Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's Your Comfort?

What’s Your Comfort?

Wintertime always conjures up wanting comfort food. There’s nothing like a warm, delicious and comforting plate of food to ease your worries away. What’s your comfort food? Is it a slice of warm apple pie or maybe some homemade chicken soup to ease your aches and pains away?

I believe that comfort food comes from are childhood; I was lucky enough to have a mother that was a caterer, so there was always something good smelling in the air. I always wanted to help my mother in the kitchen, she taught me a lot, but the one thing that I did learn, is that uncomplicated simple food was the best!

In most households, comfort foods were the dishes we grew up with. I came from an Irish and Sicilian home, so I love potatoes and we ate a lot of Spaghetti and meatballs. There was nothing more comforting to me then coming home from a long day at school and smelling a pot of marinara sauce on the stove. I also enjoyed those quiet, special moments watching TV with a bowl of macaroni and cheese, that’s comfort with a capital “C”. As I got older I learned that this cheesy pasta concoction doesn’t just come out of a box. There is nothing better than this homemade version of a childhood favorite. I’ve served this many times as an appetizer at my events in miniature ceramic ramekins with a bamboo fork, the party guests can never have enough of them, I don’t think I’m the only one that enjoys the comfort of warm cheesy pasta with a crunchy crust; pictured above. Get a fork and dig in to your comfort…

Macaroni and cheese

Serves 6 to 8 as entrée or 8 to 10 as a side dish.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 pound elbow macaroni
3 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 cup Panko style Japanese bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter a 3- to 4-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish. In heavy saucepan melt 6 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes then add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Add mustard, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. In a kettle of salted boiling water cook macaroni until just al dente, about 7 minutes, and drain well. In a large bowl stir together macaroni, sauce, Cheddar, and 1 cup Parmesan and transfer to prepared dish. In a small bowl stir together breadcrumbs and remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in microwave or stovetop and mix into breadcrumb mixture and sprinkle evenly over macaroni. Bake macaroni in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.