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Taking Comfort With Chicken


"Comfort food" is an often-used term. But too many times the expression doesn't describe the dish, and the word "comfortless" is more like it.

Consider the many restaurants that seduce people with visions of home cooking, their menus filled with macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach and other nostalgic touchstones. Then you get the food, and often the macaroni and cheese, instead of being moist and creamy, is dry and firm; the creamed spinach tastes terrible, as if it's full of additives. I don't know how people get food to taste that lousy.

Real comfort food is never disappointing. It doesn't have to be wonderful, but it has to be good, and it should feel as if it came out of a real person's kitchen.

Ginger Chicken With Onions is my idea of real "comfort food." It satisfies my craving for good home cooking and it's not difficult to put together. After all, chicken stands up to a lot of abuse in the kitchen.

Riso, tiny rice-shaped pasta, tossed with mint and currants is very good with ginger. Caramel Pears are a simple end to the meal.

Cunningham's newest book, "Learning to Cook With Marion Cunningham (Alfred A. Knopf), will be published in May.

Ginger Chicken With Onions

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

6 large onions, sliced 1/8 inch thick

2 tablespoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons pepper

3 pounds chicken pieces (legs, thighs or breasts)

1 cup water

8 small red boiling potatoes, unpeeled and halved, optional

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

* Put half of onion slices in bottom of Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with lid.

* Combine ginger, salt and pepper and spread out over piece of wax paper. Roll each piece of chicken in seasoning mixture to coat all sides. Place chicken pieces over layer of onion slices in pan, then cover chicken with remaining onion slices.

* Add water to pan and braise, covered, over medium-low heat for 2 hours. Put potatoes, if using, on top layer of onions during last 30 minutes of cooking. Serve chicken and vegetables in bowls sprinkled with chopped parsley.

4 servings. Each serving: 331 calories; 1,326 mg sodium; 138 mg cholesterol; 15 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 35 grams protein; 0.89 gram fiber.

Riso With Mint and Currants

Active Work Time: 5 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Riso is a tiny rice-shaped pasta. Because it can sometimes be difficult to find, you can substitute orzo, slightly larger pasta.

12 cups cold water

2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 cups riso

1 cup currants

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

3 tablespoons butter

* Cook riso and 2 teaspoons salt in large pot of boiling water, stirring to keep from sticking. Cook 10 minutes, then stir in currants. Taste few pieces of riso for doneness; it should be tender, not hard in center. If not done, boil 5 minutes more and taste again.

* When pasta is tender, drain in colander. Shake off any excess water. Dump riso into large bowl that has been warmed with hot water and emptied. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add mint and butter and stir to mix well. Serve hot.

12 (1/2-cup) servings. Each serving: 81 calories; 447 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.32 gram fiber.

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