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Published February 11, 2011, 12:00 AM

Prairie Faire: Comfort food dish is also full of nutrition

“Why are you putting mashed potatoes on top of bread? That’s weird!” my 12-year-old daughter announced as she sat down to eat.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Why are you putting mashed potatoes on top of bread? That’s weird!” my 12-year-old daughter announced as she sat down to eat.

“We’ve never had anything like this,” my 15-year-old son said. He wrinkled his nose as he saw me top the bread and potatoes with shredded roast beef and gravy.

“I don’t want any!” my 7-year-old daughter exclaimed as she observed her siblings’ reactions.

I gave my husband the “I could use some support” glance as I added corn to their plates.

“You’re going to love this! These are hot roast beef sandwiches,” he said to our skeptical children.

“If we were in a cafe, this could be a ‘blue-plate special,’ ” I noted.

“Where are the blue plates?” my daughter asked as she took one bite, then another and another.

My husband and I gave a brief history lesson about diners, cafes and blue-plate specials during the mid-1900s until today. We didn’t know a lot, but later I learned that sometimes blue-plate specials were served on sectioned blue plates.

“That was good, really good,” my son noted when he brought his empty plate to the sink. His younger sister asked for seconds. Our youngest daughter ate the roast beef, gravy and two helpings of corn. This menu will be repeated.

While winter continues to blast us with cold temperatures and snow, be sure to enjoy some good old-fashioned comfort food. We each have our own definition of comfort food. Maybe it’s hot cereal for one person and ice cream for another.

For me, wintertime comfort food includes roasted meat, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Maybe we need a little extra “zip” during the long, cold winter to keep us going. Beef provides zip, which is an acronym for zinc, iron and protein. The mineral zinc is involved in building muscles, healing wounds and maintaining our immune system.

Iron from meats such as beef is readily absorbed. Iron is found in red blood cells, which transport oxygen around the body. Having adequate iron in our diets plays a major role in our ability to learn and reason. Iron deficiency remains an issue among many children.

Meat provides ample protein. The protein in meat provides all the essential amino acids for building and repairing our tissues. Adequate protein allows us to maintain our muscles, which comes in handy if you spend a lot of time shoveling snow in the winter.

Besides protein, beef also provides B vitamins, including B12, B6, niacin and riboflavin. B vitamins play various roles, including maintaining our cells and nervous system. B vitamins also help release energy from foods.

Beef and other meat provide the “umami taste.” Umami is the Japanese word for “delicious flavor.” Umami is the fifth taste and recently was added to the list of the usual taste sensations, which include sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

Umami sometimes is described as brothy or savory. Others describe it as a mouth-watering sensation. The umami taste is associated with protein building blocks, including the amino acid glutamate.

Here’s the hot beef sandwich recipe as we made it. You can adapt it to meet your definition of comfort food. You could substitute a pork roast, too.


Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches

2 pounds chuck roast (or cut of choice)

1 tsp. garlic powder (or 2 tsp. chopped garlic)

Cut roast into four chunks. In a small amount of oil, brown roast in a pan.

Place browned chunks in a slow cooker, and sprinkle with garlic powder (or chopped garlic). Add one-half cup water. Cook on low for about eight hours. You can omit the browning step. However, the browning step adds flavor to finished roast.

Gravy ingredients

6 Tbsp. butter (or pan drippings)

3 Tbsp. flour

3 cups hot beef stock

When roast is fully cooked, skim fat and place broth from the slow cooker into a cup measure. Add enough boiling water to make three cups of broth. Stir in beef base (or bouillon or use canned beef stock). Follow the package directions on the amount of base to add per cup of water. When using beef base to make beef stock, the usual amount to use is about 2½ teaspoons per 3 cups of water.

Melt butter in a saucepan on the stove or substitute some pan drippings. Add flour and cook slightly. Stir in hot beef broth, and continue to cook until it thickens. Either cut meat or use two forks to break apart the meat in the slow cooker. To serve, place a slice of bread (such as whole grain) on a plate, top with sliced or shredded meat, a scoop of mashed potatoes, then gravy.

A serving of meat and gravy has 340 calories, 18 grams (g) of fat, 39 g of protein and 25 percent of the daily recommendation for iron.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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