By Mike Horn
Executive Chef/Co-owner of The Coachmen
Do you find comfort in food? It wouldn’t be a bad thing. In fact, most of the world population finds that comfort often comes on a plate. Is it nostalgia or perhaps sentimental reasons? Whatever the cause is, comfort foods lead us to gorge upon their delectable flavors all around the globe.
Now, in case you’re wondering, a comfort food is labeled as a food that is both flavorful and easily eaten; meaning it has a soft consistency. These foods vary depending on what part of the planet you’re from, but in their respective cultures, they comfort just the same.
In the United States, we take comfort in foods as something as simple as Baked Beans. Apple Pie, Pizza, Chocolate Chip Cookies and even Tuna Casserole have been considered some of the most comforting foods in our culture. Australia finds their comfort in Meat Pies and Roast Lamb, while China is put at ease with Dim Sum and Chinese Noodles.
Regardless of what country you call home, comfort foods satisfy the masses, reassuring that the restaurant industry, and their take on these homemade family heirloom dishes win every time.
Whether I like it or not, I take comfort in food. My refuge comes in the form of Macaroni and Cheese, but not just any ol’ Mac ‘n’ Cheese will do. Sure, I’m guilty of reaching into the pantry for that blue box from time to time, but when I’m looking for that, “cuddled up by the fire, cozy blanket wrapped tight, with the one you love,” kind of comfort, I need a little more for my money…and I’m not afraid to spice things up a little. After all, you’re cuddled up by the fire.
Macaroni and Cheese is very versatile. I know what you’re thinking, and no, we’re not going to chop up some jumbo franks, but you can turn your frown upside down, because I’ve got something much better in mind.
Now, just because we call it Macaroni doesn’t mean you’re left with elbow shaped pasta to console you. We have choices. Have you seen the opportunities that await you? Pasta Gigi’s in Battle Ground Village has a wide variety of specialty pastas, fit for any occasion. For my Mac and Cheese, I chose the Gluten Free Southwest Blend. It looks great and will taste phenomenal. Throw in some southwestern flare and a plethora of delicious cheeses and let’s get comfy.
Southwestern Macaroni & Cheese : Yields: 8 – 10 servings
1lb – Southwest Blend Pasta
2c – Cooked and Chopped Bacon
1c – Frozen Corn
.5c – Red pepper – Small Dice – ¼”
.5c – Red Onion – Small Dice – ¼”
1 can – Black Beans – Rinsed
2 – Jalapenos – Finely Chopped
3c – Heavy Cream
2T – Butter
3c – Cheddar Cheese – Finely grated
1.5c – Pepper Jack Cheese – Finely grated
4T – Olive Oil
.5c – Cilantro – Chopped
Salt & Pepper – To taste
Directions: Heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large stock pot, combine your water, salt and 2 TBSP olive oil and bring to a boil. Add your pasta, stirring occasionally until it is soft, but still firm. In the chef world, we call this Al Dente. (Your pasta will continue cooking in the oven, so be careful to not overcook.)
In the meantime, over medium-high heat, combine 2 TBSP olive oil and all of your vegetables in a sauté pan, stirring often until the onions start to caramelize. Add heavy cream, butter, bacon, 2 cups cheddar cheese and 1 cup pepper jack. Mix until the cheese is melted. Add the salt and pepper at your discretion. In a oven safe baking dish, combine your pasta and cheese sauce, mixing until it is well incorporated. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake until the cheese is golden brown! Get ready to get your comfort on!
At the end of the day our busy lives keep pushing forward, leading us further and further away from the foods that we grew to love as a child. The golden arch and the like fade our memories of Grandma’s homemade cooking, but if you take the time, you can find comfort once again, right there inside your own kitchen. Happy eating!