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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Foodie Sunday : Simple Gifts and Sunday Lunch

By Beth

Last week, I got the most unexpected and amazing gift. It wasn’t diamonds, perfume , pearls or even a new Le Creuset casserole, but actually it was even better because I learned that there is nothing as wonderful as the gift of some quality time alone with yourself ! Most of you know that my son Alex has been living in California for the last couple of years and has finally returned home to Cleveland. He made the first part of his move in November, packing up his truck with all of his worldly possessions and making the long drive back across the country, but he still left a condo full of furniture to be put into storage out there, awaiting the day that we would return to arrange it in a lovely new California home . Needless to say, with the addition of his two extra cats, and periodically his lovely girlfriend and Leo my grandpuppy, the house has been fabulously full of life but anything but quiet.

Last week, Alex and his father returned to California to finish the job and drive the last car home , leaving me to myself for about 5 days. Now I’ve been married for almost 30 years and truthfully I’ve never been without Jim for that long , at the most we’ve been apart a couple of days here and there but never 5 totally uninterrupted days. I actually planned it out because I was fairly sure that I’d be really lonely. Well, it turns out that I needn’t have worried. I spent that five days relaxing, cocooned in my home , drinking endless cups of tea, writing and lounging, cooking and reading and generally just enjoying my life in a way that you can only do when you have yourself for company and the environment is as peaceful as this was. I had tons of new perfume samples to enjoy and plenty of time to allow them to unfold. I went out to barn and rode my horse and every evening I had wonderful dinner plans with friends that I don’t get to see as quite as often as I’d like to. I came home happy and well fed and fell between the sheets every night with three snoring cats and my dog at the foot of the bed , clad in my most comfortable nightgowns….horrid, raggedy old flannel things with holes in them, plenty of magazines, cookbooks and more than enough Fracas to keep me warm!

Although I enjoyed my “vacation” immensely , I couldn’t make a habit of it because by the time my darling husband was on his way home, I missed him so much that I could barely stand it. When he called me to say that they’d be in Cleveland by 10:00 am Sunday morning I was ecstatic. He and Alex had a incredible journey of their own, leaving San Diego late Thursday night and stopping in Scottsdale, Boulder and then driving straight through the long snowy night , stopping only for gas, food and bare necessity. The only drawback was that they overestimated their ability to find good food on the endless stretches of snow covered highway and by Sunday when they rolled in they were famished. You can only imagine the joy I felt when on Saturday evening after having Slim Jims, M and M’s and Subway and endless liters of Pepsi for dinner they called me form Nebraska to announce that the only thing that they wanted when they got home was a hot home cooked lunch!

Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m cold, tired and starving all I can think about is comfort food , which for me translates to anything really rich and cheesy with a garnish of carbs. I thought about it for a moment and set off to make a huge casserole of macaroni and cheese with smoked chicken , laced with endless pockets of creamy smoked gouda , scallions and cream.

Macaroni and Cheese seems to have made a huge comeback over the last few years, not that for me it ever went out of style, but it seems that everywhere I eat there there’s another variation to be enjoyed. This stuff is not like your mothers Mac and Cheese or even Stouffers which I must admit in my weakest moments I still crave! This Mac and Cheese is the stuff of foodie dreams , topped with lobster or pulled pork, Jalapenos or chicken, and even a variation that I’ve seen with grilled steak which I must be honest and say I found a little bit odd. For my family I settled on my favorite variations, which is basically pasta that I fold into a Bechamel sauce that I’ve enriched with tons of cheese and seasonings and topped with a buttered crumb crust laced with toasted pecans.

I adore a smoky flavor and scent in almost anything , so I figured that I would stir in shreds of smoked chicken breast to add a bit of extra flavor. Well, by the time they arrived the house smelled incredible, filled with the rich warm scent of onions, subtle smokiness and melting cheese. I’d set the table and made a salad for each of us, a simple bit of fresh mixed greens laced with a honeyed dressing and a bit of red onion and spoonfuls of the huge blackberries that my husband and son both love and that I usually try to resist buying at this time of the year for all kinds of political and socio - economic reasons. I brought out the casserole and we sat down at the table to eat, enjoying for one brief moment in time the family that we once were, happy to be together again yet knowing that the next bit of time would be one of more transition as Alex navigates his way through the strange spirals of impending adulthood.

The three of us sat together for a long contented while just happy to be in others company and then Jim and I went upstairs and climbed into bed for a bit of a winters nap and a wee bit of alone time. It was bliss. I fell asleep nestled in my husbands arms watching the snow pile up outside. There were no cats allowed and definitely not the raggedy nightgown. There was however more than a little bit of Fracas…...

Many have asked me for this recipe and I’ll try to share it here although I must admit I’m not much for measuring. I’m a “pinch of this; a cup of that” type of cook and I’m always adjusting as I go. But I promise you that if you can learn to make a good cream sauce, that you can make any type of Mac and Cheese that you like. Here’s my tried and true recipe which was my mothers tried and true recipe. I promise that it’s the only one that you’ll ever need.

For one cup of Bechamel sauce you will need:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/4 cups organic half and half, heated
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux cooks and bubbles a bit, but don't let it brown — about 2 minutes. Add the hot half and half, continuing to whisk as the sauce thickens. Bring it to a slow boil. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower the heat, and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes more as it thickens. Remove from the heat.

Now that you have at least 6 cups of this yummy cream sauce (you should always have more than you think that you need!), all you need to do is season it however you like. For this particular mac and cheese I used garlic, fresh dill, sautéed onions, scallions and lots of chopped chive. Then I stirred in a box of cooked penne pasta, lots of shredded smoked chicken breast and a bag of shredded cheddar and muenster cheese. Then I added about 3 cups of cubed smoked gouda cheese and stirred it all together and folded the whole thing into a buttered casserole. For the topping I used my favorite standby, nothing fancy, just several cups of seasoned Italian bread crumbs sautéed in lots of melted butter with toasted pecan pieces mixed in. Just sprinkle the buttered crumb mixture on the top of the casserole and bake the whole thing for about 30 minutes until it’s bubbly and golden. I love to serve this with a simple salad and a glass of really good ale and anything’s better eaten in the company of those you adore , candlelight, a roaring fireplace and a couple of fat lazy cats!

So now I’m curious....When you’re craving food to comfort you body and soul, what do you eat?

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17 Comments:

Blogger Flora said...

Wow, now I really want some of that mac & cheese! My favorite one involves less work but I really like it - it involves coating dry, uncooked noodles in melted butter in a heavy pan such as a dutch oven and then adding the cheese, milk and seasonings and baking it. It comes out really well. Your family is very fortunate that you love to cook!

Pasta is my comfort food of choice too - I like to toss it with my own home made basil pesto, which I make and freeze every summer because it gets me through winter when all I crave is a taste of summer. Of course, I pile on plenty of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese; I am especially fond of the nuttiness of Grana Padano parm, which is the same cheese I use in the pesto itself. In season I add in fresh summer squash or Italian green beans as substitutes for part of the pasta, but in winter it's all carbs! :-)

1:13 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a yummy recipe - I will cook it tomorrow! I am afraid we love the carbs during the freezing winter, and there's nothing quite like any dish consisting of potatoes and cream.

One that we enjoy is a variation of pommes dauphinoise which has smoked salmon scattered through the layers of sliced potato. And even scrummier is Janssen's Temptation - potatoes, anchovies, fried onions and lashings of cream. I am getting hungry! And best of all, eating with your loved ones, human and furry.

Jillie

6:03 AM EST  
OpenID olfactoriastravels.com said...

Five days on your own - how wonderful! How I long for that! And with pasta to boot it would be bliss indeed. :)

9:33 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Flora,
That sounds amazing! I will have to try that....and i remember from one of your postings that you make your pesto with about 5 different kinds of basil......yummmmm! I would like a little bit of summer right about now.

9:46 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Jillie,
I'm quite with you on the potatoes and cream idea...I love that combination and adding smoked salmon sounds amazing. I will be trying that very soon!

9:50 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Birgit,
It was as Jillie said before, absolutely scrummy! I've never enjoyed time alone so much. I think that one of the advantages of being 51 is that all of a sudden what you want becomes clear and you don't have to make any apologies for it. It had become so hectic in my house that I just couldn't wait for the down time!

9:53 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Beth, you are killing me, but it's delicious death :)
When I crave comfort food, I make a dish so simple, I am a little ashamed to even write about it. I saute some garlic and chili pepper flakes in butter, boil spaghetti, coat spaghetti with that butter and...that's it :)

10:36 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

M.
That sounds pretty damn good to me! I would however need to add cheese:)))))))))))))))

10:53 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Beth, oh sure, lots and lots of it :)

11:18 AM EST  
Blogger JoAnne Bassett said...

So amazing ...mac and cheese or a chicken pot pie has been the comfort food of choice for years...Your version of adult mac and cheese sounds great. Also love to make scalloped potatoes with garlic and cream...the smell is fab.

Being single for a long time I have many days of being alone...without animals either.

11:58 AM EST  
Blogger Charna said...

What a lovely post! They way you describe your loving relationship with your family, combined with the occasional desire for solitude really struck a chord with me. Five quiet days alone sounds like heaven! I also LOVE macaroni and cheese and must try your recipe. Despite being a "not-bad" cook I've never been completely happy with my homemade mac & cheese-I'll try your recipe, sounds delicious! Thanks so much for sharing.

9:27 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Beth-

Lovely recipe; I'll have to try the pecans one day! I love pasta- it's so versatile. I also do a version of Marinas with olive oil in addition to butter. I also love to make macs and cheese with truffle butter (I use Gruyere or Fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano), or one with roquefort. But I think my favorite pasta in the world is fettuccine carbonara. With a salad of mesclun mix and a nice mustardy vinaigrette and a nice cold glass of Frascati. Seduction on a placemat

10:42 PM EST  
Anonymous Marian said...

Beth- your cheese sauce sounds divine. Dare I actually use half and half instead of milk? That sounds so incredibly decadent!!! Thanks for the recipe- I think I need to try it while there are still blankets of snow on the ground.
My favorite comfort food is a Persian pudding called Firni:
1 cup rice flour
8 cups milk
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c rose water
Stir together flour and milk. Heat over medium low heat stirring constantly til thickened, about 45 minutes. Add sugar. Stir til dissolved. Add rose water. Heat a bit longer on very low heat. Chill.
The rose water adds a lovely flavor to this pudding which I make whenever I'm feeling a little under the weather, or need an extra hug.
Enjoy!

10:22 AM EST  
Anonymous Patio Landscapping said...

Yummy!!!!
A must try baked mac and cheese recipe.Almost a week on your own is the best to relax and enjoy your self for things that you like to do.

12:22 AM EST  
Anonymous Lilybug said...

Ah Gouda and nuts! What a great idea. Otherwise I make mine the same way. Smoked chicken or bacon in Mac cheese really makes the kitchen smell delicious.

4:56 AM EST  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

So many wonderful suggestions here! But just to pop in with a thought, if I had to choose a wood, it would would be Roxana Vill's incredible "Q". Hands down, my favorite wood of all time.....

8:41 AM EST  
Blogger Fatima said...

H mm,Looks delicious.

send gifts to pakistan

8:24 AM EDT  

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