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Making yourself feel better through food

Comfort food can mean a lot of things: If you are down and out and want to think about the good times, maybe you'll cook up a favorite dish from your childhood.

Comfort food can mean a lot of things: If you are down and out and want to think about the good times, maybe you'll cook up a favorite dish from your childhood.

Stress at work -- maybe you'll grab a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips.

A funeral -- how about a pot of soup or hot dish?

Food can not only serve as a meal, but a rejuvenator of the body and soul.

"I always think of comfort food in relation to ... the food you look forward to at a family gathering," said Juli Kellner, the producer and host of the PBS series WDSE Cooks and the executive producer and director of "Native Report". "The stuff that you eat after a particularly bad day (is comfort food)."

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People in our lives are another factor when selecting comfort food.

"I think about the foods that we associate with certain people, like my ... mom's chicken soup, and my dad -- who is also a wonderful cook -- his plum dumplings," Kellner said.

The past can also play a role in selecting the comfort food we eat.

"I think the best food takes us back to a certain time," Kellner said. "Sitting at the kitchen table after a day of school and having mom's chicken soup. Sitting with your best friend after she broke up with her boyfriend and [laughs] eating."

In some cases the food may not be healthy for us in a fatty/nutritional sort of way, but it serves a greater purpose.

"It kind of fills your soul," Kellner said. "It's always a wonderful feeling."

Food, in some moments, bridges the gap between generations.

"I think food gives us continuity," Kellner said. "It's part of those bridges that mark time for us. What we do for Christmas, what we do for Easter, what we do for every Sunday dinner."

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Not everybody feels the same way.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not all that comfortable with the idea of comfort foods," Mayor Don Ness said in an e-mail. "The idea that food (often times the most unhealthy food) is designed to give us comfort is one of those little ideas that (can lead to) increases in obesity and unhealthy lifestyles. At times when I'm stressed or overwhelmed, I've found that a good brisk walk it going to help me a lot more than eating."

Now on with the recipes.

Cheesy Hash Brown Delight

Ingredients:

1 pound ground breakfast sausage

2 pounds southern style potatoes

1 can cream chicken soup

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1 pint sour cream

1 cup four-cheese blend

1 stick melted butter

1 small onion chopped

1 cup crushed potato chips

Directions

Brown sausage and let cool. Chop finely with fork and set aside. Spray 9-by-13 pan with cooking spray. Place hash browns in pan. Mix sausage in with hash browns. In bowl, mix together onion, melted butter, sour cream, cheese, onion and cream of chicken soup. Pour over potatoes and spread about. Top with crushed potato chips. Cook at 325 for about 1 1/2 hours. Check with a toothpick.

Note: This dish can also serve as a side dish. Take the sausage out and serve with fish, porkchops or meatballs.

To make a lighter version substitute regular sour cream with a light version. Turkey sausage can also be us. To lower sodium, use a low sodium soup.

--Recipe by Matt Suoja, who made this dish for PBS show "'C' is for Comfort Food".

Lihamojakka Beef Soup

Ingredients:

1 1/2-2 pounds of beef - cubed

3 to 4 potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 large onion (or 2 medium) diced

3 carrots peeled and diced

1 small rutabaga peeled and cubed

5 whole allspice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

First brown beef in the bottom of the kettle in a little butter, then add vegetables, allspice and just enough water to cover. Cover the pot and simmer until vegetables are tender, not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: A tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with a scant quarter cup of water, and added to the soup will make the broth thicker and more stew like.

--Courtesy of Juli Kellner

Chicken and Swiss

Ingredients:

4 boneless chicken breasts

4 slices swiss cheese

10 3/4 ounces cream of chicken soup

1/4 cup milk

1 cup stuffing

1/2 stick butter

Directions:

Place chicken in buttered dish. Place cheese on top of chicken. Mix soup and milk together and pour over chicken. Sprinkle stuffing over chicken. Drizzle butter over top. Bake uncovered at 350 between 50 and 55 minutes.

--Courtesy of Toni Olson

Pizza Burgers

Ingredients:

2 pounds hamburger

1 can ground Spam

1/2 pound grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

2 cans Chef Boyardee pizza sauce

Directions:

Brown hamburger and combine remainder of ingredients in pan. Put in open-faced buns. Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 400.

--Courtesy of Sally Ostman

Easy Fruit Dip

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

1 small package of instant vanilla pudding

Directions:

Blend together ingredients and refrigerate for one hour. Dip apple slices, strawberries, bananas, pineapple slices, orange slices, kiwi or any other fruits.

--Courtesy of Shari Melton

Finnish Soup

Ingredients:

Equal parts cauliflower, potato (peeled and chopped) and carrots (peeled and sliced)

Package of cream cheese (or less to taste)

Directions:

Cover vegetables with 6 to 8 cups of water. Boil until soft. Mash. Add package of cream cheese (it's also fine with just half a package). Melt. Blend soup in blender or food processor until smooth.

Enjoy with a loaf of strong garlic bread on a cold winter's night.

--Courtesy of Jana Peterson

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