Top chefs offer recipes for quarantine comfort foods

You may be getting sick of your home cooking – so we’ve been asking top chefs how to spice things up while home during the coronavirus outbreak.

One local chef explained how to make a new type of mac and cheese.

“I always love to have smokiness, almost like a bacon aspect to it,” said Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bars in D.C. and Virginia. “But I didn’t want it to have meat in it. I wanted it to be vegetarian so it could please everybody.

I tried it with a smoked Gouda. That’s what makes the difference in this mac and cheese, is the smoked cheese gives it that meaty essence to it, which makes it very delicious.”

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This Mac and Cheese recipe puts a new spin on the traditional dish. (Courtesy JL Restaurant Group)

Mac and Cheesy

The use of smoked Gouda and white cheddar in our mac and cheese gives a rich, bacon-like flavor, but keeps the recipe vegetarian friendly.


1 package Elbow Macaroni

2 Tbsp Butter

2 Tbsp AP Flour

2 C Cream

¾ C Smoked Gouda, shredded

1 C White Cheddar, shredded

1 tsp Salt

¼ tsp Pepper

Pinch, Ground Nutmeg

½ C Seasoned Bread Crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Rinse, drain, and set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the butter and flour.
  4. Continue to whisk the butter and flour, being careful not to burn the mixture, until it is cooked, approx. 3 minutes.
  5. Gradually whisk in the cream, and continuing whisking until mixture is smooth, incorporated, and thickened, approx. 3-5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the smoked Gouda and the white cheddar until melted and fully incorporated.
  7. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.
  8. Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce and toss to coat.
  9. Lightly grease an 11” x 7” baking dish.
  10. Pour pasta mixture into the baking dish and top with a sprinkling of the seasoned bread crumbs.
  11. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes — the top should be golden brown and bubbly.
Weeknight Tomato Pasta is an easy, go-to recipe for a great weeknight meal. (Courtesy Michael Friedman of The Red Hen and All Purpose)

“For me, there’s nothing better than pasta with tomato, butter, and parm,” said Michael Friedman, chef and owner of The Red Hen and All Purpose in Washington, D.C. “That’s kind of like my comfort food.” He offered this recipe:

Weeknight Tomato Pasta

This is an easy, go-to recipe for a great weeknight meal. I like to cook the whole box of pasta and then utilize the cooked pasta the next day in another dish (did someone say pasta salad?!). If you want to make your own tomato sauce, make it in a large batch and freeze the rest so you can grab it as needed. Buon appetito!


1 box pasta (long noodles or shapes is fine)

Salt, as needed

3 Tbsp EVOO

2 ea garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp capers, drained and rinsed

8 oz prepared tomato sauce

2 Tbsp butter

Copious amounts of grated parmigiano-Reggiano

Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed


  1. In a large pot, heat about two quarts of water until boiling. Add enough salt to just season the water.
  2. Add pasta and cook according to instructions (about 8-10 minutes should do it).
  3. While the pasta is cooking, in a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic and cook until the outside starts to turn golden brown.
  4. Add the capers and the tomato sauce and reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for five minutes.
  5. Add the cooked pasta and about ½ cup of the pasta water. Add the butter.
  6. Once the pasta and the sauce is incorporated and the butter has melted, remove from the flame and add the parmigiano-Reggiano (this is a personal preference, but I like a little bit in the pan and a lot on the plate). Adjust seasonings with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  7. Plate the pasta for as many people you have in your house. Top with more grated parmigiano-Reggiano. Eat your feelings. Buon appetito!
Ris Lacoste of D.C.’s Ris suggests making a salad each day. (Courtesy Ris Lacoste)

Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad by RIS

Ris Lacoste of D.C.’s Ris suggests making a salad each day.

“Times like this we tend to maybe eat easier or bad food, but let’s think of making some great salads,” she said. “This is spring and salad greens are just coming into being.”

Whatever salad you make, she stresses the need to hydrate greens by soaking them in cold water and then drying them.


1# Brussels sprouts, trimmed

8 cups destemmed kale, hand torn into bite sized pieces

1 cup dried cherries

6 ounces chopped pecans, about 1 cup, toasted in a preheated 350 degree oven until golden, about 4 minutes

OR candied pecans SEE BELOW

8 ounces fresh goat cheese

For the roasted sweet potatoes:

1# sweet potatoes, cut into ½” dice (makes about 2 ½)

1 1/2 ounces maple syrup

1 1/2 ounces walnut oil

2 t salt

1 t freshly ground black pepper

Toss the sweet potatoes in the maple syrup and walnut oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out on to a sheet pan and cook in a preheated 350-degree oven until golden and just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. Ideally, cook just before you serve the salad but can be cooked ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/2 cups cooked.

For the sherry walnut vinaigrette (makes about 1¼ cups):

2 ounces sherry vinegar

1 T Dijon mustard

1 T maple syrup

3 T shallots, finely diced (1 ½ ounces, 2 medium shallots)

4-5 ounces peanut oil

2 ounces walnut oil

1 t salt

½ t freshly ground black pepper

Combine the vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and shallots in a mixing bowl and whisk until well mixed. Slowly emulsify first with the walnut and then the peanut oil, stopping to taste after whisking 2/3 of the peanut oil. Vinegars vary in intensity and each demands a different amount of oil to create a balanced dressing. Taste with a piece of lettuce and continue with more oil, if necessary. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning if necessary. The dressing can be made more than a week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.

For the mustard crème fraiche (makes 1 cup):

4 ounces crème fraiche

2 ounces whole grain mustard

2 ounces Dijon mustard

1 T honey

½ t salt

½ t freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients until well mixed. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made up to one week in advance.

For the pickled red onions:

10 ounces red pearl onions, 2 cups peeled, cut in 1/2

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all in a heavy based sauce pan. Bring just to a boil and let simmer 12-15 minutes or until just al dente, still toothsome, not soft. Remove from heat and let sit in liquid until cool. Cover and refrigerate. Can be made more than a week in advance.

Candied pecans:

Alternate prep for the toasted pecans. We use them here at the restaurant and they are great but I did not test them for this recipe.

1 egg whites

¾ ounce vanilla extract

1 T bourbon

1 quart pecans

1/2 cup light brown sugar

Whisk whites until stiff. Stir in the vanilla and bourbon. Fold in the nuts until well covered by the whites. Fold in the sugar until well incorporated. Spread on to a baking sheet lined with a greased parchment paper. Bake in a 300-degree preheated oven until dry, stirring twice in the process, for about 35 minutes.

To prepare the greens:

Soak the whole trimmed raw Brussels sprouts in cold water for about 10 minutes to refresh and hydrate them. Remove from the water and shave on a mandoline. Makes about 4 cups.

Similarly, soak the kale in plenty of cold water for about 10 minutes, to refresh and hydrate. Remove from the water and spin in a salad spinner to dry or lay on many layers of paper towels and pat dry. Both can be stored in plastic bags with a lightly dampened paper towel to keep fresh.

To serve the salad:

In a large bowl, mix the shaved Brussels sprouts and the kale. Add the dried cherries, pecans and sweet potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and dress to taste with the sherry vinaigrette. Smear a heaping Tablespoon of crème fraiche on the bottom of 6-8 salad bowls. Top with a portion of the salad mix, making sure some of the cherries, pecans and sweet potatoes are visible. Sprinkle with a few pickled red onion petals and a good amount of goat cheese.

Lacoste also said soup is great to make and share in times like these.

“I make a big batch of soup and then I put it in quart containers, and I deliver it to my neighbors,” she said. Lacoste added that chicken soup is ideal right now but offered this more involved recipe:

Moroccan Lamb & Lentil Soup


1 T cumin seed

1 T coriander seed

1 t ground cinnamon

1 # leg of lamb meat, cut into 1” cubes

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 T olive oil

2 C diced carrot

2 C diced celery

2 C diced onion

2 C diced fennel

1 T chopped garlic

2 T grated fresh ginger

fresh thyme sprigs

bay leaf

1 T whole black peppercorns

1 T mustard seed

6 whole cloves

2 C brown lentils

3-4 Qts lamb, veal or chicken stock

2 C red wine

cous cous



  1. In a skillet or heavy based sauté pan toast some cumin seed, coriander seed and grind in a coffee grinder.
  2. Toss 1″ cubes of leg of lamb meat with the ground cumin seed, coriander seed, ground cinnamon, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast in the oven until just browned. Meanwhile, heat a heavy based soup pot and add a thin layer of olive oil.
  4. Sauté diced carrot, celery, onions and fennel until vegetables are soft.
  5. Stir in chopped garlic and grated fresh ginger.
  6. Make a sachet in cheese cloth of fresh thyme, bay leaf, whole black peppercorns, mustard seed and whole cloves.
  7. Add the sachet to the vegetables.
  8. Add the brown lentils.
  9. Add lamb stock if you have it, veal stock or chicken stock. If all else fails, add water.
  10. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 20 minutes.
  11. When the lentils are almost cooked, heat the roasting pan of lamb over a stove top burner and deglaze with some red wine and scrape the meat, the cooking juices and red wine into the soup pot.
  12. Continue to cook until lentils are ready and flavors are melded.
  13. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper. Serve with cous cous and harissa.

Matzo Ball Soup

Jarrad Silver, the Executive Chef of Birch & Barley and Churchkey, offered up a different take on soup: matzo ball soup.

“Chicken soup is just that nice hearty soup that everybody pretty much reverts back to and this is just kind of a variation of that,” he said. “It’s probably a comfort food just because I’ve been eating it for so many years,” said Silver.


Matzo Balls:1 cup matzo meal

4 TBSP (1/4 C) melted chicken fat – you can substitute vegetable oil if you would like

4 large eggs

4 TBSP (1/4 C) chicken stock

1 tsp baking soda (optional)

2 TBSP chopped parsley

1 Pinch ground nutmeg (optional)Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Soup:

1 large Spanish onion

1 carrot

4 ribs celery

Egg noodles, cooked

1 bunch parsley

2 quarts chicken stock (homemade or store bought)

For the Matzo Balls:

Mix everything for the matzo balls together in a bowl. The baking soda will help give a lighter texture. You can leave it out if you prefer it firmer. Do not work too much as it will get tough.

Once the mixture has come together and everything is evenly mixed, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. While you are portioning the matzo balls, bring a large pot with at least 6 inches of water to a boil.

Portion the matzo balls into 2 tablespoon balls and roll until smooth. Lower into the boiling water, not too many at a time or they will start to break, and reduce the temperature to a simmer.

Cook the matzo balls for about 20-30 minutes, depending on how firm they are, until cooked through and floating. Transfer the matzo balls to a bowl using a slotted spoon when they are cooked.

Jarrad Silver, the Executive Chef of Birch & Barley and Churchkey offers up his take on Matzo Ball Soup (Neighborhood Restaurant Group)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WTOP will have new recipes from different chefs over the next several days.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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