By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Winter might as well be called comfort food season. All year long, many look forward to warm, hearty, stick-to-your-ribs feasts with strong childhood memories served on the side.
Why not, though, start the comfort food coziness even earlier than that - with the appetizer course? Since comfort food is by its nature mood-altering, it's even nicer to get the serenity started as soon as possible.
It's memorable, too, since those that follow are not decades'-old recycled comfort food concoctions, but new takes on well-loved favorites. All ingredients are to taste.
Ideas like this also demonstrate food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since these are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations. They can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
- SPICED PB&J FOR DIPPING DELIGHT
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine peanut butter, no-sugar-added fruit spread (often found in supermarket jam aisles), ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat for a few seconds, just until warm, careful not to burn. Stir carefully. Serve warm with carrots, celery and small squares of rye and pumpernickel bread for dipping.
- CHICKEN POTPIE BY THE CUP
Cook frozen chicken potpie according to package instructions. Meanwhile, lightly grease mini muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and press in wonton skins with tops emerging above the rims. Lightly spray wonton skins with nonstick cooking spray. Cook at 375 F for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. By rounded tablespoons, carefully fill wonton cups about three-quarters full with the cooked chicken potpie, with a bit of the potpie crust ending up on top. Sprinkle with minced scallions.
- DRESSED-UP MINI MEATLOAF SANDWICHES
Slice cooled leftover cooked meatloaf into one-inch squares. Top half of the squares with a mixture of barbecue sauce, spicy mustard, and chutney. Cover with the remaining squares. Serve at room temperature.
- MEATY MAC 'N' CHEESE BALLS
When preparing your favorite baked meatball appetizer recipe, combine a small amount of leftover cooked macaroni 'n' cheese into each meatball before baking. Serve with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
- CORNBREAD CUTIES
Slice store-bought or homemade cornbread into one-inch squares. Spread tops of squares with the filling of store-bought or homemade pumpkin pie and top with a dash of red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: Kids often have fun just looking at a pumpkin, when it's your turn it might be wiser to leaf through the second edition of DeeDee Stovel's The Pumpkin Cookbook: 139 Recipes Celebrating the Versatility of Pumpkin and Other Winter Squash. As an adult, the colorful book is also welcome in a world of pumpkin-spiced prepackaged goods. There is no questioning that Stovel's finished dishes are homemade and unique, such as currant-pumpkin oat scones, cheddar-pumpkin tart, pumpkin pizza with gorgonzola and golden pumpkin corn pudding.
Lisa Messinger at Creators Syndicate is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.