Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Comfort Food Kind of Day

For the past two days I've been couch ridden with a terrible illness.  So awful that it has left me so physically deformed that small children run at the sight of me.  I have been plagued with conjunctivitis, or as it is commonly known, pink eye.  Honestly, I didn't know that grown-ups got pink eye; I thought it was confined to children who spend their days cooped up with thirty other sticky-handed, germ-ridden toddlers in the bacterial breeding grounds we call "day cares".  However, I got it and have spent the last 48 hours looking like a boxer that just lost the big match.  I would post a photo (yes, I do have a photo that my father took of me moments after I woke up, eyes swollen shut, as he giggled), but I'm going to spare you the agony - plus I wouldn't want you to lose your appetite, seeing as the recipes coming up are some of the best I've made yet.  Though to be fair, neither are original recipes, but I blame it on the fact that my face must have been scaring the Culinary Muses away.

So, I've been stuck inside for two days - mainly because I look like death - and I've acquired a bit of cabin fever.  I mean, there are only so many Lifetime movies you can watch before you lose all faith in humanity.  Today was a rainy and chilly day, which made me feel even more confined in my house.  I needed to do something.  So, I cleaned the kitchen - my go to chore and past-time.  After that I tried reading for a bit, but my muscles were twitching and my brain was drifting, and in less than ten minutes I was agitated and needed to get up and do something again.  Thankfully, I decided to check Facebook (what else do you do when there's nothing to do?) and saw that my mother had posted a link on my wall from the Martha Stewart website announcing that today is National Peanut Butter Cookie Day.  Now, while I'm not a huge peanut butter cookie fan, the idea of baking was too good to pass up.  Martha had a ridiculous amount of peanut butter cookie recipes, but, with the help of my brother, I wound up choosing the Peanut Butter Surprise cookies - I love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter, and I liked the idea of using peanut butter without having the whole cookie being overwhelmingly peanut buttery.  The batter was surprisingly light and fluffy - resembling a mousse more than a cookie batter.  This made getting them on the cookie sheets a tad messy, but gave them a fluffy, cake-like texture which paired well with the melty chips and creamy peanut butter filling.  I tell you that Stewart girl sure knows how to make a cookie.  She really should brand them or something.  I mean, she could be big if she plays her cards right. 
After the cookies were trayed and waiting in the fridge to be baked after dinner, I was semi-satisfied. For about an hour.  So I of course started planning dinner - another favorite past-time of mine.  Maybe it was being sick or maybe it was the cold, wet weather, but the day just screamed "comfort food."  After some digging online, I stumbled upon a vegan butternut squash mac&cheese recipe from OhSheGlows - her smoothie and overnight oat recipes are out of this world.  I've always been a little bit afraid of vegan cheese replacement recipes, mainly because I never thought that nuts, mustard, and nutritional yeast (whatever the hell that is) could pass as cheese, let alone taste good.  Turns out it does.  Oh, by the way, nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that's a complete protein, high in B-vitamins, and is naturally low in fat and sodium - plus the thing that gives the "cheese" that cheesy consistency.  I have to admit, I was astounded by the outcome.  It was creamy and salty and a little sweet, but wasn't as heavy as a traditional bechamel sauce.  My dad said that the "non-cheese tastes more like cheese than non-non-cheese."  I did make one major change to the original recipe, but only out of necessity.  There was no butternut squash at the grocery store.  I know, a travesty.  So, I used a little canned pumpkin instead, which gave the same feel as the squash without the time and energy of breaking down the squash and roasting it.  Instead of the seasonings called for, I used a blend called Table Mountain Seasonings (including California paprika, dill seed, rosemary, turmeric, Greek oregano, Mediterranean thyme, and about ten other herbs and spices) from Savory Spice Shop in Princeton.  I also stirred in a few halved grape tomatoes, because...well, because I'm obsessed with them and use them every opportunity I can.  And I finished it off with some panko bread crumbs to give it a little crunch.  The mac&cheese ended up being incredible.  I only had one plate, but I could have eaten an entire tray of that stuff all by myself.  This recipe is definitely going to be added to my regular repertoire and I can't wait to play around with different flavors, mix-ins, and toppings.
As I write this, the swelling in my eyes has gone down, making it seem now as if I've just had a very late night out and less of having been stung by a bee in both pupils.  I'm going to work tomorrow, which means that I shall be off the couch and out in the world.  My belly is full of warm non-cheesy macaroni goodness.  And in my hand is half of a gooey chocolate peanut butter cookie.  I'm getting the feeling that the next 48 hours are going to be definitively better than the last. 

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