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Comfort Food Suppers for Valentine's Day

Posted Feb 13 2009 4:41pm
Before continuing with my filming saga, let's talk food. Tomorrow, after all, is Valentine's Day.

If you need some last-minute suggestions for treats, I have a few lighter (in fat and calorie), but intensely chocolate options from previous posts:

1-2-3 Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles
Vegan Chocolate Truffles
Mini Chocolate Cardamom Brownie Cupcakes
Chocolate Pots de Creme

But one cannot live by chocolate alone (although I would be delighted to lend myself to science to test the hypothesis), so I have two cozy recipes worth staying in for.

The first comes from the Comfort Foods episode of URS: a cream of parsnip soup, the signature dish of my friend and fellow contester Michaela Rosenthal. Here's the link:

Michaela's Cream of Parsnip Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

This is what I would want for Valentine's Day; Kevin would be less enthused with my spreading the love with parsnips.

But hear me out. It is a phenomenal soup. I've written of my affection for parsnips in other posts, so this was an immediate must-make when I watched the show back in January. It is heaven by the spoonful, and the seasonings are perfectly balanced. The first time I made it, I made no changes, but I prepared it again on Sunday and made three minor alterations:

(1) I substituted an equal amount of canned fat free evaporated milk for the half cup whipping cream

(2) I cut the amount of oil back to a scant 1 tablespoon.

(3) I left off the pumpkin seeds because, blast it, I forgot that I was out (I keep them on hand for snacking and topping off cereal and salads, and now, thanks to Michaela, soup). I wouldn't recommend this alteration of mine, because the textural contrast adds a lot.

It's a very healthy soup as is (parsnips and potatoes are both very high in vitamin C); the only reason I cut back on the fat was because I think I'm still making up for another Ultimate Recipe Showdown recipe I made back in January. I typically make myself a special dessert for my birthday (most often, cheesecake), but I couldn't get the winning dish-- Cheese Lover's 5-Cheese Mac & Cheese --from the URS comfort foods show off of my mind, so I made that instead.

Wow. Wow. Wow. I can see why it won. But seriously, I think I gained two or three pounds that week from this dish alone (despite freezing most of it!)--I am not being facetious. Consider the key ingredients: 1/4 pound bacon (you don't drain the fat), 5 tablespoons butter, 2 cups heavy whipping cream, 2 and 1/2 cups whole milk, and the eponymous 5 cheeses. When I voiced a vague curiosity about the fat and calorie content while stirring in the heavy cream, Kevin's response was that such calculations should not be allowed for such a recipe, that it falls under the category of "don't ask, don't tell."

And while the dish was over-the-top birthday delicious, I am much happier with my lighter fare, both in taste and flavor, for how it makes me feel, and the benefit of being able to zip my pants. Case in point, my Smoky Baked Penne. I'm one for comfort food on Valentine's Day, but since we'll be down in Houston most of the day tomorrow, I made it last night. Enjoy!

Smoky Baked Penne

2 strips bacon, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and green chiles,undrained
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
12 ounces whole grain penne, cooked according to package and drained (I use Barilla plus)
2 cups (8 ounces) grated smoked Gouda or smoked Cheddar cheese
1 cup fat free cottage cheese
1 cup lowfat milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs (or crumbled baked tortilla chips, if you happen to have on hand)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish coated with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain, and pour off all but 1 tablespoon bacon fat. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook and stir 4 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetable mixture, then cook and stir 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium; add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Add the cooked bacon, chile powder, cumin, cooked pasta, Gouda (or Cheddar), cottage cheese, milk, Parmesan, and egg, stirring until well blended. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake 25- 30 minutes or until bubbly. Makes 6 servings.

Nutrition per serving (1/6 of casserole):
Calories 334; Fat 8.6g (poly 0.6g, mono 2.8g, sat 4.5g); Protein 35.2g; Cholesterol 97mg; Carbohydrate 41.2g; Sodium 756mg; Fiber 3.9g)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1 )
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