Comfort Food Classics

To say these are trying times is more than just an understatement. It's nearly laughable. Between wondering where all the toilet paper went and attempting to work from home (if you're lucky) while getting your kids to do something beyond look at screens (again, if you're lucky), there's that ever-nagging question that somehow doesn't manage to take a break even during the throes of a global pandemic. What's for dinner?

So now, in this time of confusion, fear, and sometimes utter exhaustion, we're reaching out to help you and yours turn a bit more to the comforts of the kitchen to your nourish yourselves, body and soul. It's no wonder we take comfort in sharing meals together. And while we might not be able to share as widely or in as many places as we once did, our own kitchens give us an excellent refuge from the stress that can build up quickly during this ever-changing time.

In the spirit of comfort food and the peace that making and sharing it can bring, below are 10 fantastic comfort food dinner recipes. And when you're all done, share the cleanup and you'll be done in no time. Besides, this happens to be one of those times when taking on a challenge that might eat up a bit of time is actually a really good idea. Enjoy digging through these gems and when everything's clean again (keep washing those hands!), why not get outside and enjoy a nice walk. After all, it's a bit of a treat to come back home and have the aroma of the meal you just enjoyed remind you that, through it all, you're eating well.

Jalapeño Popper Macaroni and Cheese

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 jalapeños, sliced with ribs and seeds removed
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup half and half
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated pepper jack cheese
  • 2/3 cup blue cheese crumbles, divided
  • 1 cup corn flakes, crushed

In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove it from the pan, drain on paper towels and crumble. Pour off the excess bacon drippings, keeping 2 tablespoons in the pan. Place the skillet back on the heat and sauté onion and jalapeños until soft, about 6 minutes over medium heat. Set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and cook the pasta until very al dente, but not still crunchy. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the cornstarch, along with the milk, half and half, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Increase the heat to medium high and continue mixing until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream cheese and hot sauce until melted smoothly into the sauce. Pour the cooked pasta and sautéed onions and jalapeños into the sauce. Stir to coat. Stir in the cheeses (using only half of the blue cheese crumbles). Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish and spread out evenly. Top with the remaining blue cheese, the corn flakes and crumbled bacon. Bake 20-30 minutes until the top of the macaroni has browned. Remove from oven and serve hot.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Corned Beef and Cabbage Soup

  • ¼ cup vegetable oil, butter, or margarine
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery stalks
  • ½ cup chopped green onions
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • ¼ pound cooked shredded corned beef
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk

Using a large saucepan or skillet over a medium heat, you will add the vegetable oil, butter, or margarine to melt. Add the thinly sliced celery stalks, the chopped green onions, and minced garlic cloves. Stir to combine and then saute for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth, the shredded cabbage, thinly sliced carrots, cooked shredded corned beef, salt, and pepper. Stir well and then cover with a lid. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Simmer, while occasionally stirring for about 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.

Using a small mixing bowl you will add the cornstarch and the milk and stir to combine well. Gradually stir this mixture into the meat and vegetables you are cooking. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil while constantly stirring. Boil for about 1 minute and then remove from heat. Allow the corned beef and cabbage soup to cool for several minutes before serving to friends and family.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Loaded Shepherd's Pie

  • 2-3 baking potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1" cubes
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6-8 mini sweet peppers, sliced thin
  • 1/2 c. tomato sauce -- choose your favorite variety
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 c. cultured sour cream
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 c. shredded cheese -- choose your favorite variety or blend
  • 3-4 green onions, biased sliced

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Scrub and cube the potatoes and boil them until they are soft enough to mash.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon and crumble it into small pieces. Set aside.

Using the skillet you fried the bacon in, brown the ground beef. When it's nearly done, add the onion, garlic, and sweet peppers and cook until the meat is entirely browned and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Add the tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Pour the mixture into the bottom of a large pie plate and set aside.

Mash the potatoes with the sour cream and garlic powder until you've reached your desired consistency. Using a spatula, layer the potatoes over the meat layer in the pie plate. Sprinkle the top of the potatoes with the crumbled bacon and shredded cheese. Bake the dish in the preheated oven for about a half hour or until the cheese is entirely melted and bubbly. Sprinkle the green onions over the top before serving.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Spicy Meatball Subs on Garlic Bread

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. spicy pork sausage - or mild Italian pork sausage if spicy isn't your thing
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 tsp. crushed red pepper - optional
  • 4 6-inch hoagie rolls
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 c. tomato sauce - choose your favorite variety
  • 8 oz. pepper jack cheese, divided - choose a different cheese if spicy isn't your thing

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

To make the meatballs, combine the ground beef and pork sausage, egg, and crushed red pepper and mix thoroughly either in a stand mixer or by hand. Using an ice cream disher, form 1 1/2-2 inch meatballs and set them on a baking sheet, allowing about 2 inches of space between the meatballs. (I like to place the meatballs on a silicone baking mat to make cleanup easier.) Bake the meatballs in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until they are fully cooked.

During the last 15 minutes of meatball baking, slice the rolls open lengthwise, hollow out some of the bread if desired, spread the softened butter over each piece of bread, sprinkle the garlic powder and oregano over the bread, dividing relatively evenly between each piece. Bake on a large baking sheet until the bread is nicely toasted the cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes.

Spread a little tomato on the bottom half of each roll, top each with three meatballs, layer on more marinara, and top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Serve while still hot. If there are any unused meatballs, refrigerate them and use within a week (they are excellent on spaghetti!).

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 tsp. cooking fat - I used bacon fat
  • 1/2 c. diced onion
  • 1/3 c. chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 c. sliced carrots
  • 1/3 c. chopped celery
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1/4 c. cold water
  • 2 c. diced or shredded chicken - I used the meat from 3 chicken thighs
  • 1 canister refrigerated biscuits
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

In an ovenproof skillet, heat the cooking fat of your choice over medium-high heat. Add the onions, green pepper, carrots, and celery; sauté the vegetables until they are crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the salt and 1/4 tsp. of the freshly ground pepper and stir well. Add the chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the cornstarch-water mixture and stir vigorously until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.

Using a sharp knife or pair of shears, cut the refrigerated biscuits into quarters. Toss the biscuit dough with the remaining ingredients (parmesan cheese, granulated garlic, and remaining 1/4 tsp. of freshly ground pepper). Carefully arrange the seasoned biscuit dough over the chicken mixture in the skillet.

Bake the skillet in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the biscuit pieces are fully baked and golden brown. Serve hot in bowls.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Balsamic Onion Pork Chops

  • 3 T. olive oil, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (1 to 1-1/2 inches thick)
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a very large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes (if the onions start to burn, reduce the heat to medium low). Transfer the onion to a bowl and set aside.

Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels and rub both sides with the salt and pepper. Return the pan to the burner, add the remaining olive oil, and increase the heat to medium high until the oil is hot but not smoking. Cook the chops until well browned on one side, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until the meat is done, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer the chops to a plate, tent with foil, and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

Meanwhile, put the pan back over medium heat and add the balsamic vinegar and caramelized onions (if you used two pans for the chops, use just one for the onions). Simmer, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon, until the vinegar is reduced enough to just coat the onions, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately with the pork chops.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

West African Peanut Stew

  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 large red pepper, seeded and cut into strips
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 3 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • ¾ cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon sriracha
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (sambal oelek)

In a large pot, bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a simmer over medium heat. While the stock is heating, prepare the vegetables, mince the garlic, and peel and mince the ginger. Once the stock is simmering, add the vegetables, garlic, ginger, and salt and continue to cook for 18-20 minutes or until onion is soft and the sweet potatoes are nearly fork-tender.

While the stock is simmering, combine the peanut butter and tomato paste in a large heat-proof container.

After 10 minutes into the stock simmering, ladle out about a cup and a half of the stock into the container with the peanut butter and tomato paste, whisking to combine, adding more stock, if necessary, to thin it out. It should be about the consistency of yogurt.

Add the cooked chicken and the peanut butter mixture into the pot. Add the sriracha and chili paste (feel free to adjust these according to your spiciness preferences) and continue to cook on low heat for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

* To make this a vegetarian dish, opt for vegetable stock and omit the shredded chicken.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Mushroom Beef Barley Soup

  • 3-4 lbs. very meaty beef soup bones
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow onion(s), peeled and cut into wedges
  • 8 oz. whole button mushrooms, washed and trimmed
  • 3 stalks of celery, divided
  • Water (amount varies)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c. shredded potato
  • 2 c. carrots, cut into coins
  • 1 T. Quebec Beef Spice or similar hearty seasoned salt
  • 1 c. pearl barley
  • 2 c. chopped kale

Generously salt and pepper the beef bones and place in a baking pan. Roast in a 400° F oven for 20 minutes. Carefully add the onion and the button mushrooms and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before carefully, slicing the beef off the bones. Reserve the sliced beef, onions, and mushrooms. Place the bones inside the pot of your Instant Pot. Add one stalk of celery — you can just break it enough so it will fit. You can also add the peels from the onion and garlic. Add enough water to cover the contents of the pot. Close the pot and set it to cook at high pressure for 1 hour. Allow it to naturally release. Strain the solids from the beef stock. These steps can all be done up to a week in advance if desired.

When you are ready to assemble the soup, begin by slicing the beef into bite-sized pieces, slicing the mushrooms, chopping the 2 remaining stalks of celery, mincing the garlic, shredding the potato, and cutting the carrots. Place all of the above plus the Quebec Beef Spice or seasoned salt and barley in the pot of your Instant Pot. Add the beef stock. If the solids are not entirely covered by the stock, add enough water to do that and set your pot to cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Allow it to release naturally. Stir the kale into the soup, taste and adjust the seasonings, and serve warm.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours

Italian Sausage Minestrone

  • 1 lb. mild Italian sausage (any casings removed)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • ¼ cup sun dried tomato paste
  • 1 cup chopped green beans
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cans (14 ounces) diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup cooked small sized pasta - I used small ring pasta
  • 2 cups baby spinach

In a large stockpot, brown the sausage, adding the onion and carrots halfway though the browning process. Add the tomato paste, green beans, zucchini, garlic, and seasonings. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and their liquid, the broth and water. Stir, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the beans and zucchini are tender. Add the salt and pepper, along with the pasta and spinach. Cook an additional 5 minutes before serving.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Curried Chicken & Broccoli Casserole

  • 2 T. canola oil
  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. curry powder — choose your favorite variety
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1 c. grated cheese

Preheat the oven to 350° F and spray a large round casserole dish lightly with cooking spray.

Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet. Brown the chicken. When the chicken is lightly-browned, add the broccoli and sauté until it is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Carefully add the chicken and broccoli to the prepared casserole dish and set aside.

To prepare the sauce, heat milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Mix the cornstarch with a little cold water. When the milk begins to simmer, add the cornstarch, whisk briskly and constantly, and cook until slightly thickened. Remove the pot from the stove, then add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, curry powder, salt, and pepper. Stir until smooth.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and broccoli in the casserole dish and sprinkle the top of the casserole dish with the grated cheese. Bake in the preheated oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serve hot over rice or noodles.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

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