Let’s Talk Food: More about comfort foods

If you think about comfort foods, you often want them when you are dealing with emotions and stress, as what we are presently going through with this COVID-19 pandemic.

Many foods bring back memories of our childhood, or happier and carefree times in our lives. However, most comfort foods are not the healthiest! It was determined that America’s favorite comfort foods are a grilled cheese sandwich, chocolate, pizza, ice cream, French fries, macaroni and cheese, chocolate chip cookies and mashed potatoes.

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When I thought about what my comfort foods would be, they would be sashimi, pickled vegetables and miso soup, but to my husband, Jim, who grew up in Oklahoma, his list includes fried chicken, biscuits and sausage gravy and pecan pie.

America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) took comfort foods and made them lighter and “healthier” so we can still enjoy our favorites, but with less guilt after you eat them.

Here is ATK’s baked macaroni and cheese, keeping the cheesy flavor and creamy texture, using low-fat evaporated milk and thickening with cornstarch instead of the usual roux of butter and flour. WIth those changes, 750 calories were reduced to 470, 40 grams of fat to 11 and 25 grams of saturated fat to 5 grams.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Serves: 8

1 pound elbow macaroni

Salt and pepper

2 (12 ounces) cans 2% low-fat evaporated milk

3/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch

12 ounces 50% light cheddar cheese, shredded, 3 cups

1 cup Panko bread crumbs, toasted

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until just al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain macaroni, set aside.

Toast Panko: To toast in oven, spread a rimmed baking sheet and bake in a 475-degree oven until well browned, 7 to 10 minutes.

Combine evaporated milk, mustard, garlic powder, 1 teaspoon salt and cayenne in now-empty pot and bring to simmer. Combine 1/4 cup reserved pasta water and cornstarch, then whisk into pot. Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheddar, a handful at a time, until melted. Stir in cooked macaroni and add remaining 1/4 cup pasta water as needed to adjust consistency; sauce should be slightly soupy.

Transfer mixture to 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Toss toasted Panko with melted butter in bowl, season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle over top. Bake until sauce in bubbly around edges, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

• • •

ATK’s pizza recipe reduced calories from 460 to 350, the fat from 24 to 10 grams of saturated fat.

Thin-Crust Cheese Pizza

Makes: Two 13-inch pizzas

Serves: 8

3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 1/3 cups ice water

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

Salt and pepper

1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

8 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups)

Process flour, sugar, yeast together in food processor until combined, 2 seconds. With processor running, slowly add water until dough is just combined and no dry flour remains. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt and process until dough forms satiny, sticky ball that clears sides of bowl, 30 seconds. Transfer to lightly greased counter and knead briefly until smooth. Shape dough into ball; place in greased bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days.

Position oven rack 4 1/2 inches from top of oven, set pizza stone on rack and heat oven to 500 degrees; let stone heat for one hour. Meanwhile, divide dough in half. Shape each piece into smooth ball; place on greased baking sheet, at least 3 inches apart. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let stand for one hour.

Process tomatoes, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, garlic, vinegar and oregano together in food processor until smooth, 20 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coat one ball of dough generously with flour and place on well-floured counter. Using fingertips, gently flatten into 6-inch disk, leaving 1 inch of outer edge slightly thicker than center. Using hands, gently stretch disk into 12-inch round, working along edges and turning dough as needed. Transfer dough to well-floured peel and stretch into 13-inch round.

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Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over dough, leaving 1/4 inch border around edge. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan, followed by 1 cup mozzarella. Slide pizza carefully onto hot stone and bake until crust is well browned and cheese is bubbly, 10 minutes, rotating pizza halfway through baking. Let cool on wire rack for 5 minutes, then slice and serve. Repeat to make second pizza.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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