Comfort food can be exciting and may even improve your mood. Guess what? It doesn’t have to be junk food either. Celebrity Chef Viverito shares some of his own great comfort food ideas with you.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever eaten something unhealthy because you felt stressed. During his trips to the supermarket, Chef Gerard Viverito said he was shocked to see so many grocery carts overloaded with junk food. “I understand that people are tired and seeking comfort. But tater tots and ice cream won’t help,” he says. “I’ve turned to food to bring me solace. In hindsight, I learned that when you eat poorly, you feel worse so you eat poorly again. After two slices of pie, you might as well eat the whole thing, right? It’s a downward spiral!”
Believe it or not, comfort food doesn’t have to be junk food
Chef Viverito explains that cleaning up your diet may help you feel better physically and emotionally. If that’s still not enough to motivate you, he reveals his three favorite food categories that he reaches for whenever he’s stressed. “Comfort foods don’t have to be junk. And healthy foods don’t have to be boring,” he says.
Don’t let COVID-19 impact your food choices
One of these food categories is sure to pique your interest:
1. Food with fins
“Meat prices are skyrocketing and there’s talk about shortages. Meanwhile, there’s been a spike in seafood consumption. But I still hear from people who are afraid to serve fish at home because they don’t know how to prepare it. Really, it’s easy.
Just sauté it at high heat until it changes color and flakes easily. The total cooking time would be about 8-9 minutes for thick fillets, and 6-7 minutes for thinner fillets.”
Make sure you use the right oil. “Some oils become carcinogenic at high heat. Malaysian palm oil is ideal for fish because it has a neutral, buttery flavor. Plus it’s heart-healthy, nutritious and certified sustainable.”
Choose sustainable fish
“We’re all attuned to shortages right now. Get into the habit of making responsible choices that help protect our food supplies and our planet. The American seafood industry generally has better sustainability practices than those of other countries.”
2. Food from the soil
“There’s no shortage of fruits and vegetables right now. Because they’re rich in fiber, you’ll feel fuller so you’re less likely to want to snack. Consider serving plant-based proteins a few times each week instead of animal proteins. You may know that beans and legumes have a lot of protein. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s also protein in whole grains, broccoli and sweet potatoes. So, challenge yourself to create the most colorful plate of food possible.”
Make sure you’re always eating a variety of foods. “Consider what you ate yesterday, and try not to eat it again today.”
Opt for fresh or lightly processed. “Many over-processed foods, even those sourced from plants, can contain too much sugar and salt. Even if it’s made from plants, you still need to read the labels.”
Try this recipe this weekend:
Mashed Root Vegetables with Chevre and Chives
- 2 pounds celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4 tablespoons Smart Balance Spread, divided
- 1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk
- 1/4 cup Chevre goat cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/3 cup fresh chives, snipped
- Bring 1-inch of water to a simmer in a large sauce pot.
- Place celery root, parsnips, and potatoes in a large steamer basket over the water, cover and steam over medium heat for 20 minutes.
- Add garlic and continue steaming until the vegetables are fall-apart tender, 20 minutes more. Add more water if necessary.
- Drain the cooking liquid through a sieve and return the vegetables to the pan.
- Place over low heat and continue to stir for 3-4 minutes to steam dry.
- Add 2 tablespoons Smart Balance and mash until chunky-smooth.
- Gradually stir in buttermilk, chevre, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
- Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons Smart Balance and chives.
Make-Ahead Tip: Prepare everything through Step 2 and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Reheat in a double boiler and stir in the remaining butter and chives (Step 3) just before serving.
3. Food that’s fun
“Online schools are ending. Keep the kids from going stir crazy by getting them into the kitchen. Instead of swinging into another drive-through, teach your kids how to choose and prepare foods on their own that will keep them occupied and sharpen their minds. Plant a garden with kid-approved brain foods such as strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and broccoli.”
Chef Viverito Encourages Sampling New Things
“Have your kids research traditional foods and meals in different parts of the world. Then ask them to share what they’ve learned around the dinner table. It’s a wonderful way to take your family on a culinary adventure while you’re all stuck at home. For instance, my kids know that I only cook with palm oil produced in Malaysia because it is certified sustainable; it’s made without harming wildlife or rain forests.”
Here’s a great family recipe to try:
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- all-purpose flour, for dredging
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 7 tablespoons Malaysian sustainable Red Palm Fruit Oil
- 1/3 cup lemon juice, fresh
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley, chopped
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour and shake off the excess.
- Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 6 tablespoons Malaysian Red Palm Oil.
- When butter and oil are hot, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When the chicken is golden, flip and cook for 3 more minutes.
- Remove from the pan and hold in a warm spot.
- Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock, and capers. Place on the burner and bring to boil, scraping up the brown bits from the pan to de-glaze for extra flavor.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
- Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
- Move the chicken to platter. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and 1 Tbsp of Palm oil to sauce and whisk to emulsify.
- Pour sauce over the chicken and garnish with parsley.
Have enough measuring spoons and measuring cups so that each child can use their own. “That speeds up meal prep time. Kitchen shears are safer for kids to use than knives.”
Viverito concludes, “Feed your family junk food and your health will pay the price. But you don’t have to be a slave to your stove. Do what I’ve done and try eating just fresh foods for a couple of weeks. Pay attention to how eating different foods makes you feel … not just at the moment but also the next day.
Then slowly introduce processed or sugary foods back into your diet and see how you feel. Once I cleaned up my diet and realized how great I felt, and how much clearer my thinking was, it became easier to kick my favorite junk foods to the curb, permanently!”
About Chef Gerard Viverito
Chef Gerard Viverito is an Associate Professor in Culinary Arts and teaches the Seafood Identification and Fabrication Class at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, NY. In addition, he is the Director of Culinary Education for PassionFish, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching and promoting environmentally sound alternatives to endangered seafood species. He travels around the world educating, consulting and demonstrating cooking using sustainable seafood products to ensure fish for our future.
He’s a dedicated chef who has spent many years as an Executive Chef in San Diego, California, the Virgin Islands, and three years in Spain, France and Italy. He is very active in the community of local farmers and his commitment to sustainable food practices extends to his role as the director of his true food based catering company Gerard’s Catering.
Chef Viverito is very active in the community of local farmers and his commitment to sustainable food practices extends to his role as the director of his true food based catering company Gerard’s Catering.
In addition, Chef Viverito has dedicated a large part of his career to what he terms “functional cooking”. This is where he adds nutritional ingredients to dishes to gain healthful results. He is well known for his ability to lower the glycemic index value of food, add omega fatty acids, and whole proteins to dishes without compromising the texture or taste. He appears regularly on radio and television programs demonstrating this as well as consulting clients on their dietary needs.