THE HOME COOK : Foods That Comfort: The Less Fuss the Better

The old custom of taking homemade food to a sick friend or a bereaved family is almost forgotten today. Sympathy or get-well cards, flowers and houseplants have replaced chicken noodle soup.

But while cards and flowers are consoling, food may be the best gift of all. When friends and relatives arrive to pay their respects, being able to offer some cold sliced meat and a salad, or a plate of cookies and a cup of coffee or tea gives one the feeling that life can go on as usual.

The most appropriate food to take to a bereaved family is good, plain food that keeps well and requires little fuss to serve. I think it is hard to beat a baked ham, the makings of a salad, a loaf of rye bread, some applesauce and Parker Chocolate Brownies. When visiting a sick friend, my old standbys are Rich Chicken Noodle Soup and Baked Vanilla Custard. Chicken noodle soup and plain custards almost always are comforting foods, even to someone who is very ill.

PARKER CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

Butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon vanilla

Powdered sugar

Butter 13x9-inch pan. Line bottom of pan with wax paper, then butter paper.

Melt chocolate with 1/2 cup butter in saucepan over very low heat, stirring to blend. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, egg, salt, flour, walnuts and vanilla.

Spread in prepared pan and bake at 300 degrees about 30 minutes. Cool about 5 minutes, then turn out onto piece of wax paper. Peel wax paper from bottom. Cut into squares and dust tops with powdered sugar. Makes 32 brownies.

BAKED VANILLA CUSTARD

2 egg yolks

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

Salt

3 cups very hot milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

Ground nutmeg

Butter 1-quart baking dish or 8 ramekins. Set shallow pan large enough to hold baking dish or ramekins in oven, and fill with 1 inch of hot water.

Beat egg yolks and eggs together in bowl, just enough to blend. Stir in sugar and salt. Slowly add hot milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla. Strain into baking dish or dishes and sprinkle with nutmeg to taste. Turn into prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees about 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Do not overbake. Remove custard from oven when very center still trembles tiny bit. Makes 8 servings.

RICH CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

2 1/2 pounds chicken backs, wings, necks

8 cups cold water

1 onion, cut in half

2 carrots, cut in thirds

3 stalks celery, with leaves, cut in half

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

Salt, pepper

4 ounces flat egg noodles

1/2 chicken breast, skinned, boned and cut into tiny pieces

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Combine chicken backs, wings, necks, water, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf, and thyme in soup pot over high heat. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook 1 hour. Remove from heat and strain broth into bowl or large measuring cup. (There will be about 5 1/2 cups.) Add enough water to broth to make 8 cups of broth. Return strained broth to soup pot and reduce heat to medium. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add noodles.

Simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken pieces and simmer 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and add parsley. Cool, refrigerate until needed. Makes about 2 quarts.

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