuck roast boneless or blade chuck roast boneless (3-to 3 pounds)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in wedges
  • 16 to 24 small red potatoes, whole or cut in half (about 1 lb.)
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled, and cut into 4-inch strips
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut in wedges
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons cool water

Place oil in large stockpot or cast-iron pot; heat on medium-high to High until oil begins to smoke. Meanwhile, season both sides of beef roast with salt and pepper. Add roast to hot oil; reduce heat to medium-high and allow to brown on 1 side for about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn; brown on other side for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add water and 1 onion; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cover tightly with lid and simmer for 2 hours. Add potatoes, carrots and 1 onion; cook on low for another 30 to 45 minutes or until beef and vegetables are tender. Remove beef and vegetables and place on serving platter. Whisk together cornstarch and water; pour into remaining liquid. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly (about 3 minutes) to make the gravy. Cut roast into serving size pieces. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve with vegetables and gravy. Serve with hot biscuits.

Fried Pork Chops

  • 6 bone-in pork chops (1/2-inch thick)
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Season both sides of pork chops; then dredge in flour to coat. Meanwhile pour oil into cast-iron skillet; heat over medium heat until hot. Carefully place pork chops, 2 to 3 at a time, in skillet. Fry for about 4 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. Remove and keep warm in a 200 degree oven. Repeat with remaining chops. Makes 6 servings. Serve with mashed potatoes or fried potatoes and green beans. * Make gravy by adding flour left from dredging the pork chops into skillet; cook and stir until browned. Add milk; whisk constantly to make a thickened gravy, adding more milk as needed. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

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Mother’s Famous Gooseberry Pie

Gooseberries are large, tart berries that grow on bushes and come in a variety of colors. The ones I’ve had have been green.

Filling

  • 3 cups gooseberries*
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Pie Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cold lard or shortening
  • 5 to 7 tablespoons ice-cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cream or melted butter
  • Crystallized sugar

In a medium bowl, combine gooseberries, sugar, cornstarch and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to coat and set aside. In another medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cut in lard using pastry blender until small pea-size balls form. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir gently with a fork to combine and hold together in a ball. Divide dough in half and shape in a round. Chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out one round of dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Place in 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate; trim off edges to 1/2-inch overhang. Pour filling into crust. Roll out remaining crust; cut into 1/2-inch strips. Place over top filling in a lattice-type design. Fold under edges and crimp. Brush top of crust with melted butter or cream and sprinkle with crystallized sugar, if desired. Place on the lowest rack in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. and bake another 25 to 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly in the middle. Makes 1 pie or 6 to 8 servings (or 7 servings in my family).

*Fresh gooseberries are difficult to find, so I have also provided the recipe when using sweetened canned gooseberries:

Mother’s Famous Gooseberry Pie, Made with canned gooseberries.

Filling

  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) gooseberries, Oregon Brand recommended
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Pie Crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cold lard or shortening
  • 5 to 7 tablespoons ice-cold water
  • 1 tablespoon cream or melted butter
Crystallized sugar

In a medium saucepan, drain gooseberries; reserve gooseberries. Add 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt to saucepan. Whisk together until smooth. Whisk and heat over medium heat until thickened. Add reserved gooseberries, 1/2 cup sugar and butter; stir to combine. Set aside to cool or chill. In another medium bowl, combine 2 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cut in lard using pastry blender until small pea-size balls form. Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir gently with a fork to combine and hold together in a ball. Divide dough in half and shape in a round. Chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out one round of dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Place in 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate; trim off edges to 1/2-inch overhang. Pour cooled filling into crust. Roll out remaining crust; cut into 1/2-inch strips. Place over top filling in a lattice-type design. Fold under edges and crimp. Brush top of crust with melted butter or cream and sprinkle with crystallized sugar, if desired. Place on the lowest rack in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. and bake another 25 to 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly in the middle. Makes 1 pie or 6 to 8 servings (or 7 servings in my family).

All recipes were adapted by Nina Swan-Kohler of her mother’s recipes.

Nina Swan-Kohler is a home economist, culinary professional, recipe developer, cookbook author and cooking school director/instructor. She teaches cooking and corporate team-building cooking classes in her Robins home. To get a copy of Nina’s cooking class schedule or for more information, email nina@cookingwithnina.net or visit www.cookingwithnina.net

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