Comfort Food

Comfort food - it's just what it sounds like: something that your mother or grandmother used to fix, something plain and good, easy to prepare. It varies from country to country, and even from region to region, but ultimately, it would never be mistaken for haute cuisine. It's what we fix now for ourselves when we are feeling blue, there is nothing much in the refrigerator, and you just don't feel up to cooking or eating something complicated. My maternal grandmother's ultimate comfort food was rice pudding. No, there's no use in putting up a recipe for it, for although the ingredients were simple enough -  white rice, milk, raisins, sugar and vanilla - the exact proportions of those ingredients remain a mystery, and any attempt to duplicate it in the decades since have met with abject failure. I have had better luck with my own particular favorite: macaroni and cheese, which is nearly foolproof as far as proportions go; however it comes out, it's always good, even the time when I put in a pinch of cayenne pepper instead of paprika. Hey, it just had a little extra bite.

Make a béchamel sauce by combining in a small saucepan a couple of tablespoons of butter and the same of flour. Add a teaspoon or so of whole-grain mustard and a pinch of paprika. You want only a little, put in a little. You want a lot, put in a lot. Wisk in a cup or two of milk, and while the béchamel sauce thickens, boil a quart of water in another pot, and simmer a cup or a two of macaroni shells, or tubes or even cavatappi until almost al dente. That means, just about done but not mushy. Grate half a pound of sharp cheddar cheese, and whisk into the thickened béchamel. It doesn't matter if the sauce is a little runny - in fact, it is better that way. The slightly underdone pasta will absorb the sauce and it will all be very nice. Drain the pasta and put into a casserole dish - if you like, add and mix in about half a pound of cut-up kielbasa. Pour the cheese béchamel sauce over it, sprinkle some bread crumbs and a little grated parmesan cheese over the top, bake at about 350° for about forty minutes to an hour - and there you go. Perfectly comforting mac and cheese.

My daughter's cheesy comfort food favorite is Greek cheese pie, which is a little more complicated, but still very satisfactory: I began making it when we lived in Greece, and it was a staple of her childhood.  Crumble ½ pound feta cheese to the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Make a béchamel sauce of ¼ c. butter, 3 Tbs. flour, and 1-cup milk, and allow to cool slightly. Mix the sauce with the crumbled cheese and add 3 eggs and ½ tsp dill. Allow half a package of Athenos phyllo dough to thaw thoroughly. (they package it with two individual rolls of phyllo dough) Unroll, and cover with a slightly damp towel. Melt ½ cup butter, and use a little to grease the bottom of a small, square baking dish. Layer sheets of phyllo in the dish staggering the layers, draping the half of each sheet over the side if the dish. Brush melted butter after every two layers, in the dish. When all the sheets are used, pour the cheese/béchamel sauce into the center, and begin laying the layers over the cheese mixture, buttering every two layers. Sprinkle a little water on the top of the final layer of phyllo, and bake in a 350 deg. oven for 45 minutes. Perfectly comforting cheese pie - bon appetite.