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Chef's Hat: Turn to comfort foods for that busy time of year

Homemade macaroni and cheese is delectable, but a lot of work and very time consuming. So I was quite excited when I ran across a recipe for slow cooker macaroni and cheese. PineandLakes.com Illustration

Some people thrive on the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. But sometimes battling the crowds, finding the perfect gift and planning just the right menu to suit everyone become overwhelming.

That's the ideal time to sit back and enjoy one of life's comfort foods. Two all-time comfort food classics are meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. Not the macaroni and cheese that comes out of a box. This is the rich, gooey type that involves cooking noodles, shredding cheese and baking in the oven.

Homemade macaroni and cheese is delectable, but a lot of work and very time consuming. So I was quite excited when I ran across a recipe for slow cooker macaroni and cheese.

This recipe still takes some time to cook, but it is quite easy to put together. The ingredients are put into a slow cooker, which then does all the work.

The original recipe called for a one cup of pepper jack cheese. I cut that in half and even found that to have a bit too much of a bite. The pepper jack cheese can be replaced with mozzarella or Swiss cheese.

There is also cayenne pepper added, which might be too much for some tastes. If you think that will make the dish too spicy for your crew, cut it down to one small dash.

Another old-time favorite of mine is meatloaf. Years ago I began adding ground pork or ground turkey to my meatloaf recipe. It makes the recipe lighter and gives it a nicer texture.

The glaze topping is what sets this meatloaf apart from many others. The bit of sweetness makes this an irresistible recipe. And leftovers make a great sandwich.

So if the holiday season is getting overwhelming, take a break with a comfort food. You'll feel rejuvenated. Happy Eating!

Slow Cooker Triple Cheesy Mac and Cheese

Adapted from theslowroasteditalian.com

  • 1 pound macaroni (bow tie or other small pasta), uncooked
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced into 1-tablespoon pieces
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1-ounce pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 2 cups freshly shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup pepper jack cheese
  • ½ cup mozzarella or Swiss cheese
  • Additional ¼ to ½ cup milk

Pour the uncooked pasta onto the bottom of your slow cooker. Scatter the butter and cream cheese pieces over the pasta. Sprinkle the salt and cayenne pepper over the top and pour 3 cups of milk and the half and half into the slow cooker. Stir to combine everything and smooth the pasta into one even layer, making sure all of the macaroni is coated in sauce.

Cover and cook on low for 1 to 2 hours, until the pasta is chewy (not quite crunchy, but very al dente). Your cook time will vary depending on the type of pasta you use. Start with one hour and add more time if necessary. Stir occasionally while the pasta is cooking to make sure everything mixes well.

Once the pasta is ready, sprinkle the cheese on top and then mix well to coat the macaroni with the cheese. The cheese will melt and create a very gooey sauce.

Note: The sauce will be very thick and it will continue to thicken as it cools. You may want to add an additional ¼ cup to ½ cup milk to the mixture to get the consistency you desire. If you do not eat the entire recipe in one sitting you may need to add small amounts of milk, 2 tablespoons or so, before reheating the macaroni.

Classic Meatloaf

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup dry bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon basil
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork or ground turkey

For glaze:

  • ¼ cup catsup
  • ¼ cup barbeque sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs and milk. Mix well. Stir in the bread crumbs, onions, basil, parsley, salt and sage. Add the ground beef and ground pork/turkey and mix well.

Pat mixture into an 8x8 square baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from oven. Carefully pour off any grease that has pooled on the top of the meatloaf.

In a small bowl, combine the catsup, barbeque sauce, brown sugar and mustard. Mix well. Pour over the meatloaf.

Return the meatloaf to the oven and bake an additional 10 minutes.

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