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Chic Comfort Food

As the weather cools down, most of us yearn for food that warms us up.

The Early Show's master entertainer Colin Cowie shared recipes for delicious fall dishes anyone can serve up - and in a chic way, to boot!

Now that we don't have to wear bathing suits and the temperature's dropping, we all want comfort food, Cowie notes. And it doesn't matter if it makes us look as big as a house, because we can bundle up and no one will know. Still, you can be a little health conscious, even as you're making the most decadent comfort foods.

Another important aspect of comfort food is eating it in the kitchen: Most people think when it comes to entertaining you simply must serve and eat in the dining room, but he doesn't agree. He says he always entertains in his kitchen, because that's where the heart of the house is, and it's very cozy and comfortable.

When you dine in the kitchen, people think you just use the kitchen plates and things like that. But Cowie says you don't have to sacrifice sophistication when entertaining in the kitchen. It makes complete sense to bring out the nice plates and a decanter for wine and a big bowel of fruits, etc. It can be very entertaining and warm and autumnal.

Another point: If you want, serve your meal on individual trays. It's a great idea and it's basically the TV dinner for the new millennium. You can get trays and put a big buffet plate on top, with a soup crock on one side and a winter salad on the other and you're ready to go. You can even sit in the living room this way and snuggle up in a blanket on the sofa.

Here are some recipes to try:

MENU ONE
- Tomato, mozzarella & basil salad
- French onion soup
- Low-fat grilled cheese panini with Canadian bacon

FRENCH ONION SOUP:

11 tablespoons of unsalted butter, and 6 tablespoons melted
5 1/2 pounds of onions, cut in half, length-wise, about 1/4 inch thick
3 teaspoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
3 1/2 - 4 quarts homemade beef stock
1 cup dry white wine
5 tablespoons cognac
Course Sea Salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
1 loaf of Ezekiel bread, cut into cubes
14 ounces of Gruyere cheese, grated

Melt the 11 tablespoons of butter in a large cast iron pan over medium high heat. Add onions and sugar. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 20 - 25 minutes.

Lower heat to medium, and allow onions to continue cooking, stirring often. Once onions have caramelized to a deep rich brown - approximately one hour - slowly stir in flour with onions, and then add the white wine and cognac, and bring heat to a simmer. Cover partially, and cook for about 20 minutes until heated thoroughly. Add sea salt and pepper to taste.

In the broiler, place the cubes of Ezekiel bread until lightly toasted on both sides. Brush with remaining butter.

Pour soup into oven safe crocks or bowls. Add a handful or two of the cubes of bread to the top of each and cover the bread with the cheese. Place in broiler until cheese in melted and slightly browned.

MENU 2
- Endive, pine nuts & blue cheese salad
- Spicy pumpkin soup
- Sliced roasted turkey with red & yellow bell peppers sandwich

SPICY PUMPKIN SOUP:

3 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 cups water
3 chicken bullion cubes
1 (15 oz) can of cooked pumpkin
1 cup half-and-half
Sour cream (to taste)

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until tender.
Stir in curry powder, salt, coriander and crushed red pepper; cook for 1 minute.
Add water and bouillon; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low; cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes to develop flavors.
Stir in pumpkin and half-and-half; cook for 5 minutes or until heated through.
Transfer mixture to food processor or blender (in batches, if necessary); cover. Blend until creamy.
Serve warm or reheat to desired temperature. Garnish with dollop of sour cream and chives.

NOTE: Soup may be prepared a day in advance. Cool to room temperature after adding pumpkin and half-and-half. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, blend, then reheat to serving temperature, but do not boil. (Serves 6)

Menu 3
- Arugala & parmesan salad
- Tuscan bean soup
- Roasted chicken & low-fat mayo sandwich with lemon and cayenne pepper

TUSCAN BEAN SOUP:

3/4 cup dried cannelli beans, soaked overnight
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 heaping tablespoons, chopped, fresh oregano
Good pinch of sugar
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil
4-6 tablespoons pesto

Place the beans in a large pan and cover with water. Slowly bring to boil and boil vigorously for 10 minutes. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1 hour until the beans are soft but still holding their shape. Drain and rinse with cold water. Put aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the garlic and cook over low-heat for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to let brown. Add the tomatoes, oregano, sugar and season to taste, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until thick.

Add the chicken stock and season to taste. Return to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes longer until the tomatoes are totally combined and the soup has thickened. Stir in the cooked beans and basil and heat. Pour into bowls and add a swirl of pesto to each. Serve immediately.

POPOVERS: (from the book "Baking with Julia," by Julia Child)

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole or 2 percent milk, at room temperature
1/2 tablespoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Melted butter for greasing the popover cups

Position a rack on the lowest rung of the oven and pre-heat the oven to 425 F. Butter or spray nine 3/4 glass custard cups or 10 1/2 cup muffin cups. If you're using custard cups, place them on a jelly roll pan, leaving space between each cup. If you're using muffin pans, you'll need to use two 12-hole muffin tins because, to give the popovers ample air circulation, you wont be filling all the holes.

Pour all the ingredients into the container of a blender and whirl until smooth (You can also use a food processor or rotary or hand-held beater). If the batter is lumpy, strain it until lumps are gone.

For the custards cups, pour 1/3 cup of batter into each cup, dividing any extra batter among the cups. For the muffin cups, use 1/4 cup of batter for each cup, filling alternate cups in each tin so that every popover has a puffing space. Bake, without opening the oven door, for 25 minutes, until the popovers are puffed, nicely browned, and crisp on the exterior. Turn the temperature down to 350 F and bake for another 15 - 20 minutes to help dry out the interior, which, no matter what you do, will always be a little doughy in the center. Slice the popover in half and add small scoop of ice cream and top with honey.

Serve immediately.