My husband, Aaron, gets annoyed when he sees meatloaf or macaroni and cheese on a restaurant menu.
Irked, he will ask, “Why would you want to have that when you are going out to eat?” According to him, these dishes don’t belong in fancy restaurants. These are foods that could—and should—be made at home, on the cheap. Aaron does, however, admit they are delicious.
The trendiness of comfort food in restaurants is definitely lost on him. Comfort foods, however, have been menu bestsellers since the ‘80s. In 1988 the upscale foodie magazine Food & Wine declared comfort foods to be “hot.”
Not that we need a definition, but just what exactly are comfort foods? According to Sciencedirect.com, they are foods that have nostalgic or sentimental appeal, reminding us of home and family. They are generally high in sugar and carbohydrates that the body can process into temporary stress relief. Comfort foods are usually associated with childhood and home cooking. (Could Aaron possibly be right?)
Now into our second year of quarantine, I often find myself dreaming of my childhood and craving the comfort foods my mother, Gertrude Kertscher, used to make. I recently had a flashback to a supper she prepared for us once in a while when I was growing up on the lake.
Velveeta cheesebread with spinach salad was a treat she didn’t make often, but we all loved it.
She never made it for company. In fact, it wasn’t in her usual rotation of supper dishes at all. During the week, we had things like goulash and noodles, pork chops, baked chicken with Rice-a-Roni, spaghetti and meatballs with brown gravy, meatloaf and, in the summer, baked trout. Every meal was accompanied by a green salad and dessert, even if dessert was just canned fruit cocktail.
She may have made cheesebread when the budget was stretched, and we couldn’t afford to have another dinner featuring some kind of meat. Good old Velveeta to the rescue!
My German mother, a professionally trained “Hauswirtschaftsleiterin” (domestic engineer or professional housekeeper) always kept a box of Velveeta in the refrigerator. She’d use it in her excellent macaroni and cheese with Spam (Vol. 10 No. 5 Labor Day 2018) and every now and then for cheesebread. And not much else, really. Maybe grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch once in a while. It lasted practically forever. We liked to joke that Velveeta had a radioactive half-life of 50 years.
Garlic salt was another one of the ingredients that made this bread so delicious and even a bit exotic. The unusual fragrance—for German palates—of garlic wafting through the house was absolutely intoxicating for us.
In the spring, just after the ice melted off the lake, but before it was really warm enough to play outside, my brother, Frank, would have rather stayed indoors to build model airplanes. I would have preferred to embroider or draw, curled up next to the fireplace in the living room. But there was always work to be done outside.
My father, Horst Kertscher, anxious to get his hands in the dirt and the yard in shape, would start cleaning off the flower beds while my brother Frank and I would set about completing our chore—raking the lawn.
It was a task we both dreaded.
Our fingers would get numb from the cold, our backs stiff and our arms would be sore from raking. The wind would be blowing off the lake, the weather would be damp and gray. The towering oak trees that surrounded our yard produced tons and tons of acorns, which were hard to pry out of the lawn with metal rakes. It was hard work, and we were miserable. I’m sure it was a mother’s instinct, but Gertrude had a knack for knowing the perfect food to serve to her cold, miserable work crew. After a day of working in the cold, with blisters on our fingers, fragrant, crispy, buttery, garlicky cheesebread was our perfect comfort food.
To compensate for the butter and carbs, Gertrude served a fresh spinach salad with a tart vinaigrette. Back in the ‘60s we didn’t have triple-washed baby spinach in plastic clamshell boxes—the supermarket spinach was gritty and sold in a bunch fastened with a thick rubber band. It needed to be washed a few times and stemmed before she could add it to the salad.
Be grateful for fresh salad greens in plastic clamshells!
I scoured the internet in search of a recipe for Velveeta cheesebread but only found one photograph on Pinterest. It looked somewhat similar to Gertrude’s creation.
Here is the recipe for Gertrude’s authentic version, to the best of my recollection, as it was never written down. Feel free to jazz up your version with spiffier cheeses, fresh garlic, herbs and extra virgin olive oil.
Cooking : https://www.lakehopatcongnews.com/cooking/comfort-food
- 1 24-ounce semolina baguette
- 12 ounces Velveeta cheese
- 1 stick butter
- 2 teaspoons garlic salt
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Slice the baguette into 1-inch slices almost all the way through, leaving about ¼ inch at the bottom unsliced so it holds together. Place the sliced baguette on a sheet of aluminum foil about 12 inches longer than the baguette. (I use the 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil so that it is wide enough to wrap around the entire baguette.)
- Slice the Velveeta log into slices and insert them between the slices of the baguette.
- With a cheese slicer, slice the stick of butter longways and place along the top of the baguette with the cheese.
- Sprinkle the garlic salt over the top of the stuffed cheesebread and bring up the edges of the aluminum foil, folding it over the baguette to seal it in.
- Place the cheesebread covered in foil on a cookie sheet.
- Bake 30-35 minutes until the cheese is melted.
- Set the oven to broil, move the oven rack to the top, open the top of the foil and run the cheesebread under the broiler until the top is nicely browned and the cheese starts to bubble.
- 1 5-ounce clamshell baby spinach
- ¼ cup red onion, thinly sliced into rings
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and sliced longways into quarters
- ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and grated
- 6 medium-sized mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Add the salad ingredients to a large bowl. Toss with the kosher salt.
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons vinegar
A tiny pinch of sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the spinach salad just before serving.