On my drive south from the mountains to my favorite little creek in Lower Alabama a couple of days ago, I entertained myself listening to podcasts via my Stitcher app. Two of the podcasts, including this Bon Appetit piece on retro comfort foods, talked about our nostalgia for the foods we grew up eating. Our favorites. Dishes served for special occasions. Mom’s or Dad’s specialty. The podcast offered updated versions of meatloaf (I will be adding the bacon braid to mine), grilled cheese sandwiches (I tried the mayo and grated cheese tricks today and loved the outcome), and tuna casserole (I’ll probably still pass), among others. At my house it was fried chicken and mashed potatoes. I suspect that each of my three sisters would answer the same. That, and the oatmeal cake topped with coconut, brown sugar and pecans which I still beg my mom to make for my birthdays.
I’m not sure what my boys will ultimately pick as their nostalgia foods… probably my slaw. Maybe Chicken Parmesan, maybe pan-fried catfish, maybe these Sloppy Joe Sliders…
Sloppy Joe Sliders
1 1/3 pounds ground beef (or turkey)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1 cup shredded zucchini, squeezed to remove excess moisture
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup ketchup (and yeah, it needs to be Heinz)
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 table spoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon Cholula hot sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme plus extra for garnish
8 slider buns
Brown the ground meat or turkey in a large skillet over medium high heat, using a spatula to break it up. When you are sure the meat is thoroughly browned, dump it in a colander to drain the extra fat.
Wipe out the skillet, and heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Saute the onions, celery and carrots until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes.
Add the zucchini to the pan and saute until any moisture has cooked off, then add the garlic and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the meat back to the pan, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Then, stir in the ketchup, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce and thyme.
Stir in 1/2 cup water and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes.
Adjust seasonings to taste.
Toast the slider buns, top each bottom bun with the meat and garnish each plate with a sprig of thyme.
Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
I must have a fresh bag of crispy potato chips with my sloppy joe — a little extra salt, a bit of crunch for a contrasting texture. If you are looking for something healthier, a little lightly dressed broccoli slaw works well too.
Winter in the mountains is long and cold and requires copious amounts of comfort food. We are having spring-like weather this week, a lovely treat, but I know better than to think we won’t have another blizzard or two before it really warms up. This time of year though, I do start thinking about favorite winter comfort foods that I have not yet made this season. This recipe for Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese is one of those. Not to say that the dish wouldn’t make a great side for 4th of July BBQ or a Thanksgiving potluck.
This recipe is inspired by the smoked gouda mac and cheese served at Crave, a now defunct tapas place here in Boone that was once our spot for family celebrations. My version is based on one that I found in a Special Collector’s Edition of All-Time Best Recipes, published by Cook’s Illustrated. Their suggestion that you cook the mac and cheese on the stove, then just put it under the broiler to brown the bread crumbs is right on if you want crunchy topping, tender pasta and creamy sauce. Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese
1 pound Cavatappi pasta
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided
Bring a large pot of water to boil in a dutch oven over high heat. Stir in the pasta and tablespoon of salt. Cook according to package directions (about 8 minutes) until just past al dente so that it is a bit tender.
Drain the pasta and set aside.
Return the dutch oven to medium heat. Melt the butter, then whisk in the flour. Cook the flour for about 1 minute, making a blond roux.
Slowly whisk in one cup of milk, stirring constantly until all the lumps are dissolved.
Whisk in the remaining milk, dry mustard, cayenne, and hot sauce.
Turn up the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly and bringing to a gentle boil so it will thicken properly.
Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and reduces to a heavy cream.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheeses, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and black pepper.
Add the pasta back to the pot, stirring gently to combine.
Return the pot to medium low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until hot.
Adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat the broiler.
Spray a 9 X 13 glass or ceramic baking dish (or 10 ramekins) with olive oil cooking spray.
Mix together the Panko and olive oil.
Pour the macaroni and cheese into the pan and sprinkle evenly with the bread crumbs.
Broil until the topping is deep golden brown, 3-5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary so that the bread crumbs brown evenly.
Yield: 10-12 side servings
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
The Smoked Gouda adds big flavor to the mac and cheese while the Monterey Jack adds a creaminess you can’t get from using the Smoked Gouda alone. I used Cavatappi pasta rather than ordinary macaroni because I wanted to make it a little fancier. I’ve given up trying to make the dish with the Barilla-plus pasta I usually use. It may have more protein, fiber and Omega-3s, but the texture just doesn’t work for mac and cheese.
But still, there we will be, with children too small to yet hunt, forage and gather for themselves, perpetually wanting to eat, particularly around dinner time, day after day after day.
Although mine are not.
At first I could not remember what I cooked for dinner last week, except for a pot roast which reappeared in various forms. Slowly it came back to me. It was a very beefy week. Sunday was the pot roast with potatoes, onions, carrots and butternut squash. Monday was avgolemono soup with pita bread. There was supposed to have been a Greek salad that didn’t happen. Tuesday was a last minute switch to blueberry pancakes, bacon and bananas after I waited too late to get started. Wednesday was smothered cube steak with mushrooms, mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli. Thursday was roast beef po’boys with an avocado salad. Friday was leftovers. Not too shabby, especially considering that I have a ton of freelance work, a paper almost ready to submit, and managed to exercise five out of those six days.
This week we should eat less beef, but I making a big pot of chili today (the first of the season!) and planning to serve it over cheese enchiladas later in the week. I haven’t tried any new recipes in a while — this Thai Butternut Squash Soup sounds really good. I’ll likely pick up some chicken sate from the Thai restaurant by my office to go with it. I’ve been craving Indian food and we could use some fish in our diet. I just order a pricey bottle of Bengali Five Spice (times like this I love Amazon Prime) which should arrive on Wednesday so I can make this Bengali-style Fish Stew. I would dearly love to know how to pronounce its real name — Maacher Jhol. I am guessing that at some point in the week, there will be a clamor for “American food” and I’ll be feeling lazy so we can have sliders, beans and slaw (so much for eating less beef). The child who complains most loudly gets to cook this one.
My boys are both in high school now, and both are running cross-country. My older son is driving now so the two of them leave the house around 7:45 in the morning and are gone until 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening. I am hearing faint whisperings of an empty nest. At first I felt a bit at loose ends, but then I remembered how much I relish time home alone. And in the past few weeks, several tasks that have lingered on my to-do list for an absurdly long time have finally gotten done. I had hoped that if I ignored that stuff long enough it might go away but apparently the IRS had no interest in cooperating.
Family dinner is more important than ever. Warren Buffett is constantly begging to watch New Girl during dinner but I resist. We talk about school, all the crazy politics these days, Warren Buffett’s latest plan to make a million dollars. I tell them goofy stories about my students, correct their table manners and insist they eat their vegetables. They make me laugh. They make each other laugh. And then we watch New Girl.
This recipe for chicken meatballs with pasta and a pomodoro sauce served with a green salad is a perfect family dinner — lots of carbs and protein for the athletes. The meatballs can be a do-ahead or a chance to drag the kids into the kitchen and put them to work. It is a versatile meal– skip the meatballs and go vegetarian or skip the pasta and go low carb. Make a double batch of the chicken meatballs to use in meatball subs for a later meal. I freeze them before baking, but you could also bake and freeze, then rewarm in the sauce.
Wipe out the non-stick skillet and heat the 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add the minced onion and cook for about 10 minutes until it softens and begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1-3 minutes.
Increase the heat to medium and add the crushed red pepper flakes, tomatoes, basil puree, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 20 minutes.
Add the 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pot of boiling water then drop in the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is not quite tender (about 2 minutes less than the prescribed cooking time). Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water.
Turn the heat up to medium high and stir the pasta water into the sauce to loosen it. Bring the sauce to a boil and stir in the drained pasta, continuing to stir until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is al dente.
Serve the pasta in shallow bowls. Top each with 3 meatballs and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley.