Archive for the ‘Casseroles’ Category

Yummy Yammy Salsa Giveaway (Plus Tinky in a New Hat)

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

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I haven’t offered a giveaway on this blog in a while—so this one should be GOOD. And it is!

Yummy Yammy has generously offered to send three jars of its sweet-potato salsa (one Mexican, one Moroccan, and one Tuscan) to a reader of In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

This company, based in Norwich, Vermont, is run by a woman named Lisa Johnson. Lisa’s salsas have no tomatoes in them, but salsa doesn’t need tomatoes.

As readers may recall I have made peach salsa, tropical fruit salsa, rhubarb salsa, and apple-cranberry salsa. I had never thought of making salsa out of sweet potatoes, however, and I was intrigued when Yummy Yammy offered to send me some to try.

Lisa’s salsa lives up to its name. It’s made of real food—sweet potatoes, beans, lime juice, vegetables, spices—and it tastes fresh and yummy. I served some at a cocktail party this week, and neighbors loved it, too.

The salsa isn’t cheap. When I think of what I spend making salsa, however, I realize why. Yummy Yammy is smoother than tomato salsa, which makes it versatile. And it’s low in calories and high in nutrition.

Yummy Yammy is available in the North Atlantic region at Whole Foods Market as well as online at Amazon and Open Sky. If you don’t win the salsa giveaway (I wish you ALL could!), you can go to the Yummy Yammy website and sign up for its mailing list. You will receive free shipping on your first online order as well as special offers in the future.

To enter the drawing for the giveaway, just leave a comment below telling me about your favorite salsa or your favorite thing to do with salsa (or whatever you feel like discussing!) between now and midnight on the morning of Tuesday, September 16. I’ll choose a winner randomly and announce his/her name on the morning of the 17th.

Good luck—and just in case you were dying to see me in a new straw hat (I KNOW you were!), here is my most recent TV appearance. The recipe I make comes from my upcoming book on Funeral Foods and is based on a dish in a mystery novel by Margaret Maron. Just click on the picture below to watch. And if you make the actual recipe depicted (I encourage you to do so!), bake the casserole until the biscuits brown (about 20 minutes) and then cover the whole thing and bake for 10 to 20 minutes longer to make sure everything is warm and bubbly.

Enjoy the glorious almost fall weather….

YouTube Preview Image

Funeral Baked Meats

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

No comfort food in the world can compete with macaroni and cheese!

My friend Alice from Dallas and I talk from time to time about writing a book called “Food to Die For.” Like most Americans, Alice and I grew up in communities in which cooking was the natural thing to do when a friend, relative, or neighbor died.

Sometimes there isn’t much one can do for the bereaved other than feed them. Food represents all the love we feel, all the caring remarks we’d like to make, and all the memories we cherish.

And let’s face it: cooking is a heck of a lot more constructive than crying.

Alice grew up in Louisiana so her family brought gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines to the bereaved. I grew up in the northeast so my family tended toward more standard New England-y comfort food—ham, macaroni and cheese, and brownies.

I know people who bring bagels and lox to houses of mourning, as well as stews, soups, cookies, and lasagna. The trick is to identify comfort foods that can be prepared in advance and don’t take much effort to reheat.

My mother Jan often billed herself as a “specialist in funeral baked meats.” When a neighbor died she quickly and efficiently helped relatives, friends, and neighbors organize the feast after the funeral or memorial service. Sometimes this included the favorite dishes of the deceased. Sometimes the menu consisted of any foods that could be prepared in a hurry.

My mother’s funereal feasts were always well received. People liked (and still like) to munch while sharing memories and condolences.

It seems appropriate then, that my mother’s own memorial service on January 7 was followed by copious and delectable food.

Right after the speeches and hymns at the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts, the church’s pastoral care committee put on a lavish spread of both savory and sweet finger food. It lived up to my memories of the events catered by the now defunct Charlemont Ladies Aid Society.

Later in the day relatives (some by blood, some in spirit) gathered at our house to chat about Jan and life … and of course to eat and drink some more.

Not being my mother, who liked to be thorough and was highly organized, I didn’t make both a turkey and a ham. I made only a ham. (Actually, I didn’t even make it myself since when my neighbors Will and Lisa offered to do something I handed the ham to them for baking!) There was plenty of food, however.

My friend Peter, who considered himself Jan’s third child, brought a huge dish of herbed chicken meatballs. Our neighbors Stu and Cathy prepared the world’s largest bowl of salad. My mother’s honorary goddaughter, Anna, brought fabulous artisan bread. My cousin’s daughter Kyra made yummy cupcakes decorated with snowflakes. And Jan’s aide Pam contributed her dense, delicious applesauce cake.

I had very little to make: a quick appetizer, the salad dressing, my grandmother’s key-lime angel pudding, and a large portion of macaroni and cheese. If I have to be honest, I must say that I didn’t make all of those either since Pam helped A LOT! But I organized them.

Macaroni and cheese was among my mother’s funereal standbys. It is easy to prepare in advance, and it pretty much defines comfort food. So I decided to make it for her.

My standard mac and cheese recipe isn’t elegant and it isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty darn tasty, however. And it comforted me not only to eat it but to prepare it in memory of my mother. She would have enjoyed her party.

The recipe below may be expanded pretty much as much as you like. I hope it graces the table at your next memorial service—or even your next cozy supper party.

Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons flour
2-1/2 cups milk
paprika to taste
salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup grated cheese (sharp Cheddar or Swiss or a combination; a little Parmesan is nice in here, too), divided
1/2 pound cooked and drained macaroni (I like seashells or wagon wheels, but elbows are fine, too)
more milk to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan melt the butter, and stir in the mustard. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a minute or two. You want the mixture (the roux) to cook and merge but not to get brown.

Add the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a boil. Add paprika to give it a pink tint plus salt and pepper to taste. I love salt, but remember that the cheese you are about to stir in is salty; I’d start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more later as needed.

Reduce the heat and cook, whisking, for 2 more minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and use a spoon to stir in 3/4 cup of the cheese. (If you continue to whisk with the cheese, your whisk will get gummy!)

In a 1-1/2 to 2-quart casserole dish combine the macaroni and the sauce. Your casserole should be nice and moist. If for some reason it looks a little dry (this can happen if your cheese is very absorbent), stir in a little more milk. It will evaporate in the oven. Take a tiny taste of your sauce and add more salt if you need to.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the macaroni mixture, and top with a little more paprika. Cover the dish and place it in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes; then uncover your macaroni and cheese and continue to cook until it is nice and bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes more. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Jan with the faithful Truffle

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Sue’s Enchilagna

Friday, October 15th, 2010

 
There’s a chill in the air. We have had our first frost, and comfort food is on the menu of the day.
 
Luckily for me, Sue Haas of Seattle has come forward with another tasty recipe—a layered version of enchiladas that saves prep time over rolling. She says she was inspired by Mexican food she ate in Los Angeles.
 
Sue adds that one can substitute 1 pound of cooked chicken or 10 ounces frozen spinach (thawed) for the browned ground beef. I haven’t tried either, but both sound good.
 
I received photos of Sue’s own enchilagna, which looked a lot neater than mine (presentation was never my forte), but unfortunately her camera’s focus was off so readers are stuck with my messy version.
 
I added the chili powder and cumin, which didn’t overwhelm the dish at all. Next time, I think I’ll use a little more cheese (I skimped a bit on cheese so the top of my tortillas dried up a little) and try using the green chili salsa Sue suggested. I like my enchiladas wet! 

The basic flavor of the dish as written worked very well, however. And its warmth and heartiness made my guests (and their hostess) very happy last night. Thank you, Sue!

 
 
The Casserole
 
Ingredients:
 
1 pound ground beef
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil as needed
3 green onions, chopped (2 for sauce; 1 to sprinkle on top before baking)
2 4-ounce cans diced green chile peppers, mild (or use green chile salsa for a spicier flavor)
1 14.5-ounce can stewed tomatoes, chopped
2 fresh medium tomatoes, diced (optional)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon of salt and a dash of pepper should be enough)
1/ 2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
8 ounces Monterey jack or cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
1 dozen small corn tortillas (yellow or white corn tortillas)
1 pint sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
Brown the ground beef and drain it. In a separate pan cook the onion and garlic in just a little olive oil until the onion pieces are translucent. Add the 2 green onions, the green chiles, the stewed tomatoes, the tomato sauce, the fresh tomatoes (if you are using them) the salt, the pepper, and the spices. Simmer about 10 minutes and keep warm on low heat.
 
Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into quarters. Put a generous dab (about 1 tablespoonful) of sour cream on each piece of tortilla and make a layer on the bottom of a lightly oiled 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
 
Add a layer of the meat mixture; then add a layer of grated jack cheese. Continue layering the tortillas with dabs of sour cream, meat (or chicken or spinach) mixture, and grated cheese, until all is used. There should be about 3 layers. End with a top layer of tortillas dabbed with sour cream, grated cheese, and 1 chopped green onion (and chopped cilantro, optional).
 
Bake until the casserole is bubbly and hot, and the cheese and sour cream are slightly browned, about 30 minutes. Serve with salsa, as desired.
 
Serves 6 (large servings) to 12 (small servings).

How to Milk a Carnation: The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

 
TV premiere week has come and gone. Veni, video, vici, as they used to say at MTV.
 
I am not unhappy with this season’s televised offerings. Nevertheless, I would trade any (perhaps all) of the shows currently on the air for a few episodes of Burns and Allen.
 
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show celebrates its diamond anniversary today. It debuted on CBS on October 12, 1950.
 
George Burns and Gracie Allen were hardly strangers to entertainment when their television program went on the air.
 
The two had worked together for almost 30 years in vaudeville, in films, and on the radio—and each went through years of show-business experience separately before their meeting in 1922 (or 1923; accounts vary).
 
In some ways, the basics of their act had barely changed over the years. As always, Gracie played a “dumb Dora” character whose reworking of facts and words amused audiences. As her straight man George cued audiences on how to interpret her zaniness.
 
Nevertheless, the pair incorporated a few changes into their television show, which was written by George Burns himself along with an experienced stable of writers.
 
First, George’s character steps out of the action of the show to address the audience and comment on the plot. He is part stage manager, part actor, part Greek chorus, part narrator, and part master of ceremonies.
 
Second, the pair played “themselves,” celebrity performers George Burns and Gracie Allen, living in Beverly Hills, California, not just characters named George and Gracie.
 
Eventually, their son Ronnie joined the cast as himself. Their announcer (first Bill Goodwin and later Harry Von Zell) played their announcer, who extols the virtues of the sponsors’ products, most notably Carnation Evaporated Milk. 

Gracie is always fascinated by the idea of getting milk from carnations.

 
Early on in the series, George’s narrator observes that the show has “more plot than a variety show and not as much as a wrestling match.” In fact, the plot is generally set off by one of Gracie’s misunderstandings—or, as I like to call them, reinterpretations–of a situation.
 
The plot is resolved when it is time to end the episode, often in a rather cursory manner. For example, George once settles a court battle by informing the judge that he will never work on The Burns and Allen Show again if he doesn’t wind up the case in a hurry.
 
A fairly typical plot comes in an episode titled “We’re Not Married” in which Gracie and her loyal friend Blanche Morton (played by Bea Benaderet) have just seen the Ginger Rogers film of that title. It revolves around the discovery by a number of couples that the judge who married them several years earlier forgot to renew his license.
 
Gracie observes that the judge in the movie (played by Victor Moore) looks like the judge who married her to George—and promptly jumps to the conclusion that she and George have never really been married.
 
When George informs her that Victor Moore didn’t marry them, she only responds, “Why didn’t you tell me then? I could have spent our honeymoon looking for a husband.”
 
George tries a number of tricks to get Gracie to believe that they are legitimately married, eventually importing his best man, Jack Benny, to argue his case.
 
A bare plot synopsis doesn’t capture the magic of Burns and Allen. I could give you many reasons for watching it and, I hope, loving it. Here are three.
 
First, despite—or perhaps because of—the decades Burns and Allen spent working with similar material, the couple’s performances are amazingly fresh. George Burns is obviously having the time of his life. And Gracie Allen is such a strong actress that her character’s “illogical logic” comes across as authentic and rather sweet.
 
Second, the program presents a delightfully egalitarian view of marriage. George’s character never talks down to Gracie—or if he does, he regrets it. Their marriage, like their ongoing vaudeville routine, is one long conversation between people who may not always understand each other but clearly always love, respect, and enjoy each other.
 
Finally, I love the way Burns and Allen explores the push-pull between narration and language, between linear thinking and intuition.
 
George’s straight man/narrator should be in control of the plot; he has many more lines than Gracie and knows far more about what is going on in each episode than she does. He works hard to entertain viewers.
 
Nevertheless, Gracie’s character derails every single plot (and delights every viewer) with absolutely no visible work, simply by being herself and challenging the meaning of a few words. George’s reassertion of the logic of narrative at the end of each episode never has the power of Gracie’s disruptions of the plot and their life. And linearity never quite rules. 

Gracie Allen’s health and a desire to live a quiet life after years of nonstop work led her to retire in 1958. Her heart gave out in 1964. It took George Burns years to regain a foothold in the entertainment world without her. He finally made it as a solo artist in 1975, when he won an Academy Award for playing an elderly vaudeville veteran in The Sunshine Boys.

 
Anecdotes about his late wife and the daffy character she played continued to pepper his stand-up work and the books he wrote until he died in 1996, having just fulfilled his ambition to turn 100.
 
It’s hard to determine the accuracy of any of those anecdotes. In the foreword to George Burns’s book I Love Her, That’s Why, his pal Jack Benny wrote:
 
Some of the episodes [related by George] I’m sure are true. Some of them will have a basis of truth and then will develop into the damndest lies you have ever read…. Sometimes at a party when [George] is telling a long story about me, he is so convincing that I have to take him into the other room and say, “Did that really happen to me?” He says, “Of course not. It was Harpo Marx, but Harpo isn’t here and you are. 

In the case of George Burns and Gracie Allen, the only truth one can discern with certainty is that the pair loved each other, on and off the television screen. And that’s probably the only truth that matters.

 
Inspired by Gracie Allen Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
 
Although Gracie Allen’s TV character doesn’t spend a lot of time cooking, she does enter the kitchen from time to time, with predictably confusing results.
 
My friend Jack recently reminded me that one of Gracie’s signature dishes is roast beef. She preheats the oven and puts in one large roast and one small roast. When the little one burns, the big one is done.
 
Naturally, the character spends a lot of time cooking with evaporated milk, even if she never does figure out how to milk a carnation. Announcer Bill Goodwin is fond of pumpkin pie made with evaporated milk. (For a variation on this recipe, see last year’s “Pumpkin Pie Plus” recipe.)
 
I decided to make my own evaporated-milk dish. I was inspired by my friend Kelly Morrissey, who told me she had made roasted butternut squash into a lovely pasta sauce with the addition of spices and a little cream.
 
If you want to use cream instead of evaporated milk in this recipe, please do; I love cream! The evaporated milk was actually quite tasty, however.
 
The squash gives the dish a lovely color, a delicate flavor, and a remarkably smooth consistency.
 
Ingredients:
 
1 small to medium butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
several sprigs of sage, cut into small pieces
olive oil, salt, and pepper as needed
3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup evaporated milk, plus up to 3/4 cup more as needed (if you’re making the dish with cream, use plain milk for the additional moisture)
a generous dash of cayenne pepper
1 pound pasta, cooked according to package directions (I used wagon wheels because I find them entertaining and not too big to handle)
3 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (or to taste)
several sprinkles of paprika
 
Instructions:
 
In a Dutch oven at moderate temperature (350 degrees), roast the squash pieces uncovered, garlic, and sage in the olive oil, adding salt and pepper generously.
 
When the squash begins to soften, pour the water into the dish and stir. Cover and continue to cook until the squash softens completely. The cooking time should take somewhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the age and density of your squash.
 
Remove the pot from the oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes. (Leave the oven on.) Carefully ladle the solids and liquids into a food processor or electric mixer, and mix until smooth. Mix in the nutmeg, 3/4 cup evaporated milk, and cayenne.
 
Grease a 2- to 3-quart casserole dish, and combine the cooked pasta and most of the cheese in it. Stir in the squash mixture. Your dish should be moist but not swimming in liquid. If it is not moist enough, add more milk. Top with the remaining cheese and the paprika.

Bake for half an hour. Serves 8 to 12.


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Stockton Asparagus and Chicken Enchiladas

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

 
This creamy casserole comes from a small, gem-packed cookbook sent to me by the Stockton Asparagus Festival in Stockton, California. I think next time I may try spicing it up a little—or I may not! My family ate every bite of it this way.
 
In my constant quest for spice I often forget that mild flavors can be appealing as well.
 
The original recipe called for 3 to 4 cups chicken broth. I used 4—and as you can see from the photo below my enchiladas were very wet! So I suggest sticking to 3………
 
Have fun!

 
Asparagus and Chicken Enchiladas
 
Ingredients:
 
2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
12 tortillas (I used flour)
oil as needed for softening tortillas
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup salsa verde (a little more if you like)
3 cups (generous) grated cheese—Monterery Jack or sharp cheddar or a mixture of the 2
2-1/2 to 3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1/2 cup chopped onions
 
Instructions:
 
Blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes. Cool them with ice cubes and drain them; set them aside.
 
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
 
Cook each tortilla briefly on both sides in an oiled skillet until it softens. Set the tortillas aside to drain and cool.
 
In a saucepan melt the butter. Whisk in the flour for a minute; then whisk in the broth. Cook until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly.
 
Add the sour cream and salsa; heat thoroughly. Remove from heat.
 
Mix together 2 cups of the cheese, the chicken, the onion pieces, and the asparagus. Divide this mixture evenly among the tortillas, and top each with 3 tablespoons of sauce.
 
Roll up the tortillas and place them, seam-side down, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining sauce and cheese.
 
Bake for 25 minutes. Serves 6.
 

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