Everyone has their own version (maybe even more than one) of comfort food. A dish that makes you feel better when you’re sick, lifts your spirits, or helps to soothe a hurting heart. It could be anything from your favorite meal that your mom used to make, to an inherited family recipe for chicken soup — the key is that just tasting it warms your soul. As self-described foodies, food is obviously important to us, and we often look to food as a form of therapy. Dan says that chopping ingredients and cooking a meal can be very relaxing for him. (Quite the opposite for me, hello stress! — but luckily he is the chef and I am the taster.) No matter what, sharing a meal together at the end of the day is our way to connect and decompress. (But let’s not get crazy about the togetherness — we still watch TV while we eat.) We recently found this recipe by Michael Ruhlman and love it for its cheesy, beefy, comforting pasta goodness.
The ingredients we used include vegetable oil, ground beef, onion, canned diced tomatoes, granulated garlic, fish sauce, red pepper flakes, cheese and salt & pepper. But the recipe is pretty flexible, and you can add or omit seasonings to your liking. If you want to make a little extra to freeze for another time (yet another benefit to most comfort foods – the ability to freeze and reheat), just up the ratios of the ingredients and you can fill another baking dish after the first part of the cooking process.
Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium-high heat and saute the onions with a generous pinch of salt until the onions soften — about 5 minutes. Stir the onions frequently.
Add the ground beef to the onions and cook until the beef is no longer pink — give or take 10 minutes.
Stir the beef while it cooks to break it up into small pieces. If the beef you are using has a higher fat content (we used 98% lean) and there seems to be a lot of accumulated grease in the pan, you can drain the browned beef and onions in a colander, or scoop some of the grease out with a spoon, prior to the next step.
Add about a teaspoon of granulated garlic, a half tablespoon of fish sauce and salt and pepper (or whatever other spices you’re using.)
Then add the tomatoes (with juices) and stir everything together.
Cover and cook over low heat for about an hour.
In the meantime, cook the pasta until it is halfway done according to the package directions.
Add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to the cooked ground beef mixture to spice things up a bit. Then add the pasta to the pan and mix everything together.
Place the combined ingredients in a glass baking dish. If you’ve made some extra pasta and beef mixture, this is the point where you should fill a separate baking dish with the extras, cover the dish with foil and freeze it to finish cooking and serve some other time. Bake the macaroni in the oven preheated to 400 degrees for about 35 minutes.
Top the dish with grated cheese (we used low-fat sharp cheddar and mozzarella) and put it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.
If you turn on the broiler for the final few minutes, the cheese topping should get all browned and bubbly, and just looking at it should make you feel warm and fuzzy.
We served our beefy mac-n-cheese with a simple side salad. We have craved this dish since the first time we made it (yet another hallmark of a good comfort food recipe), and we added it to our rotation. Yes, we have an inventory of comfort food recipes — not only can cooking (and eating) be therapeutic for us, but it is our go-to way to “do something” for friends and loved ones. Whether it is in times of loss, grief or sickness — or even better, for celebrating a joyful occasion — providing a meal is our way to offer comfort and show we care. And cooking a meal for someone else, especially when it takes some extra time and effort, is comforting in itself.