What exactly is comfort food? I am not going to look up an official definition; I do not believe there should be one. Comfort food should be exactly what it is called; a food that brings comfort. That means something different to everyone for the most part; memories from childhood, or learning to cook by a loved one's side; or even cooking a meal for someone you love for the very first time. It is food that not only feeds the body, but the mind and soul. Comfort food can be as simple as a tuna fish sandwich, or as complicated as Beef Wellington; it has a special meaning for the person eating it, as well as the person who made it.
Being woken up around 3am, I noticed a brilliant light coming in through an opening in the curtains. There, sitting upon the roof of my shed was a full moon. As usual, the full moon out here is huge; one could imagine just reaching up and plucking it out of the sky; it looks that close. However, it now had an aura surrounding it that traveled outward till it was finally swallowed up by the dark; an amazing sight. This is one of the things, that I cherish, living out here; the lack of artificial lighting, so I can see the true essence of the moon and stars.
What has all this to do with comfort food? The ideal of comfort of course; that the sight of the moon’s glow could be such a peaceful experience. Ah-ha, but now for some excitement, well, for me at least. My new gas range which I named “Darth Vader” was being delivered on the weekend, and my mind was racing, “How do I christen it?” What kind of dish, stove top or oven, to make that would do a welcoming justice to this new appliance. Yes, I am weird, you all should be over that fact by now.
I suggested, to Roy, that I make my “heart attack” macaroni and cheese; a stove top dish using three to five cheeses, dependent on what types the store had in stock. To which he replied, “Mac n’ cheese? That’s so mundane. Can’t you make something more exciting?” Mundane? Mac n’ cheese mundane? I DO NOT DO MUNDANE!!!
Asking him to make a suggestion, he stated that I had not made Chicken Monterey in a very long time, and he would like that to be my first dish. Now, I could have been petty, made a snide remark, or not make the dish at all, but why cut off my nose to spite my own face?
The ingredients were purchased to make Chicken Monterey, and while out, also the to make Chinese Roast Pork Buns, and…wait for it…macaroni and cheese!
What is Chicken Monterey anyway? My recipe is just one version out of hundreds. Historically, its origin has been claimed by restaurant chefs in Canada, chain restaurants like Bonanza Steakhouse and Chili’s, and private restaurants throughout the United States. The origin of the cheese used, Monterey Jack, can be traced back to 18th-century Franciscan friars of Monterey, Alta California.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup barbeque sauce (KC Masterpiece, Bullseye or Sweet Baby Ray’s)
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided in half
½ cup each green and red bell peppers, diced
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup mushrooms, diced
½ cup tomatoes, diced
4 slices Monterey Jack cheese
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil, on medium-high heat, in a large skillet. Brown both sides of the chicken breasts (about 2 minutes each side), but do not cook all the way through (cooking will finish in the oven). Remove chicken from skillet; pat dry. Brush both sides of chicken with barbeque sauce and set into an 8” x 8” baking dish (pre-sprayed with cooking spray). Pour remaining barbeque sauce on top of chicken in the dish.
While the chicken was browning; heat other 2 Tbsp. oil in a smaller skillet; set onto medium-high heat; put in the peppers and onion. When they just begin to soften, add the mushrooms, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes; do not let the vegetables brown. Remove from heat and add the tomatoes. Spoon the vegetable mixture on top of the chicken; top with cheese. Place into oven and let cook for 15-20 minutes; cheese will be bubbly, and chicken cooked through.
Remove to serving platter and sprinkle parsley on top.
Makes 4 servings.
Note: If the chicken breasts are very large and thick, cut in half lengthwise, adjust all ingredients accordingly, and there will be more servings available than the original four.
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
(aka Heart Attack Mac n’ Cheese)
4 cups uncooked large elbow macaroni
8 Tbsp. butter
8 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt plus 2 Tbsp.
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup hot macaroni water
1/2 cup each goat cheese, shredded sharp cheddar, shredded Monterey Jack, shredded mild cheddar
In 3-quart pot, on high heat, bring water to boil for macaroni; add uncooked elbows to pot with 2 Tbsp. salt. Cook until al dente (slightly firm).
In a 4-quart pot, melt butter over medium-high heat; stir flour into the butter until smooth and bubbly; stir in 1 tsp. salt and pepper. Switch to a whisk; gradually add milk and heavy cream, whisking constantly.
Add ½ cup of cheese and whisk until well incorporated; repeat process until all four cheeses have been incorporated. Take 1 cup of macaroni water from pot; whisk into cheese mixture; remove from heat. Drain cooked macaroni, add to cheese mixture and mix well; cover and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.
Note: While this recipe is a stove top method, after combining the ingredients, it can all be transferred to a buttered casserole dish, topped with buttered, crushed bread crumbs, and baked (350F) till bubbly and golden brown.
So, the new gas range is christened with two dishes, Chicken Monterey for Roy, and Mac n’ cheese for me. Definitely a delicious win-win christening.