From the kitchen of Chef Tse: Healthy comfort food

In America, many of us subscribe to the motto “Live to Eat.” I know I certainly do! For me, food is an adventure made up of ingredients and flavors to appreciate and enjoy. But during this time, it seems like we’re all just eating to live. We have limited access to grocery stores and the ingredients we want. We’re going back to basics and learning to cook all over again at home.

It’s no wonder that comfort food is king right now. Food has such an amazing ability to make us feel safe, comfortable and protected. Taking a bite of your grandmother’s lasagna or your dad’s better-than-awesome mac and cheese sends us back to an easier time – one where we weren’t facing so much apprehension.

For many of us, myself included, we use food to ease our anxiety. But while that may make us feel better mentally, it won’t make us healthier.

For many of us, myself included, we use food to ease our anxiety. There’s something so satisfying about biting into a freshly grilled hamburger or a warm chocolate chip cookie. But while that may make us feel better mentally, it won’t make us healthier. And that’s a big concern. My friends all joke about the COVID-19 15 – gaining extra weight because we’ve been eating too much and not working out.

The question rolling around in my mind is how are we going to lose that COVID-15 once things go back to “normal”? For a while, I was at a loss and then it hit me: why not avoid gaining weight in the first place? What if we could still eat great food – get back to that live-to-eat mentality – and keep our bodies healthier? Is that even possible?

The short answer is yes. But there’s a lot of work involved. We need to commit to cooking more at home. We need to learn new skills to speed up prep and cooking. We need to plan in advance. But a very interesting thing happens when we commit to doing these three things. All of a sudden, obstacles that were holding us back move out of the way. We become more confident and excited about preparing healthy, tasty foods. Our bodies and minds perform better.

Even if there may be a lot of work involved, remember that you’re investing in your health which is one of your most precious gifts!

So how do you get started? Cook your comfort food at home! Yes, it is great to order takeout occasionally to help your local restaurants, but here are three of my favorite comfort food recipes you can make in your own kitchen.

Cheers to your health!



Mediterranean Meatballs

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

I love meatballs any time of year and these are particularly great over pasta or rice, or tucked into a sandwich.

Serves 4



1 pound lean ground pork

1 large egg

1/2 slice white bread, crusts removed and finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3/4 teaspoon table salt


Tomato Sauce

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced

1/4 medium white onion, peeled and diced

14.5 oz can unsalted diced tomatoes with juices

Salt and pepper

In a large bowl, mix together pork, egg, bread, herbs, zest, pepper, and salt until well combined. Pinch off a large walnut-sized piece from mixture and roll gently between palms into a ball. Place meatball on a plate and repeat with the remaining mixture. You should have about 20 1-inch meatballs.

Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add garlic and onion; sauté until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices and reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer sauce gently while meatballs cook. Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add meatballs in a single layer being careful not to crowd the pan. Brown meatballs on all sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove meatballs with a slotted spoon and place in sauce. Let meatballs warm through in sauce, 5-7 minutes. Divide meatballs among 4 plates and serve hot.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 298; total fat: 14g; cholesterol: 148mg; sodium (not including additional seasoning): 545mg; carbohydrate: 5g; total dietary fiber: 1g; protein: 35g


Portabella Mushroom Burger with Grilled Sweet Onions

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

When I developed the recipe for this burger, I didn’t realize how much I would love it – and how much I wouldn’t miss the meat! With current meat shortages, now is a great time to try vegetarian recipes!

Serves 2

3 teaspoons olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar

4 large Portabella mushrooms

2 thick slices sweet onion

4 whole wheat hamburger buns

1/2 cup packed baby spinach leaves

4 teaspoons soft goat cheese

Salt and pepper

Prepare grill for high heat. In a small bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Lightly score mushroom top. Brush mushrooms and onion with the vinaigrette and sprinkle lightly with salt. Brush onions with remaining teaspoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place mushrooms and onion on grill. Grill until mushrooms and onion are soft, turning once, about 4 minutes for mushrooms and 6 minutes for onions. Remove mushrooms and onion from grill and place on a plate. Grill buns.

To assemble, spread goat cheese on cut sides of each bun. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Top the bottom bun with one mushroom, onion slice, second mushroom, and spinach. Place top bun on and serve immediately.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 296; total fat: 13g; cholesterol: 13mg; sodium (not including additional seasoning): 323mg; carbohydrate: 35g; total dietary fiber: 5g; protein: 14g


Blackberry Cobbler

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

I know it’s not blackberry season yet – but cobblers are the ultimate comfort food! This is a fun, hands-on recipe to make with your kids. Substitute sliced frozen peaches or apricots for half of the berries for a great combination.

Serves 9

7 cups blackberries

Zest from one lime

Juice from one lime, divided

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2/3 cup 2% milk

1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together blackberries, lime zest, juice from half a lime, 1/2 cup sugar and cornstarch. Pour into an 8x8 Pyrex baking dish and place on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake 15 minutes.

While fruit cooks, squeeze remaining lime juice into milk and let stand while preparing dry ingredients. Milk will curdle and become like buttermilk. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, and baking powder. Add butter and rub into flour until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Pour in milk and mix just until batter forms.

Remove fruit from oven and drop batter by the spoonful over hot fruit. Return to oven and continue baking another 40 to 45 minutes until cobbler is lightly brown and biscuits are cooked through. Let cool on a wire rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutritional information per serving: Calories: 190; Total fat: 5g; Cholesterol: 5mg; Carbohydrate: 36g; Total dietary fiber: 6g; Protein: 4g


About Chef Tse

After 12 years in marketing and sales, Tse shed her corporate responsibilities and headed to France. There she studied both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, finishing first in both disciplines. After graduation, she turned her sights on Parisian kitchens, completing a grueling internship at Le Restaurant Guy Savoy, a three Michelin-star restaurant. She then studied pastry at the internationally famous Pierre Hermé making macarons, cakes, and composed desserts.

When she returned to the U.S., Tse was a regular guest KATU Channel 2’s AM Northwest cooking seasonal ingredients with the hosts. Tse also became the Healthy Cooking Ambassador for Regence BlueCross BlueShield teaching cooking classes, filming videos, doing demos and creating recipes. She joined the Providence team in 2016, overseeing the operations at three cafes at Saint Vincent Hospital. Tse has also spent seven years teaching students at all three Portland culinary schools: The Art Institute of Portland's International Culinary Program, Le Cordon Bleu and Oregon Culinary Institute. She is now a Culinary Consultant for Sysco Portland where she helps restaurants with menu design, recipe development and staff training.

About the Author

We are all about food! The Providence Nutrition Team loves to talk about and share our expertise on how to help you find the right diet, food types and maintenance tactics to help you live life to the fullest...while also enjoying the best foods that mother nature has to offer.

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