comfort food

Grandma Mac and Cheese

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All of my grandchildren think that I make the absolute most wonderful, bestest, most delicious mac and cheese. And they expect at least one mac and cheese dinner when they come for a visit.

No worries. I always have one in my freezer, just in case there is ever a surprise knock on my door from one of them.

Of course I thought my grandma made the best mac and cheese too. Hers came out of a box and the cheese part were some granules that came in a separate foil package. She was supposed to mix the granules with milk and butter I think, but she never did. She just opened the package and sprinkled it on top of the cooked elbows. 

That's the way all of us grandchildren thought mac and cheese was supposed to taste. And of course, grandma made it best.

It's the way I made it for my kids. Because that was the best.

Somewhere along the way I tasted actual homemade macaroni and cheese. It was a revelation. It was wonderful. Which is NOT to say that grandma's wasn't good. It was just a whole different dish. I still think of it with fond memories. My daughters think of it with fond memories. And, btw, they also made the packaged kind and sprinkled the dry cheesy granules on top for their children. And their children love that too and probably will have fond memories of that dish.

But when they come to visit me, it's the other kind they expect and love. The from-scratch kind.

They're also pretty clear about how they like it too: moist but not overly sauced, with a combo of American and cheddar cheeses and a crispy top. No added things like tomato or cooked vegetables. No crust -- just maybe some extra grated cheese.

This is the one:

 

Grandma Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 pound small pasta such as elbows

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups milk (preferably whole milk)

  • 14-16 ounces mixed American and cheddar cheeses plus extra for garnish, shredded

  • salt to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, rinse under cold water, drain and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, turn the heat to low-medium, add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, for 2-3 minutes, but do not let the mixture become brown. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk to keep the sauce smooth. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add most of the cheeses, leaving some to top the dish as garnish. Add some salt and continue to whisk the sauce until all the cheese has melted. Add the pasta and mix to coat all the pieces. Eat as is, sprinkled with extra cheese, OR place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes to crisp the top. 

Makes 6-8 servings

 

Comforting Pasta Amatriciana

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When you feel let down or sad you need to do something special to help cheer yourself up.

Some people shop, some go to a spa for a facial, some exercise like crazy (when my brother was going through a divorce he ran super marathons -- 110 miles!)

To say that the election of 2016 was a disappointment for me is a huge understatement. 

I need cheering up, and my favorite coping mechanism is: eating. Mostly potatoes. So one night I had two baked potatoes for dinner.

But now I need real, actual food, a regular dinner entree. Something more substantial and also comforting. 

Pasta! 

With red sauce. AND smokey with (I use Jack's Gourmet Facon) bacon and (I used Jack's Gourmet Sweet Italian Beef Sausage) sausage. And a little gentle (chili pepper) heat.

Bucatini Amatriciana!

Yum.

Celebration-worthy.

Kosher Pasta Amatriciana

  • 4 ounces kosher beef or lamb bacon, chopped
  • 3 ounces kosher Italian style sausage, diced
  • 2 ounces olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped
  • 3 pounds tomatoes, chopped (or use canned tomatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound cooked bucatini

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over low-medium heat until lightly crispy. Add the sausage and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the meats are browned. Remove the meats with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour the olive oil into the pan. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes or until slightly softened. Add the garlic, cook briefly, then add the tomatoes, parsley and red pepper. Return the bacon and sausage to the sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Pour over the pasta, toss and serve. 

 Makes 4 servings

 

Potato Chips May Save the Day

When I feel stressed I want potatoes.

Any kind.

Baked, boiled, fried, mashed, cakes, salad, pierogi, kugel, soup.

This election is giving me stress.

I know a lot of people who are freaking out. So it's not just me.

But I definitely need some sort of potato to calm me down.

So tonight, when I have people over for my first debate watch gathering, I am serving homemade potato chips. These:

Rosemary and Sea Salt Potato Chips

  • 3 medium russet type potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary (or use dried, crushed rosemary)
  • sea salt, preferably coarse, freshly ground salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wipe the potato slices dry. Pour the olive oil into a bowl. Add the potato slices and toss them to coat on all sides. Place the potato slices in a single layer on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with rosemary and sea salt. Bake for 15-18 minutes, turning the slices once.  

 Makes 4 servings

 

 

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The Easiest, Most Comforting Tomato Soup

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Last week I was at my daughter Meredith's house and she had just finished cooking tomato soup. The fragrance -- warmth, security, satisfaction -- lingered in my memory into the next day.

I had to have some.

And so I did. I cooked a batch at home.

That enticing smell! I had it right there, in my own kitchen.

It was so easy too.

I separated the soup into packages for freezing, but they didn't last. We ate it all, a soup-plateful before dinner over the course of three evenings.

Now I will make some more.

Tomato Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 28-ounce cans Italian style tomatoes, including juices
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup uncooked white rice

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about another minute. Add the tomatoes, stock, basil and salt and pepper. Break up the tomatoes coarsely with a wooden spoon. Bring the soup to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes. Add the rice, cover the pan and cook for another 25 minutes. Blend the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender. 

Makes 6-8 servings

Mushroom Barley Soup

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The weather fooled me for a while. It was actually in the 60s last weekend. Now it's back to the usual for a January in Connecticut. 19 degrees when I woke up.

That's cold.

That's soup weather. Hearty, nourishing Mushroom Barley soup weather.

My mother-in-law, Pearl Fein, made fabulous Mushroom Barley soup, but I never got her recipe.

Alas.

Then I saw my friend Liz Rueven's recipe. Liz blogs at www.kosherlikeme.com, but she created her recipe for Mushroom Barley soup for The Nosher, where it was voted one of the Top Ten recipes on the site for 2015. 

It inspired me, but I was sans crockpot (mine is somewhere in my basement and I didn't feel like looking for it).

So I thought about what I remember loving in my mother-in-law's soup and what appealed to me about Liz's recipe and I came up with my very own version.

It was awesome. VERY similar to my mother-in-law's, except hers was made with chicken stock, mine with beef stock and water.

Either way, this is going into the "repeat" file.

 

Mushroom Barley Soup

  • 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound chuck, cut into small chunks (or use flanken)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 carrots, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 3/4 cup pearled barley
  • 4 cups beef or chicken stock
  • 4 cups water, approximately
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the mushrooms in a bowl, cover with hot water and soak for 8-10 minutes or until the caps are soft. Remove and discard the hard, inedible stems, if any, chop the caps and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the meat and cook, turning the pieces occasionally, for 6-8 minutes or until lightly crispy. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the carrots, celery, reserved mushrooms, dill and barley and stir briefly. Pour in the stock and water, add salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes. Add more water if you prefer a thinner soup (or if you refrigerate the soup: the barley will absorb the liquid and soup will be very thick).

Make 8 servings

 

Baked Potato

What do you eat when you're feeling sad or emotionally wrecked or furious at the world?

I grew up in a family in which, whenever there was a crisis of some sort, the grownups would say "how can you eat at a time like this?!"

But I'm an eater and, in fact, when I am feeling like life is closing in, I want to eat more than ever, fill myself with food and just keep pecking away like a chicken in a barnyard.

People talk about comfort foods. You know, the foods that supposedly make you feel better.

So what is that food, that one thing that I want the most when I'm at a low point? I've thought about it, that's for sure.

Do I want my Mom's Mac n' Cheese?

Actually, I would rather have my Mom, thank you.

Ditto, my Mom's Apple Pie and Chicken Soup.

Popcorn helps, but isn't sustaining.

Ditto Li-Lac chocolate's Butter Crunch

Actually, what I want is the very simplest of foods. What helps me most is a plain baked potato.

Russet-Idaho. Organic. Crunchy crusted. Faint metallic taste to the flesh.

This is food so basic and sustaining, so wonderful that, IMHO, it needs just a bit of butter, salt and pepper. Skip the sour cream. No chives. No cheese.

Keep it simple. 

I just ate one. I might have another later.

So easy to make perfectly:

Baked Potato

  • 4 organic Idaho, russet type potatoes
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the potatoes. When the oven reaches 400 degrees, place the potatoes in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Pierce each potato with the tip of a sharp knife. Continue to bake for another 45 minutes or until the outside is crusty and the inside is tender (pierce the flesh with the tip of a sharp knife). 

Makes 4 servings

 

 

 

 

 

A new day, a new year, a new website

After years and years of always making the same New Year resolutions to go on a diet or exercise more, or to be more organized with my papers, or to keep my car neat and clean, I finally have realized that I am who I am and love to cook and to eat, so giving up “all carbs” or “never eating another bowl of caramel corn” are vows I cannot keep.

I do exercise. More is unnecessary. 

Alas, my sloppy desk is, I am sure, a permanent thing.

Ditto, the car. I eat popcorn in my car. Some of it falls out onto the floor. I drive my grandkids around. They discard grain bar wrappers, banana peels and half-done artwork in the back seat. I don’t always get around to tidying up right away.

So be it.

So this year’s resolution was different. I decided to start a new website. And, thanks to my son-in-law Jesse Hertzberg, here it is!

Today is cold and dreary, dark, and about to snow. It’s stew weather. Any kind of stew. For warmth and comfort and filling up. For my new website? A recipe for Beer Braised Beef (you can call it stew).

This recipe is just the right dish for a day like this, and for some months to come.

You might notice that I don’t use stew meat. I get a large chunk of chuck instead, and cut it into big pieces. That’s because most of the time the packages of stew meat at the supermarket contain pieces that are too small. Stew meat shrinks — if you start with pieces that are too small, you wind up with tough little chewy bits rather than tender succulent, meaty nuggets. Also, chuck is the tastiest cut of beef for stew — I recommend it above any other cut.

Beer Braised Beef

  • 6 pounds beef chuck roast
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de provence
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 12-14 ounces beer or ale
  • 4-6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 medium carrots, cut into chunks
  • 3-4 tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Cut the chuck into large chunks. Combine the flour, paprika, herbes de provence, garlic powder and salt and pepper in a dish. Coat each piece of meat with the flour mixture. Pour the vegetable oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium heat. Working with a few pieces at a time, cook the flour-coated beef for 6-8 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, or until crispy on several sides. Return all the meat to the pan. Pour in the beer. Cover the pan. Turn the heat to low. Cook for 1-1/2 hours. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and parsley. Cover the pan. Cook at a bare simmer for another hour or until the meat and vegetables are tender.

Makes 8 servings

Minestrone

Here’s what’s cooking: Minestrone Soup. 

Because it’s winter and even though it hasn’t been particularly cold in my neck of the woods, it gets dark early and the wind still blows a big chill.

So, soup.

Minestrone is a wondrous choice for so many reasons. It’s thick and filling, colorful and inviting, nourishing and nurturing.

Also, I can make it ahead, which I am doing today, for my New Year’s Eve dinner.

And it tastes so, so wonderful.                                                                                                   

Minestrone Soup

  • 3-4 ounces beef bacon** 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 small zucchini or yellow squash, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup cut up green string beans 
  • 28-ounce can Italian style tomatoes, including juices
  • 8 cups stock (beef, chicken or vegetable) or water
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup elbow macaroni
  • Parmesan cheese, optional**

If you include bacon, place it in a soup pot over low-medium heat and cook for 5-6 minutes or until crispy. Remove the meat and set aside. Drain most of the fat. Add the olive oil. Raise the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, zucchini, peas, corn and string beans and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bacon pieces, if used, tomatoes, stock, parsley, basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan partially and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the beans and macaroni and cook for about 10 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Makes 8 servings

** If you make the soup without bacon, serve it sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. 

Yellow Split Pea Soup

Yellow Split Pea Soup

The best reason to freeze a smoked turkey carcass or buy a big smoked turkey drumstick.

So you can use it for this soup, and have a most comforting dish for dinner when it’s cold outside like today. Or when it’s rainy or snowy and you need something hot, filling, thick and nourishing, easy to prepare and good to eat.

Yellow Split Pea Soup

  • 1 smoked turkey carcass (or use a smoked turkey drumstick)
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 pound dried yellow split peas
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 large stalks celery, including leaves, chopped
  • 2 medium parsnips, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the turkey in a soup pot and pour in the 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to a simmer and cook for 4-5 minutes, removing any scum as it rises to the surface. Add the peas, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, allspice and some salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan and cook for about 2-1/2 to 3 hours or until the peas are soft. Remove the turkey. Puree the soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender. If you wish, remove any meat from the turkey, chop it and add to the soup.

Makes 8-10 servings

Grilled Ginger-Lemon Chicken Wings

They say that chicken soup is a cure for all ills, the “Jewish penicillin” that magically works to make you feel better. And studies have shown that hot soup actually can help you get over a cold quickly.

But some health issues are not so easily remedied. Like cancer and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy, which, unfortunately, a colleague of mine in the food writing world is facing now.

He is Gil Marks, renowned authority on Jewish cooking and food history, author of 5 cookbooks, founding editor of Kosher Gourmet Magazine and award-winner many times over, including a James Beard Foundation award for his book Olive Trees and Honey.

I have — and use — all his books.

I don’t know Gil personally but he is a giant in the world of Jewish and kosher cooking and I wish him well.

While I realize that no food is magic, I know that sometimes it can be a comfort, if not a cure. 

So what kinds of foods are comforting? What helps when you’re feeling ill, needy, upset, insecure, frightened?

Well, I suppose we all have our own list. For me, it’s chicken wings.

Chicken wings because when I am in need of comfort I want my mother and father, but I don’t have them anymore. So I remember that in the days before chicken parts were so readily available, my mother always gave me the wings from the whole chicken because she thought the wings were the tastiest, most tender part and that the children should have them. And I remember that my Dad, who would have loved to eat the wings, sacrificed them for his kids.

Chicken wings are like a gift of love and generosity from my parents. Treasured memories that I take comfort in when I need comfort.

Chicken wings, my favorite blanket, a good book and my specs. These help.

Wishing you well, Gil.    

Grilled Ginger-Lemon Chicken Wings

  • 18 chicken wings
  • 1/2 cup ginger preserves or marmalade, chopped if the pieces are large
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 medium scallions, chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • pinch or two cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven broiler. Wipe the chicken wings dry and set them aside on a broiler pan, top side down. In a bowl, mix together the ginger preserves, lemon juice, scallions, garlic, lemon peel, coriander, cayenne pepper and salt. Brush the surface of each wing with some of the ginger mixture. Broil for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the wings over. Brush with the remaining ginger mixture. Broil for another 10 minutes or until browned and crispy. Makes 18

NOTE: you can prepare these on an outdoor grill

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