I was going over food choices and kept going back to some of my favorites which happen to be comfort food recipes that are so enjoyable. The kind of dish that makes you roll your eyes and give a muttering sound only heard when you are at peace.

Recipes got a little more complicated because of TV food shows, along with food-based magazines. Cruise Facebook or the internet and you will see so many recipes that both amateurs and professional chefs put on display, and they are all incredibly involved. While I will eat it at a restaurant if a recipe calls for squid ink, I am turning the page.

Photo via Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash
Photo via Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash

I admit that I am fascinated by these recipes, but I do not have time to go to a Chinese specialty store 15 – 20 miles away to pick up a certain spice or ingredient only found at the specialty store.

We like what we like, and most of us prefer comfort food. Most of us post our mothers' or grandmothers' recipes because we know that you cannot improve on the result.

For your eating pleasure, I have put a list of five of my favorite comfort food recipes. These recipes are mine that I have been making for years. They are tired and true and waiting for you!

Here is my list of my favorite comfort dishes and the recipe:

Big Joe's Big Meat Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a stable of this great country. It is a mainstay on menus in about every diner from New Jersey to Santa Monica. I am a huge fan. I have seen variations; some are interesting, others I have no interest in. My recipe is simple, tested, and delicious. I am heavier handed on the spices for this recipe than what is listed here.

Meatloaf with brown sauce on mashed potato
Photo via Azurita

Spice means flavor and the right spice means great flavor in your dish. I take into consideration that some people like to go easy on the spices and that is ok. So here is my take on a comfort food that is a mainstay at the Big Joe Ranch, enjoy!

  • 3 lbs. ground meat (1 lb. each of) no more than 85% lean ground beef, ground veal, and ground pork
  • 1 large, finely chopped onion (I prefer Vidalia)
  • 1medium, finely chopped green pepper
  • ½ cup good salsa (not too much liquid)
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • ¼ cup chicken stock or low salt broth
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 2 slices soft, whole-wheat bread
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbs. pepper
  • 3 tbs. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 Tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. thyme
  • 2 ½ tbs. finely chopped Italian parsley (fresh)
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 ½ -bottles of Heinz Chile Sauce or ketchup (depends on your taste)

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat add olive oil and, once hot, add onions, garlic, and green pepper. Stir into the sauce pan the tomato paste and chicken broth, mix well.

Cook until onions become translucent. Remove pan from the heat and let mixture cool. In a big mixing bowl add meat, eggs, Worcestershire Sauce, all the dry spices, parsley, salsa, and milk-soaked bread. Mix well with hands incorporating all ingredients. Add ingredients from saucepan (once cooled) and mix until mixture is fully incorporated. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

Shape mixture into loaf and place on a non-greased baking sheet. Put it into oven and cook for one hour. (Note: about a half hour into cooking remove pan and drain excess grease) After loaf has cooked for one hour spread chili sauce or ketchup on top and place back in oven to cook for an additional fifteen minutes. Drain grease when done cooking. Serve warm as entree or cold for sandwiches.

Big Joe's Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken Parm is one of the most comforting dishes that is easy to make and when made properly, very tasty.

Photo via Thinkstock

I love a good chicken parm. I use my homemade sauce, thicker chicken cutlets that make the dish juicy and chicken tender and a mixture of mozzarella and provolone cheese along with Pecorino Romano cheese which makes the dish more flavorful. If you do not have your homemade tomato sauce at hand, and do not have the time to make the sauce, use a very good jar sauce, I like Rao’s.

The key is not to drown the cutlets in the sauce, you lose the texture of the fried cutlet. I put a little sauce on the bottom of the dish before adding the cutlet and a dab on the top of the cutlet after I add the cheese to maintain the texture.

I like to serve it over pasta or serve a sauteed vegetable like spinach and garlic on the side instead if you do not like the carbs of the pasta. Have a nice glass of red wine or beverage of your choice and Mangia!

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts halves
  • 1 ½ tablespoons oregano
  • 1 ½ tablespoons thyme (dried is fine)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup grated parmesan/Romano cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • flour for dredging (all purpose)
  • 6 cups of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 6 large eggs beaten with 2 tablespoons of whole milk
  • 1 pound of grated mozzarella or mozzarella/provolone mix
  • Vegetable oil for frying (I have tried frying in olive oil and the olive flavor is too strong for the dish and it takes away from the flavor of the chicken and the sauce.)
  • Olive oil for coating

Make the sauce first, as the longer the sauce hangs out, the better the taste. Most recipes and cooks call for pounding the hell out of the chicken breasts, but my recipe does not call for excess pounding.

I like my cutlets thick. Wrap chicken in plastic wrap and gently pound out the breasts so that they are more even but retain a nice thickness. Set up three bowls/plates. In a large bowl, whisk in breadcrumbs, salt & pepper, oregano, thyme, and one-third of the parmesan/Romano cheese.

Photo via Alexander Maasch on Unsplash
Photo via Alexander Maasch on Unsplash

In a medium bowl whisk and beat the eggs and milk together. In the third plate add the flour, salt, and pepper for dredging. Heat a skillet/pan with vegetable oil, bringing oil up to a 375-degree temperature. You may want to increase that temperature as oil will cool as chicken breasts are added. For each breast, dredge in flour shaking off any excess, dip in egg mixture coating entire breast then dredge in breadcrumbs, coating evenly over breast. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.

Cook chicken in oil, do not overload pan, give plenty of room for chicken to cook. Once golden brown, remove chicken breast and place on a paper towel. After all the chicken is cooked, in a large baking dish brush olive oil very lightly on entire baking dish.

Add a layer of sauce and cover the bottom of dish, add the chicken breasts in one single layer. Cover cutlets with sauce (about three cups). Sprinkle remaining parmesan cheese on top of cutlets, add mozzarella/provolone cheese on top.

Bake in oven for about 30 minutes. Cheese should be bubbling and lightly browned on top. Serve immediately.

Big Joe's mashed potatoes with sour cream & chives

Mashed potatoes have been a staple on the side of dinner plates forever. They are easy to make, and they are a side dish that makes you want to keep eating them. This recipe packs a powerful enjoyable flavor, I have served them at my Thanksgiving dinner and with a great steak and chicken dishes.

Photo by Quang Nguyen on Unsplash
Photo by Quang Nguyen on Unsplash

The flavor is abundant, I use chicken broth, sour cream, and chives along with as much butter as you can in this recipe. It is important to warm the liquid ingredients and butter before adding to the potatoes. Cold ingredients will not mix as well and will drop the heat of the potatoes which will not have the maximum flavor you desire.

  • 3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes (about 12-14 medium) unpeeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ½ cup chicken broth, warmed
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • ½ cup half and half or whole milk warmed
  • 1 ½ stick of butter cut into quarters melted in saucepan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes in a steamer basket fitted over a large pot of boiling water. Cover and steam for about 22 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Coarsely mash the potatoes and combine the broth, milk, and butter. Stir in the sour cream and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot and enjoy!! Serves eight

Big Joe's Big Bowl Chili

I so enjoy a good bowl of chili and I have it year-round. There is not a restaurant that I walk into that has it on the menu that I will not try and enjoy. I like it thick not soupy; I do not add water to the recipe because it dilutes the flavor.

Photo via Thinkstock

Chili takes time, if your time allows, make your chili the day before you plan to serve it, or if you have a slow cooker or a substantial pot let it simmer for at least ½ a day. Use my recipe for spices as a guideline, taste as you go and add more spice when needed.

Chili is a personal recipe that has worked its way from southern Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio which makes great chili, to New Jersey diners and restaurants all the way to Los Angeles. Take the time to make your chili and sit back in the comfort of a great dish.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or corn oil
  • 2 cups medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons minced or pressed garlic (approx. 6 medium cloves)
  • ¼ cup chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 dash cinnamon
  • freshly ground pepper to taste (I like lots!)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 ½ lbs. of sliced sirloin steak in chunks or if you prefer 2 ½ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 can (28 oz.) tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Salt & pepper to taste (yes, again!)
  • ½ cup chicken broth (only if chili starts to stick to the bottom of pan)

Big Joe's award-winning ribs

This is one of my favorites, and cooked properly this is one of the ultimate comfort dishes. It takes time to make great ribs.

Photo via Gellman Images
Photo via Gellman Images

There was such a great growth in cooking ribs with many “pit masters” popping up all over the country, via TV, the internet and festivals and telling us the proper way to cook your ribs. I am old school. I love good ribs and try them at the best-known rib joints throughout the country to sample the ingredients on ribs that they present as perfect.

Many people make their own barbecue sauce and rub, I doctor good, bottled sauce the way I like it, to save time.

Here is my recipe for great ribs.

  • Two racks of ribs (pork, membrane removed and trimmed – the large pork ribs, not the baby back ribs, those are too small!)
  • 1 can of beer (Ok, two cans of beer, one for the ribs and one for you.)
  • Big Joe’s Emergency Rub
  • 1cup paprika
  • 1 ½ cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup garlic powder
  • ¼ cup Kosher salt
  • ½ cup onion powder
  • ½ cup chili powder
  • ¼ cup black pepper freshly ground
  • ¼ cup cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons of dried oregano
  • ¼ cup ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • Butch’s or Sweet Baby Ray’s Doctored Barbeque Sauce, Big Joe Style
  • 1 bottle 18 oz of Butch’s Mild Barbeque Sauce (if you can’t get Butch’s try Sweet Baby Ray‘s Sweet and Spicy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons of habanera infused honey
  • ¼ cup of orange juice
  • ½ cup of bourbon liquor (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

After you have prepared the ribs, generously apply the rub to both sides of the ribs. I suggest you use plastic gloves to not get the paprika stains on your fingers. Really get the rub into the meat. Once covered with rub, wrap the now covered ribs in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil and put back into the refrigerator for 6 or more hours, preferably overnight.

After the ribs have been removed from the refrigerator and are now ready to be cooked, pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees. Place ribs on a standing rack I use a turkey rack and lay the ribs up against the sides of the grate. Make sure that the ribs are not touching the bottom of the pan. Add the can of beer to the bottom of the pan holding the ribs, making sure that the beer is not touching the ribs. Once the oven has reached 225 degrees place the ribs in the oven and cook for 7 hours.

Grilled pork
Photo via Somsak Sudthangtum

In a large saucepan, over medium heat add just a ¼ of one bottle of barbeque sauce to pan, add garlic and orange juice, let reduce for about 5 minutes, add the honey, and stir well with a wooden spoon. Add the bourbon and the remainder of barbeque sauce.

Let simmer for 1 hour stirring occasionally. Once the ribs are cooked, preheat your grill so that it is at maximum heat. After the ribs come out of the oven immediately apply barbeque sauce generously to the ribs. Head over to the grill and cook ribs on the grill for about 3 – 4 minutes on each side, depending on the heat of the grill. Apply more sauce as you cook. You want the ribs with a glazed coat.

Be careful not to burn the ribs. Remove from the grill. Cut the ribs using the ribs as guidelines and savor. Remember it took you a long time to cook them so take the time to enjoy them.

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Gallery Credit: Joni Sweet

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.

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