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Eating Well: Comfort foods take a bite out of stress

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Comfort food is defined as food that is simply prepared and gives a sense of well being - typically food with a high sugar or carbohydrate content that is associated with childhood or with home cooking.

We all have certain foods we turn to as a temporary respite, security, or special reward, particularly in high stress situations.

To me comfort eating is the type of food that we came home to from school as youngsters growing up on the farm. There were twelve of us - so my mother spent a great share of her day in meal preparation. It was not uncommon to arrive home to the wonderful aroma of fresh baked bread, huge batches of peanut butter cookies, or a heaping casserole of macaroni-hamburger hot dish or macaroni and cheese, waiting to be devoured.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood revolve around time spent at the dinner table. Consequently, I still turn to some of these recipes whenever I'm in need of a little 'stress-reduction.'

Among the recipes that stand out are the homemade chocolate cake with its rich, fudgy frosting, a wonderfully easy bread pudding that uses brown sugar instead of white sugar, and a hearty macaroni and cheese.

I love chocolate, so I often turn to a chocolate cake recipe my mother made that was so easy to throw together and equally as delicious. For those of you who haven't tried the familiar "Crazy Cake" recipe, you should. You don't know what you're missing out on. I'm guessing the term 'crazy' comes from the fact you don't need a bowl to mix the batter in, you simply mix all the ingredients together in your greased cake pan using a regular table fork. There are no eggs in the recipe, which also makes it a little unusual, but it draws its moistness from the generous amount of oil. What is so particularly great about this recipe is you can also prepare your frosting immediately after taking the cake out of the oven, and pour it on while the cake is still hot. I do this all the time and it makes for an awesomely decadent dessert. It's exceptionally wonderful when time is a factor because you can mix up the cake, bake it and frost it, all in under an hour's time. I like to top the cake off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The cake will serve 12 nicely, and 15, if you like smaller pieces.

The bread pudding is a recipe given to me by my sister which I make often. It can be made with any type of day-old bread and takes just a few minutes to mix together. It is great drizzled with a little caramel ice cream topping and a dollop of Cool Whip or real whipped cream, although my very favorite way to eat the bread pudding is warm out of the oven with fresh cream poured over it.

The macaroni and cheese is a meal in itself, but even better served with a vegetable side dish or a salad.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking!

Crazy Cake

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

2 tsp. soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. vinegar

2 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 cups cold water

Mix all the ingredients well in a greased 9x13 cake pan, using a kitchen fork. Bake for 35 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until cake springs back when touched in center.

Chocolate Chip Frosting

1 cup of white sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup milk

1 cup of chocolate chips, semi-sweet or milk chocolate

1 tsp. vanilla

Bring sugar, butter and milk to rolling boil and let cook for about 20 seconds. Take off heat and pour in chocolate chips until melted. Add vanilla and stir well. Pour on cake and spread.

Comforting Bread Pudding

2 1/4 cups milk

2 slightly beaten eggs

2 cups day-old bread cubes

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup raisins

Mix all together in bowl and pour into greased 8x8 inch pan or pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Homemade Mac and Cheese

5 cups cooked macaroni

1/2 stick butter

2 eggs, beaten

3 cups milk

2 cups shredded mozzarella

2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese

1/8 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. black pepper

Melt butter and pour over macaroni in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix eggs and milk. Pour over macaroni.

Add cheeses, salt and pepper. Pour into a casserole dish, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.