My Ultimate Comfort Food
There are so many foods out there that scream ‘comfort’. Mom’s meatloaf or chicken soup that soothes a bad cold. Regional dishes that remind us of home. The Hot Brown, a Louisville original, makes my heart sing (and I swear it will cure a hangover). For me comfort foods are mostly defined by the flavor profile. I like a blend of sweet and salty which is probably why I am such a fan of Asian cuisine. I also give points for dishes that are simple to make and yet pack a lot of flavor. The dish that I keep coming back to over and over is macaroni and cheese.
When I was a kid we ate a lot of Kraft mac & cheese and I still like it from time to time but for me nothing beats Velveeta Shells & Cheese. Now, before the purists beat me up too bad, I also like homemade macaroni and cheese. If I do say so I make a pretty mean Mornay sauce. I have done homemade mac & cheese with a smoked Gouda Mornay that was well-received. This is fine when I have the time but even then it doesn’t quite me my requirements. I originally switched to the Velveeta Shells & Cheese because it is so fast to make. You don’t have to mix that powder and milk and butter like you do with Kraft. You just open the pouch and pour in the liquid gold.
Shells & Cheese on their own is a fine staple for me and I could probably eat this daily but I like to take it to the next level. When I was a kid this meant chopping up some cooked hot dogs and throwing them in. What kid doesn’t like that? As an adult though I have expanded my horizons on this front. I will add pulled pork or country ham but usually I go with some high-end kielbasa which I give a quick saute while the pasta is cooking. Now we have arrived at Level 2 mac & cheese.
To really bring things home I have found the perfect mix of toppings that get us to Ultimate Comfort Food status. The trick is balancing out the sweetness of the cheese with some salt and also adding a little bit of heat. So after you make your Shells and Cheese and add your sausage try this:
– Cajun seasoning
– Greek seasoning
– French fried onions
Mix these items in and you will have reached comfort food nirvana. The saltiness of the last ingredients gives you enough umami to please your taste buds and the crunch from the onions really makes the dish. My youngest daughter has become so enamored with this combo that she will not eat macaroni and cheese without the onions.
The great thing about this dish is that it is fast and can be endlessly adapted. Perfect for an amateur chef that wants a simple and wholesome dish after a busy Saturday of running errands. For the commentariat: What is your ultimate comfort food? What kinds of feelings do you have about your dish of choice?