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Seeking Comfort Food

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

French Onion Soup and Spinach Salad with a Sweet-and-Sour Dressing

Days are getting colder, and our cooking style adjusts with changes in the weather. In the fall and winter, we like heartier, more comforting fare. My favorite comfort food is French Onion Soup, and I always serve it with a spinach salad.

We hear the term “comfort food” quite often, but defining it is not an easy task. This term was first used in 1966 when the Palm Beach Post wrote: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what can be called “comfort food”—food associated with the security of childhood, like Mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.”

Psychologists and nutritionists analyze and contemplate why certain foods are comforting, finding they console us, give us a sense of well-being, and help us shift feelings of unhappiness to more upbeat moods. They study why men choose different “comfort foods” than women, and why people seek consolation in either healthy or unhealthy foods. They speculate that “comfort foods” are associated with our childhood or our mother’s home cooking and are normally simple, more traditional fare. Nutritionists find comfort foods are more likely to be sweet or salty and not bitter or sour.

Some believe, myself included, that certain foods comfort us because they bring back fond memories of happy times spent with family and friends. They transport us to a time when we felt secure, happy, and loved. I look back warmly at my memories of French Onion Soup, always accompanied with a Spinach Salad tossed with a Sweet-and-Sour Dressing.

When my husband and I were first married, we lived in southeast Denver. Every Friday night,

without fail, we had dinner at our neighborhood bar and grill, Toby Jug, on Hampden Avenue. With the challenges of our work week behind us, it was time to unwind with a glass of wine, toasting to TGIF, and plan our weekend—time with friends, trips to the mountains to hike and explore, dinner at an upscale restaurant, or just hanging out at home, relaxing. Before the complexities of parenthood, it became our weekly tradition to begin our weekend with French Onion Soup and Spinach Salad. Toby Jug’s version of Spinach Salad was to die for, and one wouldn’t think they would publish their recipe; but it appeared in the Denver Post, and I have been making it exactly like Toby Jug ever since.

My comfort foods are associated with fond memories of our weekly visit to our favorite pub. What is your favorite comfort food? What fond memories do you associate with it?

French Onion Soup Serves 6

For the soup:

6 tablespoons butter 6 large yellow onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced 6 tablespoons Worcestershire® sauce 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon large grind black pepper ¾ cup dry white wine ½ cup brandy (optional) ½ teaspoon dried thyme ½ teaspoon dried basil 3 cans (14 ½-ounces) beef broth 3 cans water For the topping: Large grated Parmesan cheese Sliced French bread, toasted Sliced mozzarella cheese In a large kettle, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender. Add Worcestershire® sauce, salt, pepper, wine, brandy, thyme, basil, beef broth, and water. Stir to combine. Simmer at least 60 minutes. The longer this cooks the better the flavor. Pour the soup into individual ovenproof bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Place a slice of toasted French bread in each bowl, then cover toasted bread with slices of mozzarella cheese. Place under a broiler for a few minutes until lightly browned and bubbly.

Shopping for onions: Onions should be dry, firm, and shiny with a thin outer skin. Do not buy onions that have sprouts. They will taste bitter. The neck of an onion should be tightly closed. Do not buy onions that have dark patches, soft spots, or black mold.

Storing onions: Onions should be stored in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Do not store onions and potatoes together. Potatoes give off moisture that can cause onions to spoil.

Spinach Salad with a Sweet-and-Sour Dressing Serves 6

For the dressing:

I have halved this recipe. The original recipe makes enough for two salads.

½ cup corn oil ½ cup apple cider vinegar 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon ketchup ½ medium onion, chopped 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey ¼ teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon tamari sauce

In a blender, combine corn oil, cider vinegar, ketchup, onion, honey, salt, and tamari sauce and process until thoroughly mixed. May be refrigerated 3 days. Cover and refrigerate until ready to toss.

For the salad: 1 bag (10-ounces) fresh spinach, rinsed, drained and refrigerated until crisp 1 can (8-ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained 4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced 1 bag (16-ounces) fresh bean sprouts 1 pound bacon, fried crisp, drained, and crumbled 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese In a large salad bowl, layer spinach, water chestnuts, hard-boiled eggs, bean sprouts, crumbled bacon, and shredded Cheddar cheese. Cover with damp paper towel and refrigerate at least 1 hour. This salad will keep nicely 4 hours in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, toss salad lightly. Toss again, adding dressing to moisten all ingredients according to individual preference. Shopping for bean sprouts: When buying bean sprouts, examine the package carefully. Look for crisp sprouts whose buds are attached. Avoid slimy, dark, or musty-smelling sprouts. Sprouts have a short life. It’s best to buy them a day ahead of use. Shopping for spinach:

Spinach should be deep green in color with crisp, perky leaves. Do not buy spinach if it has yellow or broken leaves. Shop with your nose. If you smell an unpleasant odor, pass. If you are buying bagged spinach, inspect the bag carefully. Spinach deteriorates quickly. Also, check the “Best if Used by Date” to be sure it hasn’t passed its freshness date.

Carol Ann

Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at and explore her website,

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates


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