Comfort Food: The Emotions of Eating

I am an emotional eater.  There, I said it.  I have a tendency to eat when I want to celebrate, when I’m depressed, when I’ve had a stressful day, when I’m bored, when I feel like I deserve a treat for whatever reason.  In the vast majority of those situations, I’m not reaching for the carrot sticks.

Though the study of how food can chemically affect our moods is relatively new, some fascinating information is available.  For example, I immediately zeroed in on a study showing that the elimination of fat from our diets can actually cause depression.  Bingo – perhaps THAT’S been my problem all these years – not enough fat!  (Not likely.  Obviously, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.)

But seriously – there’s something about cooler temperatures that makes most of us crave comfort food.  Something maybe a bit gooey, cheesey or noodley, which means when the leaves change and fall, it’s prime casserole season!

The Cookbook: The Big Book of Casseroles by Maryana Vollstedt (250 recipes for serious comfort food), Chronicle Books, San Francisco

The Recipe: Broccoli-Noodle Casserole

Other Menu Items: Tossed Green Salad with Dillon French Vinaigrette

Cooking It Up:

This is a cheap, delicious, easy recipe and I only made minor adaptations.  The great thing about a casserole is that you have all that hands-off baking time to work on your other menu items, or if you’re very lucky, relax with a glass of wine.

Maryana Vollstedt was kind enough to respond to my inquiry and give me permission to use her recipe in my blog.  She’s a very interesting lady who is trying to retire and enjoy life, so she asked me not to link to her Web site, which I will of course respect.  She also requested that I give credit to Chronicle Books.  I’m thrilled that she e-mailed me back personally (twice), and I wish her all the best!

Broccoli-Noodle Casserole:

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook 6 oz egg noodles according to package directions.  When the noodles are almost done, stir in 1 10-oz package frozen chopped broccoli and let stand for a minute or so.  Drain.  (Note – if you thaw the broccoli ahead of time, you don’t need to add it to the pasta water.  This was my last-minute improvisation when I realized the pre-step of broccoli thawing had somehow eluded me.)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm 1 TB vegetable oil.  Add 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion and 1 clove minced garlic, and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add 1 TB butter and 2 TB flour and stir until bubbly.  Pour in 1 cup milk, 1/2 tsp dried marjoram, 1/2 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Whisk until thickened, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup low-fat cottage cheese.

In a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray or oil, place noodles, white sauce and broccoli and mix well.  Top with 1 cup grated cheddar cheese and 3 TB freshly grated Parmesan.

Bake, uncovered, until bubbly, about 35 minutes.

I did have a couple of “oops” moments along the way.  One was that, oddly, I do not own a 2 1/2 quart casserole.  I actually managed to cram this dish into a 1 1/2 quart round casserole, but did have to mix the ingredients first in a separate bowl.  Also, I had no cheddar, only colby-jack, so there’s another substitution.

I was curious, and somewhat skeptical, about the use of cottage cheese in this casserole.  I’ve seen many recipes call for this, but had never tried it.  I’m now a fan.  It smelled great when I stirred it into the white sauce, and provided some extra flavor punch without a lot of calories.  Being slightly paranoid, however, I did warn Chris that if he encountered any lumps, it was because of the cottage cheese, NOT my white sauce!

While the casserole was in the oven, I chopped up some veggies and romaine for a tossed salad, and prepared the Dillon French Vinaigrette, which is my new favorite dressing.  (Dillons/Watsons/Klostermans – if you’re reading this, let me know if it’s ok to print the recipe!)  It basically consists of putting oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper in a jar and shaking it up.  I like to make triple the amount and keep it on hand.  Cheap, easy and delicious (and this from someone who covets ranch dressing above all others).

And yes, we’re STILL eating chocolate bread pudding.  These are the cupcakes that just won’t go away.  I’m forcing us to eat all the pudding before I make the Apple Kuchen, primarily because we don’t have any room in the refrigerator.  Sometimes desserts are tricky with a two-person family.  When I get a little braver, we’ll just have to invite some folks over to share.

Until next time,


UPDATE 11/18/2010: Jenny, representing the siblings of the Dillon family, has allowed me to post the Dillon French Vinaigrette recipe mentioned above, so here it is in all its glorious simplicity.

Dillon French Vinaigrette:

Whisk, or shake in a jar, the following ingredients until well mixed and slightly thickened:

  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • 1 TB cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

I usually like to triple this recipe and keep it in a bottle with a sealable pour spout so it can be re-shaken and used at the table.

Per Jenny’s comment – fancy oils and vinegars do not improve this dressing.  She and I have both tried over the years, but the beauty IS in the simplicity.  No exotic ingredients needed.

She also provided a variation, which I’m dying to try, which adds about 2 TB ketchup and 1 tsp Dijon mustard to the recipe above.



~ by clevelandkat on November 12, 2010.

4 Responses to “Comfort Food: The Emotions of Eating”

  1. This recipe reminds me of a Noodle Kugel I used to make when in college and my Chris was vegetarian. It’s a little different though but sounds yummy! I might have to try this might fit into my $6-7 meal scheme!

    Please do pass on the Dillon dressing. One thing I tell people though is fancy oils and fancy vinegars do NOT improve this dressing! I have tried it and it has always fallen flat. Adding a couple tablespoons of ketchup and a teaspoon of dijon to it is another good dressing.

    • Thanks Jenny! I will add the Dillon dressing to my recipe index. I have to admit, I did try it with olive oil once just because that’s what I had – and you’re right. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t improve it. The beauty is in the simplicity. I’ll have to try the ketchup/dijon version too!
      I’d love to hear more about your $6-7 meal scheme…I’m always looking for ideas to keep us on budget!

  2. I have whittled down my cookbooks over the years but this one is a keeper! I like that it goes from really complex with a ridiculous list of ingredients to really easy and quick.

    • I agree, Katie! And I also like that her definition of “casserole” is very broad. You could cook from this book for quite a while without ever getting bored.

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