Casseroles: Not totally gross?!

I like the idea of casseroles. A whole meal in a single pan that will produce leftovers I can enjoy for lunch the next day? Yes please I want that. I think somehow, somewhere, the casserole went awry. I am not really sure who to blame for this – Kraft? Campbells? In any event, the casserole seems to have somehow fallen out of favour. But not around here. Here, it’s just coming back into style.

Kielbasa casserole

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. potatoes, boiled, cooled, and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 lb. kielbasa sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 lb. kale, stems removed and blanched
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2  cups grated cheese (I used Cheddar, but you could use Swiss, or Havarti – anything you like or have in the fridge)
  • 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375°F. Thoroughly butter a 9″x13″ casserole dish.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of the butter, and add onion. Sauté until translucent, then add potatoes, and cook until lightly browned. Add kielbasa, and reduce to medium heat.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt remaining butter, and stir in flour until the mixture forms a paste. Whisk in milk and reduce to medium, stirring frequently until thickened, about two minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of cheese, mustard, garlic, pepper, thyme, nutmeg, and salt. Taste before salting too heavily – keep in mind, your sausage will be plenty salty as well.

Add blanched kale to the potato mixture, then pour sauce over, tossing to coat. Pour mixture into casserole. Sprinkle breadcrumbs and remaining cheese over top, then slide into the oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.

You could substitute bratwurst for the kielbasa if you wanted, sub in whatever kind of cheese you have or prefer, add mushrooms if you wanted, or use spinach instead of kale depending on the season. This was a nice, hearty, easy meal, and Nick has asked that it be made again. Because it’s so saucy, you might try over egg noodles or braised cabbage, or with a side of crusty bread to wipe your plate clean.

It’s homey, and sort of rustic, and I want to call this a casserole because it reminds me of something you’d serve on a weeknight, to your family or an apartment full of hungry friends, and not just for it’s delightfully cheap and easy attributes. And for all that cream sauce? It’s surprisingly not heavy or unpleasant once it’s in.

So, anyway. I think it’s time we made casseroles cool again. You in?

Another easy pizza crust, perfect for something unpleasant like Wednesday.

So … burdock will have to wait until tomorrow. When you see prosciutto on special, you jump on it, and then you maximize its salty porkiness by cutting it into strips and baking it onto a pizza.

I make this foccacia bread that contains potato, and it’s quite delicious and always very moist. Sometimes I stretch the dough out and turn it into pizza, but it’s not a thing to make on weeknights, when I need to eat now-if-not-sooner the moment I get home. I thought tonight I’d try shredding potato into pizza dough and baking it that way, because it’s quicker than foccacia, and I might be onto something. Something awesome.

I topped the pizza with a sauce of a crushed bulb of roasted garlic and olive oil and some basil, strips of prosciutto, and a half-pound of mushrooms cooked in olive oil and garlic. And cheese, but not that much, actually, because even though it seems counter-intuitive not to load the thing up with an excess of cheese, on a pizza like this it’s better to use only what you need.

I’m only going to give you the recipe for the crust, because you can top it with whatever you want. But if you top it with roasted garlic and basil and prosciutto and mushrooms, I promise, you’ll be ecstatic upon eating it.

Potato pizza crust

(Makes one large-size pizza crust.)

  • 2 tsp. dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 medium potato (such as Yukon Gold), grated
  • 2 cups + 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cornmeal

In a large bowl, combine yeast, sugar, and water. Let stand about five minutes, until yeast is fluffy.

Add potato. Stir to combine.

Add two cups of flour, salt, and oil, and mix until a slightly sticky dough has formed. If your potato is bigger and causes an excessively moist dough, add a bit more flour. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead in the additional quarter cup of flour.

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Cover dough and let stand for 20 minutes, as close to the oven as you can. Let it feel the warmth and grow just a bit.

Roll dough out into a relatively round sheet, a bit less than a half-inch thick, and lay onto a baking sheet sprinkled with the teaspoon of cornmeal. Top with whatever you like, and bake for about 25 minutes.

This is a bit unusual, and probably not what you want if you’re a die-hard thin-crust fan. It’s fluffy, because the potatoes get steamy as they cook, foofing up the flour and making this perfectly moist.

The other thing about it is that it’s filling, which is perfect for weeknight dinner, but it’s unexpected, and so you’re surprised around slice number three that you don’t even want dessert anymore, and you’re tempted to change into pajama pants if you haven’t already. Which I guess is good? Well, maybe the n0-dessert thing. Nick keeps mentioning my pajama pants, and how other wives wear skirts or sexy yoga pants, and he can shut right up because I feed him better than the other wives feed their Nicks, and they’re less fun and can’t hold their liquor. My pajamas are a point of contention around here.

Anyway, make this. It’s delicious. And soon, I promise, something about burdock root, which is not actually a very good hook if I’m hoping to get you to come back.

Eating chicken pot pie is like stuffing a blanket in the crack of a draughty door.

I don’t normally like pot pies, because they remind me a bit of those Swanson’s things that are filled with goop and stringy bits and, oh, let’s say “vegetables,” only you can’t tell which ones because vegetables aren’t shaped like that in real life, and what the hell, Swanson’s? I don’t like them, normally, but Nick does, and so I’ve had to devise a clever plan that will allow us all to enjoy the meal. That clever plan? Curry powder and biscuit dough, and large, hearty chunks to bite into. Nothing like those crappy little things you sometimes get talked into buying when your version of Nick comes shopping.

VegetablesAlso, I’m lazy and hate doing dishes and our sink is still kind of broken, so this whole thing takes place in a single pot, save for the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix the biscuit topping. One pot, hearty dish, kind of like a hug you eat. And when you’re chopping your vegetables, make sure you cut them so that they look like what they are.

Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes, chopped into half-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped uncooked chicken (I prefer thighs, but chicken breast is okay too)
  • 2 carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery, including leaves
  • 1 cup frozen peas (or lima beans!)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder (the regular yellow stuff)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk

Crust:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, also cold

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a pot that can be used on the stove and in the oven, melt the butter and brown the chicken with the onion and garlic over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, and sauté for a minute or two before adding the carrot and leek. Sauté for another minute or two, until the veggies are brightly coloured and have begun to sweat. Add the celery, and then sprinkle the spices and flour over top. Mix well, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan.

Aromatic!Add the chicken stock and milk to deglaze, reduce to medium, and allow to simmer while you make the biscuit dough. You want the veggies to simmer and the liquid to reduce slightly and thicken, about five minutes, or until the potatoes can be just pierced with a fork. Stir in the peas. This is the thing I forgot, and I was annoyed, because the peas add a lovely punch of colour to the end result, and also I super love peas.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Blend well, and then cut the butter into the mix. You want to work the butter in with a knife at first, and then with your hands, pinching the butter and the flour in your fingers and squishing flakes back into the bowl. You want this to look a bit like the early stages of pie dough, with chunks of butter, in varying sizes. Gradually stir in the milk, and knead to make a dough.

Flatten and roll out to the approximate diameter of your pot. Mine looks to be ten or so inches in diameter, and the dough ended up being about an inch thick. It doesn’t have to be perfect – go for rustic, it’s much nicer. Nothing like Swanson’s. Press the dough into the pot gently. It doesn’t matter if there are little gaps – holes are a good thing. Keeps the juice from bubbling out all over your oven.

A little leakage? That's okay.Stab a slit into the centre, and place in the middle of your oven. Bake for 15 minutes.

Toasty/wonderful.Serve with a green salad, and a cold beer. Everything about this dish is warming, from the actual heat of the thing fresh out of the oven to the hint of curry and thyme, to the steaming biscuit topping that tastes like something your grandma would have served with soup. It’s rich and aromatic, and perfect for a crisp fall evening when you don’t want to do anything but finish a very good book, all huddled up in a blanket.

Like a hug, but you eat it. Would've been better with peas.

Grilled (and then chilled) potato salad, or, “How to Accessorize a Meatfest.”

It’s been oppressive-hot around here, and I have not felt like writing these past few days. We continue to eat, but the act of balancing hot computer on lap has been less than appealing. But then Nick started playing video games for hours on end, so a retreat to the bedroom (to Nick’s non-laptop computer) was in order.

Yesterday was one of those half-naked, stand-by-your-fan kind of days, and though I promised Grace a meatfest, I wasn’t able to deliver it in my apartment. Slow-cooking heats 600 square feet remarkably quickly, and as Canadian Tire was out of big fans, we’re currently operating with just the one. So I made the food, and transported it to Grace’s, who’s apartment was much more temperate.

But one should not make a meal of meat alone. No. I made the ribs that I wrote about before, except that I used pork side ribs this time, and the result was even better. (Also, I noticed that I screwed up typing the recipe for the barbecue sauce, so I’ve now fixed it. Oops. Sorry.) Last week I went to Costco, and confronted by two sets of meat, back ribs and side ribs, side by side, I couldn’t decide what was better. The side ribs worked out well – very meaty. Was pleased. I couldn’t make the full amount, because when I finally got most of these defrosted, the bottom rack was still frozen. Good thing: I don’t have an oven big enough to cook that much meat.

SDC10498Anyway, I decided that we really ought to have a summer salad as well, and maybe something with potatoes – I found some lovely new and purple potatoes at the market that morning. Of course, it was intolerable inside and I certainly did not want to hang out over a pot on the stove, so I decided to grill the potatoes. Every recipe I found for grilled potato salad sounded very good, but it was all for warm potato salad, which was really not appealing. Here is my alternative:

Grilled Potato Salad with Tarragon Aoili

  • 4 cups grilled chopped potatoes
  • 1 cup grilled asparagus, chopped
  • 1 cup grilled green beans, chopped
  • 2 cups whole grape tomatoes
  • 4 slices bacon, chopped

As mentioned, you’ll want your vegetables to be grilled and then chopped. Except for the tomatoes. Keep them fresh and raw for a delightful pop. Once your vegetables come off the grill, allow them to cool for awhile, until you can handle them comfortably. Make sure to parboil your potatoes before grilling: Give them six to eight minutes in boiling water, or until they’re almost done. Fry the bacon. But don’t stand over the stove-top too long.

cooling veggies

Aoili:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil (use good stuff. Or use grapeseed oil. Hell, you could even use canola – it doesn’t matter. Use what you like.)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon

Blend the egg, garlic, mustard, zest, salt, and pepper in a food processor until the garlic has broken down and is in tiny little pieces that you can’t quite see. Slowly pour in the oil (while the blade is in motion). This will produce mayonnaise, which is awesome. Dribble in the lemon juice, and add the tarragon, continuing to process until the herb has been destroyed and thoroughly integrated.

This will make more aioli than is necessary for the salad, but that’s good news. You can use the rest on vegetables, or spread it on sandwiches. Either way, don’t use it all, and don’t throw it out either.

Toss the veggies and bacon with the dressing, as much or as little as you like, and return it to the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Let those flavours sink in!

Serve cold, with meat.

potato saladAnd then we went to Grace’s. And Grace took lovely pictures of the food. She has photography skills.

A plate of ribs in flattering yellow light.
A plate of ribs in flattering yellow light.
Another shot of food in flattering yellow light. Grace has good lighting. I look much better there.
Another shot of food in flattering yellow light. Grace has good lighting. I look much better there.
And now, the eating process in three slides.
And now, the eating process in three slides.
SPEED!
SPEED!
I like how you can see me in the side of this shot, nerding out and taking my own photos of the food. Fail?
I like how you can see me in the side of this shot, nerding out and taking my own photos of the food. Fail?

The result was a delicious feast that I was pleased to have endured a day of heat to make, all things said and done. Grace made margaritas, and we drank wines. And then Grace produced a rhubarb shortcake with whipped cream that was all sorts of revelatory, and I learned that rosemary and rhubarb are a magical pairing that I would like more of. Possibly every day. Holy crap. I wish there was a photo. And with that, I now must figure out how to feed myself while wearing almost nothing and not turning on the stove, as despite the cloud cover, it’s still very warm. Goodbye, for now.

Scones. Soup. Codeine. Trifecta?

Pre-baked scones

I’m feeling much better. And Nick came home and was very sympathetic and the kitchen is mostly clean now, so I made soup and scones and everyone is happy and we’re watching Iron Chef and Nick is trying to teach me to take pictures that aren’t blurry but he should know by now that I can’t be taught much of anything as far as technology is concerned. Also, I’ve ingested more codeine than is probably healthy today, so it’s a wonder I’m even upright. Apparently the camera isn’t as simple as he thought. He keeps asking me questions. Why does he keep asking me questions?

Since Sunday tea, I’ve been all loins-aflame for scones. Also, my pots of herbs on the deck are growing wildly – specifically the spearmint and the thyme, which are dominating their respective pots and choking out the other plants. Stay tuned for a recipe for minty English potatoes later this week – for now, I needed to tame the thyme. I chopped up a bit of the parsley for these as well.

Potato and herb scones with cheese

(makes 4 scones … you could double the recipe and make more!)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 grated cooked potato (I baked mine, but it would work just as well with boiled potato. I would have boiled mine but I had no clean pots.)
  • 1 large clove finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp.  chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (I used pecorino because that’s what I had. Parmesan, or even cheddar, would also be good.)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. cold butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Combine your dry ingredients (including the herbs and cheese) and potato in a mixing bowl. Stir well. Add the butter, working it in with your fingers until it’s fully integrated and the mixture looks like a big bowl of crumbs. Stir in the milk and the egg, and mix only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Form into a ball.

Lightly flour your counter, which is hopefully clean like mine was before I made these, and dump the dough out onto the surface. Knead lightly. Pat the dough into a circle about a half-inch thick and cut into four pieces. I thought the pieces looked ugly, so I rounded the edges and corners.

Place your scones about an inch or so apart on an ungreased baking sheet, top with a bit of grated cheese, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Scones, hot from the oven.It’s the fresh herbs that make these so delightful – because they aren’t baked for all that long, they kept their bright green colour. Which, as it happens, matched the soup. You should serve these hot from the oven and slathered in butter. Dipping is optional.

Spring Green Pea Soup

(Serves two)

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1/3 cup fresh chopped basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

While your scones are baking, throw your ginger, garlic, and lime zest into a pot with a dribble of oil. Whatever kind. It doesn’t matter all that much. As the garlic is turning golden, pour in the coconut milk and the water, and juice the lime right over the pot. Let it come to a boil together, and then reduce the heat to medium. Add your peas and simmer until they’re soft, two or three minutes, then remove from the heat, add the basil, and purée the mixture in a blender or with a hand blender, which is probably one of the greatest kitchen tools ever.

Return the mixture to the heat to keep warm and adjust your seasonings. I found that I wanted a bit more acidity, so I added a splash more lime juice to cut the sweetness of the peas. If I had some jalapeno peppers, I would have added them as well. But it’s two days before payday, and two dollars for peppers is completely out of reach at this point. Poverty like ours is a skill!

I like to serve this (hot, of course) with a soft poached egg in the centre and a light sprinkling of black pepper. Try it. It’s super good that way.

green soupIn a few days, once I’ve had a chance to wander down to the market and see what’s fresh in fruit these days, I’ll give you a recipe for sweet scones – note: You really ought to go out and purchase some turbinado sugar to top them with. Crunch! You’ll see what I mean.

dinner!Nick just shouted at me that my camera sucks and that I’ll just have to learn to take better pictures. I thought that was the case, but he needed an hour’s worth of fiddling plus some time Google-searching to confirm this for me. It’s all very exhausting, this learning and typing and eating. It could be time to shave some T3s over a bowl of ice cream and take a bath.

Conclusion? Soup makes you feel better, scones are delicious, and sedatives are the root of all happiness.

Another meat fest, now featuring potatoes au gratin!

Yesterday, Nick bought a barbecue, which I think means that “we” got a barbecue, so I may be out of luck for a birthday present. I think this decision, which has been long in the works, was largely influenced by a burger on a cooking show we saw on Friday that involved two hamburger patties smooshed together, but not before being stuffed with a handful of cheddar cheese and some chopped bacon. Apparently, an improved version of this will be on the menu tonight, with Nick “doing the cooking,” which mostly means that I’ll assemble and prepare all the food, but Nick will man the fire and flip things and bask in all the praise. I’m hoping that Nick isn’t planning on “doing the cooking” for my birthday next weekend …

Being something of an attention whore, and not content to let Nick take all the glory for the feast, I’m planning some sumptuous sides, in particular Jeffrey Steingarten’s potatoes au gratin dauphinoise, the recipe he detailed in It Must Have Been Something I Ate (required reading). Steingarten attests that a true gratin contains no cheese; these should take on a cheesy taste through the cooking process. And my, they do! I add bacon to mine, because anytime I see a recipe containing half a cup of butter and a cup and a half of cream, I figure it’s probably going to be a contributing factor in my inevitable coronary, so what the hell, right?

I’ve made these in both a glass pan and an enameled cast iron pan, and I liked the cast iron better, which is what Jeffrey Steingarten advises – it makes for a crispier bottom. Butter the pan thoroughly, on all sides.

Potatoes au Gratin Dauphinoise á la Jeffrey Steingarten

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 lbs thinly-sliced potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 5 slices bacon, chopped (optional)

Using a good dollop of the butter, grease the inside of your pan on all sides. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a pan on your stove, bring the milk, salt, pepper, garlic clove, and nutmeg to a boil. Remove from heat and turn off the element.

Line your pan with potatoes and bacon (if you choose … but I don’t know why you wouldn’t).

Put your pot of milk and spices back on the stove – bring it to a boil once more. When it’s come to a boil, pull the clove of garlic out, and pour the mixture over the potatoes. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes.

Bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat, and turn off element.

When the potatoes come out of the oven, bring the cream to a boil once again. Pour the boiled cream over the potatoes, and dot the whole thing on the top with the remaining butter.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The last time I made these, they were perfectly crispy on the top and bottom, and delectably creamy on the inside. I figure that eating them caused me to gain eight pounds. Since we’re having these again tonight, with burgers stuffed with cheese and meat, I bet I’ll be adorably chubby by bedtime. Also, am wondering where to buy those pants with the adjustable waistband.