Annabel Langbein: Food to comfort family and friends in home isolation. Chicken noodle soup, moussaka and devilishly good macaroni cheese Drinks matches from Yvonne Lorkin

Food for people enduring lockdowns and home isolation has certainly come a long way in the last couple of years. In the absence of customers, restaurants teetering on the edge of survival did a quick pivot and started offering their signature dishes for takeout delivery.

Our son Sean, who was living though seemingly endless lockdowns in the UK last year, was even able to order a six-course degustation kit from one of London’s high-end restaurants. He said everything arrived in perfect condition, ready to assemble or heat. Detailed instructions were given on how to serve it all up so that each course looked just like it would if you were dining in the restaurant. In a matter of minutes, he and his flatmate were sitting down to a splendid feast with a real sense of occasion, without even leaving the house –no shopping needed, and very little mess to clean up.

But when you are home, feeling mouldy with Covid and having to isolate for seven long days, you don’t actually want fancy food. You want comfort food, like the stuff that Mum used to bring you in bed when you were home sick from school. Food that makes you feel cared for and nourished – gentle and tender and easy on the digestion.

Soft boiled eggs with buttery fingers of toast … a bowl of chilled stewed apples with milk and cornflakes … creamy mashed potato with a little tender stew, or atop a tender fish pie … a just-cooked omelette filled with wilted spinach and crumble of feta … these are the memories I have of meals my mother would bring me when I was off sick at home.

When I hobbled home on crutches after getting a new hip last year, one of my friends was waiting at Wānaka airport with a chilly bin packed with deliciousness – a big jar of her scrumptious homemade chicken soup and a whole meal of a wonderful lemony fish pie, both ready to heat and eat. She’d even popped in some cheese and crackers, a couple of chocolates and some pretty paper napkins. Her generosity and kindness spoke in spades to my feeling cared-for and nourished. I felt so spoilt.

While dishes like lasagne, casseroles and stews, tarts and pies and all kinds of soup all fit the bill for “heat and eat” delivery for anyone at home holed up sick and in isolation, it’s chicken soup that takes the prize for the world’s most popular potion when it comes to fighting a cold or the flu. The X-factor that sets chicken soup apart as the ultimate comfort fare, is considered to be the protein tryptophan,found in both chicken and turkey. This protein assists in the production of serotonin that can enhance your mood and give you the feeling of “comfort”. The noodles in the soup provide carbohydrates that help you feel full and satisfied, the broth keeps you hydrated, the vitamins from the vegetables help to boost your immune system, and the steam fromthe broth helps to clear your airways

Here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup along with a couple of other favourites that fit the bill for portioning, ready to heat and eat, just perfect to give to people at home isolating.

Chicken noodle soup with ginger and garlic

So nourishing for body and soul, and just the trick for when you have a cold or virus. You can buy crispy shallots at Asian food stores.

Ready in 30 minutes
Serves 6

250g dried wide rice stick noodles
2 spring onions, green and white parts separated and thinly sliced lengthways
8 cups good quality chicken stock
¼ cup coarsely grated or shredded fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 skinless single chicken breasts, very thinly sliced
2 tsp soy sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp fish sauce, or more to taste
2 tsp sesame oil, or more to taste
4-6 heads bok choy, quartered lengthways
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup coriander leaves
1 red or green chilli, thinly sliced (optional)
½ cup crispy shallots (optional)

Place noodles in a large bowl, cover with plenty of boiling water and allow to soak for 10-15 minutes until soft.

While noodles are soaking, place white parts of spring onions in a large pot with stock, ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Add chicken, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil, bring back to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Add bok choy and simmer until just wilted (2 minutes). Adjust soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil to taste.

Divide drained noodles between 6 large serving bowls and divide the chicken, vegetables and soup over the top. Top with spring onions, bean sprouts, coriander and crispy shallots, if desired.

Moussaka

If you’d prefer vegetarian version of this tasty Middle Eastern eggplant bake, use 2 x 400g cans lentils instead of the meat, adding them with the canned tomatoes.

Ready in 1 hour
Serves6

2 large eggplants, cut into 1cm slices
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to brush
1 onion, finely chopped
500g lamb or beef mince
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 Tbsp tomato paste
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 cups grated pumpkin, kūmara, zucchini or carrot
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 recipe cheat’s white sauce topping (see below), or 3 cups white sauce (see macaroni cheese recipe)

Preheat oven to 240C fan bake. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Brush eggplant with oil on both sides. Arrange in a single layer on tray and bake for 15 minutes.

While eggplants are cooking, heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large heavy frying pan and fry onion until soft but not brown (about 8 minutes). Add lamb or beef and cook, breaking it up, until no longer pink (5 minutes). Add garlic, lemon zest, tomato paste, salt and pepper and stir over heat for 1-2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, grated vegetables and spices, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. You can make the sauce ahead to this point and chill until needed.

Reduce oven temperature to 180C fan bake. Arrange half the eggplant slices in the base of an 8-10-cup capacity oven dish. Cover with half the sauce, top with the remaining eggplant and then the remaining sauce. Spread the white sauce over the top and bake until bubbling and golden (about 30 minutes). Serve hot.

Cheat’s white sauce topping
Mix together 2 eggs, 1 cup natural yoghurt, 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup finely grated parmesan and salt and pepper to taste.

Devilishly good macaroni cheese

Here’s my revved-up take on the classic dish. If you’re cooking for kids or unadventurous eaters who don’t like chilli, just leave out the sriracha chilli sauce and add some cooked crumbled bacon or diced ham if desired. Sometimes I make this with the addition of a head of broccoli or half a cauliflower cut into florets and blanched.

Ready in 40 minutes
Serves 4

400g dried macaroni
3 cups white sauce (see below), warmed
3 cups grated tasty/cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp sriracha sauce (optional)
1 cup panko crumbs or coarse dry breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp melted butter or neutral oil

Preheat oven to 220C fan bake.

Cook macaroni according to packet instructions. Drain and mix into white sauce with cheese, mustard and sriracha, if using. Transfer to a 8-cup capacity oven dish or ovenproof frying pan.

Mix breadcrumbs with butter or oil and sprinkle over the pasta. Bake until golden and bubbling (about 15 minutes). Serve hot.

White sauce
Melt 75g butter in a medium pot until sizzling but not brown. Add ½ cup flour and stir for 1 minute.

Add ½ tsp nutmeg and 1 cup milk gradually, stirring continuously until sauce starts to thicken.

Add 2 more cups of milk and continue stirring until a thick, smooth sauce is produced.

Season with salt and pepper. Makes about 3 cups.

Match these with …

by Yvonne Lorkin

(Chicken noodle soup with ginger and garlic)
Kererū Hazee Hazy Gluten-Free Ale 4.0% ($42 x 6pk)

Everyone knows chicken soup is famous for its sniffle-fighting, tummy-settling properties, right? But you may be surprised to know that beer also helps heal a head-cold and soothe a squiffy constitution. But go even easier on your gut with this hazy-style, gluten-free groover crafted from sorghum and rice and, given it’s tropical, some herbaceous heft from deft dry-hopping. Fullsome, flavoursome and totally cockadoodle with this nice-as noodle soup.
kererubrewing.co.nz

(Moussaka)
Framingham F-Series Marlborough Pinot Noir 2020 ($45)

This is one of my favourite lamb recipes and it’s pretty much compulsory to consume pinot noir with it. In fact, if a member of the moussaka police was holding a gun to my head and demanding to know who my top five Marlborough pinot noir-ists were, Framingham would probably fire from my gob faster than you could say “savoury mince”. Stylishly proportioned with wild cherry, taut tamarillo and roast rhubarb notes on the nose and palate, it’s a generously juicy wine showing a soothing, silky texture, delicious “cling” around the gums and long, savoury, spicy textures to finish.
framingham.co.nz

(Devilishly good macaroni cheese)
Rex Pickett’s Sideways Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2021 ($29)

Chardonnay is champion with cheese and it’s particularly magical when that cheese happens to be all melty and mixed with macaroni.Mac ‘n’ cheese is an American classic, as is Sideways, the world’s most famous wine novel and the funniest, most famous wine movie ever made. It’s also now a musical, a play and a podcast. So it was only a matter of time before it’s author and screenwriter, Rex Pickett, would fall in love with New Zealand wine and Hawke’s Bay chardonnay in particular. Made by the magicians from Matahiwi Estate, it’s saturated with soft stonefruit, creamy, buttery notes, plucky pineapple and rich, nutty complexity. Yum!
blackmarket.co.nz

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