Sunday, January 23, 2011

Comfort Foods

Most of us have memories centered around a special dish or food that we enjoyed when we were growing up. A special dessert your grandmother used to make, a supper dish that was a family favorite, even something special your mom used to make for you when you'd been under the weather. Comfort foods. As good for the soul as they are for the tummy! Baked Macaroni and Cheese is one of those dishes for me. I worked full time the whole time my kids were growing up and I am ashamed to admit when I served them Macaroni and Cheese, it almost always came from a box. They loved it, but they didn't know any different. If I had started them out on Macaroni and Cheese the way my mom made it and then introduced them to Kraft Shells N Cheese in a box, they would have thought I have complained loudly. There is just no comparison.

Since both CHEESE and PASTA (any shape will do) are pretty high on Yeoldfurt's list of favorite foods, this dish is one of his favorites. When my mother made this, she didn't put meat in it because she generally served it as a side dish to meat, and she started with a thick White Sauce made from scratch, then melted cubes of cheddar cheese into it. I've added meat to it as a matter of convenience (one dish meals mean less work and less clean up!) and I usually melt some of the spicy Mexican Cheese version of Velveeta for the sauce ...also as a matter of convenience. If I didn't have a full time job that kept me away from home 10 hours of the day, I would make my cheese sauce from scratch too, but even with Velveeta, it's still really good.

There was one thing my mom did as a garnish that I have never done for Yeoldfurt. She would beat an egg with about two tablespoons of water and a little salt & pepper to make an egg wash. She would set that aside in a pie plate. Then she would put about a cup of crushed saltine crackers as a coating in a separate pie plate. In the meantime, she was melting a cube of butter in a small skillet. She would slice one good sized tomato in five slices (there were five of us), dip the slices in the egg wash, dredge them in the crackers and then fry them in the melted butter until they were golden brown on both sides. Just before she put her macaroni and cheese in the oven to bake, she would put these fried tomatoes on top as a garnish. It was a pretty garnish and oh so good!

When Yeoldfurt was leaving for work today, he mentioned that he'd like some Macaroni and Cheese for tomorrow's supper and I told him about the fried tomato garnish my mom used to do. His eyes lit up so we'll find out tomorrow night if he likes it as much as he thinks he will.

As I said, my Macaroni and Cheese is based on the way my mom made it, but tweaked to accommodate our busier lifestyle and Yeoldfurt's penchant for spicy. Yeoldfurt asked me to share the recipe, so here you go:

Meaty Macaroni & Cheese
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
(save the drippings!)
1/2 cup diced fresh onion
2 cups sausage links, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 lb Mexican Velveeta, cubed and melted
1 cup milk (add 1/4 cup at a time, mix well after each addition)
4 Tbsps butter

Fried Tomato Garnish (optional)
1 large firm tomato, evenly sliced
1 egg plus two tablespoons water, well beaten
1 cup Saltine cracker crumbs
Salt/Pepper to taste
1 cube butter, melted

This is what it will look like assembled & ready to bake:
Spray sides and bottom of a 9x13 deep baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, set aside. Cook pasta, drain and set aside. Cook bacon slices in oven at 375 degrees until crisp, approximately 20 minutes. Set bacon on paper towel to drain and pour drippings into a medium sized skillet. Add sausage and diced onion in skillet over medium heat until sausage is slightly seared and onions are translucent. Melt cheese cubes and 4 tablespoons of butter in the microwave, add 1/2 cup milk and blend well. Put cooled pasta in the 9x13 baking dish. Add sausage and onions and mix well. Pour melted cheese over top and stir to coat all of the pasta. Set aside while you make the fried tomatoes.

When you start frying the tomatoes, you want to set up an assembly line because they will cook very quickly. Melt the butter in the same skillet you used when you cooked the sausage and diced onion. Crack a raw egg into a shallow dish, add two tablespoons of cold water, and beat well. Add salt & pepper to taste. Crush the saltines and put them in shallow dish ...a pie plate works well. You need to have a couple of layers of paper towel on a plate next to the skillet to drain the fried tomatoes when they're done. Once everything is ready, set up your assembly line ...tomato slices, the egg wash, the pie plate of saltine crumbs, the melted butter in the skillet and the paper towel to drain that order. The tomatoes will only take a few minutes to cook once you get started, so now would be a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees. After all the tomatoes are fried and drained, arrange them on top of the macaroni and cheese.  What the heck, if you're feeling decadent, pour the melted butter from the fried tomatoes over the top too.  Everything is better with butter, right?  If that feels a little too decadent, you're just kidding yourself's not like this recipe would ever make it into the Heart Healthy magazines!  Now sprinkle the crumbled bacon evenly over the top and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes before serving. A nice tossed salad and some fresh or canned fruit for dessert and you have a complete, well-balanced meal.

If you want to make this ahead, you can cover it with plastic wrap and it will keep for several days in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for several months. If you plan to freeze it but want to use the fried tomato garnish, I would freeze it without the fried tomatoes and make them fresh before you bake it.


  1. Comfort foods are exactly that, Comfort. Thank you for sharing one of yours with us. I'm going to try this one. I especially like the tomato garnish. Nothing like a mothers special touch!

  2. Sci, last night was the first time I ever made the fried tomato garnish and today at lunch was the first time in over 30 years that I had this dish. My taste buds recognized it immediately and I've been feeling sentimental and missing my mom all afternoon! Happy, sad.

    It had just come out of the oven when Yeoldfurt came home from work last night and I let him sample a taste of the fried tomatoes. The look on his face assured me he would be enjoying his lunch today!

    I hope you and Mars like it too. Thanks for the visit.

    : )

  3. I'm teaching my best girlfriend how to cook and next week's class is how to make white/cheese sauce for homemade mac and cheese. We skip the meat but top ours with buttered cracker know that Homer Simpson sound? Yeah, it's like that.

  4. Hi, Andrea. You mean 'DOH!' LOL

    A friend of mine at work asked me how to make white sauce the other day so I rattled it off to her. She thinks I'm a walking cook book, but after you've cooked for 35 years ...some of it just sticks in your brain! You'll have to post your recipe. Sounds yummy!

  5. oh my goodness...I'm sitting here with the laptop too lazy to get up and eat, but now I'm going to have to!

  6. Well, come on over, Jayme, and get comfortable. I'll feed you and make you a cup of tea (fresh tea bag!) for as long as you like! Too bad there's too much geography between us would be fun!

    : )

  7. Ummmm, Ummmm! my mouth is watering and I have just copied and pasted this to " Shared Recipes " on our computer, waiting to get our new printer hooked up, go figure it didn't come with a USB cable it needed, it requires a separate purchase and it says nothing on the outside of the box about needing to buy it Back to the topic, comfort foods are actually our mainstay diet, with the exception of a few well suggested( from such as yourself) recipes*wink*

    To answer your question about Dexters and your neighbor's angus bull. Well let me start with a question, what are the laws, is it Open Range where you live? Here in many areas of MT it's still listed as Open Range and that means if you don't want your neighbor's animals on your property it is YOUR responsiblity to build strong enough fencing to keep them off. Having shared that, people we know have dexters and a new neighbor moved in to the property next to theirs, and wouldn't you know it they had a bull( angus) and he tore down their fences to get in with their dexters cows and heifers. It ended up costing the people with the dexters several thousand dollars in fence repair as well as vet bills to give shots to abort those the angus bull bred*sigh* This is not just an angus problem but all bulls in general.
    We've been considering getting a bull of our own, but then again we don't have any neighbors closer than 2 miles away with cows, so.... I think we'll be okay and if the bull insists on getting out he'll be burger. :o)

    Hope that helps, for whatever it's worth.

  8. I'm glad so many of you think the recipe sounds good. I can attest, it is one of Yeoldfurt's new favorites.

    It is not open range here but fence squabbles are a quick way to turn great neighbors into bad neighbors. Our neighbor is a good ol' boy, lived here all of his 70-some years, but he's a bit tight on the purse strings. His fences are functional at best and would never do for horses. When we moved in, we put up field fence around the perimeter and do our best to maintain it. So far his cattle have stayed on his side and our horses have stayed on our side. But if we had cows of any variety, I think his bull might be a problem. We're a year or so off from being in a position to purchase any cattle but we like the Dexter for their size and amiable nature. We will buy a freezer this year and probably 'test the waters' with a couple of calves. We'll keep them a few months and put them in the freezer, but we'll probably get a a good idea of how 'interested' the neighbor's bull will be just from the calves. I'll let you know!

    : )

  9. Not THAT Homer Simpson sound...the other one, where he imagines a food, his head leans to one side and slobbers...yeah, that one LOL.

  10. Looks delicious. Wish I liked to cook, but it just isn't my cup of tea.

    I left you an award over at my place.