Category Archives: Comfort Food

And then I ate five in a row

This post has been a long time coming- let’s say 5 years. It all started when I spent a semester abroad in Ecuador. My host mother was a wonderful woman, Ines, who was also a fabulous cook, but not without eccentricities. For example, when I moved into my room, I found one wall that was plastered with gift bags- some were solid colors, others had decorative prints, some had Disney characters (I don’t think I ever asked, but I’m sure it was simply part of the decor). I should get to the point otherwise we will all be wallowing in a sea of my Ecuadorian nostalgia.

As I mentioned, she was one hell of a cook: tamales; ham, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches; tasty rice dishes; jugo de tomate de arbol (tree tomato juice); mote pillo (hominy with eggs); and an 8 pound birthday cake were among her specialties. The most delicious and baffling of her culinary concoctions was pan de yuca. For those who haven’t yet read the latest issue of Saveur Magazine (and also for your general edification), there is a great article about the cassava plant. Cassava is a starchy staple in many countries around the equator that also goes by names such as manioc, or yuca (say YOU-ca). Obviously, I knew that this pan (bread) was made up of yuca, but I didn’t ever pay enough attention to the baking process to replicate it (I always offered to help, and was always shooed back to the kitchen table to drink my endless cup of Nescafe instant coffee).  After 4 months of Ecuadorian immersion, I returned to the states not expecting to ever taste pan de yuca again.

So, a couple of years went by and I stumbled upon this blog. It’s author, Laylita, grew up in Ecuador and writes about many of the foods I experienced during my stay- including- pan de yuca! So I made a mental note, bookmarked the blog and went about my day-to-day for another couple of years, periodically checking back to make sure it was still there (it was).

Okay, I feel like this story is starting to drag on a bit… but stay with me.

As mentioned before, there is an article in this month’s Saveur Magazine about the wonders of Cassava- complete with a Brazilian variation of my beloved pan. In this article I learned that tapioca starch is really just cassava starch. Revelation of revelations- I had a bag of tapioca starch in my freezer left over from baking gluten-free cupcakes last summer!

I followed the recipe on Laylita’s blog instead of Saveur- only because I wanted to get the recipe as close to my memory of it as possible, I thought that a woman who grew up in Ecuador would hit closer to that target than a recipe from the other side of the continent.

The truth of these little treats is that they taste best right out of the oven (okay, give them 5 minutes to cool a tad). Since they’re made with cassava/yuca/tapioca, they’re also gluten free but tend to harden up once cooled. Give ’em a quick nuke in the microwave and they’ll be almost as good the next day.

Did I mention they’re cheesy too?

See, it didn’t take THAT long to cover 5 years worth of time to track down one tasty recipe!

Pan de Yuca (adapted from laylita.com)

Preheat oven to 500

2 1/2 cups yuca flour (tapioca starch)

4 cups grated motzarella cheese

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 stick of butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

2 large eggs

milk

Preparation:

Combine flour, cheese, baking powder and salt in a mixer and mix until incorporated

Add butter and eggs and mix until butter is entirely incorporated. I’d add a bit of milk to get the dough to bind together- but not much- 1/4 cup MAX.

Remove the dough from the mixer and form into a ball. You can make the dough ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a day.

Make small round balls out of the dough (about as much as you can squeeze in a fist) and place on a cookie sheet with parchment.

Bake for about 7 minutes. They will look very anemic- this is when you pop them under the broiler to give them a bit of color- just until golden.

Serve immediately.

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Filed under Baking, Comfort Food, Ecuador

A tasty cracker.

Remember how I went to Michigan last month? Well, since I got back from vacation, I have been attempting to be more resourceful than usual with making meals. I pulled out some prunes from my refrigerator (what? You don’t keep dried prunes in your refrigerator?) and stewed them last night to accompany my delicious oatmeal breakfast. While I was stewing prunes, I also raided my freezer for odds and ends to make a vegetable stock which I plan on using for risotto tomorrow night. You see, I’m not only feeding myself, but my dear father, who has decided to make a pit-stop in Bozeman on the tail end of an 11,000 mile motorcycle tour that included Texas and Maine (from Oregon).

We were feeling a mite bit peckish this afternoon. We had managed breakfast (oatmeal) and a light lunch (that consisted entirely of Costco samples), and were not quite ready for dinner yet. I suggested some tuna salad, but had failed to pick up any bread-like substance besides hamburger buns from the Co-op earlier in the day. So I decided to make some crackers.

I remember a recipe from Mark Bittman over a year ago, and had been meaning to try out this simple recipe for homemade crackers- if you think about it it’s almost the easiest thing you could think of to bake. Upon further investigation of the recipe, I also discovered that I had all of the ingredients to make crackers- no surprises, really, except for cream and parmesan cheese.

The crackers took less than 15 minutes to prep and about 10 minutes to bake. They were a perfectly simple vessel for tuna salad, and a little over an hour after the inception of an idea to make crackers, there was no evidence that they were ever there- except for a lingering something-savory-has-recently-been-baked smell. They also have a nice rustic look, which would be an added bonus if you were looking for something easy (and cheap) to impress your dinner guests with. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Parmesan Cream Crackers- From The Minimalist Blog

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup cream or half-and-half, more as needed
  • Coarse salt, pepper, sesame or poppy seeds, minced garlic or whatever you like for sprinkling (optional).

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly dust with flour- I used my SilPat, which worked like a dream. Pulse flour, salt, cheese and butter in a food processor until flour and butter are combined. Add cream and let run until mixture holds together but is not sticky.

2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/2-inch thick or even thinner. Transfer sheet of dough to prepared baking sheet. Score lightly with a sharp knife. Sprinkle with salt.

3. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days.

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Filed under Baking, Comfort Food

Mac ‘n Cheese

Sometimes it’s perfectly okay to rock boxed macaroni and cheese (especially if it’s Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar with peas and lots of black pepper). Sometimes you’ve got extra time on your hands and decide that now is a good time to buy 3 different kinds of cheese and create a macaroni and cheese masterpiece. Such was the case this weekend- also known as the day I ate entirely too much. I thought I should share this with everyone, because, sometimes you just need ultimate comfort food.

Artisanal Macaroni and Cheese- adapted from Saveur.

  • 12 oz penne pasta
  • 6 tbs unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c dried bread crumbs- preferably panko
  • 1 oz finely grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 3 1/2 c milk
  • 4 oz grated Gruyère
  • 4 oz grated Gouda
  • 4 oz grated Fontina

Heat oven to 350. Bring a 4 quart saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until not quite al dente. Drain pasta and transfer to a bowl. Set aside.

Melt 3 tbs of butter in the same saucepan. Add breadcrumbs and Parmesan, toss to combine and set aside in a small bowl. Wipe out saucepan and set over medium heat. Melt remaining 3 tbs of butter in saucepan and whisk in flour until smooth. Whisk in the milk and cook, continuing to whisk often until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the Gruyère, Gouda Fontina and whisk until the cheese is melted. Taste sauce and season with salt and pepper. Remove pan from heat and stir in the reserved pasta. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and top with breadcrumbs. Bake until golden brown and bubbly- about 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving- otherwise everyone will end up with scalded mouths from trying to devour such deliciousness.

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Filed under Comfort Food, cooking, Hot Dish