Return to comfort food

Record high food and gas prices, deepening housing slump, escalating credit crisis and diminishing consumer confidence will send us back into the kitchen to cook the foods that soothe the soul. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie — these all-American classics will return with a vengeance. Comfort food has come and gone a few times, but right now people really want a wonderful bowl of hearty soup or a really good slab of meatloaf. I think it is nostalgic as well as economic.

Due to the recession, many people are eating as cheaply as possible. Fast cooking foods and convenience foods are being used more than ever. Even those who can afford more expensive meals are turning to comfort foods.

With a new year comes a renewed interest in what we’re eating. For some, it’s an opportunity to make small changes that result in healthier living. For others, it’s a necessity brought on by holiday indulgence. The food trends for 2012 are strongly influenced by the economy — bringing the focus back to comfort foods, buying locally and smaller portion sizes.

Heavy, savory dishes such as mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and meatloaf continue to “hit the spot” with the American public, soothing troubles away with their high calorie counts and ooey-gooey goodness. Also a factor of the recession, the comfort foods trend has also encompassed meatballs, doughnuts, popcorn, oatmeal, pie, grilled cheese sandwiches and a return of classic menu items such as casseroles and beef stroganoff.

We’re eating at home, five to seven nights a week. Sure, the stalling economy has driven the nation to tighten our collective belts. But the upside is that it has reinforced what really matters: family. So while cooking in the confines of your cozy kitchen is a sure-fire money saver, it also allows for quality time with loved ones around the dinner table. Sunday dinners a tradition being rapidly rediscovered are going to be more creative about money-saving. Just waiting for sales isn’t enough any more. We are buying food in bulk — especially inexpensive cuts of meats previously ignored, such as chicken thighs and flank steak.

Baking is shaking, baby! From homemade cookies to cup cakes, people are allowing themselves to indulge in fresh made dessert. Bread is on the rise, too. Especially feel-good goodies such as biscuits which can be served as breakfast with sausage gravy or as the topping for hearty chicken pot pie.

Speed-scratch is also a great way to save time using recipes on mixes and other prepared items that save time without sacrificing flavor. Think refrigerated biscuit dough, pie crusts and cookie mix, as well as ready-made deli items like rotisserie chicken, pesto and sauces.

How about starting a dinner club? Build a community of home cooks, getting a look at how people are deepening their connection to family and friends through food. At-home dinner clubs are a creative and fun way to discover exotic cuisines and new ingredients can be explored through exciting themes. Potlucks are also a great way to host parties and get-togethers.

Also try Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Sour Cream Meatloaf Supreme.