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Comfort food makeovers

Diana De Cicco is a food editor and writer based in New York City. She has a master's degree from New York University in Food Studies. Her passions are eating, traveling, and eating while traveling.

Comfort food recipes

As the summer slowly comes to an end, the time for warm comfort foods is soon upon us. The delicious beauty of comfort foods is that they always seem to soothe the body and soul. However, there's no reason to always rely on the same comfort food recipes. No matter what your favorite comfort foods are, they can all be updated with a few simple tricks. Here are some tasty ideas for comfort food makeovers.

Gourmet Mashed Potato

How to update your favorite comfort foods

Go bold with flavor

One of my favorite comfort foods is grilled cheese – simple white bread filled with ooey gooey melted American cheese. The classic comforts me just fine but sometimes a grilled cheese with bigger flavors is in order. This is when I add bold flavors like truffle oil, fresh basil, sun dried tomatoes, sliced jalapeno peppers, or a strawberry flavored butter.

Add herbs and spices

Most dishes can benefit from fresh herbs or an herb-flavored oil or butter. Unusual spices are always a nice surprise, too. Try adding five spice powder to your favorite cake or quick bread recipes or kick up your next batch of brownies with chili powder or chipotle.

Switch up the main ingredients

Enjoy the same comfort food dish, but give the main ingredients a change. For example, instead of a classic grilled cheese, use Brie or fontina in place of the American cheese, or switch up your choice of bread and use a crusty baguette. Simply subsitute the usual breads, cheeses, pasta, meats, vegetables and fruits in a dish and your comfort food will have an instant update.

Change the presentation

You may be wondering how many other ways can a dish be served. You may be surprised. Using the grilled cheese as an example, instead of a sandwich, make a grilled cheese soup (melted cheese soup with French bread croutons) or a grilled cheese fondue with bread cubes for dipping.

Downsize your dish

Most comfort foods can be made small (think sliders and mini meatloaves). For comfort food casseroles, such as bread pudding or baked pasta, bake them in ramekins instead of casserole dishes. Take your favorite dish and downsize it; not only will it have a cute new look, it will also keep you from over-indulging.

Give it texture

A colorful and healthy way to update a plain dish is to add fruits and vegetables. Give your grilled cheese or any sandwich an update by adding avocado slices, for a creamy change, or apple slices, for crunch.

Ethnic enhancements

A great way to give your classic comfort foods a makeover is by giving them international flair with flavors from a different cuisine. Toss Greek feta and olives into a pasta dish. Top pizza with an Indian curried eggplant. Spice up your roast and potatoes dish with an Asian marinade or sauce.

Comfort food recipes

Grilled Blue Cheese & Prosciutto

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 (1/2-inch thick) slices flavored artisan bread
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
8 slices thinly sliced prosciutto
4 thin slices of cantaloupe

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine blue cheese, cream cheese and green onions. Season with pepper.

2. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread blue cheese mixture onto the non-buttered sides of the bread and top with prosciutto and cantaloupe. Top with the other bread slice, butter side out.

3. Place sandwiches on a hot griddle and gently flatten with a spatula. Flip sandwiches when the underside is golden. Cook until second side is golden. Cut in half and serve.

Truffle and Mushroom Mashed Potatoes

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch dice
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon truffle pieces or 1/2 tablespoon truffle salt
1/2 cup light cream
2 teaspoons truffle oil
1 teaspoon salt (omit if using truffle salt)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 to 10 shiitake mushrooms, diced

Directions:
1. Cook potatoes in a pot of boiling water until fork tender.

2. Meanwhile, combine butter with truffle pieces or truffle salt to make a truffle butter. Set aside.

3. When potatoes are cooked, drain with a colander and return potatoes to the pot. Add cream and mash well with a masher.

4. Mix in truffle butter. To serve, drizzle truffle oil over potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Dot with mushrooms.

Mini Caramel Apple Pies

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:
Pastry dough for 2 single (9-inch) pies
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar, divided
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups thinly sliced apples
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
8 caramels, halved
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
1/2 cup rolled oats
Whipped cream

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and butter 4 medium-sized ramekins.

2. Roll out pastry dough to about 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough into 4 circles, big enough to fit into ramekins.

3. Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar with melted butter and 1/3 cup flour.

4. In a separate bowl, combine apples with granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and lemon juice.

5. Spoon apple mixture evenly into ramekins and top with brown sugar mixture and 2 caramels.

6. Mix butter with oats to form a crumb mixture. Sprinkle crumb mixture on top of apples.

7. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until apples are bubbly. Remove, let cool and top with fresh whipped cream to serve.

More comfort food makeovers

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