Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Lightening Up Southern Comfort Foods

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By Whitney Miller

The new year means a fresh start and making resolutions to help you achieve your goals. Is one of your goals to prepare more home cooked meals this year? Eating better? I have some recipes for you that even busy moms like me can easily prepare. Did I mention they are kid-approved?

Quick, easy, light and comforting are all words to describe my mac n’ cheese. Yes, I said light and comforting to describe mac n’ cheese. Aren’t those the words you want to hear when your resolution is to eat better? My Cauliflower “Mac N’ Cheese” is a fun take on the classic but instead of pasta, roasted cauliflower is the star. The nutty, al dente cauliflower is enrobed in a luscious cheese sauce that won’t hurt your waistline. Your whole family will enjoy this fun take on a classic.

When you think of a salad, you probably think healthy right? That is true unless it is drenched in a mayonnaise based dressing. I lightened up the traditional Southern Layered Salad by replacing the mayonnaise dressing with a pea pesto for creaminess and a vinaigrette. The presentation of the layered ingredients will make you want to dive in. Eating healthy never tasted so good!

Lastly, I even lightened up a Southern dessert. It doesn’t get any more Southern than Banana Pudding. Its sweet, luscious pudding is lightened up by adding naturally sweet pistachio powder and incorporating fat-free milk. I call it A Little “Nutty” Banana Pudding. Small Mason jars are the perfect vessel for serving and portion controlling.

Enjoy these comforting, guilt-free dishes with your family and friends this new year.


Individual Southern Layered Salads with Pea Pesto

Recipe from New Southern Table cookbook

Salad
Pea Pesto (see recipe below)
3/4 cup fresh corn kernels
12 grape tomatoes, cut into halves
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

Vinaigrette
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 large hard-boiled eggs, thinly sliced
1/3 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
2 cooked bacon slices, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

To make the salads, divide the Pea Pesto among four small glass salad bowls or mini trifle dishes. Smooth to coat the bottom of the bowls evenly. Layer the corn, tomatoes, lettuce, egg, cheese and bacon over the pesto.

To make the vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Serve the individual layered salads with the vinaigrette.

Makes 4 servings


Pea Pesto

2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh chopped dill

Place the peas, basil, dill, salt and oil in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Makes about 1 cup


Cauliflower “Mac N’ Cheese”

Recipe from Modern Hospitality cookbook

8 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 head)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups fat-free milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the cauliflower florets in the oil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Roast until fork-tender and lightly browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven but leave the oven on and reduce the temperature to 350°F.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk in the cream and cook 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and stir in all but 2 Tablespoons cheese, the table salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir until the cheese melts, then cook, stirring often, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Place the cauliflower florets in an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish or four 10-ounce ramekins. Pour the cheese sauce on top. Sprinkle the top of the cauliflower with the remaining 2 Tablespoons cheese. Bake until the cheese is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings


A Little “Nutty” Banana Pudding

Recipe from New Southern Table cookbook

2 Tablespoons raw shelled pistachios
1/3 cup plus 4 Tablespoons pure cane sugar, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
3 large eggs, separated
2 1/4 cups skim milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
32 vanilla wafers
5 ripe bananas, sliced

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Place the pistachios in a spice grinder and process until a powder forms to equal 2 Tablespoons pistachio powder.

Combine 1⁄ 3 cup of the sugar, the pistachio powder, flour and salt in the top of a double boiler.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Add water to the bottom of the double boiler. Do not allow the water to touch the bottom of the top pan. Cook over slightly boiling water, stirring constantly, until the pudding thickens and coats the back of a spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.

Place a single layer of vanilla wafers in the bottom of an 8-inch square glass baking dish or in multiple Mason jars. Add a single layer of banana slices over the wafers. Spoon half of the pudding over the bananas and spread evenly. Repeat layers of wafers, bananas and pudding.

In a deep, medium bowl, beat the egg whites using a hand mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Reduce the speed to low, and gradually add the remaining 4 Tablespoons sugar until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and beat until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue on top of the pudding layer in the baking dish or Mason jars. Using the back of a spoon, create peaks in the meringue.

Bake the banana pudding for 20 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly brown. If using Mason jars, place the jars on a baking sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes before serving warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

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