Stress Baking with SOCY Grad Students

We all know how hungry a long grading session or marathon lit review compilation can make us. To that purpose, four of our graduate students share their favorite recipes for comfort foods. 

After the jump: Southwest Baked Ziti from Lori Reeder, Macaroni and Cheese from Denae Johnson, Cranberry Streusel Pie from Jenelle Clark, and Whole Lemon Bars from Anya Galli 

Lori Reeder

I have a lot of favorite comfort food recipes depending on the mood, but I decided to go with an old favorite back from my days of working as a full-time volunteer when I learned how to be very creative with few ingredients. It’s a great recipe because it’s cheap, doesn’t use any fancy ingredients, is vegetarian, and it can be adapted to be vegan. It’s simple but definitely not boring.


  • 8 ounces ziti pasta — uncooked
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce
  • 8 ounces salsa
  • 3/4 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded lowfat mozzarella cheese
  • 11 ounces canned corn — drained
  • 4 ounces chopped green chiles — drained
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon grated lowfat Parmesan cheese


  • Cook pasta according to package directions, using the shorter amount of cooking time given. Drain.
  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Lightly oil an 8-inch square baking pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
  • Combine tomato sauce and salsa in a small bowl.
  • In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with half of the mozzarella cheese. Stir in half the sauce, along with the corn, chiles, oregano, and pepper. Add the cooked ziti and mix well. Spoon into prepared casserole.
  • Spread remaining sauce over top of casserole, then sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and then Parmesan cheese.
  • Cover and bake 20 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake 15 more minutes.

Recipe found here.

Denae Johnson

My great grandfather was an amazing cook, but never wrote recipes.  I
remember being a teenager, watching him cook, trying to take mental
notes of what he did.  This is as close as I have been able to get to
his baked mac and cheese with my own spin (the additions of an
additional cheese and an onion).  This recipe is very rich, but so
very worth it.

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk (any % but skim)
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large egg
  • 24 ounces extra sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 12 ounces white cheddar, shredded
  • 6-12 ounces of any other cheese (I like gruyere and smoked gouda)
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Fresh black pepper
  • A splash of Frank’s Redhot Hot sauce
  • A pinch of dried chili flakes
  • Topping: 3 tablespoons butter plus 1 cup panko bread crumbs


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package directions.
  • In a separate pan, sautee the onion in one tablespoon of butter until translucent.  Set aside.
  • In another large pot, melt the 3 TBSP butter over medium heat. Turn heat to low, whisk in the flour and keep stirring, getting rid of any lumps until it is the color of peanut butter (about 5 minutes)– DO NOT walk away from the roux (it will burn very quickly if you stop stirring!).
  • Gently stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika. Simmer for ten minutes (stirring often) and remove the bay leaf.  Add seasoned salt, pepper, garlic powder, hot sauce and chili flakes.
  • Temper in the egg. Stir in 3/4 of each cheese. Gently fold the macaroni into the cheese mix and pour into a large casserole dish (or two smaller dishes). Top with remaining cheese.
  • Topping: Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat. Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes.  Enjoy!

Variations:  I have had friends try this recipe with the additions of
bacon/turkey bacon, smoked turkey, broccoli, green onions, shallots,
garlic, parmesan cheese and even liquid smoke, as well as omitting the
onions, all with reported success.  You can also bake it in ramekins
instead of a large casserole dish- just keep an eye on the ramekins
while they’re in the oven.

Jenelle Clark

While this is perhaps not the right season for this recipe (assuming no one else froze fresh cranberries in the fall), I just had to share it because it is That Good. Fall is always a good time of year to find comfort food, and this one is especially comforting to a stressed soul when served warm because of its flaky crust and the wonderful flavor explosion of cranberry, cinnamon, and pecan. FYI, I have absolutely no qualms about making this year-round and neither should you.

(adapted from the Southern Living Cookbook)


  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter


  • 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup chopped pecans (walnuts can be substituted)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 Tbsp flour


  • To make the pie crust: blend crust ingredients with pastry blender or fork and add ½ to 2 ½ Tbsp water. (I find I only need about ½ Tbsp here, but in drier climates I’ve needed the full 2 ½ Tbsp.) Form into a ball and roll out or pat into pan. Fit piecrust into 9 inch pie plate.
  • Stir together cranberries and next 4 ingredients, and spoon into pie crust.
  • Whisk together egg and remaining ingredients, and pour over cranberry mixture.
  • Bake at 400° for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and bake 30 more minutes or until streusel is golden.
  • This pie is best served hot and it reheats well in the microwave too.

Anya Galli

These lemon bars are sugary and satisfying without being too sweet. The lemon flavor is a nice pick-me-up for long writing sessions. I love how simple they are and that they don’t waste a single bit of the lemon.

WHOLE LEMON BARS (Recipe adapted from the Smitten Kitchen, found here)


  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 8 tbl unsalted butter cut into cubes
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Lemon custard:

  • 1 lemon (organic or unsprayed because you are using all of the peel!)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tbl lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tsp corn starch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 tbl melted unsalted butter
  • Powdered sugar for dusting


  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
  • Crust: Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and wrap the outside snugly with foil, shiny side up. Remove the foil, turn the pan over, and fit the foil into the pan, pressing to nudge the foil into the corners. Then smooth it as best you can. Lightly butter or spray the surface of the foil with nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cubed butter and vanilla. Use a pastry cutter, two forks, or your hands. Press crust into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.
  • Lemon custard: While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut the lemon into chunks. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is completely broken up. Add the eggs, corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 3 tablespoons melted butter, and blend until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)
  •  When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat of the oven to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s