IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Cooking for Comfort’

Cookbook author Marian Burros with recipes for people who love to eat but have little time.
/ Source:

For nearly 20 years, bestselling cookbook author Marian Burros has perfected recipes for people who love to eat but have little time. Her latest cookbook, “Cooking for Comfort” is chock full of home cooked favorites. Check out some of the recipes below.


I KNEW VERY little about crabs until I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1959. It was love at first sight. These crab cakes are made after the fashion of the famous Faidley’s Seafood market in the equally famous Lexington Market in Baltimore. The theory there is that less is more. The crab cakes have no onion, no green pepper, and absolutely no bread crumbs. Bread crumbs are too heavy; cracker crumbs are used instead.

Maybe you have to live in this part of the country to realize how much better crab cakes are made this way compared to some versions that have more of everything than crab. And it is so important to have lump crab so that there are nice big sweet chunks to bite into. You can serve a single crab cake as an appetizer, or two (or more) as a main course.

Yield: 8 cakes


1 lightly beaten egg

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

1 cup crushed saltines

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat

Salt to taste, optional

4 tablespoons neutral-flavored vegetable oil, such as canola


Mix together the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire, and hot pepper sauce in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

Finely crush the saltines between two pieces of wax paper with a rolling pin. Fold the crushed crackers into the mayonnaise mixture.

Pick over the crabmeat to remove bits of shell or cartilage. Fold the crabmeat into the mayonnaise mixture and season with salt, if desired. Gently shape into 8 crab cakes, handling as little as possible. Refrigerate, covered, if desired.

To serve, heat the oil in a pan large enough to hold the crab cakes and sauté over medium heat, about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Wine: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, or Riesling

Help Note: A lemon wedge served as an accompaniment is acceptable, but no tartar sauce, please.

The quality of the crabmeat is extremely important. It is difficult to get unpasteurized crabmeat outside the mid-Atlantic states and Southeast, but it is sweeter. I’ve seen crab cakes made with just about every other kind of crab, but to me none is as good as blue crab. People in the Northwest and in the South will have other ideas.

For some in this area of the country, Old Bay seasoning is critical, but to me it masks the sweetness of the crab.

Some people coat the crab cakes in bread crumbs; I think it makes them taste drier. I also think sautéing brings out the delicate flavor better than deep-fat frying.

I’ve tried sautéing the crab cakes in oil and in butter; there is a slight difference in taste but it’s very small, and with oil there is less chance of burning the fat.

Above all, fold the crab gently into the other ingredients; do not work the meat or it will break up. Do not flatten down the crab cakes; mold them gently into a cake shape.

For a streamlined version, light mayonnaise works as well as the regular kind.


This is quick comfort food. The sauce got its name either because sailors had work to do and could not spend the day cooking it, or sailors’ wives could make it quickly when they saw their husbands coming home. Take your pick.

Yield: 4 servings


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 very large onion (12 ounces or more), chopped

2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced

5 cups canned plum tomatoes with their juice, pureed in a food processor

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 pound spaghetti or linguine

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, oregano, and basil

Hot red pepper flakes, optional


Heat the olive oil in a deep pot. Sauté the onion over medium-high heat until it softens and takes on color. Add the garlic and watch carefully while it browns.

Bring water to a boil for the pasta in a covered pot.

Add the tomatoes and the salt and pepper to taste to the onion and garlic mixture and simmer over medium-high heat until the sauce bubbles; reduce the heat and cook 20 to 30 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Add the herbs to the sauce and cook another 5 minutes. Add hot pepper flakes, if desired.

Serve over the drained pasta.

Variations: To cook fish in the sauce, add 1/3 cup dry red or white wine for every cup of sauce, then add the fish and poach it in the sauce.

Sauté 3/4 pound of sliced mushrooms in the same pan as the onion after the onion has softened.

Add olives, capers, and/or anchovies in step 3.

Broil 2 sweet or hot Italian sausages; slice and add to the sauce in step 3.

You can use the sauce over breaded foods, like eggplant or chicken Parmesan or breaded veal.

Wine: Zinfandel, Côtes du Rhône, Shiraz, Sangiovese, or Pinot Noir

Help Note: This can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen for a month.


This is the way chicken is roasted at Bouley restaurant in New York City. It calls for the very best chicken you can find, and that is likely to be an organic bird. The steaming and vertical roasting are the keys to great flavor.

Yield: 2 servings


One 3- to 31/2-pound organic chicken

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig rosemary

1 sprig sage

2 large cloves garlic, halved

1 lemon, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hungarian sweet paprika


Set a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Boil enough water to fill a roasting pan halfway up.

Wash and dry the chicken. Remove the first two joints of the wings, and discard. Stuff the inside of the chicken with thyme, rosemary, sage, and two garlic halves.

Rub the lemon, salt, and pepper all over the chicken. Rub with the remaining garlic and sprinkle heavily with paprika to coat completely. Place the chicken on a rack set on top of the roasting pan and steam over boiling water in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and place the chicken on a vertical roaster, following the manufacturer’s directions for positioning. Pour off the water and place the chicken in the pan.

Reduce the oven to 350 degrees, and roast the chicken about 20 minutes longer, until juices from the breast run clear when cut with a knife. Remove from the vertical roaster and cut off the legs at the joint where the thigh meets the body. Return the legs to the pan and roast about 10 minutes longer, until the juices run clear.

Allow the chicken to rest 10 minutes and then remove the herbs from the cavity. Remove skin. Cut off each breast in one piece and slice 1/4 inch thick on a diagonal. To serve the legs, remove the skin, remove meat from the bone, and cut into bite-size pieces.

Wine: Burgundy or Côtes du Rhône, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, or Cabernet Sauvignon

Help Note: You will need to buy a small, inexpensive vertical roaster for this recipe. They are available at most kitchenware shops or on-line.


Cobb salad, made famous in 1926, 1936, or 1937, depending on your sources, at the equally famous Brown Derby in Los Angeles, may have been the original chopped salad. The perfect chopped salad is a balance of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter and should take advantage of seasonal ingredients.

Yield: 10 generous servings


1 large head romaine lettuce

1 large bunch arugula

1 pound ripe tomatoes, washed, stemmed, and cut into bite-size wedges

2 medium yellow bell peppers, washed, trimmed, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 medium avocados, cut into 1/4-inch dice

3/4 cup minced red onion

2/3 cup olives, such as Cerignola or Kalamata, pitted and quartered

3 hard-cooked eggs


3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Slice off the crunchy white from the bottom of the romaine; discard. Wash and dry the green part and roughly chop or break up into bite-size pieces.

Remove the tough stems from the arugula; discard; wash, dry, and roughly tear leaves into bite-size pieces.

Place all the ingredients but the eggs in a salad bowl.

Whisk the Dressing ingredients together and toss with the salad at least 15 minutes before serving so that the ingredients can absorb it. Sieve the eggs and sprinkle them over the salad.

Help Note: The main ingredient in a chopped salad is lettuce, but it can contain anything you want. The most important rule for this salad is that the ingredients are cut in pieces that are still recognizable but blend well with the other ingredients. It must have a dressing that is thick enough so that everything clings together. To make the salad a little more substantial you can add 1/2 cup crumbled feta, goat, or blue cheese.

Unlike most salads, which should be dressed at the last minute, this is one in which the dressing should be mixed with the ingredients 15 minutes before serving to blend the flavors.


Bob was uncomplaining when I turned his meat loaf into a lower-fat dish many years ago. I think it is delicious that way, but Bob doesn’t like it with other “stuff” in it. In tribute to the best meat loaf I ever ate, full fat or otherwise, here’s the original version he gave me twenty years ago. Bob, a correspondent for ABC News, says “It’s ideal with baked potatoes and canned peas.” (I prefer to use frozen.)

Yield: 8 slices


1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, room temperature

1/3 pounds ground veal, room temperature

1/3 pounds ground pork, room temperature

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 lightly beaten eggs

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/4 cup catsup, plus 5 tablespoons for glazing

3 tablespoons saltine cracker crumbs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 strips bacon, optional


Set a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter; sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat until it is quite soft and golden. Add to the meats along with the Worcestershire, eggs, mustard, 1/4 cup catsup, cracker crumbs, and salt and pepper. Using your hands, gently mix the ingredients until well blended.

Spoon the mixture into a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and pat gently. Spread the remaining catsup over the top and lay the bacon slices over the loaf, if desired.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and drain off the fat. Allow the loaf to sit for 5 minutes and slice and serve.

Wine: Shiraz, Côtes du Rhône, or Sangiovese

Help Note: Grind the beef yourself. The meat loaf can be made ahead and refrigerated, covered. To serve, allow to sit at room temperature and then bake according to directions.

The meat loaf is good cold in a sandwich, of course, but the only way you’ll have leftovers is if you serve it to four people instead of eight. The catsup of choice is Heinz.

Excerpted from “Cooking for Comfort: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes That Are as Satisfying to Cook as They Are to Eat,”by Marian Burros. Copyright © 2003 by Foxcraft, Ltd. Published by Simon and Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.