by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC culinary program and operations
It’s the start of a new year, and I’m guessing many people’s recent google searches might have included some words such as “clean eating,” “healthy diet,” or “low calorie dinners.” Using a new year to expand one’s diet to be more healthful, including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and unprocessed ingredients is a wonderful thing. But, everyone wants a break from that once in a while, especially when you get into that mid-winter post-holiday funk. This when you seek refuge in comfort foods.
Comfort foods go beyond the meal’s standard purpose of simply supplying nourishment to the body but to actually causing psychological feelings of happiness. For me, the term “comfort foods” conjures up thoughts of hearty pastas, rich soups and stick-to-the-bones potato dishes. I love to use a dreary Saturday afternoon to make some good, from-scratch comfort foods. Here are a few of my go-to’s.
Creamy Mushroom and Leek Soup
I love mushrooms. Any kind, cooked any way. And in the winter, creamy soups served with some delicious crusty bread is a win for me every time. Make the soup with mushrooms and I’m even happier!
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup leeks, cleaned and sliced, white parts only
1 ½ pounds mushrooms (button, Portobello’s, shiitake, whatever you like), diced small
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, mined
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
3 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add the leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes until softened. Add mushrooms and thyme and continue to cook until mushrooms are softened, about 6 – 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add flour and thoroughly mix into mushroom leek mixture. Let cook for about 2 – 3 minutes. Add wine or sherry and look for 1 minute. Add stock and bring soup to a boil while stirring well to allow soup to thicken. Taste for any needed seasoning. Reduce heat to low, mix in heavy cream, and serve.
Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4 sides
From the macaroni and cheese recipes I come across, most are for a baked macaroni and cheese, but I prefer mine straight off the stove top. For the baked ones, the noodles can easily become overcooked, leaving you with just mush. The below recipe allows the mac and cheese to be served immediately, it’s very quick and easy, and you get that delicious creamy sauce. The key for the sauce is to use cheeses that melt well.
1 pound noodles such as penne, macaroni, or ziti
1/2 cup Fontina cheese, grated
1/2 cup Baby Swiss, grated
1/4 cup Blue Cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
3 tablespoons butter, cut into 3 pieces
1 cup reserved pasta water
Bring salted pot of water to boil. Add pasta, cook and drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return back to pot, adding all of the cheeses, the butter, and some salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add a 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water and combine. Decide if the consistency looks good, or if more cooking water should be added. Taste for seasoning, adjust if necessary with additional salt and pepper, and serve.
Meatloaf with Creamy Onion Gravy
Normally I go the traditional route with meatloaf and use a ketchup/bbq type mix for the topping. But for real comfort food, I think a creamy white gravy is the way to go. For mashed potatoes, I like using Yukon Gold potatoes, and finishing them with milk, heavy cream and a good bit of kosher salt.
1 tablespoon salad oil
1/2 large white onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3/ 4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground beef chuck
1 pound ground pork
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a very large bowl and let cool. Add the panko, eggs, mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper and stir to form a paste. Using your hands, work in the ground meats.
Line a large roasting pan with parchment paper or put in a deep Pyrex dish. Firmly pat the meat mixture into a loaf, about 10 inches long. Cook in oven until lightly browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf registers 150°, about 35 minutes. Let the meat loaf rest for 15 minutes, then cut into thick slices and serve with the Creamy Onion Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.
Creamy Onion Gravy:
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onions and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 12-15 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cook, whisking frequently, until the gravy is thick, about 5 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream, salt and pepper, and simmer gravy for about 5 more minutes.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Serves about 12
(Reduce by 2/3 to serve 4)
This recipe is great for a crowd – perfect when inviting over a big group of friends or family. Plus, the sauce and meatballs can be made in advance and simply reheated right before you are ready to eat. The below recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, one of my favorite cookbooks. Not only are all the recipes in it reliable, but they also tell you the ins and outs of why a recipe works.
2 ¼ cups panko break crumbs
1 ½ cups buttermilk
2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese, grated
6 tablespoons fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 table spoons olive oil
1 large white onion, diced very small
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (cut amount in half if you prefer less spice)
3, 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
6 cups tomato juice
6 tablespoons dry white wine
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
3 pounds spaghetti noodles
2 tablespoons salt
grated parmesan cheese to pass while serving
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray two sheets pans with non-stick spray. Combine breadcrumbs and buttermilk in a large bowl and let sit, mashing occasionally with a fork until a smooth paste forms, about 10 minutes.
Thoroughly mix beef, pork, eggs, parmesan, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper into breadcrumb mixture. Roll 2-inch meatballs and arrange on baking sheet. Cook about 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through cooking.
For the sauce, while meatballs cook, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 7-8 minutes. Add in garlic, oregano and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato juice, wine, 1/2 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer and let cook until thickened some, about 15 minutes.
Lower oven temp to 300 degrees. Add meatballs to sauce (you may need to separate into two pots for space), cover and cook sauce and meatballs about 1 hour. (If serving later, put into refrigerator at this point. To reheat, drizzle about ½ cup of water over sauce and heat in 325 degree oven for about 1 hour).
Cook pasta in salted water. Drain and reserve ½ cup cooking water. Stir into sauce parsley, sugar and any additional salt and pepper that you think it needs. Add about 2 cups sauce to pasta and toss to combine. Add reserve cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Serve, topping portions with more tomato sauce and meatballs and passing Parmesan cheese.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 786-4613 or visit https://www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts/ .