In these uncertain times, as we cut back on activities and expenses, little else comforts like delicious comfort food. There's something so satisfying about the familiar dishes that conjure up nostalgic memories of mom's homemade cooking and days when life was simpler and less encumbered. Every one of us has a comfort food or two that provide a sense of safety, security, well being and eating pleasure.
Two of my favorites are Macaroni and Cheese and Meatloaf. Numerous comfort foods had been spurned in recent years due to the sometimes high-calorie or high-carb quality of them. But, with minimal effort and a couple of low-fat substitutions, many of these dishes can be made in hearty, healthy and inexpensive ways. These recipes here meet those criteria and are as tasty as you will remember from the old days. In general, you can instantly improve the nutritional quality of macaroni and cheese with these changes:
-- use whole grain or whole wheat pasta
-- add one sliced Golden Delicious or Granny Smith apple for more crunch
-- use smoked cheddar or smoked Gouda for an exotic flavor
-- stir in 1 cup rinsed black beans and fresh cilantro for Mexican flavor
-- mix in 1 cup chopped cooked chicken or mild sausage
Serving your meatloaf with fresh, steamed vegetables like broccoli rabe, asparagus squash, sweet potatoes, etc. (in lieu of mashed potatoes) or the macaroni and cheese dish with a serving of baked lean meat will further enhance the healthiness of your meal.
Super Healthy Mac n' Cheese (serves 6)
1-1/2 cups (7 oz.) dried multigrain or whole grain rotini
1-1/2 cups broccoli florets, finely chopped carrots or green beans, cut in i/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 tsp olive oil
1 6.5 oz light semisoft cheese with garlic and herb (e.g. Boursin)
1-2/3 cups fat-free milk
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2 oz.) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 oz.) cheese e.g. Pepper Jack, mozzarella, goat, manchego, Asiago, Guyere, etc.
1/2 cup crumbled whole wheat bread crumbs or panko
parsley or oregano
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium saucepan, cook the pasta according to directions. Add broccoli, carrots or beans during last 3 minutes. Drain pasta/vegetable mixture and return to pan.
2. In a large saucepan, cook the onion in 2 tsp of the oil over medium heat for 5 min. or until render, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat; add semisoft cheese and stir until cheese is melted and blended in.
3. Whisk milk and flour together in a medium bowl until smooth. Add to onion mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheddar and other cheeses until cheeses are melted. Add cooked pasta mixture and stir to coat.
4. Transfer pasta mixture to a 2-qt casserole. In small bowl, combine crumbs and remaining 2 tsp oil; sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake uncovered 10-15 min. until top is browned. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.
Easy, Cheesy Mac and Cheese (serves 4)
1/2 cup low-fat cheddar cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 cups small macaroni shells, cooked
1/2 tsp black pepper
Blend cheddar and cottage cheese until smooth. Combine with shells and transfer to oven-safe casserole dish; sprinkle with pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 min. or until cheese is bubbling and macaroni is golden brown.
My Momma's Meatloaf (serves 6)
Pam cooking oil spray
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb 90/10 or 85/15 ground beef (or substitute with ground turkey)
1-1/2 cups fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs or panko
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves, crumbled
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup catsup
1/2 cup tomato sauce, plus extra for serving (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
2. Judiciously spray the oil into a nonstick fry pan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot; saute until the carrot begins to soften and the onion is almost translucent, about 4 min. Add the garlic; saute 1 min. Remove from heat; cool.
3. Whisk eggs, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, Worcestershire sauce and catsup in a medium bowl to blend. Combine the beef, bread crumbs and vegetable mixture in a large bowl; add the egg mixture. Using your hands, mix just until blended. Do not over mix.
4. Gently pat the meat mixture into the prepared pan. Pour the tomato sauce evenly over the top. Bake until meat begins to shrink from the pan sides and thermometer inserted into center registers 150 degrees, about 1-1/4 hours. Transfer pan to a rack; cool 10 minutes.
5. Cut the meat loaf into slices and transfer to warmed plates. Serve warm, accompanied with more tomato sauce, as desired.