I started a survey on Facebook asking my friends what their favorite comfort foods were. I’m looking for more input before I do any kind of article, but so far many of the favorites involve cheese. If you would like to add your favorites to the survey, please post them as a comment on this blog post or – if we are FB Friends – look for that post on my profile page and post there. Sometimes the weather just has to be ugly to send me on a comfort food kick, but lately illness and bereavement have had me on that path. Anything can set off the need for real comfort food!
One of my favorites is Macaroni & Cheese – and I’m not talking about that orange processed “cheese food” stuff! I mean real, homemade, macaroni and cheese! This is a recipe I recently developed to rave reviews: Macaroni & Cheese with Pears (click for printable pdf) So I don’t bore you with repetition, I’m just going to discuss specific ingredient choices instead of how to make the recipe.
Cheese: In researching the iconic dish, I found an article – could have been by Martha Stewart – that recommended using the sharpest cheddar you could find because the sauce dilutes the cheesiness and sharper cheese will preserve the cheesy flavor you are craving. I’m pretty sure those aren’t the exact words, but you get the idea! The first time I made this recipe, I used Cougar Gold Sharp Cheddar from Washington State University and, I have to say, it was really very good for this dish. I have since used Tillimook Extra Sharp Cheddar, but still find that Cougar Gold is the best! This recipe also calls for Parmesan cheese – and by that I don’t mean the powdered stuff in the green can. Select shaved or grated Parmesan from your grocer’s deli or dairy department or I will find you. You know I will.
Pears: I chose a lovely, large red pear and went all fancy by taking several slices out of the center of the fruit to de-core and arrange on top in a pretty pattern. The rest was peeled and diced into the mac & cheese. As you can see from the photo, there are no pear slices on top of this particular dish. Fancy is a state of mind and sometimes I just don’t go there! The important part is having the pear in the dish for the sweet-sharp flavor contrast in the dish.
Sausages: Our family loves Aidell’s Sausages and the one I chose for this casserole is their Roasted Garlic and Gruyere Cheese Chicken Sausage. It has a peppery flavor that goes well with all the ingredients. There are many varieties of these sausages and you may find your family prefers another. I have also made this dish “sausage-less” as a side dish for a ham dinner. That’s what I like in my recipes – flexibility!
Noodles: For your macaroni & cheese, you want a sturdy noodle that will hold onto the cheese sauce. I fell in love with the galletti noodle because it looks like a prehistoric elbow macaroni. It has the same shape as elbow, but has a ruffle along the curve – like a dinosaur! Here is an article describing the noodle (they use less colorful words…) with a photo of what they look like. And you can probably see the noodle in my photo, above. Believe it or not, I get mine under the Albertson’s Supermarket brand-name, Culinary Circle.
Bread Crumbs: Often, a casserole recipe will call for bread crumbs mixed with melted butter spread across the top. I rarely have bread crumbs (or bread that can be made into crumbs) in the house, but have taken to keeping low-fat croutons for salads in my pantry. I can take a handful of these, put them into a freezer zip-shut bag (sturdier bag = less crumb leakage) and use my rolling pin to crush them to crumbs for the recipe. To tell you the truth, the bread crumb step is probably not all that necessary except for presentation. Do not tell the pre-packaged crouton industry that I told you this!
I will be posting other comfort food selections along the way, so be sure to participate in my informal survey to have your favorites included!