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Cajun Red Beans and Rice are a go-to for our food columnist Sara Jeran when she's looking for comfort food. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: Who could use some comfort food right about now?

BUCKHANNON – Comfort food is a widely used term that I believe we all have an example of, but what does it truly mean?

By definition, comfort can be a state of physical ease, freedom from pain, or to console. These feelings and actions all convey positive emotions. I think we seek the same relief from comfort food. Whether it is the first chill in the air, a miserable day at work, or simply gathering with family, often food becomes the much-required relief.

Traditionally, comfort food was of an exact recreation or slightly varied version of a veteran family or community classic. With increased accessibility to foreign culture, recipes, and ingredients our tastes and desires now have the choice of veering from our native norms. Grandma’s famous pot roast might satisfy some, while others seek a new favorite such as a bowl of spicy Asian noodles.

For me, it remains beans and rice, and I do not discriminate – any kind will suffice, including Mexican, Indian, Cuban, and African. As we each have our own preferences, I presume most of us could agree that different circumstances require alternate dishes. If it is going to be a snowy weekend, a pot of chili is a go-to for me. For a day that provides more stress than comfort, an effortless pasta dish may be the answer. When comfort is what is sought, the kitchen part should neither feel like a chore nor be laborsome. Simple meals are often the most rewarding.

Perhaps, you have moved from where you grew up. Most regions or communities have a local specialty – take, for example, the West Virginia pepperoni roll. Traveling home or to another nostalgic place may provide the special comfort treat you love. I find there is also a degree of comfort provided from “junk food” perhaps it is because it is an occasional occurrence and reminiscent of fun. I have been known to find pure bliss from a bag of peanut M&Ms.

Comfort embodies the holidays, which are quickly approaching (even in bizarre pandemic times). This introduces another comforting feel, cooking with family and friends. Maybe it is your aunt’s stuffing or your neighbor’s cookie plate, but special yearly treats provide a personal level of comfort. Sometimes, the actions of cooking, gifting, or receiving are just as rewarding as the food.

Cater your comfort food to your own cravings; there is no rule about only having one favorite. I am including a few recipes that are comforting to me. Since I mentioned beans and rice, I am sharing my Cajun red beans and rice recipe, which is quick easy and always satisfying. Simple olive oil and Parmesan pasta remains a top pick, but carbonara (consisting of basically bacon, egg, cheese) is comfort food at its peak.

The recipe below has the seasonal addition of Brussel sprouts, but the pasta is perfectly delicious on its own. With cooler weather on its way, and more time spent indoors during these bizarre times, perhaps it is time for new traditions to be born. Try a dish that makes you feel cozy, secure, and safe. Even better, share your creation with someone you care about. These small gestures are crucial for the positivity needed amongst us.

Happy Cooking. Peace.

Cajun Red Beans


1 lb. dry red beans
1 green pepper diced
2 stalks celery diced
1 onion diced
2 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme (or thyme)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder (1 for less heat)
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
Black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon, more for serving


For the Instant Pot

With the sauté setting on high, add carrots, celery, onions and garlic with a tablespoon of oil and cook until tender.

Change setting to pressure cook, add remaining ingredients and set for 45 min, and do a 25-minute natural release.

For the Slow Cooker

Soak beans overnight.

Placed soaked beans and all remaining ingredients in slow cooker and cook on slow for 6-7 hours.

Shrimp Topper

Season shrimp with old bay, salt and pepper. Cook in a skillet over medium high heat in a combination of olive oil and butter. This will only take a few minutes, at the end of cooking squeeze lemon juice over the shrimp. Chopped garlic in the skillet is optional.

Fall Carbonara
(Note: this recipe serves 3-4)


1/2 lb. linguine (or another long cut pasta)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan (more for serving)
4 oz. finely chopped pancetta or bacon
1 1/2 cups shredded Brussel sprouts
2 shallots thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (or more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (+a little more for pancetta skillet)
Salt and pepper

Try this taste Fall Carbonara recipe with a special twist — shredded Brussel sprouts. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran


Cook pancetta in a large skillet until crispy. Remove and set aside.

Whisk together eggs and cheese in a large bowl, set aside.

To the pancetta drippings add Brussel sprouts, shallots, garlic, rosemary, butter and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook on medium low to medium. Allow to slowly soften and begin to brown and caramelize.

Now, cook your pasta in heavily salted water. Reserve a cup of pasta water for the sauce. Right before the pasta has finished cooking, add the lemon juice to the Brussel sprouts skillet and turn off the heat.

Add drained pasta to egg bowl and vigorously toss, adding pasta water to thin as needed. It will take a few minutes for a silky sauce to form, but it will happen. Season with salt and pepper (remember the cheese and pasta water already have salt).

Once the sauce is silky, toss in 1/2 the pancetta, 1/2 the Brussel sprouts and parsley.

Serve immediately garnished with remaining pancetta and veggies.

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

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