Healthy Eating: Two comfort food recipes to enjoy and share

Blueberry pecan snacking cake.

It is hard to believe that we’ve been staying home since the middle of March…at least I hope everyone has been staying home. I venture out each day to take my miniature schnauzer Mia for a well-deserved long walk. Well deserved for both of us I think. I am grateful that I have a backyard space that we can both enjoy. Many of our vegetable garden beds have been planted and we’re already enjoying fresh chives, lettuce, kale, swiss chard, scallions and parsley. The strawberries have perked up and are beginning to flower. I am hopeful that the garden will be extra bountiful this season because it is getting extra attention.

There’s been a bad meme going around indicating that the “19” in Covid-19 is really the number of pounds on average that people will gain by the time the pandemic is “over.” (Is it really ever over?)  Getting out to walk in the fresh air has been good for body, mind and spirit; but I do have to be mindful of the quantities of snacks that I eat. Since we’re working from home, wearing “real” pants has been optional too. Nevertheless there is always room for comfort foods that feed the soul, right? Remember my philosophy, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  Just because you make a batch of cookies doesn’t mean you have to eat ALL of them.  Share them with your neighbors. I do stealth drop offs and then send a text to ask the person to check for a package at their front door! I just have to imagine their smile of surprise. My neighbor Patrick is always appreciative of whatever I manage to share with him. Sharing feeds the heart and friendships.
Here is a two-for-the-price-of-one offering: Blueberry Pecan Snacking Cake and Cauliflower Gratin
A snacking cake that is quick and easy. You can enjoy a slice anytime of the day. I like it for breakfast with plain Greek yogurt. Feel free to choose a different fruit or nut if you choose. This cake is versatile and can accommodate whatever you might have in your pantry or freezer.
The second recipe is a bit richer, but the process of making it brings great rewards. This recipe is the definition of comfort food — even if you don’t like cauliflower! This will make you a convert to this wonderful cruciferous vegetable. (Cauliflower is naturally high in fiber and B vitamins. It provides antioxidants and phytonutrients that can protect against cancer. It also contains fiber to enhance weight loss and digestion, choline that is essential for learning and memory, and many other important nutrients)  NOTE:  You can make this recipe vegetarian by eliminating the bacon, too.
Remember this is a time to use up items lurking in your pantry. Limit your trips to the grocery store so that you can stay healthy. Part of staying healthy is eating nourishing food as well as the occasional treat.  Moderation…Moderation…Moderation.
Blueberry Pecan Snacking Cake
  • 1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoons fine or medium-ground cornmeal

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus a little extra for greasing the pan

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • ⅓ cup whole or 2% milk

  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Finely grated zest 1 lemon

  • 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, don’t thaw)

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

  • Demerara sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)


1. Make sure oven rack is centered and preheat oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. Into a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

3. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high speed until smooth. Add in eggs, milk, vanilla and zest and beat until well combined—no worries if it looks curdled. Add in flour mixture and mix in on low speed, just until incorporated—you don’t want to over mix or cake will be tough.

4. Fold in the berries gently, just until combined. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Scatter the nuts all across the top evenly. Sprinkle evenly with some of the demerara sugar (this step is optional).

5. Bake for about 45-48 minutes, until the cake is golden and a tester inserted into the center of the pan comes out clean. Let the cake sit in the pan on a wire rack until completely cool. Cut into wedges and serve. Cake keeps well wrapped at room temperature for a couple of days or wrap well and chill in the fridge. It’s great reheated in a low temperature oven if you have kept it in the refrigerator..

Cauliflower Gratin
  • 1 medium head cauliflower (about 1½ pounds), cut into 1-inch florets
  • 4½ tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 8 ounces bacon, sliced crosswise into ½-inch-wide strips  (feel free to skip this ingredient if you are a vegetarian)
  • 3½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves  (or use 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • ¼ pound cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup drained brined capers

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl (that’s ice plus cold water). Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Salt the water as you would for pasta. Add the cauliflower and cook for 2 minutes, then drain it and place it in the ice bath. Once the cauliflower has cooled, drain it again and transfer to a large bowl.

Make the béchamel sauce. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a small heavy-bottomed sauce-pan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the flour, and cook, stirring continuously, until it begins to take on some color, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and when the bubbles have subsided, whisk in the milk until combined. Return to medium heat and continue whisking, scraping up the sauce from the bottom of the pan. As it begins to thicken, after about 3 minutes, whisk in ½ teaspoon salt, the pepper, and allspice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a small bowl, placing plastic wrap on its surface.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8×8-inch casserole dish. 
Heat a large cast-iron skillet on the stove, gradually increasing the heat from low to medium. Add the bacon and cook, stirring a few times, until it’s crisp and the fat has been rendered, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool. Drain the skillet, rinse, and dry.  (Feel free to skip this step if you are a vegetarian.)  

Return the skillet to medium heat. Add the remaining 1½ tablespoons butter and 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil. When the butter is melted, add the bread crumbs and cook until brown and crispy, stirring frequently, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer the bread crumbs to a medium bowl. Toss through the thyme and cheddar. Season the cauliflower with a pinch of salt. Pour the béchamel over it and stir to coat. Stir in the Dijon mustard, bacon, and capers.

Transfer the cauliflower mixture to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumb–cheddar topping. Drizzle up to 2 tablespoons olive oil over the top. Bake until the top is golden brown and the gratin is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.

—  By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at



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