December can be a chaotic month. Thanksgiving has just ended and Christmas is bearing down. There’s so much more to do and there seems so little time.
The winter blues often strike as December breaks, but there is some comfort to be found in the season if you can take a few hours off and invite a few friends over for something good to eat.
Comfort food is basic and perfect for this time of year -- it is filling and will warm you up no matter the temperature outside.
If what you are serving is warm and filling and comforting, too, then you will have shared an occasion that might be fondly remembered by all who attended.
Colcannon is an Irish dish, and good songs have been written about it.
It is simplicity itself and is made basically with mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage and butter. But there are options for being innovative, too: use baby spinach or collard greens, add cream to make it smoother and season with a little white pepper.
8 Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 cup grated white cheddar cheese
2/3 cup cream
1 bag baby spinach
3-4 tablespoons butter
Salt and white pepper
Quarter the potatoes (peeled or not) and boil in salted water until done and drain. Add ½ the butter and mash, if it is too thick add some of the cream then add the cheese and mix again. Heat the remaining cream and add the spinach a little at a time until it is wilted. Combine it with the mashed potatoes and top with the remaining butter. Do not hold to convention, serve with spoons and dig in.
Chili, our shortened name for chili con carne (which means chili peppers with meat) comes to us from the American Southwest and originally was made as a trail food with dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers and salt, but the recipes we use now have come a long way from those adventurous days.
Declaring a particular chili recipe the best in the Southwest today may cause the same kind of ruckus that a gumbo recipe might in the Deep South. This recipe was offered up by Peggy Browne, and it is a great example of how adaptable the basic combination of chili peppers, garlic, onions, cumin and meat is.
White lightning chili
By Peggy Browne
1-pound dried great northern white beans
4 cups chopped, cooked chicken breasts
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (4-ounce) cans chopped mild green chilies
3 tsp. ground cumin
1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 cups chicken stock, not broth or bullion
3 cups grated Monterey jack cheese, about 12 ounces
Juice of two limes
Place rinsed beans in a heavy large pot. Add enough cold water to cover by at least 3 inches and soak overnight.
Drain beans. Heat oil in the same pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Stir in garlic, chilies, cumin, oregano and cayenne and sauté 2 minutes. Add beans and stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (the beans can be prepared one day ahead, just cover and refrigerate and then bring back to a simmer before continuing).
Add chicken and one cup cheese to chili and stir until cheese melts. Add the lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle chili into bowls. Serve with remaining cheese and sour cream.
MAC AND CHEESE
Many Americans grew up eating a boxed version of macaroni and cheese and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is pretty simple to turn this dish into something glorious and wonderful.
The idea of putting pasta and cheese together is old and can be found in cookbooks dating to the medieval times.
When a recipe sticks around for so long it has to be good. The variables involved in making a great macaroni and cheese, which is in fact a casserole, are few, but most important is the quality of the cheese.
If you use processed cheese, which is really not a cheese at all, do not expect glorious results.
The addition of cream, butter, onions, garlic, ham or bacon and fresh herbs are all good options or try a different pasta, like ziti instead of the traditional elbow macaroni.
A bread crumb topping is good, too, if you are going to brown it in the oven.
½ pound of elbow macaroni or ziti
6 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups half and half or milk
½ an onion chopped
1/3 a cup chopped smoked sausage or smoked ham
12 ounces gruyere cheese
1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs
Cook the macaroni according to package directions, drain and set aside. Sauté the sausage until well browned, add the onions and continue cooking until they are tender. Season as you go.
Add 3 tablespoons butter and the flour, cook until well blended but do not brown. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
In a separate pan melt the remaining butter and add the Panko bread crumbs, when the butter has been absorbed spoon over the top of the macaroni and cheese and run under a broiler until brown.
Serve piping hot