Archive for the ‘Casseroles’ Category

Saint Sara’s Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Left to right: Sara, Tinky, and Alice (yes, I am really that much of a shrimp!)

This Tex-Mex dish is more Tex than Mex, but non-purists will enjoy its bubbly warmth.
The recipe comes from my dear friend Sara Stone in Waco, Texas, possible the nicest person in the whole world.
Here’s just one of Sara’s kind deeds: when I was trying to finish my doctoral dissertation, she invited me to stay in her house for the month or so we thought it would take to do the final rewrites.
It took me A YEAR to finish up the darn thing.
Sara never once complained about the messy cooking or the show tunes or the diet-coke cans or the vintage TV programs or the piles of paper or the general Tinkyness of her apparently permanent houseguest.
She even managed to laugh when an experimental cake exploded in her oven on the hottest day of the year. (I can almost still smell the fumes as I type this.)
That’s not just being a nice person. That’s being a saint.
This casserole is a little like her—colorful and comforting. I think it might have a sense of humor, too.
I was lucky enough to see Sara last spring when the Mount Holyoke Club of San Antonio flew me to Texas to cook with them.
Playing with the Mount Holyoke crowd was fun and enlightening. Texas has tons more fresh produce in early June than Massachusetts, and the alums and their husbands certainly knew what to do with it.
After I left San Antonio I enjoyed a wonderful reunion with Sara and another friend and former roommate, the brilliant and funny Alice from Dallas. Husbands and kids rounded out the crowd. (Both Sara and Alice were smart enough to marry people I like.)
Need I add that the food at our reunion was fabulous?
I made Sara’s casserole recently because I get a kick out of being reminded of her—and because my family loves it. Here is her recipe. It serves a crowd.
The Casserole
1 2-to-3 pound chicken
vegetables as needed for making broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1 can (about 10 ounces) cream of mushroom soup
1 small (4 ounces) can green chiles, chopped
about 8 corn tortillas, ripped into pieces (about 3 to 4 per tortilla)
1 pound store (Cheddar or similar) cheese, grated
First, cook the chicken. Bring it to a boil in a pan of water with vegetables appropriate for making a rich broth (onion, garlic, celery, perhaps a carrot or two—and some parsley if you have it in the house), plus salt and pepper; then turn it down and simmer it until it is tender and the broth is flavorful. This will take about 2 hours. Stir occasionally during this process, and don’t forget to add more water if you need it.
Drain the chicken, saving the broth, and set it aside to cool briefly. Strain out 1 cup of the broth. The remainder of the broth may be used for cooking or sipping at your leisure. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones and shred it.
When you are ready to proceed with the casserole, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the onion in the butter. Combine the soups, broth, onion pieces, and green chiles in a saucepan. Add the pieces of chicken and heat well.
In a baking dish, place a layer of broken tortillas, a layer of chicken sauce, and a layer of cheese. Repeat until the casserole is filled. Repeat this layering process. Bake the casserole until it is bubbly around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Serves 10 to 12.

Messy but yummy!

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Musical Menus

Saturday, July 11th, 2009



My neighbor, composer Alice Parker, says that she has never met a musician who isn’t also a good cook. One could argue that music and cooking speak to similar human instincts.


Both involve the physical body but go far beyond the physical tasks they entail. Both are forms of nonverbal communication. Both take something written down or at the very least maintained by tradition (sheet music/musical forms, recipes/styles of cooking) and make something new and unique every time we engage in them.


Both are human activities that emphasize process as well as product.


So it’s not surprising that when I was asked to write about the 40th anniversary season of Mohawk Trail Concerts my mind turned to food. (All right, I admit it: my mind turns to food a lot anyway. But this time it’s appropriate!)


Founded in 1969 by violinist and composer Arnold Black, the concert series sprang from Arnie’s passion for the acoustics of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts. That love quickly grew to encompass the church community. Numerous church suppers and artists’ receptions (not to mention 40 seasons of concerts!) followed.


Arnie Black is now dead, but his wife Ruth and her fellow artistic director Abba Bogin continue the concerts’ commitment to good music, good community relations, and good food.


Younger music lovers who grew up listening to the concerts have now become involved in the series. MTC president Chas Fox of Heath is a second-generation board member.


When I asked him about his earliest memory of the concerts, he recalled hearing pianist Marian McPartland play when he was a teenager listening to a concert from the church’s choir loft. “I was literally sitting behind her as she played,” he said with a touch of awe in his voice. “I remember her playing a jazz interpretation of the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ at the request of Sandy Black [Arnold and Ruth’s son], who was a Beatles fan.”


Chas was hooked from then on. When he was asked to join the board a couple of years ago he jumped at the chance. “I was thrilled to be invited because my dad was on the board and was president of Mohawk Trail Concerts in the early days,” he told me last week. “Because of changes in my career I now had a significant amount of time on my hands and thought this would be a wonderful thing to do, to get involved in the community.”


“I’m not an expert on chamber music,” he admitted. “I call the meetings, I run the meetings, and that’s what I’m good at. I also prepare the program book.”


Concertgoers know that he does more. His playful introductions to each concert establish the informal tone that is one of MTC’s trademarks. They also set the stage for the musical musings of Ruth Black, Abba Bogin, and the evening’s performers.


Just to show that food is never far from the minds of the MTC board, Chas often models aprons adorned with MTC’s logo for the crowd, encouraging audience members to go home and make food (and perhaps music!) while thinking of the series.

Chas in apronweb


In honor of the concerts’ anniversary I am going to offer a few (tangentially!) relevant recipes here. All relate to aspects of this season’s program, which Chas justly calls “spectacular.”


The first is from Chas himself. He has allowed me to reprint the formula for the “Bean There, Done That” pudding with which he hit the finals two years ago in the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest. It takes the traditional green-bean casserole to new heights with the addition of local mushrooms from grower Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles.


Enjoy the recipes and the ones to come—and if you’re in western Massachusetts please enjoy the music as well! MTC will offer concerts on Friday evenings at 7:30 and Saturdays at 8:00 until the end of July. For more details call the concert office at 413-625-9511.



Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles

Paul Lagreze of New England Wild Edibles


Bean There, Done That




for the sauce:


2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup vegetable broth (preferably made with the stems of your mushrooms and other veggies)
1/2 cup half and half
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 splash sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


for the pudding:


3 scallions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger (about 4 cents’ worth at Avery’s general store)
3 cups cut and cooked green beans
3 cups mushrooms (preferably local mushrooms), cut into strips (these could also be diced, which might make for a slightly smoother pudding)


for assembly:


1 can (2.8 ounces) fried onion rings




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


First, prepare the sauce: Melt the butter, and whisk in the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.


Whisk in the broth a little at a time, and bring the mixture to a boil, continuing to stir. Lower the heat, and cook for 2 more minutes. Whisk in the half and half, soy sauce, and sherry; cook just until the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sesame oil.


Now assemble the pudding: Combine all the ingredients except for the onion rings. Stir in half of the onion rings.


Place the pudding in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a 2-quart casserole dish.  Bake for 25 minutes or until warmed through. Sprinkle the remaining onion rings on top, and bake for 5 more minutes. Serves 6.


A Hug in a Bowl: Faith’s Tunafish and Noodles

Friday, March 6th, 2009



Today I have a guest blogger, my friend Faith Montgomery Paul. As kids Faith and I spent summers together at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley, Massachusetts. She’s probably the first person apart from my family I ever cooked with. We made a ton of fudge and cookies to share with our friends as teenagers! Along the way we cooked up a friendship that has lasted for decades.

Faith returns to Hawley every summer with her husband Arnold and her son Ian, one of my all-time favorite kids. We only see each other a few days a year, but we’re in touch by e-mail all the time, and it feels as though we’re still just around the corner. She wrote me a few weeks back and said she was in the mood for tuna-noodle casserole, and I said that sounded like a blog post to me!

When I made the casserole (the photo is of my version; I’m sure Faith’s looks neater!) I didn’t have any canned mushrooms so I sautéed a few fresh ones and popped them in. I also threw a little paprika on top because I just love paprika. And I mixed the salt, pepper, and onion granules into the sauce so they would spread out (sorry, Faith; I just can’t help messing with recipes a teensy bit).

Anyone else who would like to share thoughts and recipes is very welcome to do so; after all, the name of this blog is “In OUR Grandmothers’ Kitchens.”

Meanwhile, here’s Faith……… 


Comfort Food


Everyone has his or her own definition of comfort food, and I would be hard put to define it conclusively. But I know it when I eat it. It can take the sting out of winter, or heartbreak, or too much STRESS, at least temporarily. It’s warming and sustaining and non-threatening (no exotic ingredients here!). It’s like eating a hug in a bowl. Usually, it’s something that my mother Jane made when we were growing up. Sometimes it involves noodles, sometimes cheese sometimes both!


Winter is my prime time for comfort food, because I really don’t like winter very much. Yeah, the snow is nice when everything looks impossibly like a postcard. Yeah, it’s great that my son gets to ski (every Tuesday, all day, with his school — great school — but that’s another story). Yeah, I know we only get the other three seasons because we have winter. I get all that. I still don’t like wearing all these clothes and having my hands cold from November to April. I don’t like days with more darkness than sunshine. Really, I’d just like to eat my weight in chocolate around Thanksgiving (possibly Veterans Day) and then sleep until Memorial Day.


So, along about now, when it seems as if winter might not end, I dig into my memories of childhood and produce: tunafish and noodles. Other people might call it tuna noodle casserole, but in my family it’s “tunafish and noodles.” And here’s how my mother made it.




about 1/3 of a 1-pound bag of medium-width egg noodles

2 cans tuna packed in water

2 ribs celery, chopped (more if you’re a celery fan)

1 can mushrooms, optional

1 can cream of celery soup

1 soup can of milk

onion powder (about 1/4 teaspoon, or more to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

several slices American cheese




Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook and drain the noodles according to package directions. While they are cooking, drain the tuna and canned mushrooms (if using) and chop the celery. In a 3-quart casserole, combine the drained tuna, drained mushrooms, and celery, making sure to break up the big chunks of tuna. Add the noodles and mix well. Add the cream of celery soup and milk. Mix very well. Sprinkle with onion powder. Taste for seasoning and add more onion powder and/or salt and pepper until it is pleasing. Top the casserole with cheese. Bake, covered, for about 45 minutes. If you like the cheese a little brown, remove the cover near the end. Serves 6 to 8.


Note: My mother always puts butter and salt and pepper on the noodles before she puts them in the casserole, but in a nod to my cholesterol level I don’t. I also use one-percent milk, and we don’t notice the difference. Of course, I do put cheese on top, but you have to draw the line somewhere.