Comfort Foods: Revamping Them

website mac and cheese

“We need a depression session.”

As high school students, my three best girl friends and I knew exactly how to handle any teenage angst that came our way.  A break-up, issues with our parents, school problems — all could be handled with a carton of ice cream and a package of cookies.  Armed with both, we’d meet up at one of our houses and just dig in — the cookies were sturdy enough to scoop the ice cream so no utensils would be required!

There was something about creamy vanilla ice cream topping a crisp chocolate chip cookie that was satisfying not just to the taste but to the soul as we talked, cried, and laughed our way to the end of both the carton and the package.

Comfort Eating

We don’t have to look far these days to know that “comfort-eating” has been tagged as a no-no.  It’s been linked to obesity.  It encourages consumption of “unhealthy” foods over “healthy”.  And psychologists say it prevents us from tackling what the real issues in our lives are.

Knowing all this, though, we have to admit that most of us do it.  For some, certain foods bring back the comforting memories of a better time.  For others, a little sugar rush helps get through the bump in the day.  For many, the fact that certain foods encourages the release of serotonin is exactly what we need to turn a bad mood into a happy one.

What can we do

While I’ve learned over the years to curtail eating just for comfort, there are still those times when I yearn for one of those traditional comfort meals — just because.  And when I have those moments, I want to be able to eat them without feeling guilty.

So, over the years, I’ve revamped many a recipe so my family and I can enjoy those occasional bouts of comfort eating.  Below is an Emeril recipe for mac and cheese that was just too much of everything which I revamped because my children loved it so much.  I’m including it here so you can see how easy it is to alter a favorite recipe without sacrificing taste and “comfort”.

Macaroni and Cheese

Emeril’s Recipe:

one pound of elbow macaroni

6 slices of bacon

1 tbsp minced garlic

6 large eggs

2 cans evaporated milk

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

3 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Paula’s Revamped Version:

one pound 100% whole wheat pasta (can also use gluten free pasta)

2 links chicken Italian sausages (fully cooked type)

one 16 oz thawed frozen broccoli florets

2 tsp minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped frozen onions (can use fresh, too)

1 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

3 cups Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar cheese (shredded)

2 12 oz cans fat free evaporated milk

4 eggs plus 1/2 cup liquid egg whites

1/2 cup Cabot 50% reduced fat cheddar cheese (shredded)

Cooking Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees and very lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan. (I normally use a little bit of olive or grapeseed oil.)

2. Prepare the whole wheat or gluten free noodles as directed on the package, but cook it one minute less than indicated.  Drained the noodles and put them into a large bowl.

3. In a food processor, chop up the two sausage links into fine pieces and add to the noodles.

4. In a food processor, chop up the thawed broccoli florets into fine pieces and add to the noodles.

5. Add the garlic, onions, black pepper and nutmeg, and 3 cups of the cheese, mixing well with the noodles.

6. Whisk well together the cans of evaporated milk with the eggs and egg whites.  Pour into the noodle bowl and combine.

7.  Using a ladle, scoop out the mac and cheese into the 9 x 13 pan.  When you reach the end of the noodles, pour any leftover milk/egg mixture from the bottom of the bowl onto the noodles in the pan.  Gently tap the noodles to make them even in the pan.

8. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese over the top of the noodles.  (You can increase this to 1 cup if your family really likes a more gooey mac and cheese.)

9. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling at the edge and no longer liquidy in the center.  Let the mac and cheese sit for 10 minutes before serving.


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