Mexico Life
This chocolate cake is a family favorite. This chocolate cake is a family favorite.

Stocked up and nowhere to go: the kitchen as comfort zone

From parmesan-crusted croutons to one-pan chocolate cake, there's time to make them all

Right now, cooking seems to be more about comfort than anything else, no? I’ve stocked my cupboards with enough food and basics for several weeks, and although the present abundance of foodstuffs and sheltering-in-place makes me want to eat, eat, eat, I’m trying my best to stick to my regular meals.

I find myself wanting things to be really delicious, and so I made Parmesan-Crusted Croutons, a treat for the taste buds and every kind of salad, and then, as long as the oven was pre-heated, I roasted pecans and almonds, too, watching carefully so they didn’t burn. I like them for a mid-morning snack and they also add a welcome crunch to lots of things.

Then, because I have a sweet tooth and the nuts were already out on the counter, I made a batch of Candied Pecans, which I’ll try not to eat all at one sitting.

What else do I feel like eating? I waver between wanting fresh, clean healthy food (salads, smoothies and such), hearty, grounding dishes like this rich Macaroni & Cheese and decadent sweet things, like a One-Pan Chocolate Cake. My solution? Go with the flow and just make them all. We certainly have enough time.

Parmesan-Crusted Croutons

Even without the Parmesan, these croutons are fabulous. The “cheese food” in the green container won’t work for this – buy a chunk of the best quality Parmesan you can afford and grate it yourself.

  • 5 cups cubed day-old bread
  • Olive oil
  • Dried oregano
  • Salt & pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Put bread cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper; drizzle with enough olive oil that bread is pretty soaked. Add Parmesan; toss gently. Spread on cookie sheet and bake at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes, stirring 2 or 3 times, till bread cubes begin to turn golden and brown at edges. Remove from oven and cool. Store in an airtight container or Ziploc bag if you don’t eat them all at once. Reheat in the toaster oven for a few minutes if they need to be crisped.

Candied Pecans

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  • 1 lb. pecan halves

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Mix sugar, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white and water together until frothy. Toss pecans in the egg-white mixture, then add sugar mixture. Stir so nuts are evenly coated, then spread pecans onto a baking sheet. Bake until evenly browned, stirring every 15 minutes, for about 1 hour. – Allrecipes.com

Try not to eat all the Candied Pecans in one sitting.
Try not to eat all the Candied Pecans in one sitting.

John Legend’s Mac & Cheese

Watch the musician and Martha Stewart cook this dish together while you’re making it too.

  • 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups elbow macaroni
  • 2 (12-oz.) cans evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ tsp. Lawry seasoned salt, if available
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated (or Chihuahua or any other mild white cheese)
  • Paprika, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish; set aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt and macaroni. Cook until al dente. Drain, and return to pot. Add butter and toss until pasta is coated and butter has melted; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together evaporated milk, skim milk and eggs. Add seasoned salt, garlic powder, 1 tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper; set aside. In another medium bowl, combine cheeses; set aside.

Now start layering: Place 1/3 of the macaroni in an even layer in the bottom of prepared baking dish; cover evenly with 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat with remaining macaroni and cheese mixtures. Pour milk mixture evenly over contents of baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake until top layer is lightly browned, 35 to 45 minutes. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

This macaroni and cheese is a hearty, grounding dish.
This macaroni and cheese is a hearty, grounding dish.

One-Pan Chocolate Cake

I started making this when my kids were little and it has remained a family favorite – even though those kids have their own kids now!

  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ⅓ cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. apple cider or white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. chocolate chips (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting on top (optional)

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt to an 8-by-8-inch square glass or metal baking dish. Whisk the mixture together until uniform in color. Add 1 cup water along with the oil, vanilla extract and vinegar. Stir slowly with a fork or a whisk in small circles to blend. Scrape and stir with a fork or spatula until the mixture becomes a smooth and uniform batter. Scrape the sides of the baking dish with a rubber spatula and spread the batter in an even layer. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, if using. Wipe edges of baking dish clean. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean, 28 to 33 minutes.  Remove from the oven, let cool. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. 

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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