Warm and hearty, satisfying and familiar — that is great comfort food.
And there’s something about it, especially in the midst of a winter that got too cold too soon, that we simply crave.
“When we eat that food, we feel like we’re home,” said Chris Enfield, owner and operator of Stacks restaurant in Elkhart. “When you’re chilled on the inside, it doesn’t matter how many blankets you put on. Comfort food warms you from the inside out.”
Tapping into his southern roots in New Orleans, Enfield recently expanded the pancake house’s menu to include lunch and dinner, including a variety of ever-changing off-menu options.
A comfort food experience is what Enfield strives to provide to his diners, making every meal served at Stacks from scratch that day.
“Cook with your heart, with things that you love and with those you enjoy.”
“We crack every egg here and peel over a thousand pounds of potatoes every week,” he said.
This year, chili was on the board a lot earlier than usual, and it sold fast, Enfield said.
For him, red beans and rice is that comfort meal that takes him back to his childhood, when his father, who was in the Navy, was stationed in Louisiana. That was when Enfield first learned the power of food.
“My brothers and I figured out that if we made food for the neighborhood girls, they’d do our chores for us,” he said.
But in all seriousness, all that snow can feel gloomy, and it can be depressing, Enfield said. Warm, fulfilling meals can remedy that.
That’s what comfort food is all about. It’s more than nourishment, he said. It’s like a “highlight reel of a period in your life. It changes your demeanor, your persona, your mood.”
So what goes into making great comfort food? Enfield has three rules.
First, keep it simple. Most comfort food dishes are easy to prepare, require only a few simple ingredients and don’t take a lot of time. Many comfort dishes are relatively economical as well, he said.
“That’s one of the reasons we find it so comforting — because that’s what our parents and grandparents made for us in harder times,” he said.
Secondly, don’t be afraid of the kitchen. Do you usually use a crockpot but want to try roasting? Either method can result in great flavors. Plus, cookbooks these days are generally easier to understand with step-by-step instructions, videos and pictures, so it’s easier than ever to try something new.
Finally, and most importantly, cook with love.
“Cook with your heart, with things that you love and with those you enjoy, and your guests will feel that passion,” Enfield said. Even if it’s as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup.
Enfield’s philosophy on comfort food is to make it slow, make it right and make memories.
Whether it’s preparing a Thanksgiving feast or a weeknight dinner, making the food can sometimes be a family project, finding a job for each person and creating new memories along the way.
“I really enjoy bringing people together with food,” he said. “It leaves a lasting impression.”
This article is brought to you by Stacks. Stacks is located off C.R. 17 at 5230 Beck Drive in Elkhart. The menu features three or four new specials every day. Restaurant hours are 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Traditional New Orleans Red Beans and Rice
- 1 lb. dried red kidney beans (preferred brand is Camellia), rinsed
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 white onion, chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- ham bone
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 1½ lbs. Polish sausage, sliced
- corn starch
- Soak kidney beans, garlic and onion in a large pot overnight.
- Add bay leaves, ham bone, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 2 to 2½ hours, stirring occasionally.
- With 30 minutes left, remove bone and add Polish sausage.
- Thicken to taste using a roux (equal parts flour and fat — bacon fat, oil or butter) or cornstarch and water.
- Serve in a pile over steamed white rice, with some crusty bread on the side.