Remember how Mom's mac 'n' cheese could smooth out a bad day? Chances are, most of her special dishes weren't fancy but took some time to make. They were worth the wait: when you ate them, you felt warm and safe.
The truth is, our comforting food memories don't all run to macaroni and cheese. A broad but informal survey of Westerners, from governors to naturalists, revealed a melting pot ― hot turkey sandwiches at Howard Johnson or French toast you're allowed to eat sitting on the couch.
Gourmet ingredients weren't necessarily an advantage. Darrell Corti, a Sacramento grocer and wine merchant whose mother made frittata-and-prosciutto sandwiches on sturdy breads for his school lunches, jokes about his "deprived" childhood. "I loved bologna sandwiches made with Best Foods sandwich spread and soft Wonder bread. By lunchtime, they were warm, pungent, and greasy. But that was a forbidden treat for me." His solution: swap lunches.
That's just it ― it didn't matter to us then if our sandwiches were greasy. Montana humorist and cowboy-poet Gwen Petersen sums it up: "My greatest comfort when I was growing up was we could eat guilt-free."
To bring back that greatest comfort of all, we gathered up the recipes our respondents hankered after and went to work in Sunset's test kitchens zapping fat and trimming time. A surprising number of dishes were almost quick, light, and healthy already; shortcut products, leaner ingredients, nonstick pans, and modified techniques transformed the rest into table-ready low-fat realities in 45 minutes or less.
Now you can turn back the clock, in more ways than one.