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Ward off the weather with Indiana soul food

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Tomorrow — are you ready for this — is National Spaghetti Day. Now, that’s an easy one. Who doesn’t love spaghetti? And if you don’t want to cook it, check out the multitude of good Italian restaurants in Citrus County.

January is the perfect month to celebrate spaghetti. It is the essence of what constitutes a warm cozy supper on a cold winter night. Add some meatballs, Parmesan cheese, a good salad, garlic rolls and you have a meal that is not only delicious, but feeds many.

When I had four hungry kids at home, spaghetti was the go-to dish for easy, nutritious and hearty meals during the winter months. And in northern Indiana, winter weather was no trivial matter — especially in January.

In fact, all sorts of pasta pleased the family, including old favorites such as beef and noodles (with buttery mashed potatoes of course, never mind the double starch), extra cheesy macaroni and cheese and, of course, the ubiquitous tuna-noodle casseroles.

I still indulge in these dishes, meals I call Indiana soul food. The only problem is that it’s almost impossible to prepare them to feed just two people. Some things just taste better made in larger amounts. That’s OK, though, because they are all even better the next day.

A particular favorite back in the day was Midwest goulash. Not the true Hungarian type that is a heavenly concoction of meat, vegetables and paprika, but rather the goulash-for-weeks-when-money-was-tight style.

It’s so easy and we still love it. Just prepare 16 ounces of elbow macaroni (depending on mouths to feed) and set aside. Brown about a pound of lean ground beef along with a large sweet onion and chopped green pepper. Add a chopped celery rib or two if you want it fancy.

When brown, dump in the macaroni, two cans of petite diced canned tomatoes and at least 1 can of tomato sauce (2 cans if you like it fairly juicy). Add copious amounts of salt and pepper to taste and stir, allowing mixture to simmer until you can’t stand it any longer and have to call the family to dinner.

It’s so simple, but tastes so wonderful and is magically even better the next day.

I used to use my old Mirro-Matic pressure cooker for quick-cooking beef, but now it goes into the crockpot all day for an abundance of well seasoned broth. When falling apart, the beef and broth is transferred to a large pot, brought to a boil and a pile of noodles is added along with 3 bay leaves and plenty of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook it down a bit (you want plenty of broth for spooning over everything.) Make a lot of mashed potatoes and don’t skimp on the butter. Serve the noodles and chunks of beef over the mashed spuds and enjoy. It’s a lot of starch, so forego dessert and bread with this meal.

All I can say about macaroni and cheese is that just when you think you’ve added enough cheese, add a lot more. And make sure the top is browned before serving.

Everyone has their favorite tuna-noodle casserole, but I can’t deal with this dish unless it has an ample sprinkling of French’s fried onion rings on top. For that matter, the fried onions actually make almost any casserole twice as nice. In a pinch, I use crushed potato chips.

Just simple, old fashioned family-friendly dishes that won’t eat up the grocery budget and will be handed down to generation after generation.

Julianne Munn is the food writer for the Citrus County Chronicle. Email her at jmunn2@tampabay.rr.com.