Comfort foodPosted: 15 September 2009
One of the problems with being a programmer and working at a university is that your co-workers are cultured, well-bred, and well-educated. I love seeing their look of shock and horror when I tell them that one of my favorite meals is Kraft Macaroni and Cheese; the stuff that comes in the blue and orange box with those itty-bitty macaroni noodles.
I have to say from the outset that this entry is a homage to the book Square Meals by Jane and Michael Stern, which unfortunately is no longer in print. But they have another book, Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food, which looks like it might be a close runner up. I just ordered it; the price is down to $9.60 from $24.00 on Amazon. When I first read Square Meals I knew they were true cognoscenti of American food when they praised Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
But to be honest, I haven’t had any in several years. I invariably make it with lots of butter but my stomach can’t handle all that fat any more. But I’ve found something that’s as good or better. There’s a restaurant across the street from where I work and we went there one day and I ordered their beef Stroganoff, which was excellent. Then we went again a few weeks later and it was completely different; soupy and awful with a lot of fat floating on it. But between those two visits I had a hankering for beef Stroganoff at home so I bought a box of Betty Crocker’s Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff.
But don’t cook it the way they say to on the box where you dump everything together in a big skillet and cook it; I tried that and what a mess. The noodles didn’t cook enough so down the garbage disposal it went.
But after that first failure I still had a craving for beef Stroganoff so I bought another box and cooked the noodles separately in a big pot of water and cooked the sauce separately in a saucepan. When you cook it all together it calls for 1 cup water and 2 cups milk. When I make the sauce I use 1 cup of buttermilk. The buttermilk gives it a real kick. Some might find it too much so you could try using a half cup each of regular milk and buttermilk. It’s pretty salty and tangy when you use the full cup of buttermilk.
The other thing is don’t use hamburger; too greasy for me and I’ve cut way down on the amount of meat that I eat. Instead for this use Boca Burger; vegetarian and not bad at all. I microwave it on low until it’s defrosted and slice it up and add it at the very end when I toss the noodles into the sauce and stir everything together.
And I have to say, Betty Crocker’s does the job. Another one that’s good is Hamburger Helper Salisbury.
Cooking with milk on the stove top is chancy so be sure and stir the sauce frequently. Another shocker for my haute cuisine idolizing co-workers is that I love my electric stove. It’s really great for cooking things slowly; you can turn it way down and do a good low simmer. And water comes to a boil much faster.
Another appliance that I can’t live without is my microwave. It’s the perfect thing for cooking with milk. For example, try making cream of wheat or oatmeal with milk instead of water. Milk foams up when it boils so be sure whatever you cook it in is deep, and keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over.
My secret to microwave cooking is to start it on high, then let it cook for a longer period on a lower setting. For example, for oatmeal, I’ll start it on high for 2 minutes or so, then 10 or more minutes on setting 2. I have 10 settings where setting 1 is the lowest. With mine you can do this automatically; I can set it for 2 minutes on high, and then 10 minutes on 2. I think they all have something like this.
Another comfort food is quinoa. It’s pronounced keen-wah. It has a flavor that makes me think of brocolli. You can use it like rice, but it cooks more quickly. 1/2 cup quinoa and 1 cup water, 2 minutes on high, and 20 minutes on the lowest and you’re ready to go. I cook it in a big 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. When it’s cooked, dump in a can of Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Soup, no water. It makes a nice hot mushy meal.
And the last one is the canned Hormel corned beef hash. I don’t eat it as much as I would like to because I used to get the Safeway brand and it would be swimming in grease when it was done. You can see the white chunks of solidified grease when you’re spooning it out of the can into the Pyrex dish. I had a can of the Hormel brand last night and it didn’t seem to have very much grease at all. Maybe I should start buying that more often. My taste buds will certainly thank me.