Back when I taught school in Texas, at the beginning of the school year we would have a “big feed”. For the faculty and staff, the administration brought in barbecued beef brisket and all the “fixin’s”, making it a great way to start off the year. Nothing says “We appreciate you!” like treating someone to delicious comfort food.
Everyone has their own comfort foods. (Some of us have lots of them.) But admittedly, not all are company-worthy. For example, my old roommate loved white bread with canned ranch beans. It struck a chord with her. Me? Not so much. One of my main comfort foods is my mom’s meatloaf. But since so many people were raised on sub-par meatloaf recipes, the thought of it hits a lot of gag buttons.
When entertaining large groups, we have a favorite go-to comfort food: smoked pulled pork. To be honest, THAT is a secret recipe but I will tell you that it involves, brine, rub, and about 14 hours in the smoker. However, I am happy to share two of our favorite side dishes which help make this meal a real feast.
MACARONI AND CHEESE
A southern event is not complete without macaroni and cheese. As a Hoosier, this phenomenon was new to me. I mean, I ate lots of the stuff growing up, both homemade and, dare I say it, Kraft from the box, which I still like. But I didn’t know that it was such a staple down here in Georgia. I have also learned that making it from the box it tantamount to a capital offense, at least in this family. I have to confess that early on, I made the colossal mistake of preparing it with blue cheese because it was all we had in the house. I still laugh about that debacle and my guests’ faces as they tried to choke it down politely, without gaging. So, in order to avoid a repeat of that situation, for the past 19 years I have been experimenting with different recipes, trying to find the perfect one. A couple of years ago, my search ended. So, what makes this one so great? Because most importantly, it followed my mother-in-law’s advice; go light on the noodles. This version calls for only 8 oz. of pasta to 20 oz. of cheese!
- Cooking spray
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked
- One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk (or whatever you have)
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Dash of pepper
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- Two 10-ounce bricks sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (about 5 cups)
- Dash of paprika
In a large 4-quart slow cooker (I use the casserole-shaped kind) sprayed with cooking spray, mix the macaroni, evaporated milk, milk, butter, salt, pepper, eggs and all but 1/2 cup of the grated cheese. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top of the mixture and then sprinkle with paprika. Cover and cook on low heat for 3 hours and 15 minutes. Turn off the slow cooker, stir the mixture and serve hot.
Cook's Note: If you don't have a slow cooker, grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan with butter, add the mixture and bake at 350 degrees F for 50 minutes.
Now for the second side dish: baked beans. (Sigh) I have a confession to make. I don’t like most legumes. It’s a texture thing. So, making baked beans used to be more of a compulsory exercise than a labor of love. In fact, I have bought my share of the canned variety to serve to guests. That was until our friends, Brian and Brandee came to dinner one night. She brought this dish and my daughter went face down. Just look at the recipe! Bacon, ground beef, brown sugar! What’s not to love? I personally think you can skip the beans and just make the sauce. It would be good on anything! Ever since that gathering, I have served no other baked bean recipe than this one. It is totally worth the effort!
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup barbecue sauce
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 can (16 ounces) pork and beans, undrained
- 1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 can (16 ounces) great northern beans, rinsed and drained
In a large skillet, cook beef, bacon and onion until meat is done and onion is tender. Drain any fat. Combine all remaining ingredients except beans. Add to meat mixture; mix well. Stir in beans. Place in a greased 2-1/2-qt. baking dish. Cover and bake at 350° for 1 hour or until heated through.
Prepare to receive compliments!