RECIPE: Macaroni & Cheese & Bacon

Suddenly, everybody’s old favorite, macaroni and cheese, is in the news. In England, neuroscientists at the University of Sussex measured subjects’ brainwaves while they ate, and it made one of their top foods in a “comfort index.” Chefs in New York, Santa Fe and San Francisco have put it on their menus,

Cooking in the Comfort Zone

What’s your idea of comfort food? I’d have thought there'd be a wide range, enveloping our variety of childhoods, but it seems not. Recently, psychologists at the University of Sussex conducted experiments to create what they called a “Comfort Index,” wiring up volunteers with electrodes and then feeding them various foods while scanning their responses. The top contenders for comfort were beans on toast, sausages and mashed potatoes, tomato soup, chicken and mushroom pie, and macaroni and cheese. How about you? I loved tomato soup as a kid, but clam chowder was my all-time favorite. Chicken pie, yes, but mushrooms are out for my boy (every time he asks, “What’s this?” it’s a prelude to rejection of whatever “this” is, and they’re near the head of his list). Beans on toast? Not even in my top ten. Macaroni and cheese, of course, is a hardy perennial. It’s been in the news lately, too. More to come next week. . .

RECIPE: Green Beans and Celery with Parsley

There’s so much green here that you’d think it would be instantly spurned, but it was/is a palpable hit. I wanted something to lift the beans out of their ordinary OK-but-blandness. Celery was a natural partner—it does the job for Chinese food, and adds crunch. Parsley provides another boost, completing a delicious one-two punch.

Smooth talk as beanz make newz!

Heinz, whose slogan is “Beanz Meanz Heinz,” introduced their canned beans in Germany and Austria earlier this year--“Gebackene Bohnen in Tomaten Sauce.” A newspaper in Vienna, The Austrian Times, decided to do a comparison with the original version, and discovered that the German one has less beans, less tomato sauce, and more water, sugar, and salt. The company’s smooth response was an understatement, to say the least: “Our subtle blend of sauces varies in different countries.”

RECIPE: Sweet Onion-Pecan Tarts

My wife calls these kinds of snacks hand-me-rounds, not a bad description. When my son’s pals come over, they disappear (the snacks, that is). The subtle flavor and crunch of the pecans perfectly complement the richly sweet onion topping.

Cloudy, with a chance of movies

September was a treat: Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child in Julie and Julia enhanced the amiable-but-serious dual stories of the joys of cooking, and then Cloudy, With a Chance of Meatballs gently satirized junk food and over-consumption, the first witty kids’ movie of the year, and one I enjoyed as much as my son and his pals, who are still laughing about Leftover Mountain and the Spaghetti Tornado. Highly recommended!

RECIPE: Salmon Fishcakes

After we got through the year when all he wanted was fish fingers and chips, my son went completely the other way—fish was off the menu, forever, he said. Then one day I improvised this simple version of fishcakes for myself, he stole a bite, and fish was back.

Adios, Gourmet magazine

I’m still getting over the shock of the abrupt closing of Gourmet magazine. Founded in 1940, it always seemed to be part of the national fabric, reassuring, inspirational, and essential. I remember peeking into my mother’s copy of the massive, elegant “best of Gourmet” cookbook (edited by Vincent Price!) and imagining cooking and eating the food it described. Now it’s gone, just like that, another victim of the recession. But then I realized that the last time I bought a copy was five or maybe even six years ago, and I never finished reading it. . . perhaps a victim of something more than the recession?