From Kris B.
Smokin' Macaroni and Cheese
We all know that we shouldn't use food to calm our fears, ease our stress, or generally make us feel better, but let's face it, we all do. Whether it is that mandatory cup of coffee first thing in the morning to make us feel that we are prepared to face the day, a grilled cheese sandwich like the one mom used to make for lunch on those cold winter afternoons, or that big plate of French fries that we know will taste oh so good in that moment at the end of a very long work week, we all have something that we call comfort food (or drink). And there are as many reasons for wanting and needing that comfort food as there are foods themselves.
Last weekend, Tracey and I were both in need of comfort food, but for very different reasons. Tracey's entire family was hit hard by the stomach yuck. We all know what a terrible existence that is! She was looking for some kind of food that would help herself and her family keep their chins up and their lunch down.
I was in Delaware beginning the serious work of cleaning out the house that my grandparents and then my parents had lived in. My grandfather was quite the historian, collecting books and paraphernalia about U.S history, British history, and Delaware history. He also had a penchant for art and antiques. And having been a young adult during the Depression, he never threw anything away. The house was bursting at the seams!
Though my parents had only lived in that house about fifteen years, they too had collected a lot of stuff, primarily just the stuff of life-papers, pictures, books, trinkets from here and there. I discovered that my dad had not even cleared out all of my mom's clothing, despite the fact that she died in 2006. All of this to say that the task that my husband and I were faced with was huge, requiring much more time than the long weekend that we had to tackle it. The sorting needed to be done last weekend because an auctioneer was coming the following Wednesday to take many of the unwanted things. The upside of this short timeline was that it forced me to take only the tangible things to which I had an immediate emotional response. That is a good thing. I really don't need more "stuff" nor do we have room for much more of anything.
As I went room by room, through drawer after drawer, closet after closet, and shelf after shelf, I was physically exhausted and even more emotionally spent. It suddenly dawned on me that going through all of this stuff was almost more painful and stressful than the deaths themselves. In the choices I was making about what to keep, what to send to auction, what to donate, and what to put in the trash, I was deciding which pieces of the lives of my grandparents and parents were important enough to be preserved and which ones would now only live on as memories. Needless to say, I was willing to accept comfort from almost anywhere.
Despite a stressful forty-eight hours, I can now look back and say with confidence that I think things worked out for the best.
You know that you have a good friend when in between trips to the bathroom dealing with an unhappy tummy, she sends you s quick email to let you know she is thinking of you...and as evidence that she is at least somewhat conscious. As tough as my weekend was, I'm not sure that I would have wanted to trade places with Tracey. I don't handle upset stomachs very well, not mine or anyone else's.
All that to say that by the time we returned home to Dallas late Monday night, I was in desperate need of some comfort food. When I am physically tired, my instinct is to turn to sugar. When I'm emotionally tired, I want to be comforted by something that is warm and soothing to my insides as well as being at least a little bit healthy. My "go to" food in this situation is macaroni and cheese. Yes, it's full of fat and carbs, which sound anything but healthy, but over time I have combined several different recipes in an attempt to make it a little better for my body and still satisfying to my soul.
This recipe is adapted from Michelle Obama's recipe in American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America.. She says that it is a favorite of her girls. I have made a few changes that perhaps give it a more "grown-up" appeal as well.
Since it is called "macaroni and cheese," I think it is fair to assume that these two ingredients are the most important. I use medium shells rather than traditional elbow macaroni because I like how the sauce fills in the shells creating pockets of cheesy goodness. This brings us to the cheese, in my opinion, the cheese is THE most important ingredient.
I am a fan of smoked cheese, any kind of smoked cheese, but my favorite is smoked Gouda. Therefore I use a mixture of sharp cheddar and smoked Gouda, as well as a little fresh Parmesan in this recipe. Don't you think smoked Gouda gives it a grown-up feel?
Michelle Obama adds chopped parsley to her recipe to give it a little color. I am a bigger fan of spinach than parsley, so I use that instead. Green is green, right?
The big difference between this healthier recipe and "homestyle" macaroni and cheese is in the creamy cheese sauce mentioned above. Rather than beginning with a fat based roux, the cheese is combined with puréed cauliflower to create the sauce. Don't roll your eyes until you try it! I bet you wouldn't know the difference between the two if you weren't told.
This way we can save that butter to add to a crunchy breadcrumb topping if you'd like.
Here is the cast of characters:
16 oz. medium shells pasta
1 cup 2-percent or skim milk
8 oz each of shredded smoked Gouda and sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 bag of fresh baby spinach
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/2 kosher salt
black pepper to taste
a pinch or two of red pepper flakes
If you would like a crunchy topping, mix 1/2 cup of your favorite breadcrumbs, crackers, or chips with a table spoon of melted butter spread this over the top. (Admittedly, this moves this recipe a few degrees to the negative on the healthy scale, but a few degrees toward the positive on the goodness scale. And remember, we are talking about comfort food here, so go all the way!)
Preheat the oven to 350
Steam the cauliflower until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Do not discard the water.
Cook the shells according to the package directions. In the last two minutes of cooking, add the spinach. Remove from heat and drain.
Puree the cauliflower in a food processor or blender. Add a few tablespoons of the steaming water. If the mixture seems too thick, add a little more water. Add in all of the spices and seasonings. Process until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, pour the pureed cauliflower mixture and the pasta and spinach mixture. Stir to coat. Add all of the cheeses. Stir until well combined.
Spoon the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish or multiple dishes of other sizes. (This recipe can be frozen and reheated.)
If you want the crumbly topping, mix the melted butter with a half a cup of your preferred carbohydrate. Sprinkle on the top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.
I’m not going to lie to you; this recipe is more labor intensive than opening that blue box and mixing the magic orange powder with milk and butter, but it is so worth the effort! It tastes better, it is healthier, and, remember that we are talking about comfort food here, while you are cooking, your mind is on something other than the issue that caused the need for comfort food in the first place!
From Tracey G.
Homemade Chicken Soup
It seems to be one of those recipes/foods you turn to when you're coming down sick with something. I have been trying lately to remember it in good health too because it's also just flat out yummy! And now that I've finally realized it's pretty easy to do, I find I'm turning to it a lot more these days because it can also be a fairly inexpensive meal. It takes a little more time, but not a lot of effort I've discovered, so not a lot of "pot watching" is required. ;-) It's great to make on weekends when you have some time to be around the house.
And let me say that, for me, it was needed this past weekend that's for sure! I'd bought all the ingredients the day before I came down with that nasty stomach bug. I'd thought it'd be a good thing for Harry as he'd been home sick from school most of the week, and it ended up being a good thing for me too! I am so glad it's a recipe that doesn't require a lot of babysitting, because just as soon as I was able to get out of bed for any length of time - I seized my opportunity to get it made! :-)
It's truly one of the original comfort foods! As Kris and I were talking, we realized we both needed comfort foods, and I think it spurred us to actually think about what roles food can play in your life. Which leads me back to my motto of everything in moderation. I find that the fastest way to get me to want something is to tell me I can't have it, lol. Even if it's something I never really cared for, as soon as it becomes off limits, I want it! Well, there are a few exceptions, tell me to avoid okra and I you'll not get an argument from me, lol ;-)
This is my favorite Chicken Noodle Soup recipe, it's crazy simple, even more simple than what I used to use and for some reason it's better, lol. I don't have many exacts for this, it's more of a method I suppose, since it's actually pieced together from a couple recipes with a few changes thrown in, lol. So, when it comes to vegetable amounts, it's personal taste that you can let dictate what and how much you add. :-)
So, here we go... I start with my 7qt Dutch oven, and throw my whole chicken in it. Add water to cover.
I then add the salt (I prefer Kosher salt), peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic - and you can add thyme or dill, or both! I just usually add dill as not everyone in my house likes the taste of thyme....
I bring the mixture up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook - times can vary, if it's a 3 lb chicken it can take an hour or a bit more until the chicken is tender, I usually use a larger chicken, usually about 5 lbs, and cook it longer, I get my best flavors at about 3 hours (and honestly, it's cooked longer depending on what's going on that day, lol, I just keep adding water if it starts to disappear, lol, and it's always turned out just fine.)
By the time the chicken's fully cooked, it's usually so tender it's falling off the bones, so it can get a bit tricky to get out of the pot, lol. I get what I can with my tongs and then I strain the whole shebang through a colander into another bowl (or pot). Then, the broth goes back into the pot for the rest of the recipe. Once I get all the chicken I want to use accounted for, I shred the meat and set it aside.
I then bring the stock back up to boil, and add my sliced carrots and celery....
While the vegetables are getting a head start cooking, I get my noodles going. I like to use Kluski style noodles, they are my favorite, but I've also used whatever I've happened to have on hand, regular wide egg noodles etc, whatever you like :-)
I like to cook them in a pot of water on the side when I think of it, then just as they are about finished, I drain them and let them finish cooking in the soup. I've also cooked them right in the broth, and either way it turns out just fine, but if I partially cook on the side, I don't lose as much broth, lol.
Once the veggies are tender and the noodles are good, I throw in the shredded chicken so it can warm back through and it's ready to eat! Makes a large amount so it's a good thing it tastes even better the next day, and then it freezes well too for future meals :-)
As for the recipe, here's the general amounts I use:
1 3-5 lb whole chicken (fryers work just fine for this too)
1 whole head of garlic, cut in half, horizontally - not peeled or anything (it gets strained out at the end of cooking).
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme or some dried dill - if I'm using dried of either herb, I'd say I use about 2 tsp or so...
4-5 black peppercorns
2 tbsp Kosher salt
Vegetables (Feel free to use as much or as little as you want, although I do know that one time with another recipe I used too many carrots and the soup ended up too "sweet", lol):
6 or 7 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced - I slice mine in large pieces as I like the flavor it adds, but I don't want to eat it and larger pieces makes it easy to pick out, lol. Feel free to cut any way you like!
I use about 3/4 of a standard sized package of Kluski noodles, or however many I want at the time, it's another ingredient you can customize to your liking.
All that's left is to pair it with some yummy bread of choice and maybe a nice salad of some sort and enjoy!