Friday, February 19, 2016

Comfort Foods

We've been indulging in delicious, hearty comfort foods, lately.

When I wake between 5-6 am it is dark and chilly in the house 
{I dial down to 58 at night!} 
I make my way to the coffee maker, jacking up the furnace & electric heater on my way.  There's nothing more comforting than that first leisurely cup of hot coffee.  After my java fix I usually lace up my sneakers & hit the pavement but, lately, it's still dark and far too cold out so I've been forgoing my morning walk and making a tea latte, instead and blogging.

I blame winter!

That fresh air is too fresh for me.  
I tell myself I will take my daily walk later when it warms up more and the sun comes out.  
And sometimes I do.

Sometimes, I just make another warm mug of something delicious.
What's more cozy than curling up on the couch with your fav blanky, a cat, and a cup of hot cocoa?  I Love to sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top of my whipped cream.  A sprinkling of cinnamon is so spicy good on just about anything, isn't it?  

Especially cinnamon toast!

Another favorite is grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup.  There's a fantastic symbiosis of those two flavors together and one without the other is not the same.  
Aldi has this incredible sourdough bread that is perfect for making grilled cheese.  I also get cheese slices there, Colby Jack & Havarti.  
As for the soup I prefer to make my own.  Homemade tomato soup is easy and rewarding.  I'm not a fan of commercially canned soups because of the taste and the ingredients.  
My own recipe is loaded with veg and Good for You!

1 c. chopped onion
about 1-2 c. chopped bell peppers, any colors you like
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 c. spinach or kale, fresh or frozen
1 c. of fresh or canned pumpkin puree or squash
1 large carrot, grated - no need to peel
3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 28oz can of tomatoes
1/4 tsp Italian Seasonings
1 carton of organic chicken broth or vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
After all the chopping, I dump all that veg into my enameled cast iron pot on medium low heat with a splash of olive oil and let them cook up stirring every few minutes.  When they've all softened and start to stick a bit that's when you pour in the broth to deglaze, stirring and scraping up any brown bits.  Turn the heat up and keep stirring every few minutes until it just starts to boil then turn down the heat to simmer for 20-30.  Once everything is cooked up nicely, get out your handheld immersion blended and whir away until all the veg is pureed. Scoop into mugs or bowls and get ready to dip your grilled cheeses and enjoy.
If you like a creamier version you can stir in a dollop of Greek yogurt if you want to be healthy or sour cream if you don't.

I spied this sunny little gem of Pyrex dish while thrifting and I just knew it'd be ideal for lasagna, the noodles would nestle nicely being the perfect size.

Making veg lasagna is remarkably easy.
There's no time consuming browning of the meat needed.  Just layer the uncooked pasta in between heaping scoops of tomato sauce that's loaded with your fav veg.  Actually, this is a good place to hide lots of veg you, or your family, doesn't really like, you know, like kale.

Start by making the tomato sauce.  You can make it from scratch or add veggies to a nice organic delicious sauce, like Sockarooni, {my Fav} depending on how hungry you are.  If you decide to make your own tomato sauce it should simmer on the stove for at least an hour.

Here's what I like to put in my veggie tomato sauce:

1 c. chopped onion
1-2 c. chopped bell peppers, any colors you like
2 zucchini or summer squash, chopped
1 pkg button mushrooms, washed and sliced
1 c. spinach or kale, fresh or frozen
1 large carrot, grated - no need to peel

1 c. of fresh or canned pumpkin puree or squash

In a large pot on medium heat saute all your veg with a little olive oil until softened, 10-20.  Add pumpkin, sauce or tomatoes, depending on what you choose to do,

If making your own base sauce:
3-4 cloves of garlic chopped
1 28 oz can of tomatoes
1/4 tsp Italian Seasonings
salt and pepper to taste

Let simmer away for for 5-10 minutes OR if making your own sauce from scratch let simmer for at least an hour.


When you sauce is about ready, gather your other lasagna ingredients:

Box of lasagna noodles
carton of ricotta or I prefer cottage cheese, like my mom used to make.
shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
shredded Italian cheese mix
fresh mozzarella is nice too

I start by coating the bottom of the baking dish with olive oil .  I just use my hands or a napkin to spread the oil around and up the sides to keep anything from sticking so cleanup is a breeze.
Then ladle in a thin coating of the sauce, covering the whole bottom of the pan.
Put down a layer of dry pasta on top of the sauce.
Then ladle in a some more sauce, really heaping on those veggies,
followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Next is the cheese layer, so spoon the ricotta or cottage cheese all around on top of the noodles and spread it out.

Sprinkle fresh cracked black pepper, dried parsley and the Parmigiano Reggiano.
Followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Then ladle in a some more sauce,
followed by another layer of dry pasta.
Top with some more sauce and a generous amount of cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil, unless you are lucky enough to own a lid for your baking dish.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour, removing the lid/ foil for the last 20 minutes so it will brown up nicely.
      ~ enjoy!

I usually make a big batch of veg sauce, enough to make 2-3 lasagnas depending on the sizes.  Using smaller size baking dishes allows you to make extras for leftovers to enjoy later in the week
 or popping in the freezer.  And they make perfect surprise gifts for someone you might know that could use a nice homemade hot cooked meal.

I'm a big lover of soup.  
I can't think of any kind of soup I don't like or make.
Oh, wait ... my Grammy Poppy talked about Czarnina which is Polish for Duck blood soup.  I don't think I'm interested in that!  Sure do miss her pierogi though.

Next I'm sharing my version of onion soup that I've adapted using The Barefoot Contessa's recipe.  Years ago, I would always DVR her cooking show to learn her techniques.  I'm a big fan of Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa!  I love watching her shop for food and make food.  She makes everything she cooks look so easy and effortless.  Then she puts together a beautiful table and serves her guests all her wonderful gorgeous food.  I'm always enthralled.

French Onion Soup
4-6 large onions, halved, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2-3 Tablespoons butter + olive oil
1/4 c. cognac or brandy, vermouth
1 c. white wine
2 c. beef broth  & 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 slices from a loaf of French bread, toasted
Gruyere &/or Parmesan cheese

Slice and slowly saute onions in butter + bay leaf, thyme for 20 minutes, until softened in a large enameled cast iron pot, cover off.
Then stir in 1/2 tsp salt & sugar, pepper; saute 15-20 min more over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until rich golden brown. I omit sugar if using Vidalias, keep cover off and stir every 2-3 mins.

Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 c. sherry, vermouth, cognac or brandy and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle 2 TBLS flour over onions and cook slowly, stirring, for 2 mins.  Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes.
Add the beef broth & optional Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the soup is simmering away it's a good time to slice up that french bread, butter it if you want, then toast in the oven.
Remove the bay leaf, taste for salt and pepper, and serve ladling soup into individual ovenproof bowls, like Fiestaware or Pyrex. Float toasted bread slices or cut croutons on top. Top with grated Gruyere &/or Parmesan cheese. Broil on low until cheese is melted and slightly brown.
                                                           ~ Enjoy!

These are some of my fav comfort food recipes that I enjoying making for people as well as eating.  If you are inspired to cook any of them you will Love them, too!

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