Serve hearty, comforting food to enliven chilly January days


By Ann Cipperly

After the rush of the holiday season, January settles into a slower, quieter time. At our house, the teapot is going most of the day. It is a good time to try a new tea and catch up on reading. After so much rich food over the holidays, hearty, comforting entrees with a salad are more appealing. A roast or chicken in the crock-pot or oven simmering all afternoon fills the house with a tantalizing aroma.

Pasta dishes are hearty and easy to double to freeze one for another day. Janice Berardi’s Baked Ziti makes a comforting dish with Italian sausage or ground beef in tomato sauce. Janice prepares a white sauce to combine with the pasta, and pours it in the bottom of the dish. The meat sauce is spooned over the pasta and then topped with mozzarella cheese for a tasty dish.

Janice also makes a Crock-Pot Chicken and Mushroom Alfredo and serves the creamy mixture over fettuccine noodles. Parmesan cheese can be sprinkled over the top.

Lee Sadler also does a creamy pasta dish that can be prepared with chicken or shrimp. It has a spicy taste with Rotel, bell pepper and garlic seasoning the sauce.

When you make Ann Gore’s Lasagna, you will need two 9 x 13-inch pans since the recipe makes two. Ann puts one in the freezer to enjoy another time. It is nice to have a pan of Lasagna in the freezer ready in case you need to take a dish to someone or to have ready on days when you don’t feel like cooking dinner.

For days when you need something hearty but easy for dinner, keep the ingredients on hand for Leigh Whatley’s Easy Mac and Cheese. Simply cook the rigatoni or macaroni, add the cheese and cream, then bake. Leigh also makes an easy Chicken Pot Pie. You can boil chicken breasts or pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery.

If your family enjoys Chicken Divan Casserole, but you don’t want to use cream soup, try Laura Cooper’s recipe prepared with an easy mix sauce that has the same flavors.

Taco Casserole and Easy Enchiladas are hearty dishes that can be prepared quickly that your family will relish.

Since shrimp is available in grocery stores, treat your family to a special dish with shrimp. Shrimp and grits is a popular restaurant dish that is easy to prepare at home. You can have the grits made ahead and reheat to serve with the shrimp in a flavorful sauce. Try Alabama Shrimp and Grits, which is a favorite at our house.

As you plan menus for the week, select from the following recipes for creating hearty, comforting dishes to serve your family.

Cipperly can be contacted at


Alabama Shrimp and Creamy Grits
3 slices or more bacon
1 lb. medium-sized shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup chopped green onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ tsp. hot sauce, optional
Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp; remove and drain on paper towels; set aside. Pour 1 Tbsp. bacon grease back into skillet or use 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil.
Cook green onions in oil for 2 minutes.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on shrimp; toss in flour. Add shrimp and garlic and sauté 2 minutes or until shrimp begin to turn pink, adding more oil if needed.
Stir in chicken broth and lemon juice. Cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of skillet. Remove from heat. Do not overcook shrimp.
Sprinkle crumbled bacon over top. Serve over grits.
Creamy Grits
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk (or chicken stock or water)
1 cup stone ground grits
1 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup heavy cream to taste, optional
Combine first four ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer about 20 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add butter and cream. Can cover and keep warm in oven until ready to serve.

Baked Ziti
Janice Berardi
16 oz. box ziti pasta
½ medium onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. ground beef or Italian sausage
26 oz. jar tomato and basil pasta sauce
¾ tsp. salt, divided
3 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. pepper
8 oz. pkg. shredded mozzarella cheese
Cook pasta in large pot according to package directions; drain.
Meanwhile, sauté chopped onion in hot olive in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add beef and cook, stirring until beef crumbles and is no longer pink. Drain. Stir in pasta sauce and ½ tsp. salt. Set aside.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened and bubbly.
Stir in Parmesan cheese, remaining ¼ tsp. salt and pepper. Pour sauce over pasta in large pot, stirring until pasta is covered.
Pour pasta mixture into a lightly greased 9 by 13-inch baking pan. Top evenly with beef mixture. Top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Easy Beef Enchiladas
Janet Bartlett
Janet and her husband Randy were the original owners of Cock of the Walk restaurant in Opelika.
1 lb. ground beef
1 can refried beans
1 can enchilada sauce (hot)
1 can enchilada sauce (mild)
8 oz. sour cream
8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
10-12 tortillas (flour or corn)
Brown beef and drain well. Mix beans and ½ of each can of sauce. Add beef. Simmer until hot.
Put mixture in tortillas and roll. Place into a Pam coated casserole dish. Top with sour cream, cheese and remaining enchilada sauces. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Chicken Pot Pie
Leigh Whatley
Ready-made piecrust of choice
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. chopped thyme, optional
½ cup chopped onion
4 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped (or rotisserie chicken, chopped)
Vegetables of choice (peas, carrots, potatoes or mushrooms)
Small amount of melted butter for topping crust
Melt butter; stir in flour. Add chicken broth, thyme and onion. Stir in chicken and desired vegetables.
Pour into pan and top with piecrust. Drizzle melted butter over crust and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.

Easy Mac and Cheese
Leigh Whatley
8 oz. grated Monterey jack cheese
8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz. Parmesan
1 qt. cream
1 box rigatoni pasta, cooked
Mix all ingredients together. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Crock-Pot Chicken and Mushroom Alfredo
Janice Berardi
Can add green peas or chopped red pepper, if desired.
4 bone-in chicken breast halves (12 to 14 oz. each), skin removed
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 cup chicken broth
1 small onion, chopped
6 oz. jar sliced mushrooms, drained
¼ tsp. garlic salt
¼ tsp. pepper
8 oz. fettuccine noodles
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened and cubed
Shredded Parmesan cheese, optional
In a large skillet, brown chicken in oil in batches. Transfer to a 4 or 5-quart slow cooker.
In a large bowl, combine soups, broth, onion, mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper; pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low 4 to 5 hours or until chicken is tender.
Cook fettuccine according to package directions; drain. Remove chicken from slow cooker and keep warm. Turn off slow cooker and stir in cream cheese until melted.
Serve over fettuccine. Serve with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Taco Casserole
Hattie Lett
1 lb. ground beef or venison
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
16 oz. can refried fat free refried beans
4 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
4 oz. can diced green chilies, not drained
16 oz. jar taco sauce
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Brown meat with chopped onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Coat 9 x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Layer refried beans and then cooked meat in dish.
Next, layer green chilies, half of sliced olives, taco sauce and cheese. Garnish with remaining olives. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Creamy Shrimp or Chicken Pasta
Lee Sadler
1 stick butter
¼ cup onions, chopped
¼ cup bell pepper, chopped (optional)
¼ cup celery, chopped
¼ tsp. minced garlic
1/3 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 can mild Rotel, drained
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. or more Creole seasonings
1 to 1½ lbs. shrimp or chicken (can omit both for plain pasta)
Angel hair pasta or fettuccine
Sauté onions, pepper, celery and garlic in butter until transparent. Add salt, pepper and flour; stir until smooth. Add bouillon cube, Rotel, cream and Creole seasonings. Cook on medium heat about 10 minutes until thick.
Add shrimp and cook about five minutes until pink or add cooked chicken. Serve over angel hair pasta or fettuccine.
Can substitute celery flakes for celery and garlic salt for garlic.

Crock-Pot Chicken
Becky Stillwell
8 boneless chicken breasts
1 cup white wine or chicken broth
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can sliced mushrooms
½ stick butter
1 pkg. zesty Italian dressing mix
Combine all ingredients in crock-pot. Cook on high for 30 minutes, then turn to low and cook 8 hours or longer. Serve over egg noodles, bow tie pasta or rice.

Chicken Divan Casserole
Laura Cooper
2 whole chicken breasts, skinned
Fresh rosemary sprig
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp. salt
¼ to ½ tsp. curry powder
Two 10-oz. pkgs. frozen broccoli spears, thawed and rained
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place chicken breasts, rosemary, ½ tsp. salt and pepper in large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is tender. Drain, reserving ½ cup broth. Discard rosemary. Let chicken cool slightly. Bone and chop chicken; set aside.
Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat; add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk and reserved broth; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly.
Stir ¼ hot mixture into egg yolk; add to remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream and next 5 ingredients.
Layer half each of broccoli, chicken and sauce in greased 2-quart casserole. Repeat layers. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Sprinkle with paprika. Makes six servings.

Ann Gore
This makes plenty of sauce and can be made in two 9 x 13-inch pans, putting one in freezer to be baked for future use.
½ cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch kosher salt and black pepper
1½ lbs. ground pork
2 lbs. ground beef
1 cup red wine
28 oz. can petite-diced tomatoes with juice
2 bay leaves
1 lb. oven ready lasagna noodles (Skinner)
2 lbs. cottage cheese or whole milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp. dried oregano
2 large eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for final topping
1 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
In large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat; add onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and sweat them until they are translucent, about 2 minutes. Add meats with another heavy pinch of salt. Cook until the meat is browned, about 10 minutes, and drain any fat from pot at this point.
Stir in red wine, tomatoes and their juice and bay leaves. Scrape bottom of pot with a wooden spoon, making sure to get all browned bits into sauce. Season sauce with salt, to taste, and simmer for 2 hours over medium heat. Remove bay leaves and let cool. Skim any remaining fat that rises to the surface.
In medium bowl, mix together cottage cheese or ricotta, parsley, basil, oregano, eggs and Parmesan with a pinch of salt.
Preheat oven to 350. Ladle about 1 cup sauce on bottom of sprayed lasagna pan. Arrange a layer of noodles followed by a layer of sauce and then some of the cottage cheese or ricotta mixture. Top with layer of mozzarella, smoothing it with a spatula to the edges. Repeat process until pan is full. Finish with a final layer of noodles, sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.
Cover lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from oven and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Crock-Pot Beef Stew
4 Tbsp. flour, divided
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. pepper
Three 5.5 oz. cans tomato juice
2 lbs. beef stew meat
1 lb. sliced mushrooms
4-5 carrots, sliced
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. hot water
Combine 2 Tbsp. flour, sugar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in tomato juice until smooth. Combine beef and next five ingredients in a crock-pot; add tomato juice mixture.
Cover and cook on high for 5 ½ hours or until beef is tender.


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