Let's face it: This time of year can take its toll...and we're not just talking about the weather. We've rounded up comforting classics that embody the creamy, the chewy, the warm, and the gooey. Think of them as an edible hug right when you need it most.
Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Your search for the ultimate mac and cheese recipe has come to an end. Sharp white cheddar, grated Gruyere, and Percorino Romano cheeses give the sauce its heavenly richness and complexity.
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
Chicken Potpies with Puff Pastry
Cream and white wine enrich the sauce for these hearty, root-vegetable-packed chicken potpies. Convenient frozen puff pastry forms the flaky top crust.
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
1 small parsnip, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 russet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 thyme sprigs
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
5 teaspoons cornstarch whisked with 2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 package (14 ounces) puff pastry, cut into four 4 1/4-inch squares
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cook shallot in oil in a large pot over medium heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Add carrot, parsnip, and potato. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add wine; simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add stock; bring to a boil. Add chicken and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add cornstarch mixture and cream. Bring to a simmer; cook until thick, about 5 minutes.
2. Divide mixture among four 6-ounce ramekins; top with pastry. Brush with egg. Cut a hole into each to vent. Bake on a baking sheet until golden, 12 to 14 minutes.
Meatloaf and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Panko breadcrumbs create tender texture in this beef meatloaf while buttermilk adds tang to the mashed potatoes without adding fat. Serve this updated diner special with green beans for the ultimate comfort-food dinner.
2 small carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 medium onion
1/4 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 large egg white
3/4 pound ground beef sirloin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup homemade or store-bought barbecue sauce
1 pound baking potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 pound green beans, stem ends removed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, chop carrots, celery, onion, and panko with egg white until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl; mix in beef, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
2. On a foil-lined baking sheet, form meat mixture into a 6-inch-long loaf; brush with half the barbecue sauce. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted in loaf registers 160 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes, brushing halfway through with remaining sauce.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with cold salted water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; return to pan. Stir over medium until a starchy film forms on bottom of pan, about 1 minute. Remove from heat; mash with buttermilk until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
4. While potatoes cook, set a steamer basket in a saucepan filled with one inch water; bring to a gentle boil. Add green beans; cover, and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; add oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Serve meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans.
Break out a family favorite: tuna casserole. This traditional comfort food is great for serving large groups. In our tuna casserole recipe, we cut the sauce with chicken broth, but there's enough milk to make this casserole feel indulgent.
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3/4 pound tubetti or elbow macaroni
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced small
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cans (6 ounces each) solid light tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 2 minutes less than package instructions (it will be undercooked). Drain. In a small bowl, toss together panko, Parmesan, and 2 teaspoons oil.
2. In pot, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, 8 minutes. Add flour and whisk to coat onion with flour. Slowly whisk in broth, then milk.
3. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes. Stir in pasta, tuna, and peas and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Transfer tuna mixture to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and top with panko mixture. Bake until sauce is bubbling and crust is golden, 17 to 20 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Salted Fried Chicken
Thick buttermilk batter creates an extra-crisp coating on this brined fried chicken. Sprinkle the chicken with sea salt and drizzle it with honey just before serving for an exhilarating contrast in flavors.
10 cups safflower oil (or enough to fill pot halfway)
Sea salt, preferably Maldon
For the Brine
6 cups water
1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup good-quality honey
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into 10 pieces (with breast quartered)
For the Coating
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Marinating the chicken in brine makes the meat juicy and flavorful. As you cook each batch, maintain the oil temperature at 325 degrees. This will ensure a crisp crust.
1. Make the brine: Bring water, coarse salt, and honey to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until salt and honey dissolve. Remove from heat, and let cool. Place chicken in a bowl, and pour cooled brine over top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours (up to 3 hours). Remove chicken from brine, and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
2. Prepare to fry the chicken: Fill a medium heavy pot halfway with oil (enough to cover chicken). Heat until a deep-fry thermometer reaches 340 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, make the coating: Stir together buttermilk, eggs, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Whisk together flour, coarse salt, and cayenne in another bowl. Working in batches, dip each chicken piece into buttermilk mixture, coating completely (do not shake off any excess). Dredge in flour mixture, patting onto chicken to coat completely. Transfer to a plate.
4. Working in batches, carefully place chicken in oil, and fry until deep golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes for small pieces, 9 to 10 minutes for large pieces. (As chicken is cooking, adjust heat as needed to maintain an oil temperature of 325 degrees. Return oil to 340 degrees before starting each new batch.)
5. Serve the chicken: Transfer chicken to paper-towel-lined plates, and let drain. Season with sea salt, and serve with honey for drizzling or dipping.
Tomato Soup with Bacon Grilled Cheese
The perfect soup-and-sandwich pairing is tomato and grilled cheese. This version stirs pesto into the soup and adds bacon to the sandwich for an ideal lunch or dinner for one.
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, diced small (1/4 cup)
1 small garlic clove, minced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 can (14.5 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, torn
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 slices bacon
2 slices sandwich bread
1 ounce cheddar, grated (1/3 cup)
Fresh pesto or Salsa Verde (optional)
1. In a small pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook until translucent, 5 minutes. Add garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook until onions are soft, 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender with cream; puree until smooth. (Use caution when blending hot liquids: Remove cap from lid and cover opening with a dish towel.) Season to taste.
2. In a skillet, cook bacon over medium-high until browned and crisp, 10 minutes; drain on paper towels. Remove pan with fat from heat. Layer 1 bread slice with half the cheese, bacon, and rest of cheese; top with second bread slice. Return pan to heat. Cook sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is browned, 4 minutes, flipping once. Serve with soup, topped with pesto if desired.
Straight out of Central Casting: a beautifully griddled patty and melted American cheese on a deliciously squishy bun.
1 1/4 pounds coarsely ground beef chuck (70 percent lean)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 slices American cheese
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, softened
4 potato sandwich rolls
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 dill pickle, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
4 teaspoons yellow mustard
1. Divide beef into 4 mounds, and evenly place on a 12-by-14-inch piece of plastic wrap. Place another piece of plastic on top. Roll into 5 1/2-inch patties, about 1/3 inch thick, with a rolling pin.
2. Heat a griddle or 2 large cast-iron skillets over medium-high. Season both sides of patties with salt and pepper. Cook patties, pressing with a spatula, 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, flip, and top with cheese. Cook 2 minutes.
3. Butter cut sides of rolls, and toast on griddle until edges just start to brown, about 1 minute.
4. Sandwich burgers in rolls with onion, pickle, lettuce, and mustard.
More from Martha Stewart:
Quick, One-Pot Meal Ideas To Feed the Whole Family
20 Classic Comfort Food Recipes from Martha Stewart
36 Dinners You Can Make in Just 15 Minutes!
25 Make-Ahead Recipes For a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Day
Easy cleanup makes this mac 'n' cheese recipe even more comforting. Even the pasta cooks right in the sauce.