27 March 2010

Potato Top Casserole

Jed had some serious reservations about marrying me. I have long believed that one of the main reasons I was able to talk him into asking me was because I could make Potato Top Casserole. The first time he ate it, we weren't even dating; it was just our apartment visiting his apartment for dinner. (In fact, some other guy who wasn't invited followed me like a dog over to the dinner, I was mortified because it meant no one would even look at me because they thought I was there with him. Ew.) I'd never seen anyone eat anything as fast as Jed ate that casserole. And when everyone was done, he finished off the rest of the pan. o_O

I learned to make the dish at a farmhouse in Wyoming (that was another roommate adventure, too long a story). The farmhouse mom who taught me how to make it was kind and loving and very competent. (I was also enamored of her dishwasher; as a cattleman's wife, she had one that could wash all the butchery equipment and stuff...it was bigger than my apartment room.) I couldn't believe that something so homey and delicious could be so easy to make; it is a comfort food, pure and simple. It's become a family favorite..or to be more specific, a Jed favorite.

Now perhaps you've heard of the dish as Tater-Tot Casserole. That's how I learned it...but I dislike tater-tots with a passion. I prefer to use Ore-Ida Crispers french fries, or some kind of inexpensive frozen hashbrowns. Both serve the same purpose as tater-tots and taste better. You can choose whatever frozen potato product that you and your family like. This dish fits whatever pan you're using, too...so you can modify the ingredient amounts based on the pan you use. If you don't have kids or are not entertaining, this works just as well in an 8x8 pan, you can likewise go larger if you've got a crowd to feed. I'm going to give the amounts for a 9x13 glass dish.

Potato-Top Casserole

1 1/2  lbs lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese, or the equivalent in sliced cheese
two cans cream of something soup (I prefer mushroom, Jed prefers chicken. Celery works too)
Your choice of frozen potatoes

The trick is to layer everything evenly, like a lasagna. Smash the beef down into a glass 9x13 pan in a thin layer. It should cover the whole bottom of the pan evenly. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the beef (you can even splash on a bit of Worcestershire sauce.) Spread the onion slices evenly over the seasoned beef. Next, sprinkle the shredded cheese in a layer on top of that, or if you're using slices of cheese, lay them out evenly. Carefully spread the condensed "cream of" soup over the cheese with a spatula (it may seem easier to switch these two layers, but the "cream of" soup will soften and mingle with the potatoes better than the cheese.) When all you can see on top is the soup, cover it all with the frozen potatoes. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes, or until you can see that the beef is no longer pink and the potatoes are golden. Devour!

When I made it for myself the first time, it ended up swimming in grease. I had to call my friend's mom and ask what I did wrong. "We grow our own beef, dear. It is extremely lean." Well, that doesn't help! My advice is to choose beef that is 90% lean or more if you're going to make this dish. It's healthier anyway.

18 March 2010

Broccoli Salad with Lemonade Dressing

I like to go to Church activities where there is food. I always assumed as a kid that food at a church activity was a Mormon thing, then I found out it's really just a church thing. Churches everywhere and everywhen have picnics and potlucks. It doesn't matter what religion you are, if you love God and you worship Him correctly, you get hungry doing so. Also, worship makes you want to socialize after. Cool, huh?

Anyway, I usually bring dessert to Church activities because it's kind of a fail-proof thing; if you bring something with chocolate, you don't bring any home. Unlike funeral potatoes or jello salad or whatever else bland thing people bring. The only time I don't bring dessert is if chili is called for, then I step up and do my duty by bringing one of the best chili's out there, the recipe for which is the original post in this blog.

But for tonight's Relief Society meeting, I didn't get the sign-up sheet cause I was sick on Sunday. So when I called to see what I could bring, the dessert slots were taken...and I was asked to bring a salad. Vegetables aren't my strong suit and low-fat rabbit food doesn't suit me at all. But I have a secret weapon, that will stand me in good stead here...broccoli salad.

Once I hired on for the evening at a big fancy wedding at my ward in Pasadena. I earned $50 putting out the food and arranging it prettily and making sure it still looked good after people had dug into it. It was a fun, if exhausting job. But better than the $50, I was well rewarded with a plate of the food at the end of the night. The broccoli salad was the crowning emerald jewel on that plate and I hadn't ever had one as good since then. But sometimes elements combine to make a miracle and that happened for me as I set out to recreate it.

First, Jen Jackson and I ran into each other at Market Basket and she was buying broccoli slaw. A bag of broccoli stems and carrots and cabbage all shredded to perfection. No florets. It looks fantastic and is easy to use (I've since made eggrolls with it too, wonderful). Also, when I was playing with proportions and online recipes to get the right dressing, I didn't have vinegar on hand so I substituted lemon juice. I was afraid it would be too sour, so I added a little more sugar than I would have. Voila! It's almost exactly as that long ago wedding salad, only easier.  Yay for the inventor of broccoli slaw, and yay for Jen Jackson. And yay for you if you read this whole rambling blog before you printed up the recipe. :D

Broccoli Salad with Lemonade dressing


1 bag broccoli slaw
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup shredded cheese
5 slices bacon, cooked and chopped into bits


1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
4 tbs lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar

Place the dry salad ingredients together in a bowl, mix thoroughly. Mix dressing in a separate container, then pour on salad. I like to shake the salad in the salad bowl with the lid on to get the most coverage. Chill for 10 minutes, or until served.

16 March 2010

Slap-Dash Hot Crash Potatoes

Sorry about not blogging for a couple of weeks. We have all been sick on and off and have had many large events going on. I'm exhausted! I had considered putting up a recipe of something I like to serve when my kids are sick, and then I realized: I hate sick food. Chicken soup, jello, seven-up...they make me sick just thinking of them. When my kids are sick, they don't get to eat. Or I say, toast or applesauce, you choose. I guess I'm a very impatient nurse. When I'm sick, I either don't eat at all or I eat regular. Bleh, chicken soup.

In any case, since St. Patty's day is coming up, and everyone knows potatoes are Irish, I will instead regale you with a recipe that changed the way our family eats potatoes. (The recipe is, however, Australian, not Irish.) Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, put this recipe up at her blog already, but since I modified it for my own tastes and time constraints, I'll give you the Slap-Dash version.

Slap-Dash Hot Crash Potatoes

* 12 whole red potatoes (or however many you want to eat)
* Olive Oil
* Stick of butter, melted.
* Kosher Salt to taste
* Black Pepper to taste
* Dill (or rosemary, if you like that better)  to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender. I actually microwave mine in my large micro-cooker from Pampered Chef, with a half-cup of water or so in the bottom. It's WAY faster.

On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.

With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again.  They should look a little like cookies-- separate from the others but with lots of what Ree calls "Crispy, Flavorful Surface Area".

Pour butter all over the tops of the potatoes. Sprinkle potatoes with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and whatever green bits you like to make it pretty and smell nice. I like Dill best, as we've discussed before.

Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Mmm, they get so crispy around the edges and are soft and full of flavor in the middle. Seriously, my family only eats potatoes another way if we have to. These are really impressive for guests and they go with any meat or any style of dinner. Feel free to serve them with your Corned-Beef and Cabbage tomorrow (just know, I personally won't be eating those no matter what holiday it is!).