How do you define "comfort food?"

I sometimes wonder what exactly makes a dish worthy of the label "comfort food." While I realize that it's a very personal classification, I have to wonder what exactly makes a person call something "comfort food?"

I feel like it has a lot to do with family and family traditions. And what Mom fed you when you were ill. (Campbell's Chicken Noodle and cinnamon-sugar toast - yum!) Foods that bring with them pleasant memories from days gone by, or from what our brains have labeled as "simpler times."

But, that's the obvious classification tool for comfort food. What about other types? New dishes you've had since childhood days? Different tastes you've developed over the years? Just how does one decide something is one of their "comfort foods?"

I would like to put out an hypothesis - which is pretty much entirely based on my own perspective and experience.
Comfort food is food that can brighten a bad day, that is easy to make, and that carries with it a pleasant memory - be it of family, friends, just spending time alone...

Think about it - you've had a bad day and now you're hungry. You just want something fast but satisfying that will make things feel not so bad, and you have very little energy to give up to creating said 'something.' You go for what's always on the brain - that recipe for your own comfort food. And even the preparation of it makes you start to feel better, cozy, safe, comfortable (or insert your own adjective here). The smell of it brings back nice memories, brings a smile to your face as you play back the memory in your mind. And then you sit down and eat it, and the taste is beyond amazing! Perhaps another person would not agree, but to you it's the best taste in the world!

That's, I guess, how I personally classify comfort food. Some favorites that come to mind from my own childhood are my mother's mac-n-cheese (not from the box), Angel Cookies (family recipe), meatballs in BBQ sauce + grape jelly (yummy), and my grandmother's lefse (I am so Norwegian, what can I say?). --Alas, most of these are off-limits now on this new diet. And that was the stuff that was hardest to give up - all that comfort food that I'm used to eating when I feel bad or sick or whatever. I've been spending the past few months learning to create new comfort foods that remind me of my old comfort foods, but are made of things I can eat. [For the record, lefse is currently not allowed, but my food-introduction plan will be shaped such that, by Christmas, I will once again be able to eat it. It's that good!]

This is all, obviously, leading to a new type of comfort food that I've hit upon in the past month. Partly discovered through friends, partly discovered by my continuing internet search for recipes I can tweak to work into my diet. It's easy, it's simple, and makes fabulous leftovers for the rest of the week. Scrumptious.

Meatballs with Fruit Compote
Ha - see? It even has a simple name!

...they're adorable as only little meatballs can be - and they smell fabulous as they cook!

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef (thawed)
2 oz (1/4 cup) whole wheat bread crumbs [Note: so many brands of bread crumbs are made with hydrogenated oils - it's ridiculous. Panko is the only brand I've found that doesn't - I recommend them.]
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
spray cooking oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Please a large non-stick skillet in the oven.
2. Knead bread crumbs, oregano, basil, and salt into ground beef until well blended.
3. Roll beef mixture into a large ball and cut in half. Roll each half into a ball and cut in half. Continue until you have 32 meatballs (they'll be about an inch in diameter). [Note: I think this is the most fun I've ever had making meatballs - maybe because they come out so symmetrically?]
4. Spray hot skillet lightly with olive oil. (Take skillet out of oven first!) Place meatballs on skillet and return to oven.
5. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until meatballs are firm to the touch.

Fruit Compote
...of AWESOME! No, really, this stuff is out of this world.

[Note: this recipe is far from exactifiable (that's totally a word) - it's more an art of putting stuff in the pot and eyeing the balance of amounts of the different fruits. Yeah. Have fun!]

1 large apple
[I recommend a full-flavored apple that you'd eat, not a baking apple. It makes the compote's blend of flavors a lot richer.]
a couple handfuls of green grapes
["couple" meaning 2-4?]
approx. 4-5 oz of organic pitted dates
[measured based on using half of the 9 oz. container I buy at Whole Foods]
organic 100% apple juice
[spend the extra money and get the foggy stuff - the clear stuff is weak and less flavorful]

1. Core and peel the apple. Cut into large chunks (roughly 1-inch cubes - as much as you can "cube" a spherical fruit). Put apple pieces in a medium pot.
2. Add grapes until it looks like there's a good balance of color between the apple pieces and the grapes. Halve them if they're really large grapes.
3. Cut dates in half width-wise. Add to pot. Toss fruits in pan a bit to mix them all together.
4. Add enough apple juice to barely reach the top of the fruit - but don't drown the fruit in juice, some should be sticking up above the juice.
5. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn to low heat and simmer until apple juice has almost completely reduced.

Mine is always a brick red color - but doesn't turn so until about 5 minutes before it's done. Not sure why, but it's a nice indicator that I discovered while making it.

[As mentioned above - this is totally an art. It generally takes about 45 minutes for mine to cook - probably could take less time if I turned up the heat, but I like savoring the aroma in my kitchen. If you want a soupier compote, don't reduce apple juice as much. If you feel that the fruits don't saturate and soften enough, add more apple juice and cook until reduced again. And once you taste it, if one flavor over-powers, add some more fruit and juice and cook some more - or remember to not add as much of that fruit next time around. The important part is to make sure you lick the spoon you use to mix it - and lick out the pot once it cools and you've transferred the compote to a container. No really, it's important - because it tastes so good!!!]

A couple of meal notes:
1. I generally pair this meatball & sauce concoction with half of a Sweet Dumpling Squash, some steamed green beans, and a slice of my homemade bread - for lapping up the excess sauce from the plate/bowl after eating all of the meatballs. Talk about the best meal ever! The squash is filling enough to satisfy any hunger, the meatballs and compote steal the show, the green beans give me my green veggie fix, and the bread and leftover compote are sweet enough to be like dessert! Mmm.
2. Store the meatballs and compote in separate containers in the fridge. To reheat, put some meatballs and compote in a dish, cover, and microwave. I use about 1.5 minutes for 4-5 meatballs and a couple spoonfuls of compote.
3. The compote makes fabulous "jam" for sandwiches. Or yummy sauce for mashed potatoes. Or over roasted chunks of squash. Or mixed with some of my favorite grain recipe. Or just licked off your finger!

Shout out to my friends N & F, who had me over for dinner about a month ago and introduced me to this compote. I am forever grateful for this new comfort food. Thanks guys!

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