Kitchen Wit and Wisdom: Time for comfort foods

Cathi Litzenberger offers up cozy recipes for macaroni and cheese and potato soup

In this world we all experience the relativity of life: the joys and sorrows,  gains and losses;  light and dark;  strengths and weakness; clarity and confusion; health and sickness, and on it goes. There are people in this world starving, while others are throwing food away.

The last three and a half months seem to have occupied a lifetime for me — that’s how it can be when a loved one is in crisis. Time flies, yet time stands still. It’s reminding me of what’s really important — comforting the sad, feeding the hungry, lifting up the spirits of our fellow human beings, visiting the lonely, standing up for the persecuted. It can take as little as a smile, a touch, a hug to change despair into hope in a human heart; a meal to a shut in, a kind word to a homeless person.

We all can make a positive difference to bringing light to the darkness. With this in mind I feel like offering comfort food recipes today. The first is an easy-to-make old-school macaroni and cheese with a perfectly crispy crust.

Grandma’s Macaroni and Cheese

1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 cups milk

1 pinch ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).  Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the macaroni, and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked through but still slightly firm, about 8 minutes. Drain well.

Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam and bubble, stir in the flour; cook on medium heat until flour just begins to turn pale yellow, 3 to 4 minutes. Add thyme, cayenne pepper and white pepper; cook and stir another minute, then whisk in 1 cup of milk until smooth. Pour in remaining milk and whisk again. Bring the sauce just to a simmer. Stir in nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce and salt; simmer on medium-low heat until thickened, about 8 minutes, whisking often.

Turn heat off, then add 2-1/4 cups of Cheddar cheese; stir until melted and combined. Add Dijon mustard. Transfer the macaroni into a casserole dish, then pour in the cheese sauce; stir to thoroughly combine sauce with pasta.

Mix panko bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon melted butter in a small bowl, and sprinkle crumbs on top of macaroni and cheese. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup of Cheddar cheese on top. Bake in the preheated oven until bread crumbs and Cheddar cheese topping are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Potato Soup

5 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces

3 lb. russet potatoes

3 1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream

1/4 lb. butter

1 2/3 cups whole milk

1/2 tsp. black pepper

4 scallions

3/4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Cook the bacon pieces over medium heat in a medium skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to paper toweling to drain and set aside.

Peel, rinse and cut potatoes into thirds. Place in large pot with water to cover, add 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are very soft, about 45 minutes. Drain the potatoes, discarding the water, and return them to the pot. Mash with potato masher until smooth.

Add the sour cream and butter and stir until melted. Add the milk, pepper and remaining salt and bring the soup back to a simmer. Divide among 8 bowls and serve the soup hot, garnished with scallions, cheese and bacon.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.



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