Archives for category: Comfort Food

Macaroni and cheese. I was so excited, those many years ago, when my then-newish-boyfriend told me that that his 6-year-old, a somewhat persnickety eater, loved macaroni and cheese.

My chance to impress the impish redheaded Allen had arrived!

In an instant, I grabbed my fabulous recipe – hand written in blue ink on a sheet of paper from a legal pad – jumped in the car to procure groceries and headed over to Mark’s house to make a comfort food favorite in an unfamiliar kitchen.

This dinner was going to bring us together. This dinner was going to make the unfamiliar both warm and comfortable. This dinner was going to be the first of the many I fantasized about making for the two people who were going to make my life complete.

Perhaps I put too much on the mac & cheese.

I got to Mark’s early and set about chopping; and melting; and adding; and stirring, stirring, stirring; and boiling; and straining; and mixing. After an hour or so, the pan of cheesy deliciousness was ready to bake.

Mark and Allen got home right as I was pulling out the bubbly pan of mac & cheese. I felt like some sort of super combination of June-Cleaver-meets-Martha-Stewart. My vision was happening.

As they walked through the kitchen doorway, I exclaimed, “Hey, kiddo, I made your favorite: macaroni & cheese!”

And this kid, who held my world in his hands, looked around and took in every detail. He then flatly informed me, “That’s not macaroni & cheese. There’s no box.*”

Based on the missing box, he refused to eat.

I, in overly dramatic fashion, shut my self in the bathroom and cried.

Mark, trying to manage the situation, continued to try to get Allen to eat, which led to a battle of wills … which the 6-year-old won.

Clearly, it was not the night I’d imagined. It also wasn’t as heart wrenching as seemed in the oven-heat of the moment. It was our first “family” tiff**, and we survived it. Mark and I did enjoy our dinner eventually and Allen enjoyed a PB&J.

Ten years later, The Boy continues to politely decline my fab mac & cheese. So I now make it as a special treat for grown-up friends and family. Here is the recipe that delights most but fails to measure up to the Blue Box*** in a kid’s best estimation.

Fabulous Mac & Cheese****

12 Tablespoons of unsalted butter

1 Medium white onion, rough chopped (these will be strained out at the end)

3 –4 Sprigs of fresh Thyme (no need to remove the stems. This will be strained out at the end.)

10 – 12 whole peppercorns

6 Tablespoons of flour

5 Cups of whole milk (room temp)

6 Cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 Lb of elbow macaroni, prepared al dente (don’t’ forget to salt your water)

Salt

Pepper

Nutmeg (fresh grated is best)

Step one: Melt the 12 T of butter over medium heat.

12 Tablespoons of meting butter! Everything's better with butter.

Step two: Add the onions, thyme, and peppercorns and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes. Stir constantly.

Adding layers of flavor with onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

Step three: Add the flour and cook for 2 or so minutes, stirring constantly. This is the roux and it will be very thick.

Just add flour for a perfect Roux.

Step four: Add the milk slowly, stirring while you add. When you bring the milk to room temp, you will save a bit of time. At this point, the sauce will look like this.

A little -- or a lot -- of milk gives us the start of a bechamel sauce.

Keep stirring and stirring, which will keep the milk from burning as you work to bring this to just boil.

Start your salted water boiling for the macaroni. When it boils, you’ll want to cook it for 9 – 11 minutes. Taste it at the 9 minute mark. It should be a bit firm, or al dente. Drain and set aside for add at the end.

When the bechamel reaches the boil (over a medium heat), turn the heat down to medium-low and continue to stir constantly for another 10 minutes.

When your bechamel sauce looks like this, it's time to strain out the chunky bits!

When the sauce looks like the photo above, strain it to remove the onion, thyme, and peppercorns.

At this point, add all six cups of your shredded sharp cheddar to the bechamel and mix until it’s creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grate a bit of nutmeg, too, and continue to mix.

Add your cooked macaroni and pour into a baking dish.

photo (4)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly and divine.

Remember, if your 6-year-old doesn’t like it, there’s more for you. I promise, if you’re 7 or older, you’ll love to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Ah, the box. This was an important lesson for me. Sometimes, when it comes to a kid, less is more. They are learning lots of new things every day. At the end of the day, they need something familiar and easy; gourmet mac & cheese really doesn’t fit that need.

**The best news is that our struggles as a blended family are few and far between; and if this is the worst of it then I’ve got a lot for which to be thankful.

***In all truthfulness the Blue Box rocks. I don’t know what it is about the powdered cheese and the glowing orange sauce it renders, but it’s good.

****Be sure to allot yourself plenty of time. You will be standing over the stove for about an hour. Also, if you make it early and let it sit for a bit, the flavors will really come together. This stuff is really delicious.

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I’m almost 98%* certain the answer is, “Yes, my friends would love me if I didn’t make the Artichoke Chicken Salad.” I’m just as certain, however, that being the purveyor of this side dish didn’t hurt when guest lists were being developed in the early days of my St. Louis social life.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t have to rely wholly on my classic good looks and sparkling personality to get me through the door.

Artichoke Chicken Salad was my ticket in. It helped break the ice: “So, which dish is yours?” It gave acquaintances a reason to follow up with me: “Would you mind sharing that recipe? It helped people get to know me: “What’s in that dish?” It also became the foundation that helped establish me as a go-to contributor for all kinds of party nosh: “I just made partner! Can you help me put together a celebration menu?”

Now, 12 years later, I’m fully ensconced in a wonderful group of true friends. Together we’ve celebrated life’s greatest joys and weathered its cruelest blows. We’ve planned and plotted; laughed and cried; risen and fallen; we’ve recovered and thrived. Rarely have I walked through any door without my ticket, and it never fails to deliver yummy satisfaction regardless of the occasion.

I’m thrilled to share this often-requested recipe with you.

Artichoke Chicken Salad **

1 Roasted chicken from your grocery store

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 Yellow pepper, diced

1 Red onion, small to medium (depending on your taste), finely diced

2 Jars of Progresso marinated (in OIL) artichoke hearts, drained, chopped, and liquid reserved

2 Boxes of Near East long grain and wild rice, cooked per the package

1 Cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise

Artichoke Chicken Salad ingredients

Step one: Cook the long grain and wild rice per the package and set aside to cool.

Step two: Take the skin off of the chicken and the meat off the bones. (Use is all!) By hand, shred the meat.

Shredded chicken. Not much to look at, but yummy.

Step three: In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, and chopped artichoke hearts.

All the chopped veg. Pretty!

Step four: In a medium bowl, whisk the reserved artichoke marinade with the mayonnaise until it becomes a smooth dressing. Set aside for a moment.

Step five: Add the cooled rice to the chicken and vegetables, and mix well.

Step six: Pour all of the dressing over the top, mix well, and refrigerate.

And presto, we have a salad!***

I hope this recipe works magic for you like it has for me. If this this kind of dish isn’t your cup of tea, take some time to develop your own signature offering for pot-luck parties. Between football season and holiday events, the invitations will begin arriving soon. Whether it’s a dip, dessert, side, or a cocktail, please know that I plan to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Why not 100%? Well, that would be a blatant act of hubris that would call for a God smack. A little humility never hurt anyone.

** Notes: This is a recipe for which the brand of ingredients makes a difference (in my opinion). The Near East doesn’t taste as salty as others; the Progresso oil-based marinade has perfect balance. Don’t panic if you can’t find the exact brands, however. This salad is delicious no matter what. It’s fool proof. Unless you get water-packed artichokes … then salad has no flavor and the dressing falls apart. Also, in the original version, which my mom makes, the salad calls for a can of sliced black olives. I don’t like olives, so I leave them out. But in all fairness, I thought you should know.

*** Thanks to Mark, my talented husband, for having a better eye for proportion and balance than I. I’d have no photography with this post otherwise. xo

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