Dec 13, 2010

Comfort Food: Chicken and Cheese

Like most people who enjoy food and cooking, I’m always game to try something new. The thrill of discovering an unexpectedly great flavor combination or cozying up to a previously unfamiliar ingredient inspires me to seek out new foods. But at the end of a long work week or the end of a busy weekend, I yearn for the old rather than the new. I break out the comfort food recipes.

The most comforting foods are usually the most familiar. For me these are often foods I remember from childhood, especially from big holiday dinners where my maternal grandmother cooked for 40 or more people. From big, steaming pots of chicken and dumplings to coconut layer cake with a pile of white frosting, eating dishes I first encountered as a child is soothing.

Even my dad’s signature peanut butter and jelly sandwich can always put a big smile on my face. My dad doesn’t cook, but he makes the best PB&J. He mixes the peanut butter into the grape jelly with a fork then spreads the oddly colored, strangely lumpy mixture onto the bread. It looks weird, sure, but it tastes so good. (I was quite surprised when, as a young adult, I found out most people don’t mix the two elements of PB&J. If you’ve never mixed them, you’re really missing out.)

One of the joys of getting married is joining two families, which means sharing in two sets of culinary traditions and two sets of comfort foods. I may never convince my husband, who was born in upstate New York, that grits are delicious, but he’ll happily devour a slice of my Maw Maw’s German chocolate cake or one of my mom’s biscuits.

I’m lucky to have married into a family of folks who can make exquisite deep dish lasagna and perfect ribs. My husband’s family also makes a dish they call Chicken and Cheese, and it has become a key recipe in our combined repertoire of comfort foods.

Chicken and Cheese is one of those great innovations that sometimes happen when your fridge and pantry are filled with a mishmash of seemingly incompatible ingredients and dinner needs to be ready in less than an hour. When my husband and his twin brothers were young, their mom found herself in just such a situation. The meal she devised has long since become a family favorite, often requested at birthdays and other special occasions.

The first time I saw it being prepared my jaw dropped at the massive quantity of cheese that goes on top of this casserole. However, the first bite made me a believer. An inch of baked, browned, melty cheddar with cream bubbling around the edges clearly says, “I cooked this because I love you. I’m glad you’re here for dinner.” That’s why we make this dish so often for friends and family.

Terry and I have tweaked this recipe from time to time, experimenting with fresh ingredients in place of some items that happened to be in his mom’s pantry and spice cabinet. I’m sharing our tweaked version here, but, honestly, the original version is at least as good. So feel free to swap out dried herbs for fresh ones, regular pasta for whole wheat, and canned soup for the mushrooms and cream. This is yummy comfort food either way, and sitting down to dinner with your loved ones is the most important and most comforting step in this recipe.

We also recommend experimenting liberally with the measurements below. The only time I have ever made a bad-tasting batch of Chicken and Cheese is when I was testing this recipe in order to post it, trying so hard to get precise measurements of all the ingredients. We usually just stand at the stove and follow my husband’s first rule of cooking: “When you think you’ve added too much, add a little more.” The Worcestershire sauce is especially important, and we’ve learned not to skimp there. Slosh it on generously until you’re vaguely uncomfortable with the amount you’ve added. Then slosh on some more.

Keep reading for the recipe. You can also check out more comfort food recipes being posted this week in the Holiday Recipe Exchange. Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Le Creuset.

Dec 12, 2010

Birthday Dinner for Terry

Yesterday was the husband's 33rd birthday. Originally I planned an elaborate meal. Then I realized he'd probably rather have his favorite homemade pizza with pepperonis and jalapenos.

Here's what we had:

sausage stuffed mushrooms

Pepperoni and jalapeno pizza. (See below for Terry's crust recipe.)

an interesting Shiraz-Viognier blend recommended by a gentleman at our local Spec's store

black-bottom cupcakes


Sausage stuffed mushrooms from The Girl Who Ate Everything.

Black-bottom cupcake recipe is from David Lebovitz as seen on Smitten Kitchen.

Perfect pizza dough is adapted by Terry from the recipe book that came with our KitchenAid stand mixer. Click here for printable recipe.

Dec 8, 2010

Sweet Potato Brownie Bars

I love sweet potatoes. 

I like them 
in pies
in pot pies
in whoopie pies
as fries
cooked into soups, stews, and chowders
in cookies
in cakes
for breakfast or lunch
in dinner and dessert.

I rarely meet a sweet potato recipe I don't enjoy, and they're so versatile (and tasty!) that I'm always looking for new ways to combine them with other flavors.

This fall I've been searching for a perfect recipe to combine the flavors of sweet potato and chocolate. I think I've found one. It's a layered bar inspired by a recipe for cookie dough brownies. Two of the layers are all about chocolate, and a few chocolate chips sneak into the third layer as well.

On the ground floor: cinnamon cayenne brownies. In the middle: sweet potato cream cheese filling that tastes a lot like my Grandma's sweet potato pies. Up top: bittersweet chocolate glaze.


I'm adding this recipe to the Holiday Recipe Exchange. Come join the fun at the My Baking Addiction and GoodLife Eats Holiday Recipe Swap sponsored by Scharffen Berger.

And check out more sweet potato recipes from Foodista:

Sweet Potato on FoodistaSweet Potato