Comfort & joy

Food blogger Anna Hedworth (aka The Grazer), wraps up warm and settles down to some seriously comforting food

It’s that funny time of year when Christmas seems long gone but spring is still a lifetime away. They say ‘the darkest hour is before the dawn’ and that’s how I feel waiting for spring. It’s certainly been a cold season of austerity so far. 

It’s in such circumstances that we turn to comfort food, and without wishing to over-dramatise (any excuse for a bowl of carbonara at Francesca’s…), comfort food seems to make everything better. It keeps us fortified and strong, and armed with cream, cheese and pasta we will see this winter through.

I’ve been conducting some research (asking around in the pub to be precise) to find out other people’s comfort food and their favourite dish when they need a little culinary support.

For me, it’s either creamy chicken and bacon pie or sausage casserole. Or steaming-hot creamy rice pudding with jam. Meatballs in tomato sauce with buttery couscous one day, sausage and mash the next. Even just a little mug of hot chocolate hits the spot.

So what defines it? What is comfort food to you? The answers from the panel of pub goers were varied. There was something you have to eat with a spoon, food you don’t have to chew or a dish in which you would happily immerse yourself, head to toe. Macaroni cheese, rice pudding, risotto, cauliflower cheese, bread and butter pudding and shepherd’s pie were all on the list.

I’m a big fan of shepherd’s pie, but I’d take a bit of persuading to slip into a bath of it. Saying that, risotto might be quite comfy and you’d only have to turn your head a little to eat now and again.

Questions began to arise after a few vodka tonics. Does comfort food have to be hot? Does it have to be laden with dairy and carbs? Can it be comforting and good for you, and is there such a thing as healthy comfort food?

I think there is. There’s paprika and tomato sausage stew, dahl with flat breads or a big steaming bowl of laksa. They are all comforting and a lot better for you than carbs and cream on a drip. I wonder if it’s actually just a British thing that dictates our favourite comfort foods are all a bit heavy on stodge and saturated fats?

Yotam Ottolenghi writes about his favourite comfort foods and they seem a lot more sprightly and fresh than a big bowl of buttery mash. His favourites include stuffed peppers with swede and gruyère, and Indian ratatouille.

So is it just to do with our latitude? As icy winds whistle off the Town Moor and straight through my house and into my bones, I guess you don’t need comforting quite so much on a mild winter’s day looking out over the Med.

My not-very scientific pub survey did answer one question; that being, in the end, the food that comforts you in your time of need is very personal and is often wrapped up in memories stretching back to childhood.

For me it has to be easy to eat and warming. Cream and carbs are good, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually finished that carbonara at Francesca’s.

A rich tomato sausage stew with creamy beans, a risotto or a deep fish pie all do the same job and I can actually finish them and not feel like I’m slipping into a food coma halfway through.

I will continue my research through these cold months and will probably be in great need of salad by the time spring arrives. Which brings us to the next question – what is the most comforting food in the summer?

Anna Hedworth

For comfort food recipes and more see Anna’s blog –

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