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Comforting foods for a cold, winter day

A meal of traditional southern favorites is a sure way to warm up a season of cold weather. As we move into mid-February, Old Man Winter has given us a small taste of an icy mix.

While fried chicken is often picnic fare – it becomes perfect comfort food when served smothered in warm gravy. And there’s just something that warms the heart when using that old-fashioned paper bag and Crisco method of frying chicken – the same way they prepared chicken in days past. Many other favorite southern comforts include the use of cream. I’ve said it before – if you’re looking for good taste – this is where it’s at.

Enjoy a few of my preferred seasonal warmers – three meat dishes plus a few favorite side dishes – you choose. Of course, a hot, sizzling, cherry cobbler coming straight from your oven is the perfect finale to any southern meal, any time of year – an old-fashioned favorite.  Of these most loved recipes – I never tire.

SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN

3 lbs. chicken pieces

Salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup Crisco shortening

Sprinkle dry pieces of chicken with salt on all sides. Drop chicken into a paper bag with flour.  Drop a few pieces in the bag at a time and shake until pieces are coated with flour. Remove from bag, and shake to remove any excess flour. In a large, heavy skillet, melt Crisco over high heat. The level of oil should be around ¼-inch deep. Add more if necessary. When hot, add chicken pieces skin side down. Reduce heat, cover the pan, and fry the chicken for 7 -8 minutes. When pieces are deep brown, turn over and cover the pan again. When golden brown, transfer chicken to a baking dish and keep heated in a 200-degree oven.  Continue with remaining chicken. Always cook thighs and legs first since they take longer to cook than breasts and wings.  Leave 4 Tbsp. of fat in the frying pan to make gravy.

COUNTRY STYLE CREAM GRAVY

4 Tbsp. frying pan fat

4 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups fresh chicken broth

1 cup light cream, plus

Salt

White pepper

To remaining 4 Tbsp. of fat in the skillet, add flour and stir until fat and flour form a paste. Pour in chicken stock and the cream. Cook over moderate heat while whisking until gravy is smooth and thick. Add more cream to thin if too thick. Taste and season. Serve in a gravy boat.

CREAMY SMOTHERED CHICKEN

3 lbs. chicken pieces

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 Tbsp. salted butter

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups fresh chicken broth

½ lb. thinly sliced mushrooms

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salt and pepper the dry pieces of chicken. In heavy skillet, melt butter and oil. Brown chicken pieces skin side down on both sides over high heat. Transfer to a shallow casserole and place in a single layer. Add onions to the skillet and cook 5 minutes until soft. Stir in flour with a spoon. Add chicken stock. Add thinly sliced mushrooms. While whisking, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 3 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken in casserole, cover, and cook in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. Add additional time if necessary until chicken is tender. When done, remove any surface fat from chicken. Arrange pieces on a serving platter. Stir in cream to pan juices and simmer for 3 minutes while stirring constantly. Taste and season.

OLD FASHIONED CHICKEN POT PIE

1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. cold, cut ¼-inch, salted butter

4 Tbsp. Crisco shortening

1/8th tsp. salt

3 Tbsp. ice-cold water

Pie Filling

5 lbs. cubed 2-inch, or pulled, skinned, chicken

4 quarts chicken broth for cooking chicken

½ tsp. salt

15 peeled, 1-inch, white onions

4 peeled, sliced ¾-inch, carrots

8 Tbsp. salted butter

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp. melted salted butter

Cook chicken in broth and salt. Cube or hand shred, and set aside. To the stock, add onions and carrots, and cook 20 minutes or until knife tender. Remove with slotted spoon to a bowl. In a saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and mix until a paste forms. Add 5 cups of broth to the skillet while whisking. Increase heat while stirring until sauce is thick and smooth. Stir in cream and add seasonings for taste.  In a 9x 13 glass baking dish, pour the sauce into bottom. Add chicken, onions, and carrots evenly in dish. For the dough, roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 13 x 13 rectangle. Drape it over the top of the dish. Crimp around sides to seal. Brush top with melted butter. Make 4 slits on top of pastry to allow for escape of steam. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes or until crust is brown.

CREAMED POTATOES

4 quarts water

1 Tbsp. salt

4 lbs. peeled, quartered, baking potatoes

½ lb. softened, salted butter

¾ cup heavy cream

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

4 Tbsp. melted salted butter

Finely chopped chives

In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add salt. Drop potatoes into the water. Boil until tender in center. Drain. Return to the pan. Mash potatoes with a potato masher.  Beat the butter into the mashed potatoes. Continue to beat until smooth and creamy. Potatoes should hold their shape when creamed and be neither too wet nor dry. Salt according to taste. Make a well in center of potatoes and add melted butter. Sprinkle with chives.

BAKED CINNAMON APPLES

6 large baking apples

1 cup sugar

2 cups boiling water

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cup raisins

¾ cup chopped walnuts

Core each apple, keeping ½ inch of base intact. Arrange apples in a buttered baking dish. In a pot, combine sugar, water, and cinnamon stick, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil for 8 minutes and continue until thick syrup forms. Lower temp and set aside. In a mixer bowl, combine raisins and nuts. Stuff centers of apples with mixture. Remove cinnamon from the syrup. Pour syrup over apples. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes or until soft but remaining intact. Transfer to serving dish. Pour any remaining syrup over apples.

FRIED TOMATOES IN CREAM SAUCE

5 thickly sliced, large tomatoes

2 tsp. salt

Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup all-purpose flour

6 Tbsp. salted butter

2 Tbsp. light brown sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Sprinkle both sides of tomato slices with salt and pepper. Dip slices in flour and coat each side. In a nonstick skillet, melt butter.  Add tomato slices, and cook for 5 minutes until browned. Sprinkle the brown sugar on tops of tomatoes. Turn tomatoes over, and sprinkle other side with a little brown sugar. Cook 4 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm. For the sauce, pour cream into pan. Raise heat and bring to a boil while stirring. Boil 3 minutes until cream thickens. Season to taste. Pour over tomatoes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

SOUR CHERRY COBBLER

2 store-bought pie crusts

1 Tbsp. melted, salted butter

½ cup sugar

2 lbs. pitted sour cherries, juice reserved

1 Tbsp. arrowroot

2 Tbsp. melted salted butter

Cut dough into 6 circles with a 2 1/2 –inch cookie cutter and set aside. In a mixer bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, ¼ cup of cherry juice, and arrowroot. Stir together until arrowroot has dissolved. Gently stir in cherries until mixed. Pour all into bottom of a 6 x 8 baking dish and spread them out. Arrange circles of dough close together on top of cherries. Brush dough with melted butter. Bake in a 425-degree oven until pastry is brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.