There is a figurative cold wind that comes as the calendar page turns from October to November. Can you feel it? The year has officially entered the final stretch run of seasons.
By TYLER FOX
Daylight Savings Time makes its unwelcome autumn return this weekend and just as people sort out the first few confusing days of earlier nightfall following the changing clocks, there is another transition afoot.
Yes, the new air of November also brings with it the onset of comfort food season, the time of year that is marked by the rich indulgences of Thanksgiving, holiday parties and slow smoked barbecue infused tailgates. Gentlemen and women, start your treadmills.
In the Midwest, where cold fall and winter weather settles in for a matter of months, there are those that fill with glee at the chance to break out the smart styles of sweater and scarf season, similar to those also giddy at the prospects of tables filled with macaroni and cheese, buttery mashed potatoes and gravy boats at full sail.
This tendency towards the comforts of rich foods may be a natural or learned behavior, but it is real nonetheless. In a day and age where “carb watching” is as much a public practice as people watching on the Country Club Plaza, it is amazing that without fail our eyes grow big and mouths whet with wanting when words like “braised,” “roasted,” “creamed” and “mashed” appear on menus.
Gone are the days of our lust for light salads and the delicate freshness that brims at summer markets. Comfort foods are like culinary jackets, taking the circumstances of the colder season and adapting to the produce that flourishes during these months. Root and cruciferous vegetables are some of the most obvious examples of these, from pumpkins, potatoes and parsnips to cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, there is a wide array of ingredients to choose from and they needn’t all be doused in cream and cheese to exhibit their virtues.
Sometimes, comfort can be as simple as a humble ingredient cooked with thoughtful care. I would argue that few things in life are as soothing as tucking in to a properly roasted chicken or the joy of a well-roasted potato. Dishes like these, to me, reinforce the idea that food is like music or art, a sensory experience that can be at once new and old at the same time.
A great meal, like the coming Thanksgiving holiday, is one we eat from memory while simultaneously creating new ones among those we dine with. Loved ones no longer with us are remembered as we feast with new generations, creating new traditions of family and friends through the comforts of food.
This comfort in food can be summed up in something as familiar as the pleasures of a roasted potato. It calls to mind the minimal bliss of a song like “Perfect Day” by the dearly departed Lou Reed, an icon who we lost this week. A simple song, like a simple dish, can be a truly comforting and beautiful thing.
Oven Roasted Potato “Fries”
This recipe is as simple as could be, replacing much of the fat and calories of fried potatoes with the comfort and caramelization that comes with roasting. These roasted “fries” go perfectly with everything from a roast chicken to hamburgers to brunch dishes. The angles of the potato wedges mean that the thinner ends get crisper while still yielding a fluffy, starchy center. The cooking time will vary slightly if using a baked (less) or boiled potato (more), due to moisture content. A non-stick or parchment lined baking sheet helps with browning and ease of turning/cleaning.
Makes 8 servings
6 medium sized Russet “Baking” potatoes, fully cooked
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons coriander, freshly ground
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or parsley), chopped
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut potato in half lengthwise, and then cut halves lengthwise into wedges. In a large mixing bowl, gently toss potato wedges to coat with olive oil, garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of salt, smoke paprika, coriander and black pepper. Place potato wedges cut side down on non-stick or parchment lined baking sheet, put into oven and roast for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn wedges carefully onto other cut side and roast another 10-15 minutes or so, until desired browning is reached. Remove from oven, discard garlic cloves and sprinkle remaining salt and fresh thyme leaves. Serve with a nice mustard, your favorite barbecue sauce (Gates would go well here), or a lovely spot of aioli.
Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods.