It’s painful to watch grieving loved ones in despair. You can offer solemn words and hugs, but we sometimes struggle trying to find the right way to let them feel supported. No matter if someone’s lost a loved one, a special pet, a job, a romance — food helps. Nothing too spicy or sophisticated — think mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes and ham.
The following homey classics aren’t sophisticated, but they’re in regular church ladies’ rotation for a reason: they are comforting, uncomplicated, and always appreciated.
If you’re really on your game, give someone you care about a food hug.
UPDATE: SEE NEW KING RANCH CASSEROLE VERSION AT BOTTOM!
UPDATE: church lady casserole a.k.a Peas Be With You!
JANICE BEATON’S MAC AND CHEESE
An 8 oz or 240 g block of cheese yields approximately 2 cups (500 mL) of grated cheese.
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped onions
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced garlic
6 tbsp (90 mL) flour
4 cups (1 L) hot milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp (30 mL) Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne
2 cups (500 mL) grated cheese (Janice says mix one cup of Gruyère or aged gouda cheese with one cup of old cheddar, edam or crumbled blue cheese)
1 pkg of penne (1 lb or 500 g)
1/2 cup (125 mL) coarse breadcrumbs
Bring 5 quarts (5 L) of water to a boil in a large pot.
In the meantime, saute the onion and garlic in butter over medium heat for five minutes (without browning). Add flour and cook (this mixture is called a roux) for approximately 10 minutes over low heat. Slowly whisk in the hot milk, along with the mustard and cayenne, to make a bechamel (white) sauce. Cook bechamel for 15 minutes over medium low heat.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Cook the pasta for approximately 13 minutes in rapidly boiling water. The pasta should be cooked less than al dente, as baking time in the oven will cook it further. Drain.
Add half of the cheese to the bechamel and stir until the mixture is homogenous. Add the pasta and mix just until blended. Place one-third of the pasta/sauce mixture in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch (23 by 33 cm, 3.5 L) pan. Sprinkle with half the remaining cheese. Add another one third of the pasta and top with the rest of the grated cheese. Layer the last portion of pasta over this and top with the breadcrumbs. Bake, covered (aluminum foil will do), for 35 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degreesF (200 degrees C), remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer, until the pasta is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are browned. Let stand for five minutes, cut and serve. Serves 4 to 6.
BEEF SOUR CREAM NOODLE BAKE
2 pounds lean ground beef
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 pound cottage cheese
Minced green pepper
1/3 cup choped green onion
1/2 cup grated swiss cheese
2 cups tomato sauce
8 ounce package of egg noodles
In a large pan, cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain & set aside. In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream. Add onion and peppers. Set aside. Brown ground beef & drain any fat. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato sauce to ground beef. Grease 9 x 13 inch cake pan or casserole dish, and arrange the following layers: Noodles, cheese mixture, meat mixture – then repeat. Top with grated Swiss cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.
You don’t want to offer anything too spicy or exotic, but this has a cheesy, creamy, comfort. Great picture here.
Note: If you can’t find Ro-Tel tomatoes, substitute one 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and one 4-ounce can chopped green chiles. Cojack is a creamy blend of Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. Jack cheese can be used in its place.
KING RANCH CASSEROLE
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 jalapeno chiles, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 (10-ounce) cans Ro-Tel tomatoes (see note)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into ½-inch slices
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 cups shredded Cojack cheese (see note)
Salt and pepper
2¼ cups Fritos corn chips, crushed
1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 450 degrees. Lay tortillas on two baking sheets, lightly coat both sides with cooking spray, and bake until slightly crisp and browned, about 12 minutes. Cool slightly, then break into bite-sized pieces. Using potholders, adjust top oven rack to middle position.
2. Heat butter in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook onions, chiles, and cumin until lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until most of liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add cream and broth, bring to simmer, and cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in chicken and cook until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Off heat, add cilantro and cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Scatter half of tortilla pieces in 13 by 9-inch baking dish set over rimmed baking sheet. Spoon half of filling evenly over tortillas. Scatter remaining tortillas over filling, then top with remaining filling.
4. Bake until filling is bubbling, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle Fritos evenly over top and bake until Fritos are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool casserole 10 minutes. Serve.
To make ahead: The casserole can be assembled through step 3 and refrigerated for up to 1 day. When ready to serve, cover casserole with foil and bake until filling is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove foil, top with Fritos, and proceed with rest of step 4 as directed