Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Cooking Up Comfort Food

Cooking Up Comfort Food
On our monthly food segment, we'll talk about making comfort foods like winter soups, stews, roasts and casseroles.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There's not much of an opportunity in San Diego to do cooking that steams up the windows and fills the house with rich aromas, so we've got to seize the chance when we get it. When the temperatures dip, and it's cloudy outside, it's the perfect time for winter comfort foods. Whether your tastes run to mac-and-cheese or to menudo, we'll be talking about your favorite dishes, how to make them, and where to find them. And during this edition of our monthly food hour, we'll be taking your calls about what foods you like best in wintertime. I’d like to welcome my guests. Caron Golden is food columnist for and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. Caron, welcome back to These Days.

CARON GOLDEN (Food Columnist, Always fun to be here with you.

CAVANAUGH: And Matt Gordon is executive chef of Urban Solace restaurant in North Park. Matt, welcome.

MATT GORDON (Executive Chef, Urban Solace Restaurant): Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: And, as I said, our listeners are welcome to join the conversation. What foods give you comfort to make and to eat during wintertime? Tell us about your favorites. Give us a call. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. I’m going to start out by asking you both what we mean by the term ‘comfort food.’ And I’m going to start out with you, Matt. What does that bring to mind?

GORDON: I think comfort food to me really takes me back to my childhood, things that remind me of being home, family memories, things like that. I grew up in L.A. and Phoenix so I don’t have a lot of winter memories…


GORDON: …associated with food, unfortunately. So it really is the food that makes me feel good, whether that’s because of a memory or new things that turn me on culinarily.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Well, Caron, you know, as I say, we only have a very short window in San Diego to kind of get a little steamy in the kitchen. Does that reverberate with the term comfort foods for you?

GOLDEN: Well, it’s interesting. You know, that’s one of the things that I immediately associate is the whole winter soup/stew kind of thing. Then I started doing some research and learned that—and it makes sense—comfort food is sort of an emotional food and it doesn’t really have to do too much with the weather. And it’s something that really only came about as an association back in the seventies when the soup industry decided to use that as a marketing tool for marketing the soups.


GOLDEN: So you start getting, you know, the whole tomato soup, you know, nice, mm-mm, good. The little boy who, you know, you have a snowman coming into the house and he sits down with the soup and, you know…


GOLDEN: …starts melting and you just, you know, discover that he’s a little kid. So that’s where you get that kind of a connection because if you think about it, around the world comfort food is a staple. It starts not only – I mean, historically, it’s a long time concept but also it starts at birth. I mean, when you’re nursing on your mother, that’s your first comfort food.

CAVANAUGH: Ultimate comfort food.

GORDON: Indeed.

GOLDEN: Exactly. Exactly. So that means that you have to think in broader terms about what comfort food is, and that means that cultures around the world have their own. Even if they don’t have a cold winter, they’re still going to have foods that they associate with the things that Matt was talking about: home, security, family, love of food. And we also, genetic – or, physiologically have reactions to certain foods that set off chemical triggers in our bodies…


GOLDEN: …that make us feel good, which is why many of us love to eat things like potato chips or chocolate and consider those, you know, comfort foods.

CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, we know that the comfort foods have a wide range in cultural diversity but does it change, Caron, because of somebody’s age or whether they’re men or women, what they consider comfort food?

GOLDEN: Yeah, it turns out that men tend to like whole food – whole meals as comfort food whereas women tend to go for dessert or ice cream or something like that, you know, individual little dishes or snacks. And it also breaks down by age. Young people tend to like the snacks also, older people tend to like warmer meals like soup or stews or mashed potatoes or things like that. So it’s very interesting that there are even studies on this…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that’s something.

GOLDEN: …but apparently that’s the research that they – these researchers have found, that it does break up both by gender and by age.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about winter comfort foods. My guests are Matt Gordon, executive chef of Urban Solace restaurant in North Park, and Caron Golden. She’s food columnist for, author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. And we’re taking your calls about what your comfort foods are, what you like to make and what you like to eat, especially during wintertime because that’s where we are right now. 1-888-895-5727. Now, Matt, I know that you don’t come from a very cold climate but are there some foods that you associate with the winter time of the year?

GORDON: I know one thing that I remember from growing up was this turkey pie my mom used to always make. You know, it was always after Thanksgiving and Christmas, of course, but I grew up in a probably pretty normal situation for the seventies and eighties where my parents worked. There really wasn’t a whole lot of home cooking going on. And a lot of my taste today kind of span to taking those things that as a child were either frozen dinners or box foods and sort of turning them into a gourmet version. But for me, certainly those, you know, pot pie and whether it was the homemade one my mom made or something that came out of a box, mac-and-cheese, things like that I just – I love that food.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. We have someone who wants to join the conversation, Kevin from University City. Good morning, Kevin, and welcome to These Days.

KEVIN (Caller, University City): Well, good morning. I was mad, pot pie, chicken pot pie. It’s, you know, the crust and it’s easy to eat. I mean, you know, it’s not like ribs or, you know, lobster that requires a great deal of effort.

GORDON: All in one. All in one.

KEVIN: Chicken pot pie it is – you know, it is easy to eat and it’s tasty and it all just works.

CAVANAUGH: And do you make them or do you find them somewhere in town?

KEVIN: Oh, God no. No. That’s where San Diego, of course, is blessed and I don’t want to give them too much advertising but there is that wonderful establishment there on Wash…

GORDON: El Cajon.

KEVIN: …Washington that I swing by on the way home.

GOLDEN: The Chicken Pie Shop.

GORDON: Yeah, you can say it. You can say it.

CAVANAUGH: All right, well, thank you so much for the call, Kevin. We really appreciate it.

GOLDEN: And that’s another one of those things that people think about in terms of comfort food. It’s usually inexpensive, it’s usually very uncomplicated, and it’s either easy to eat or easy to digest.


GOLDEN: Because if you think about it, most kids tend to – that’s, you know, when they’re developing their sense of what comfort food is and kids are certainly going to have a harder time digesting really complex foods.



GORDON: And I think something that might add to the conversation is it’s really made from leftovers. You know, you roast chickens, you use the stock – or the bones for stock, the vegetables from the night before, the leftover chicken meat, etcetera. It’s a great way, I think, in winter you think of hoarding food…

GOLDEN: Umm-hmm.

GORDON: …and planning ahead…

GOLDEN: Umm-hmm.

GORDON: …and something like chicken pot pie and other stews, you can use things, you know, over the course of a couple, three days.


CAVANAUGH: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about soups and stews. What are the basic ingredients for making a good soup or a stew? Let me start with you, Matt.

GORDON: Well, you know, we certainly have some traditional components in the culinary field. Mirepoix, celery, carrots, onions, a great stock which, you know, I really encourage people at home to try to make themselves although there are some good ones out there if you don’t have the time or inclination to do so. And you really do have to have good stuff going into the soup. It’s not meant to be a leftover trash bin. You know, it has to be good meat going in and good vegetables going in. So, you know, when I make a soup, I pretty much always start with those, you know, key ingredients of mirepoix, garlic salt, and pepper, a great stock and then, you know, in the wintertime especially, I like my soups to have a little substance, some thickness to them. So, you know, if home cooks aren’t experienced at making roux, which is a cooked butter and flour mixture, I suggest looking it up and trying to make it because it’s a great way to thicken soups and gravies without getting clumpy, a flour roux so…

CAVANAUGH: Then soups and gravies. So, Caron, what’s then the difference between a soup and a stew?

GOLDEN: Sometimes very little. In fact, I make this Hatch chile and pork stew, which I don’t think is very different from a soup. I kind of like it, to call it a stew. And this is using these wonderful New Mexico Hatch chiles and pork shoulder, which is very inexpensive and you’re doing a very similar thing that Matt is describing. You can call it a roux but instead of using flour, you’re using masa, which really thickens it so you get a lovely texture and a corn flavor to it. In fact, I’ve got the recipe for that on my blog right now because it’s just the perfect time of year. I rarely make this because I’m waiting for that time of year when it’s cold and I’m going to enjoy it. But, yeah, I think that maybe we tend to think of stews as being more on the heavy ingredients side…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.

GOLDEN: …with meats or chicken or whatever and vegetables and lighter on the liquid, and soups tend to be more liquid with the other ingredients kind of thrown in.

CAVANAUGH: Is that basically the difference, Matt?

GORDON: I think so. Yeah, we call something a stew when it’s got more on your spoon than the liquid.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Okay.

GOLDEN: Yeah, more solids than liquid, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. We’re talking about comfort foods, especially winter comfort foods. And let’s take a call from Natalie in La Mesa. Good morning, Natalie. Welcome to These Days.

NATALIE (Caller, La Mesa): Hi. Good morning.


NATALIE: So my comfort food for the wintertime is homemade Kayu bread, which is a mixture of unyeasted, so fermented rice, and flour. That’s it. Kneaded and then sat overnight so it rises on its own, and it’s like a cake when you bake it. And sauerkraut, homemade sauerkraut with purple cabbage and a apple…


NATALIE: …which is fermented for about a week, and homemade French onion soup that’s topped with cheese.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.

GORDON: I’m hungry. I’m hungry now, yeah.

GOLDEN: Yeah, it works for me.

CAVANAUGH: Natalie, you’re really getting into this. Tell us a little bit more. What is that bread called?

NATALIE: Kayu bread…

CAVANAUGH: I’m sorry.

NATALIE: …it’s a macrobiotic bread so it’s a health – healthy way of eating bread because you have half whole grains in it instead of 100% flour.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us the name one more time.

NATALIE: Kayu, K-a-u – or, K-a-y-u.

CAVANAUGH: K-a-y-u. Thank you very much for the call. That’s – that’s thinking.

GORDON: That’s good.

CAVANAUGH: That’s thinking about the menu.


GORDON: Yeah, and she brings up, you know, something we’ve sort of touched on already, is the length of time that the food she just talked about, you know, we’ve got bread sitting overnight or a sauerkraut taking a week to do. And maybe this sort of goes back to traditional life, you know, 100 years ago where you did have to plan your meals a little differently and you didn’t have a harvest coming out of the field or a fish out of a stream you could catch, and you really did have to have things curing and stored and ready to eat for the cold winter months.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you say, Matt, you know, you can’t just use leftovers if you really want to make a good soup or, I mean, you can’t just use anything…

GOLDEN: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …if you really want to make a good soup or a good stew. But what are some – that might be in the refrigerator that you might want to use to whip up a nice stew?

GORDON: Well, you know, certainly one of my favorite things is roasted chicken. We serve it at the restaurant. I talk about it whenever I end up talking to guests on the dining room floor. It’s one of my favorite entrees there. We actually roast chickens to serve fresh the night of service but we always cook extra because we use the meat and the carcasses for things like our chicken and dumplings, which is pretty much…

GOLDEN: Umm. (…dusting hands together)

GORDON: …the ultimate comfort food on our menu. I’m eliciting a great response from Caron here. So, you know, whether you roast a chicken yourself or buy a pre-roasted chicken at the grocery store, you know, pull that meat off, you know, use it for a chicken pot pie the next day, use it for a soup or a stew, use the bones for a stock. Same if you’re going to roast beef or, you know, if you’re able to get ribeyes with the bones on or ribs, you can use those bones to make a great stock. And, again, you can go to upscale grocery stores and buy homemade stock or you can go to some natural stores and buy great stock that’s not super flavored with sodium and things like that so…

GOLDEN: Making stock is so ridiculously easy and I just discovered this wonderful little trick, and I don’t know how many other markets do this but I happened to be over at Lucky Seafood last week and was planning on making stock. I had run out. I keep it all in my freezer, and was going to buy chicken pieces. And I tend to buy whole legs because I like the marrow – the flavor that you get from the marrow from those bones. And I noticed that they had packages, they were like little squares, frozen, of chicken bones. And I looked at it and thought, hmm, this sounds interesting. And some lady walked up and said, oh, you should get this because I make soup for my family all the time and I use this. So I bought a big bag. They have big and smaller ones. I think it was three and a half dollars for five pounds of bones. Brought them home, and I had to take some fat off but basically you were left with a ton of bones. And what that meant was I wasn’t wasting meat because usually if you’re going to let stock simmer for three, four hours, the meat is kind of useless after that.


GOLDEN: All the flavor’s been leached out of it and not that many people like stewed chicken meat. But you have mostly bones and you get all that flavor from the bones, which also means you have more room for the actual stock. Sometimes I’ve made a huge pot of stock and the meat has taken up so much room that I don’t end up with that much liquid afterwards. This was almost all liquid. Put in all of my vegetables, all the other ingredients – the other thing I did was put in whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, and I saved those when I pulled all of the stuff out and I ended up using that to squeeze on bread and all sorts of other things. So I had multiple things going on. My dogs loved all the cooked carrots that I had left over. And I had a hune – a really big pot of stock that cost me very little. And once you throw everything in the pot, you can walk away from it for several hours, let it just simmer after it comes to a boil. It’s not a lot of work.

GORDON: And here’s a great trick. If you do buy bones, especially with – if they have some fat on, pour cold water over the bones first and a lot of stuff will rise to the surface, which you can skim off before you make the stock.


GORDON: But also bring the stock to a boil and turn it off before you’ve added any vegetables, just the bones, because a lot of the fat will then also have melted out of the bones and you’ll have this nice layer of fat on top which you can skim off and save to use for other things…

GOLDEN: Oh, fantastic.

GORDON: …if you’d like, and then you add your vegetables and let it simmer.

CAVANAUGH: Excellent. That’s Matt Gordon, executive chef of Urban Solace restaurant. Also my guest, is Caron Golden, food columnist for And we have to take a short break. When we return, we’ll continue to talk about winter comfort foods and take your calls here on These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And for the two or three weeks that we get cooler weather here in San Diego, we’re talking about winter comfort foods. What passes for winter in San Diego but comfort foods for everyone. My guests are Caron Golden. She’s food columnist for, author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. And Matt Gordon, executive chef of Urban Solace restaurant in North Park. And we’re inviting your calls, tell us about your favorite comfort food, 1-888-895-5727. Now, Matt, I just have to talk to you about the foods that you brought in that are filling this studio with wonderful fragrances and filling our eyeballs with, oh, my goodness, what’s that? Oh, tell us about this casserole, if you would.

GORDON: Well, this here, sitting on this table, is our world famous Duckaroni. This is a macaroni and cheese made with duck confit, Maytag blue cheese, bread crumbs made from the biscuits that we bake fresh in the restaurant every couple of hours, arugula, scallions and then, of course, a cheese base that’s full of good cheese flavor.

CAVANAUGH: So you have a macaroni pasta, the duck, the bread crumbs, the cheese, the butter, Caron, this basically hits all the notes of comfort food.

GORDON: It’s all low fat, though. There’s no – It’s all low fat and stuff.

CAVANAUGH: It hits all the notes of comfort food, doesn’t it?

GOLDEN: Well, for what we consider comfort food.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

GOLDEN: I mean, that’s what we have to make a distinguish – I mean, I grew up in a Jewish household with foods that were not Duckaroni but, let’s face it, you know, one of my favorite things is Noodle Kugel, which is not all that dissimilar. I mean, you’re talking about noodles and sour cream and butter and, you know, all that kind of thing. And I think, yes, carbohydrates and fats tend to hit the sweet spot for comfort food, particularly this time of year. And Matt seems to have a knack for hitting all of those on his menu.


CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Let’s take a call. Heather is calling us from North Park. You can join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727. Good morning, Heather, and welcome to These Days.

HEATHER (Caller, North Park): Hi, and thanks for taking my call. I think anyone that has been raised in San Diego would have to say that our comfort food would have Mexican roots.

GORDON: Definitely.

HEATHER: Definitely. And I – luckily, we have access to wonderful produce and chiles and all of that stuff. But recently my daughter has moved back home and we’ve been having a lot of cooking and I’ve been passing on some of our recipes. And one of the things I cook is a tortilla soup. We’re vegetarian, so we have to use different seasonings. But my secret is roasted cumin seed and I roast it whole and it’s awesome. It makes a really delicious flavor. Another thing that we do is an avocado enchilada. We just bake – Believe it or not, baking the avocados does not hurt them. Make a filling with cilantro and avocados. But I think the flavors of the Mexican cooking, it’s such a – you know, the spices and the smells, it – you know, my kids, that’s – that, to them – a pot of beans, you know, like that is – that’s comfort. And living in this region, we don’t really have a lot of winter but, you know…


HEATHER: …it gets cold and that’s, to us, it’s – it’s our – even though we’re not of Hispanic descent, this is our regional cooking, you know…

CAVANAUGH: Right, it’s a regional heritage.

HEATHER: …so that’s – It is. That is. And so from us, that’s our comfort food.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Heather. Thank you for the call. Heather opens up two lines of conversation, one about Mexican food but one about vegetarian food because, you know, we sort of think of winter comfort food as being heavy on meats and…

GOLDEN: Mashed potatoes are vegetarian.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that’s true.

GOLDEN: So is mac-and-cheese.


GOLDEN: I mean, we’re not talking vegan but, you know…

GORDON: I like the point she brought up about the spices…


GORDON: …and great technique, by the way, on toasted cumin. We toast most of our spices before we use them in food and buying whole spices as opposed to preground, again…

CAVANAUGH: That’s nice.

GORDON: …a lot more flavor that way. There’s so many ways to season food and make food taste good that don’t have to be butter and salt…


GORDON: …and things like that. And one of the techniques we focus on is using a lot of fresh herbs and spices in our food and – And it’s for, I think, a lot of restaurateurs, the process of making something taste different than you can make at home because we have access to lots of these ingredients. But for people at home to delve into that kind of thing. You know, Henry’s has bulk spices. You can go buy a tablespoon of something you’ve never heard of and play with it and see what the result is and come up with a great dish.

CAVANAUGH: That’s a great idea. Caron, when I – what I was talking about, not just mashed potatoes but, you know, we talk about roasting meats and all of that in wintertime for winter comfort foods but people have to remember that they can roast vegetables as well.

GOLDEN: Well, you know, I mean, we’ve talked about this before.


GOLDEN: I love roasting vegetables and one of my favorite dishes to make is a roasted squash soup. And roasting vegetables just brings out – it just intensifies all of the flavors that you would get in any kind of vegetable. And you can do that – one great thing that you can do this time of year when tomatoes are really not that good but you can find them. I was at the farmer’s – at the Hillcrest market and I saw that there are a lot of vendors that have tomatoes out there and I bought some Heirlooms from Valdivia. They’re very good. They don’t have the intensity of flavor that you get when tomatoes are sitting in the sun all day long in real heat but they’re fine. What you can do though is make a roasted tomato soup and that is so easy to do. And you just basically cut the tomatoes in half and drizzle them with olive oil. You can put some garlic in there, too, some salt and pepper. Run it under the, you know, in the oven at about 400 – You can do it two ways. You can do fast and do 400 for maybe half an hour, or you could put it at 250 and do it very slow for several hours. Either way, you’re going to get these very intense flavors. You can make a soup base on that. You can also use that soup for things like bouillabaisse or cioppino, rather, is what I was thinking of. Ina Garten has a wonderful recipe for roasted tomato soup that I’ve sort of doctored and then added – made that as my base for cioppino, which is a fish stew. There’s so many things that you can do with roasted vegetables, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right. And that qualifies as comfort food.

GOLDEN: Oh, absolutely.

GORDON: Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Jean Paul is calling from Mira Mesa. Good morning, Jean Paul.

JEAN PAUL (Caller, Mira Mesa): Good morning, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Very well, thank you.

JEAN PAUL: I just wanted to comment. One of the things that we had a lot in Mexico City, it was cream of vegetables, you know, cream of broccoli, cream of zucchini, and one of the things that they added in the soup was potatoes just to make it a little bit thick, and it was so good.

CAVANAUGH: That sounds wonderful. Thanks for the call. I remember cream of chicken soup but it was Campbell’s.

GOLDEN: Yeah. No, but he’s right. Potatoes are a great thickener if you don’t want to be…


GOLDEN: …using cream. Buttermilk also – I know Matt uses a lot of buttermilk.

GORDON: Umm-hmm.

GOLDEN: We tend to think immediately the buttermilk, because of the name, is fattening. It’s actually not at all fattening.


GOLDEN: And that is something that you can use like with mashed potatoes, for instance, instead of using cream. There are a lot of ways that you can have really good, hearty comfort foods and still not have a huge calorie count.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk a little bit more about the Duckaroni that you brought in, Matt, because not only is it smelling wonderful but what – casseroles seem to be very big when you talk about comfort foods. Just putting a lot of – a whole bunch of pasta and bread crumbs into a long dish and just letting it cook. What other kinds of casseroles do you enjoy preparing?

GORDON: Well, I think earlier in my life I enjoyed a lot of casseroles.


GORDON: It was certainly a big, big part of our family eating growing up. I don’t make too many these days. I don’t know, a potato gratin, which you can fill with all kinds of great things, root vegetables and roasted squash. You know, of course, many different types of mac-and-cheese and…


GORDON: …things like that. But…

GOLDEN: Lasagna’s a casserole.


CAVANAUGH: Sure, it is. Yeah, yeah. Do people sort of tend towards the casseroles in the wintertime because of the length of time it takes to cook and it’s all oven work and all of that, Caron, do you think?

GOLDEN: I think there are a couple of things going on with casseroles.


GOLDEN: One is that they’re relatively inexpensive unless you’re Matt and make it with, you know, duck confit. But, I mean, that’s a whole other thing that we can talk about, which is basically chefs taking these very basic kinds of concepts that people grew up eating…


GOLDEN: …because they were inexpensive and then upping the ante. Short ribs are another great example of that. You see that on all fine dining restaurant menus now and they’re basically an inexpensive cut of meat. Also, the economy. Economy and stressful events. You’re going to find that people go for things like casseroles because they represent things from childhood.

GORDON: Right.

GOLDEN: It’s security, it’s economical for the most part, depending on what the ingredients are that you put into it.

GORDON: Umm-hmm.

GOLDEN: But you can make very inexpensive, you know, casseroles.

CAVANAUGH: How do you round that out? If you’re going to prepare a casserole, how do you round it out to make it a full meal? Do you add a salad, some bread? What would you add, Matt?

GORDON: I think just some simple roasted vegetables. You know, wintertime for me is root vegetables and things that grow in the ground. And I really, really love celery root and parsnips and all kinds of carrots and things like that. So, you know, I think casseroles are really meant to be sort of a one-dish meal, you know, you’ve got all the stuff in there, whether it’s potato chips and tuna or duck confit and roasted garlic.


GORDON: But I think our culture is more cognizant than ever of the healthy aspects of eating. You got, you know, our restaurant continues to succeed so we – you know, salads and vegetables and round out your own diet and be good about it, which I’m not very good about but…

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a few more calls. There are so many people who want to get in on our conversation. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Janet is calling from University City. Good morning, Janet. Welcome to These Days.

JANET (Caller, University City): Good morning. I wanted to comment, one thing is to me comfort food is things I had when I was sick when I was a kid, like milk toast and soft-boiled eggs.

GORDON: Umm-hmm.

JANET: But I love to cook soups in the winter. In fact, we’re eating some ham bone and split pea soup this week with homemade whole wheat bread.

GORDON: All right.

JANET: But my very favorite is to cook down the bones of the turkey, as you say, make a broth, and make homemade noodles from just – all it takes is eggs and flour and a little salt and you roll it out on your cutting board. And you add that and whatever – and some of the leftover meat and whatever veggies you have on hand. And, boy, that makes a really good soup.


JANET: I also add a little white wine, some soy sauce, and some shrimp boil seasoning.

CAVANAUGH: Wow, that sounds great.


CAVANAUGH: Is this something you usually just do in wintertime, Janet?

JANET: Oh, after Christmas or Thanksgiving.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

JANET: Often, a friend brings over the carcass so I can make it for her, too.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for the call. And let’s speak now with Tom in Solana Beach. Hi, Tom, welcome to These Days.

TOM (Caller, Solana Beach): Hello. Thank you. I just wanted to contribute my famous recipe for chicken and turkey soup, you know, your poultry soups. Is you add mushrooms, sour cream and white wine and the interplay between those three ingredients, the poultry soup, no matter what else you’ve got in there, it just – I mean, way over the top.

GORDON: I like sour cream in soup so…


GOLDEN: I do, too.

CAVANAUGH: Excellent, thank you, Tom. And Carol’s calling us from Kearny Mesa. Good morning, Carol. Welcome to These Days.

CAROL (Caller, Kearny Mesa): …may be taking a different look at things because I am thinking about two things that can be used for throwing together. And the gentleman who has the restaurant…

CAVANAUGH: That’s Matt Gordon.

CAROL: …that I was lucky enough to accidentally be in that area one day and I went in there and I enjoyed the environment very well.

GORDON: All right.

CAROL: And you had fried sweet potatoes, I think.

GORDON: Yes, we do. We do.

CAROL: But, Matt, I’m thinking of you particularly because you have to be practical in a restaurant, don’t you?


CAROL: All right. Do you ever use a pressure cooker?

GORDON: You know, we don’t. That’s not a real common appliance in restaurants. You know, large steamers often found in big kitchens but they require a lot of space and a lot of power. So we’re kind of limited to the old standard fire-based appliances.

CAVANAUGH: Because, Carol, do you use a pressure cooker?

CAROL: Hello?

CAVANAUGH: Carol? Hi, yeah, do you…

CAROL: Oh, I – Do you want to hear my story about…


CAROL: …how I used my pressure cooker recently? And I’m not cooking very much.

CAVANAUGH: I do want to hear that, Carol, yes.

CAROL: I’ll tell you something that’s kind of weird maybe for you because you’re going from the point of view of being able to capture all these wonderful ingredients. I had a – purchased a frozen meal.


CAROL: And when I opened it, I discovered – and tasted, I discovered that the cannellini beans, which are healthy and wonderful, anybody out there agree?

GORDON: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, uh-huh.

CAROL: Okay, they were tough.


CAROL: And the orzo rice wasn’t too soft either. And I, being an older person and having grown up in the Depression, I don’t like to waste.

CAVANAUGH: You didn’t throw it away, you put it in the pressure cooker.

CAROL: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: And what happened?

CAROL: Who said that?


CAROL: Maureen?


CAROL: Maureen Corrigan?


CAVANAUGH: Well, it’s Cavanaugh but…

CAROL: Maureen Cavanaugh, yes. Oh, Jesus, (unintelligible). Yes, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: So you put it in the pressure cooker. Carol, how did it come out?

CAROL: The ultimate security. You mentioned security a while ago.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm, comfort.

CAROL: Comfort and security. If you want to be secure, you use a pressure cooker.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Carol…

GORDON: All right.

CAVANAUGH: …thank you so much for that.

GOLDEN: And I’m going to go in the opposite direction. I have come to love cooking in clay pots, which is completely the opposite direction because it requires a lot of time and you’re doing a lot of slow cooking. It’s probably the ultimate slow food. And the flavors that you get from cooking in these pots, I think the pots have their own memory.

CAVANAUGH: How do you do that, though? How do you cook in them? Just like you would a normal pot?

GOLDEN: It depends on the pot and it depends on what you’re making because different pots, you know, are composed of different materials. Some you can put on the stovetop, some you can put in the oven. I’ve started cooking squash, for instance, hard squashes like acorns and delicatas, chopping, you know, cutting them up into good sized pieces, tossing them with some olive oil and garlic. I add some different kinds of spices, cayenne and cumin, toast – I do the same thing, toast the seeds, and then crush them, and you put them in these pots and put them in the oven at about 250, don’t preheat because you don’t want to put a cold pot in a hot oven…


GOLDEN: …because it’ll crack.


GOLDEN: But if you bring it up to temperature, you can let that sit in the oven for maybe two or three hours and you get the most amazing flavors from that.


GOLDEN: And stovetop, you know, that’s most people around the world who make beans have clay pots for cooking beans. You just – it’s different from cooking in metal. I don’t know why but it is.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, we got a little off topic here.

GORDON: It happens.

GOLDEN: But it’s comfort.

CAVANAUGH: No, it’s comfort.

GOLDEN: We’re talking about comfort foods…


GOLDEN: …and these are comfort foods also.

CAVANAUGH: You’re absolutely right. We have to take a short break. When we come back, we’re going to be talking about comfort foods, taking as many calls as we can because there are so many people who want to join the conversation. If you can’t get through on the phone, you can post your comments at And we’re also going to be talking about comfort desserts, so don’t go away. 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Our discussion about winter comfort foods continues with my guests Caron Golden and Matt Gordon. We continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727 or you can post your comments online, Caron, here in San Diego, we touched upon it when it comes to Mexican food but there are a lot of ethnic comfort foods around town. Tell us some of your favorites.

GOLDEN: Well, actually I love that our caller brought up the Mexican food because there’s a wonderful place called Super Cocina which is in, oh, I want to say Normal Heights, near City Heights, which is a really interesting concept. It’s sort of cafeteria style – well, not cafeteria if you’re the customer but it – they basically have a line of foods in – that you can pick when you go over there. The foods are recipes – based on recipes from local ladies who live in the neighborhood.


GOLDEN: And so this is about as authentic Mexican, regional Mexican food, as you can find. And you can find some amazing dishes there and very inexpensive. I think it costs about eight bucks…

CAVANAUGH: And where is this again?

GOLDEN: …and you get three dishes out of there. It’s over on University Avenue, I think, in the, I want to say forty… I don’t know.

GORDON: I think it’s 48th or 50…

GOLDEN: Forty – Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: The 40 or 50 block of – of El Cajon, University?

GOLDEN: Oh, gosh. I want to say University.

CAVANAUGH: But it’s Super Cocina.

GOLDEN: Yeah, Super Cocina.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. And, go ahead.

GOLDEN: No, another place which I really love – if anyone enjoy’s southern cooking, Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food over on 54th Street near, I think it’s near Euclid, is absolutely amazing. They have – If you have a hankering for fried chicken, for okra, for stewed oxtails, for gr – oh, my God, the grits were amazing, hushpuppies, all – everything that you would want if you are just needing some kind of a reminder from your granny, you know, in the south. That’s the place to go.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Abby is calling from Spring Valley. Good morning, Abby. Welcome to These Days.

ABBY (Caller, Spring Valley): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I can’t believe it’s taken this long to mention Vietnamese pho.

GOLDEN: I was just going to say that, too.


GOLDEN: I’m sorry. I didn’t have a chance.

CAVANAUGH: I was hogging things.

ABBY: It’s just the best comfort food ever. We’re so lucky to have great Vietnamese cuisine in San Diego, and there’s nothing like a big steaming bowl of pho.

GORDON: There – It’s a wonderful dish with so many flavors and spices and herbs and meats and things that go in it. It’s – I agree, it’s just fantastic.

GOLDEN: Do you have a favorite place?


ABBY: We – my teenager and I like a place called Pho Ca Dao, which is about 52nd, I think, and El Cajon. But they’re all over. My husband – When my husband’s with us, we usually go to Saigon, which is – I guess it’s Highland and El Cajon, because they have a much more extensive menu and there’s a catfish dish that he really likes. But I just invariably get the pho. I get pho thai, which is the rare steak. And it’s just a full meal, it’s a great deal, and it keeps you, you know, it keeps me full for the entire day. It’s probably 400 calories in the entire bowl.


ABBY: There’s fresh, there’s picant, there’s the meat. It’s just an incredible cuisine. And, you know, it’s finally getting the attention that it should.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you.

ABBY: And…

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Abby, for mentioning it. We were going to mention it but I’m glad you brought it up. Let’s go to Gary at San Diego Unified Food. Good morning, Gary. Welcome to These Days.

GARY (Caller, San Diego Unified School District): Good morning, Maureen, Caron and Chef. How are you today?

GORDON: Good morning.

GOLDEN: Good morning.

GARY: I just thought I’d mention a little bit about some of the comfort food that we really focused on in the kindergarten through 12th grade. And every Friday…


GARY: …every Friday now we feature a mashed potato bowl with turkey and corn, which kids really seem to enjoy. And we’ve also introduced a pulled turkey olé, we call it, that has a – on a wheat bun, that has a Mexican profile like a molé sauce. And the kids really like the ethnic foods, comfort foods, and…

GORDON: That’s great.

GARY: …the opportunity…

CAVANAUGH: You know, I misintroduced you, Gary, when you came on. You’re from the San Diego Unified School District. You’re talking about…

GARY: Yeah, I’m a food – Food Service Nutrition Director, and I’ve been on your show but that was…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, I remember.

GARY: So – And I want to mention accolade, you’re doing a wonderful job and I know you have a program with children from the Einstein Academy that you’re working with on teaching them about food and where it comes from and cooking it actually, and so a lot of exciting things happening and we surely need a lot of assistance. We have to do meals that cost a dollar or less, food cost wise…


GARY: …and you know how hard that is.

GORDON: That’s a challenge. Indeed.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for calling in, Gary, and it sounds like the kids are getting some pretty good dishes there. Let’s take another call. Larry is calling from Lemon Grove. Good morning, Larry, and welcome to These Days.

LARRY (Caller, Lemon Grove): Oh, thanks for having me on. I hope I’m not going in the wrong direction with all the other great food but when the weather starts turning colder, a good comfort food for me is cookies and brownies and dessert type things.

GORDON: Oh, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah. Let’s talk desserts. Thank you very much, Larry. And, Matt, you brought in a couple of desserts here and they just look absolutely fabulous. Tell us about them.

GORDON: Well, this is one of our new desserts on the dessert menu. I agree with the caller that desserts are sort of my go-to, unfortunately. But our dessert menu changes more often than anything else at the restaurant…

CAVANAUGH: Does it really?

GORDON: …because I really like playing with desserts a lot and I like eating them a lot. And what I have here today is our Salted Caramel Pot de Crème, which is really a pudding. Puddings are thickened with cornstarch traditionally; this is thickened with eggs so it’s a little, you know, more hoity-toity version of a pudding or it’s a French custard. But we make a caramel base put sea salt and kosher salts in it and then brown sugar and cream and butter and eggs and all that fun stuff, of course, and bake it off, top it with a little chocolate cap and there’s some caramel inside the center, too. And, oh, it’s just…


GORDON: …it’s a great…

CAVANAUGH: …my goodness.

GORDON: …sort of, you know, my take on butterscotch pudding from, you know, Hunt’s Snack Pack growing up so…

CAVANAUGH: On Snack Pack.

GORDON: It’s my version of the Snack Pack.

CAVANAUGH: I see. It’s kind of the Hunt’s Snack Pack you can dive into.

GORDON: Yeah, and we serve it in a little Mason jar. You could put a lid on that and sell them right out the door so…

CAVANAUGH: And other kinds of desserts, Caron, the kinds that fill the house with aroma, the baked, you know, the apple pies and the…

GOLDEN: Well, I was going to say, I – my grand – I was very lucky growing up. I have two grandmothers who were fabulous cooks and parents who were great cooks. And my – one of my grandmothers taught me how to make apple pie, which I’ve always done in my adult life. And then I discovered Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room has a line of fennel pollens and one of them includes a dessert flavor grouping with different kinds of spices. I don’t know what all is in this but if I add just like a scant teaspoon of that to the apple mixture and bake – add that to the baked – the apple pie, it changes up the flavors and I have brought those to like my book club, to other – and people don’t understand what it is that’s different about it but it’s always a big hit. And, of course, baking an apple pie, you’re getting the scent as well as you’re getting the flavors in the house. It’s a marvelous thing. And if you can’t make pie crusts—and pie crusts can be tricky for some people—there are plenty of good ways to get a good pie crust, including Trader Joe’s sells, you know, a very decent frozen pie crust that you can use. So you shouldn’t not bake a pie because you don’t want to bother with the crust.

CAVANAUGH: No reason not to bake a pie, right?


CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727 is our number. Let’s speak with Jim in Mira Mesa. Good morning, Jim, and welcome to These Days.

JIM (Caller, Mira Mesa): Hello.


JIM: Being a paperboy early in the morning back in the Midwest when it was snowing and cold, I would come home to fresh made buttermilk pancakes…


JIM: …with sour cream and buttermilk. And then you’d either have cinnamon and sugar, maple syrup or the best was the fruit that you would heat up, like blueberries or something, to make a simple syrup with and put that on it, and a piece of sausage.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds absolutely…

JIM: And that made the comfort.

GORDON: Indeed.

GOLDEN: And think about things like French toast cass – talking about casseroles, you can make wonderful casseroles with French toast. Bread pudding. Things like that. That’s really comfort food. It’s sweet, you can put bananas, and you can put all sorts of fruits in these things that are absolutely wonderful.

CAVANAUGH: It just sounds fabulous.

GOLDEN: I was just thinking of, you know, we’re talking – he’s talking about the rain and, you know, bad weather. Last week when we had that horrible weather, all I was craving was cinnamon toast because my mother would make…


GOLDEN: …cinnamon toast and hot chocolate for us when we came home from school when it would be pouring rain.

GORDON: It’s amazing how those memories really stay with you.


CAVANAUGH: And I’m just wondering, Matt, Caron was making the point that restaurants like Urban Solace kind of like ramp up these traditional menus that everybody knows.

GORDON: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: So what would you do with homemade pancakes?

GORDON: Well, you know, I’m…

GOLDEN: Funny you should mention that, Maureen.

GORDON: …kind of a pancake purist, to be honest with you. We do a great Sunday brunch at the restaurant with live bluegrass music and some really fun dishes. But the pancakes are my favorite thing on that brunch menu and they’re buttermilk pancakes. They’re really simple from scratch. They’re not real cakey, they’re not super brown, they’re really delicate and almost lacy. And every day at 9:55 in the morning, my griddle cook for the day has to put one in the window and I taste it. I taste it every single Sunday. In the two and a half years we’ve been open, I think I’ve missed two brunches. So it’s a – it has to taste perfect before it goes out. One of my sort of sinful delights on days off is going to the Original Pancake House and they have the, you know, the…

GOLDEN: The apple…

GORDON: …Dutch Baby or the German pancake. I could eat that five days a week.

CAVANAUGH: Now tell me, Caron, in addition to Urban Solace being a restaurant that has, you know, a mixture of comfort foods and higher end comfort foods, where – and this Pancake House we’re just talking about, where are other places people might be able to go around San Diego to really sort of, you know, settle down, dig into something that’s just going to be delicious and warm and comfortable?

GOLDEN: Well, I’ll tell you one place that you wouldn’t think of as comfort food but very high end is George’s California Modern. And we’ve had Trey Foshee on here. He makes a corn risotto with fresh corn from Chino Farms that you just want to dive into. It is utterly spectacular. His dishes I don’t think would be comfort food. I think these are very stimulating foods…


GOLDEN: …by and large, and very creative. But the corn risotto if – that’s something that I love to get when I’m wanting that kind of, you know, comforty sort of feeling. We talked about the pho. We haven’t talked about Chinese food at all, and there’s a wonderful place called Dumpling Inn, which is near Jasmine. It’s in that little shopping center next to the Korean market. And if you like dumplings, you can have them steamed, you can have them boiled, you can have them sautéed. They put them in soup. It is on a – I don’t like to go there on warm days because I feel like it’s just too much heat.


GOLDEN: But on a cold, rainy day, going in there, it’s in – It’s on Convoy near Balboa. That’s a wonderful place to get your fix for dumplings and soup. It’s amazing. We haven’t talked about hamburgers either and I think hamburgers in our American culture tend to be really big comfort food.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, burgers and fries.

GOLDEN: Exactly.


GOLDEN: And there’s some really good places. Matt makes a really good burger. You can also go to places like O’Brothers, which is in Horton Plaza, and Burger Lounge does some really good burgers there, too. I’m trying to think of what else. Something kind of unusual, there’s this place called Mama’s Bakery, Mama’s Lebanese…

GORDON: Umm-hmm.

GOLDEN: …is what a lot of us call it. It’s on Alabama at El Cajon Boulevard. And it’s homemade Lebanese food. They – It’s not real – It’s sit down. They do have a patio where you can sit down, but I love to get their fried eggplant wrap. It’s fried eggplant, it’s baba ganoush. They have these squirt bottles filled with a sauce that I’m dying to get the recipe for.



GOLDEN: I don’t know what’s in it but it is hot and sweet and sour and tangy and you just take a bite, squirt, take a bite, squirt. It’s just amazing. And it’s just like perfect, homemade, wonderful, make you feel good food.

GORDON: You know, one of the things that I’m thinking about as you’re mentioning this, is location of all the restaurants that we’re talking about.


GORDON: We’re talking about…

GORDON/GOLDEN: …neighborhoods…

GORDON: …and sort of, you know, there’s a value to groups of geographic individuals living in neighborhoods and starting kitchens and restaurants and, you know, walk-up stands that feature their culture and that’s where, I think, a lot of things grow from there and turn into a movement, so…

CAVANAUGH: Well, our listeners who we don’t have time to take their phone calls wanted to tell us about Moki and cabbage soup, they wanted to talk about a spaghetti sandwich, all sorts of comfort foods. But I want to thank you both so much for talking about this, making us all hungry…

GOLDEN: It was great fun.

GORDON: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: …and Matt Gordon for bringing in this wonderful food. Thank you so much.

GORDON: Thanks for having me on.

CAVANAUGH: Matt Gordon is executive chef of Urban Solace restaurant in North Park and Caron Golden is food columnist for and author of the blog San Diego Foodstuff. You know, if you didn’t get on the air, we do apologize that we didn’t have time to put your call on the air. Please post your comfort food comments at our website, You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.