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Ask A Philadelphia Expert: Fall Comfort Food Recipes

September 24, 2014 8:00 AM

(Chef Justin Swain of Rex 1516. Photo provided)

With cooler temperatures and fall weather arriving in Philadelphia, you’ll likely find yourself replacing those summer meals with light flavors and refreshing fruit with heartier, warm dishes. Fall is the perfect time for comfort foods like mac and cheese, pasta, meat and potatoes and more. Here, a few Philadelphia chefs share their recipes for some favorite comfort dishes that you can make at home this fall.


Mary Ellen Mullins

McGillin’s Old Ale House
1310 Drury St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 735-5562
www.mcgillins.com

Opening in 1860, originally under the name Bell in Hand Tavern, McGillin’s Olde Ale House is the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia. In all of that time, it’s been kept in just two families. Ma and Pa McGillin were the proprietors who raised their 13 children above the tavern. When they died, their daughter sold the tavern to brothers Henry Spaniak and Joe Shepaniak (that’s not a mistake, the brothers actually spelled their name differently) in 1958. In 1993, they sold it to Henry’s daughter Mary Ellen and her husband, Christopher Mullins. In 2007, Chris and Mary Ellen’s son, Christopher Mullins, Jr. joined the business, marking the third generation at McGillin’s. Mary Ellen is the cook behind the luscious pumpkin macaroni and cheese – a perfect fall comfort dish that makes four to six servings.

Pumpkin Mac ‘n Cheese

  • 1 pound macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • A couple of pinches ground cloves or 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • About 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 can (14-oz.) unsweetened pumpkin purée (or 2 cups puréed fresh roasted pumpkin or butternut squash)
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese, divided
  • Sweet paprika, for sprinkling
  • Chopped parsley or chives, for garnish

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Salt the water and cook pasta to al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.
  3. Preheat broiler.
  4. Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepot.
  5. Whisk flour into the melted butter and cook for 1 minute. Reduce until almost evaporated and then whisk in milk.
  6. Season with cloves or allspice, ground mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  7. Let the mixture thicken for a few minutes, until it coats your spoon when stirring. Then taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  8. Whisk in the pumpkin purée.
  9. Using a wooden spoon, stir in about 2 cups of grated cheddar until melted.
  10. Combine the reserved pasta and cheese sauce and arrange in a casserole dish or individual ramekins.
  11. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and a dusting of paprika over the top.
  12. Place in the oven and broil until it starts to brown and bubble.
  13. Garnish finished mac and cheese with chopped parsley or chives.

Related: Top Pumpkin Treats In Philadelphia

JC Pina
Jet Wine Bar
1525 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 735-1116
www.jetwinebar.com

Café Ynez
2025 Washington Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 278-7579
www.cafeynez.com

Chef JC Pina is the current Executive Chef at both Jet Wine Bar and Café Ynez. Before Jet Wine Bar and opening Café Ynez, he worked in the kitchens of Morimoto and Tinto. His childhood in Mexico City, cooking with his family, inspired him to become a chef. And his heritage is played a major role in his cooking at Café Ynez. JC Pina developed the menu from scratch at this diner-style casual BYOB, offering unique takes on authentic Mexican dishes.

Carnitas Cemitas

To marinate pulled pork (carnitas):

  • 2 cups pork fat
  • 5 pounds pork
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 1 bottle Mexican Coke
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole orange (sliced)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Fry pork fat on high heat until caramelized.
  2. Add meat, skim milk, orange juice, Mexican Coke, bay leaves, garlic and the sliced orange to the caramelized pork fat.
  3. Cover and cook for 1 hour and 20 minutes on low heat.
  4. Remove cover and cook for 1 additional hour.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. To make the sandwich, toast a sesame seed bun. Place the marinated pork on the bottom bun and top with lettuce, queso fresco and sliced tomato, avocado and jalapenos.

Justin Swain
REX 1516
1516 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(267) 319-1366
www.rex1516.com

A graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, Philadelphia-native Justin Swain worked at Philly’s 1601 (now closed) and Bridget Foy’s before joining the kitchen at REX 1516. Chef Regis Jansen was the original executive chef at REX 1516 and he brought Chef Swain in as sous chef after working with him at Philly 1601. When Jansen fell ill, Chef Justin Swain took over the executive role at this popular South Street spot. His passion for Southern dishes combined with his classical training is the perfect background for the elevated comfort food offered at REX 1516.

Potato Gratin                                                          

  • 12 large yukon potatoes
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced thyme
  • 3 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups shredded gruyere, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Directions:

  1. Peel the potatoes and use a mandolin to cut them into 1/8-inch-thick rounds.
  2. Combine the cream, garlic and thyme in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Set aside 1/2 cup of shredded gruyere for the top.
  4. Spray a hotel pan (rectangular pan that is 12” x 20”) with cooking spray.
  5. Layer in the potatoes, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper and gruyere and parmesan cheeses. Repeat until out of potatoes.
  6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Pour the cream mixture over potatoes. Sprinkle with the reserved gruyere cheese and dot with butter.
  8. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes.
  9. Wait to cut until the potatoes have cooled.

John Brandt-Lee
Avalon Restaurant
116 E. Gay St.
West Chester, PA 19384
(610) 436-4100
www.avalonrestaurant.net

Avalon Pasta Bistro
78 West Lancaster Ave.
Downingtown, PA 19335
(610) 873-4200
www.pastabistro.com

Chef John Brandt-Lee is the chef and owner of Avalon Restaurant in downtown West Chester and Downingtown’s Avalon Bistro. At both locations, he is known for his simple Italian dishes made with fresh ingredients and bold flavors. After moving to its new location this past spring, Avalon Restaurant has doubled in size and now features a  mozzarella/antipasti bar, a wood-burning pizza oven and live entertainment. Chef Brandt-Lee’s fresh-made pasta and slow-cooked meats are standout favorites. And his Bolognese was praised by NY Magazine as one of the “101 Best Noodle Dishes in the Country.” The recipe below makes six servings.

Bolognese Sauce

  • Oil, as needed
  • 3 slices of bacon
  • 2 pounds combined ground veal, beef and pork
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
  • Chicken stock, as needed

Directions:

  1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add oil and bacon.
  2. Add ground meat to the pan and let it cook down into the bacon fat, breaking it up as it cooks.
  3. Remove as much of the fat as possible as it renders out.
  4. Continue to cook meat, breaking it up as small as possible.
  5. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat and add oil.
  6. Add garlic, celery, carrots and onion to the oil. Cook vegetables until slightly soft. Season meat with salt and pepper and add tomato paste.
  7. Cook the tomato paste out a little (approximately 3 minutes).
  8. At this point, the meat should be caramelizing. Deglaze the pan with red wine and let it cook out some (approximately 3 minutes).
  9. Add the sautéed mirepoix (celery, carrot and onion mixture) and chopped thyme and rosemary.
  10. Add enough chicken stock to just cover.
  11. Bring the sauce to a boil. Then lower the temperature and allow it to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
  12. Serve over your favorite pasta.

Related: Top Fall Drinks In Philadelphia

Michelle Hein is the social media editor for a women’s fashion company in Bucks County by day and a self-proclaimed food and drink fanatic by night and weekend. She enjoys attending wine classes, trying new recipes in the kitchen and going to old favorites and new restaurants alike in the Bucks County and Philadelphia area. If the writing gig doesn’t pan out, she constantly dreams of owning her own bakery…perhaps connected to the restaurant/bar that her lawyer husband would love to open.
< a href=http://www.examiner.com/user-michelle-hein

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