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Happy meals

Sometimes you wake up and all you feel like doing is pulling the covers over your head and hibernating. You may be stressed, or lonely, or dealing with grief, or just frustrated at circumstances you can’t control.It’s times like these when we turn to comfort food. It’s soothing, calming and filling. It’s like a warm blanket or a hug from Mom.Studies have even shown that tasty, high-fat, feel-good food works like a calming drug in chronically stressed-out rats (OK, so we’re not rats, but it’s the same principle). Comfort food sales are what drove the specialty food industry following the 9/11 attacks. Who needs Prozac when you’ve got macaroni and cheese?So what exactly is the definition of a comfort food? It’s usually warm, with high fat content and has soothing textures and flavors. It’s familiar, carries a bit of nostalgia and makes you feel good all over. It fills you up and brings a smile to your face.Everyone has their own favorite. The most common comfort foods are macaroni and cheese, pudding, mashed potatoes, chicken pot pie and meat loaf. Tomato soup, fried chicken and green bean casserole are also top picks. And what girl hasn’t turned to her friends Ben & Jerry after a bad breakup?There are some oddball choices for comfort food. I asked some of my friends what their favorite feel-good foods are, and aside from the usual picks, I got answers like sushi, beer and candy corn. Go figure.Whatever your comfort food is, next time life has got you down, reach for a fork or spoon and remember, this too will pass.Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. Her favorite comfort foods are oatmeal and chocolate cake. Contact her at 945-8515, ext. 535, or at gdevenish@postindependent.com.Baked macaroni and cheese1/2 pound elbow macaroni 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour 1 tablespoon powdered mustard 3 cups milk 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced 1 bay leaf 1/2 teaspoon paprika 1 large egg 12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded 1 teaspoon kosher salt Fresh black pepper Topping: 3 tablespoons butter 1 cup panko bread crumbsPreheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente. While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about 5 minutes. Make sure it’s free of lumps. Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for 10 minutes and remove the bay leaf. Temper in the egg. Stir in 34 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese. Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest for 5 minutes before serving. – Alton Brown, “Good Eats,” Food NetworkStovetop mac and cheese1/2 pound elbow macaroni 4 tablespoons butter 2 eggs 6 ounces evaporated milk 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce 1 teaspoon kosher salt Fresh black pepper 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard 10 ounces sharp cheddar, shreddedIn a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat. Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.- Alton Brown, “Good Eats,” Food NetworkChocolate pudding 4 cups heavy cream5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (see note), finely chopped6 large egg yolks1/2 cup granulated sugar1 teaspoon vanilla extractPinch of saltPreheat the oven to 325 degrees. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a large heavy saucepan, then remove the pan from the heat. Place the chocolate in a large stainless-steel bowl, add 1 cup of the warm cream, and let stand until the chocolate is melted. Stir the chocolate mixture until it is smooth, then stir in the remaining cream. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt. Gradually whisk in the chocolate mixture. Strain the pudding through a fine-mesh strainer and skim off the froth on the top. Pour the pudding into eight 6-ounce ovenproof ramekins. Place them in a deep baking pan and put the pan in the oven. Add enough hot water to the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins, then cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake the puddings for about 50 minutes. When gently shaken, they should look set around the edges but not quite set in a quarter-size area at the center. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool at room temperature. Refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Serve chilled. Serves 8.Note: Bittersweet chocolate has sugar, vanilla and lecithin added to the pure chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. Although semisweet usually has more sugar, the two are pretty much interchangeable in recipes.- “Recipes from Home,” by David Page and Barbara Shinn


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