Foods that say 'I love you'

Published in Palo Alto Weekly, February 13, 2009

Whether a health nut or a junk-food fiend, in the salty camp or prefer the savory, everyone has different ways of qualifying the foods that are comforting.

Here are a few comfort foods that will undoubtedly warm the soul and say “I love you” loud and clear.

Think outside the box

Generally thought of as a boxed meal for kids, old-fashioned home-style recipes for Macaroni & Cheese are tough to find. Many of the recipes yield overly fussy, epicurean dishes or macaroni drenched in chalky white sauce.

Mac & Cheese remains an American staple but takes on a more sophisticated edge at MacArthur Park Restaurant in Palo Alto, where the dish is a favorite side order for restaurant goers.

MacArthur Park’s chef Faz Poursohi handed over the restaurant’s recipe for this American comfort food: cheesy, crispy and well-seasoned Mac & Cheese.

Macaroni & Cheese

4 cups elbow macaroni

3 T. butter

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

8 oz. dry aged Cheddar cheese

4 oz. grated Cheddar cheese

1 t. dry mustard

1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs

Kosher salt & white pepper (to taste)

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until done, about 5-7 minutes. Drain and toss with 2 tablespoons of butter; set aside.

Heat the oven to 350�F.

Coat a large baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter and set it aside. Put the heavy cream, whole milk and dry mustard into a saucepan. Warm over medium low heat, but don’t boil it. Remove pan from the heat, and add the dry aged cheddar and the grated cheddar cheese; stir until it is melted and smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Pour this over the macaroni and mix until well blended; put this into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the fresh bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake until the top is golden and crusty, about 25-30 minutes. Makes 6-8 servings.

Say it with soup

Bikur Cholim — the Jewish custom of visiting the sick — is the basis for Stanford’s student-run group that delivers warm bowls of matzah ball soup to students feeling under the weather.

For three years, the Matzah Ball Brigade has received e-mails and Facebook messages from students requesting matzah ball soup for themselves or for sick close friends, whipped up batches of soup, delivered it to the sick students and attempted to bring good cheer to make the student feel better.

Yishai Kabaker was president of the group last year and said one of his most memorable deliveries was during finals week of winter quarter when in one night he received eight requests for soup.

“I biked all around campus careful not to spill the jumbling Tupperware of soup in the double paper bags dangling from my handlebars,” Kabaker remembered. “After a hectic evening zipping around campus, I got a lot of nachas (Yiddish pride) knowing that I had helped out students during the high season of finals stress.

Kabaker said the Brigade turns to an easy and on-the-go recipe from sites such as for its soup delivery service.

Matzah Ball Soup

1 32-oz. carton of boxed chicken stock

2 eggs

1 T. vegetable oil

1/4 cup sparkling water

2/3 cup matzo meal

1/2 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

More oil for your hands

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, oil and sparkling water and whisk until combined. Add the matzo meal, salt and pepper and stir until smooth. Cover bowl and refrigerate mixture for half an hour so the matzo meal absorbs the liquid. The mixture will become more firm as it chills.

Bring chicken stock to a simmer. Lightly oil your hands. Scoop out a golf ball-sized lump of matzo ball dough and roll it in your hands to form a smooth ball. Gently drop into the simmering stock. Repeat with remaining dough, making 8-10 matzo balls. Cover the pan and simmer until done.

You can vary the size depending on your taste. The larger balls (6-8 per batch) will cook in about 30 minutes, while the smaller balls (12-14 per batch) take about 15-20 minutes to cook. The matzo balls are done when cooked through, light and spongy.

Place a few matzo balls in each soup dish then gently top with the soup.

Let them eat cake

Prolific food writer and Palo Alto local Lou Seibert Pappas shares a recipe for chocolate cake, a definitive comfort food. This is a classic dessert served at restaurants and thanks to Pappas you can make it at home as a special treat for after Valentine’s Day dinner.

These individual cakes are meant to have a slightly soft center when served warm. Dollop them with whipped cream or vanilla bean or coffee ice cream.

Warm Chocolate Cakes

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or 2/3 cup chocolate chips)

4 T. butter

4 eggs

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

3 T. cake or all-purpose flour

2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

Melt the chocolate and butter over hot water, stirring until smooth. Whisk the eggs and sugar to blend. Fold in the flour blended with cocoa. Fold this mixture into the chocolate mixture. Butter and cocoa dust six 1/2-cup souffle dishes. Pour in the batter. Refrigerate 1-2 hours just to firm.

Bake on a baking sheet at 400F for 12-14 minutes. Unmold while warm and serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired. Makes 4-6 servings.

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