Readers offer family recipes for turbulent times

We asked readers to send in their recipes for comfort food -- the dishes we make for friends and family when life presents both happy and difficult challenges, like the birth of a new baby or the loss of a loved one. Casseroles and soups were the most popular entries by far, meals that are easy to warm up quickly, provide rich nourishment and often can be easily frozen for use on an extra-busy day.

We also asked entrants to tell us a little something about the recipes they sent in -- where they came from and how they've used them. We loved reading about how food is a meaningful part of your lives.

Today, we present seven of our favorite entries. We selected those that we thought really captured the essence of a comfort dish, taking into account the story behind the recipe. We also looked for creative twists on old standards and looked for a mix of easy and hard recipes to appeal to a wide variety of cooks.

Meet the women whose entries captured our imagination, as they share their time-tested recipes for comfort, 6-7E

A favorite for generations

Diana Pfau


Age: 61

Story behind the recipe: "Both of my German grandmothers, my mother and all my aunts have made this recipe for three generations now. I will admit I have added my own touches to it to make it even richer and lighter. This is by no means for the cholesterol-conscious, but it is worth the sin for an occasional treat."

Grandma's chicken and noodles

Serves 6-8

1 whole chicken

Salt, to taste (for broth)

1-2 carrots

2-3 stalks celery

1 onion

1 clove garlic

Bouillon cube (optional)

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

1/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 teaspoon salt (for noodles)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2-2 cups all-purpose flour

Freshly ground pepper (optional)

1. Place chicken in large pot with vegetables and salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer 45-60 minutes. Remove chicken from broth, cool and remove meat from bones. Cut into bite-size pieces. Strain broth.

2. Allow broth to cool and remove any fat from surface.

3. Taste the broth to be sure it is salty and flavorful enough. If not, add a bouillon cube to kick it up.

4. Beat the yolks, egg, whipping cream, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl with a whisk until well blended. With a large spoon, stir in about 1 cup of flour. Slowly add more flour (usually up to about 1/3 cup) until the dough forms a soft ball. You want a soft, not sticky dough. (Do not use too much flour!)

5. If you are lucky enough to own a fabric pastry cloth, sprinkle it with a layer of flour. Note: Just the countertop won't work. A kitchen towel layered with flour will work fine. This is a soft, fragile dough, and it sticks to a hard surface.

6. Divide the dough in half and roll it out very thin on your cloth. You may need to continue sprinkling it with flour and flip it when you first start to get it coated with flour. You want it about 1/8 inch thick.

7. One half of the dough makes about a 14-inch diameter circle.

8. Lightly dust the dough with flour and cut it into wide (2- to 3-inch) strips. Stack the strips and cut into 1/2-inch strips. Pick up the noodles and shake them between your fingers to separate.

9. Set them aside and repeat with the other half of the dough.

10. Bring the broth to a rolling boil and drop in the noodles. Return to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until tender, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the chicken and cook until heated through.

11. If the broth is too thin, add a little cornstarch.

12. Add freshly ground pepper, if you like. (You shouldn't need any more salt.)

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 6: 347 calories, 14 grams fat, 28 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 215 milligrams cholesterol, 542 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.

Four cheeses and 'extra TLC'

Regina Raine


Age: 55

Story behind the recipe: "I make this anytime someone at home is sick or needs to have some extra TLC. We also prepare it for neighbors and friends who are in need of extra TLC. It is adapted from my mother-in-law's macaroni and cheese recipe, with Italian-type cheeses in place of the usual Cheddar."

Mac and cheese

Serves 4 to 8

Bread crumbs for topping:

1 cup plain bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Pulse in food blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbles. Set mixture aside

Pasta and cheese:

1 pound penne pasta

1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided

4 to 6 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

2 teaspoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons flour

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to middle and preheat to 500 degrees

2. In large pot, bring 3 to 4 quarts of water to boil. Add pasta and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling water. When pasta is al dente, drain about 5 seconds, leaving the pasta wet.

3. Combine cheese in large bowl. While pasta is cooking, melt butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan and whisk flour into butter until no lumps remain. Gradually whisk in cream; increase heat to medium and bring to boil. Stir occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about a minute to cook flour. If the white sauce is done before the pasta, be sure to keep it covered to retain heat; the hot sauce helps to melt the cheese.

4. Add pasta to cheese in the large bowl. Immediately pour cream mixture over, then cover bowl with foil and let stand about 3 minutes. Uncover bowl and stir, scraping bottom of bowl until well blended. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

5. Transfer pasta to 13-by-9-inch baking dish, and then sprinkle bread crumbs on top, pressing down slightly. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 1,143 calories, 60 grams fat, 110 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams protein, 199 milligrams cholesterol, 1,818 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat.

For the cycle of life

JoAnn Rogers

North Richland Hills

Age: 57

Story behind the recipe: "I always take this casserole to families going through what I call 'the cycle of life.' This includes the birth of a child, moving into the neighborhood or grieving over the loss of a loved one. Good food is essential to surviving the emotional and physical stresses that accompany these events. This recipe was given to me by my mother-in-law, JimMyrtle Rogers. I've altered it a bit to fit the tastes of my family. This recipe can be easily adapted using some pre-made ingredients for today's busy families. You can use a package of cornbread mix, which makes a perfect amount of cornbread for this recipe and you can purchase precooked chicken and canned chicken broth to cut preparation time. This usually makes enough to fill two dishes. I freeze one (before it's cooked) for another meal."

Chicken cornbread casserole

8 to 10 servings

4 cups crumbled cornbread

1/4 cup chopped green pepper

1/4 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning (or to taste)

Salt & pepper to taste

3 cups chopped cooked chicken

1 can cream of chicken soup

2 cups chicken broth

Paprika (if desired)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine cornbread, green pepper, onion and poultry seasoning; mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place half of mixture in a 2-quart baking dish. Spread chicken over cornbread layer.

3. Combine soup and chicken broth. Pour over chicken and cornbread. Place the remainder of cornbread mixture over chicken. Press mixture down. Set aside for 20 minutes.

4. Sprinkle paprika on top. Bake for 30 minutes.

Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 8: 452 calories, 14 grams fat, 55 grams carbohydrates, 28 grams protein, 95 milligrams cholesterol, 1,128 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 27 percent of calories from fat.

Perfect for the slow cooker

Jennifer Trujillo


Age: 38

Story behind the recipe: "This is a super-easy recipe that is also healthy. It is a stew but also has a stroganoff type taste and consistency because of the gnocchi and sour cream. I make this several times a year, and my family will eat if for just about every meal until it is gone. It's a morph of a Better Homes & Gardens beef stew recipe and a 30-minute meal I saw on Rachael Ray. You can also make this with beef stew meat, but bison makes the dish much leaner."

Bison stew

Serves 6

1 pound bison stew meat

8 ounces carrots

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1 15-ounce can beef consommé

2 bouillon cubes

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1 tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon basil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound potato gnocchi (packaged)

1 cup sour cream

1. Combine all ingredients except for gnocchi and sour cream in a slow cooker and cook on low heat for 12 hours.

2. Prepare gnocchi according to package directions, then add to stew with sour cream.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 505 calories, 17 grams fat, 42 grams carbohydrates, 39 grams protein, 128 milligrams cholesterol, 1,210 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 32 percent of calories from fat.

Twists on a traditional favorite

Melody Loffland

Fort Worth

Age: 51

Story behind the recipe: "I adapted this recipe many years ago from various versions of the traditional dish. My husband loves it. It has been served for company and at birthday celebrations. Once I made it for a busy new mom, another time as a thank-you gift. I did not list the spaghetti sauce by name in the recipe. However, I like to use Classico. It is reasonable in calories and fat content, plus we just like the taste. Sometimes I will use Tomato Basil instead of the Fire Roasted Tomato and Garlic variety. About the cheese: For best results, do not use commercially packaged pre-grated cheese, but stick with fresh mozzarella."

Reduced-fat eggplant Parmesan

Serves 3-4

2 large eggplants (about a pound and a half total), peeled and sliced lengthwise

Sea salt

8 ounces fresh (packaged as a ball or in water) part-skim mozzarella cheese

1 small carton (8 ounces) liquid egg whites, or 4 egg whites plus 1 tablespoon water, slightly beaten

1 cup (approximately 4 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided usage (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano for best results)

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, divided usage

1 1/2 cups (approximately) Italian-style bread crumbs

1 24-ounce jar fire-roasted tomato and garlic spaghetti sauce

Cooking spray

1. About two hours before cooking, wash and peel eggplant. Slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices. Salt each piece lightly front and back. Stack in colander upright. Place colander in large bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow eggplant to drain. Fluid in bottom of bowl will be brown. (This procedure drains bitter juices out of the eggplant.) Eggplant slices will be slightly rubbery.

2. Place mozzarella cheese in freezer, and freeze slightly. This will aid in grating.

3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

4. Pat eggplant slices dry with paper towel. Place egg whites in large, shallow bowl. In a separate large, shallow bowl, mix 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese into the Italian-style bread crumbs.

5. Dip eggplant slices in egg whites, and coat with bread crumbs. (Use more bread crumb mixture if necessary.) Place slices in jellyroll pans coated with cooking spray. Lightly spray tops of eggplant slices with cooking spray. Bake eggplant until slices are lightly browned (about 20-25 minutes), flipping each slice halfway through cooking time. Remove eggplant from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

6. Using large-holed grater, grate mozzarella cheese into a bowl and set aside.

7. Place spaghetti sauce in a saucepan and add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Warm the sauce slightly over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.

8. Spray a 9-by-9-inch (or similar size) baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce in bottom of dish. Place eggplant slices on top to form a layer. Spread about 1/3 cup spaghetti sauce on top of slices; sprinkle 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese on top of sauce. Repeat layers twice.

9. Bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes, or until sauce bubbles around pan edges, and top of cheese is slightly browned.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 778 calories, 26 grams fat, 78 grams carbohydrates, 57 grams protein, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 2,521 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber, 30 percent of calories from fat.

Potpie with an easy crust

Tricia Deitz

Fort Worth

Age: 56

Story behind the recipe: "I cut this recipe out of a magazine once and taped it to an index card. The original is faded and torn. I make this adapted version when someone is in need of a meal. On my visits home to Atlanta to spend time with my parents, I always made several smaller casseroles for my mom and dad to freeze and pull out for meals. The original recipe included ingredients for a piecrust, but I admit to now always using the Pillsbury pie pastry. I ease my guilt by taking the time to weave the lattice top, but any recipe for pie pastry would work as well. I also use low-fat milk instead of the nonfat dry milk that the original recipe called for. Whenever I make this, everyone in my family asks, 'Who just had a baby?' or 'Who is not feeling well?'"

Chicken potpie

1 broiler fryer chicken, cut up

2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon pepper, divided

1 pound small yellow onions, quartered

1 pound carrots, peeled, then cut in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch pieces

1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon leaf thyme, crumbled

1 cup low-fat milk

Refrigerated Pillsbury pie pastry

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place chicken in a large kettle or Dutch oven with enough water to cover. Bring to boil, skim off foam. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Lower heat; cover; simmer 30 minutes or until chicken is tender. Remove chicken from broth and let cool.

3. Add onions and carrots to broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender; add peas. Drain vegetables and reserve stock. Set aside 1 cup of stock to use later.

4. Meanwhile, skin and bone chicken. Cut into bite-size pieces. Combine with vegetables in a large bowl.

5. Melt butter over low heat in a medium-size saucepan. Add flour, thyme and remaining salt and pepper; cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add milk and the reserved cup of chicken stock into saucepan, stirring. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Pour over chicken and vegetables; stir to coat thoroughly. Spoon into a 2-quart deep, round casserole dish.

6. The pie pastry can be cut into strips and woven into a lattice over the top, or be creative with your own design.

7. Bake 30 minutes, or until the pastry topping is done.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 519 calories, 31 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 106 milligrams cholesterol, 848 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.

A warm gift from the heart

Chris Bonney


Age: 52

Story behind the recipe: "If you put this into a large Mason jar, it makes a nice presentation in a basket with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. I usually put a packet of cookies or brownies in the basket, too. This is a tried-and-true favorite with my family and friends. It's simple, inexpensive and best of all consistently delicious. You can use any type of tortellini -- I sometimes substitute the fresh tortellini with a larger package from the freezer section because it's less expensive and will make two batches of soup."

Tortellini soup

Serves 4

1 pound turkey sausage (important to use sausage, not ground turkey)

1/2 onion chopped

2 garlic cloves minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cans beef broth

1/2 cup red wine

2 cups of water

1 8-ounce package baby carrots

2 zucchini, sliced

1 9-ounce package fresh cheese tortellini (Butoni three-cheese variety works well)

1. In a large pot, sauté sausage until lightly browned and crumbly. Remove from pot.

2. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and then add the sausage back to pot with the rest of the ingredients except the tortellini.

3. Simmer for one hour and add the tortellini the last 25 minutes. If the soup is too thick, you can add water or more broth.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 581 calories, 35 grams fat, 38 grams carbohydrates, 37 grams protein, 134 milligrams cholesterol, 1,073 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 51 percent of calories from fat.