Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Richard's Favorite Enchilada casserole

I love enchiladas, but when it comes to weeknight dinners I tend to go for effect over detail. Why roll up individual enchiladas when you can layer it all in half the time? I always make this with chicken, but it occurs to me that this could be a perfect way to use up left-over turkey. Throw some Spanish rice and refried beans on the side and you'll feel like you went out to one of those weird Mexican restaurants that all have different names but identical, numbered menus. (Is that just a Memphis thing?)

1 pkg (at least 24) corn tortillas (Do NOT use flour. I mean it. CORN!)
1 large can or 2 regular-sized cans red enchilada sauce
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 16 oz (or larger) carton sour cream
About 4 cups cooked chicken or turkey, shredded or chopped (I guess--I don't really measure anything. I use one whole chicken or four breasts usually.)
1 can whole green chiles
8 ounces shredded cheddar or Mexican blend or casserole blend cheese

Mix enchilada sauce and tomato sauce in a small bowl or large measuring cup and pour a small amount in the bottom of a rectangular baking dish (just enough to cover the bottom with a thin layer).

In another bowl, mix chicken, cream of chicken soup, and half the sour cream.

Cover the sauced bottom of dish with a layer of tortillas. It's fine if they overlap substantially, but don't leave any gaps. I use 8 per layer in my 9X13 dish. Cover tortillas with half the chicken mixture, spreading to make a somewhat even layer. Tear half the chiles into strips and arrange over chicken. Sprinkle with 1/3 of cheese, then drizzle with a thin layer of sauce. Repeat layers, starting with tortillas, using all the remaining chicken mixture and chiles, 1/3 of cheese, and another thin layer of sauce. Top with last layer of tortillas, then pour all remaining sauce evenly over casserole. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Remove foil, add remaining cheese, and bake another 10-15 minutes until most of sauce has been absorbed and the whole thing is bubbly. Let stand 5-10 minutes before cutting or it will not retain it's shape when served. Serve with remaining sour cream as garnish.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Italian Beef

When I was in high school, my best friend's mom used to make this all the time. The first time I had it, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I immediately asked for the recipe and brought it to my mom. Now I often make it to bring to gatherings and it never fails to be a hit. You can easily double it for larger crowds if you have a big enough crock pot. I sometimes cheat and use my pressure cooker, but my husband insists the crock pot makes it better. This is served on hoagie rolls, and all you soft white bread fans need to listen to me when I say that this is one time when crustier is better. The juicy goodness will soak right through a soft roll in two seconds flat. We also like to make burritos with the leftovers, so I guess you could make it just for that purpose if you wanted.

Aprox 3-4 lbs beef roast (cheap cuts work fine), trimmed of excess fat
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 small white or yellow onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp black pepper
1 Tbsp crushed red pepper (half if you want less heat)
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
1 jar pepperoncini peppers (be careful not to get the really salty, bitter ones. I often find the store brand ones to be the best. Kroger's store brand pepperoncinis are awesome.)

Place the roast in crock pot (no need to brown first). Add water to be even with the thickness of the roast, but not covering the top. Sprinkle all seasonings over roast. Lay onion rings and crushed garlic on top, along with 6-8 pepperoncinis. Cook in crock pot until completely tender and falling apart (time depends on how fast you need it--you can cook it all day on low or about 6 hours on high, usually).

Remove meat to a large platter or shallow bowl and let sit just until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, strain broth into a large bowl, discard solids (you can keep the onion if you want but the peppers will be gross and you're going to put more in anyway). Return broth to crock pot, then shred the meat and add to the broth. Put in 1/2 cup of pepperoncini juice and simmer another half hour at least (or just let it sit if it's going to be awhile or you are taking it somewhere). At this step, I also add a few more coarsely chopped pepperoncinis (or the banana peppers that come sliced in rings), but you can opt to serve these as a garnish if you prefer. Serve with a large slotted spoon.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Southern-style Dressing

I think that holiday food traditions really highlight the differences between regional cooking styles. I never believed anyone actually cooked the "stuffing" inside the turkey until I saw pictures of it actually done. That just seems gross to me! Down here we call it "dressing," and we make it in big lasagna-sized pans to ensure there's enough to go around. Being a very picky eater as a child, I never even tried dressing until I was in college. I worked at Dino's, which had T&D on the meat-and-three every Sunday, and it was good! The dressing was very much like what my mom makes. I'm hoping to volunteer to make the dressing this year in Georgia as we gather with my husband's family for the big feast. There's always so much good food that dressing is understandably not a priority, and we often just go with something like Stove Top. That's okay, but I'd rather have real dressing, so I'm going to make it!

These are my mom's instructions, which are not super exact, but I've watched her make the dressing many times so I know how it should look and feel and I'll try to describe that here.

Ingredients/shopping list:

***Corn Meal Mix (sold next to the regular corn meal but already has some flour and leavening built in)
buttermilk (you can add 1 tsp vinegar to a cup of milk, but it won't be as good)
5 biscuits, rolls, or slices of white bread, or two hamburger buns (Seriously.)
1 cup each chopped celery and onion
1 stick of butter
1 can cream of chicken soup (oh hush, you won't even know its there)
chicken broth as needed (get the box that you can keep in the fridge and use as needed)
ground sage
poultry seasoning (My mom says either or but I say why not both? Unless poultry seasoning already has sage...hm, check label.)

***Note: Do NOT use a boxed "corn muffin" mix like Jiffy. It will be way too sweet and won't make enough. I mean it!

Okay, Step one, cut a whole in the box...wait, that's not right. Step one, make the cornbread according to the directions on the bag, using the buttermilk and eggs from the list. Use the same pan you will use for the dressing--a large rectangular or oblong baking dish, like 9x13. You can do this in advance or just while you do the other prep work.

Meanwhile, chop your onions and celery and sautee it all in the stick of butter

Crumble the cornbread all up in the pan. Add whatever form of white bread you are using--either five biscuits, five slices of bread, or two hamburger buns, also crumbled up (just tear it with your hands). Add the cooked celery and onions with all the melted butter, the cream of chicken soup, and enough chicken broth, a little at a time, to give it all a soupy, pudding-like consistency. Salt and pepper generously and add the sage/poultry seasoning (a generous tsp, maybe), mix it all up to one big homogenous mass, and spread in the pan (it should have surface tension and be thicker than cake batter). Bake uncovered until golden-brown on top, about 30-45 minutes (I'm going to say 375 degrees). Enjoy!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Simple avocado salad

A month or so ago I got a random urge to make tamales from scratch, so I did. I doubt y'all want to make tamales from scratch, so I'll spare you the step-by-step (but it was actually really easy and they tasted great and I'll tell you how if you want). I wanted some quick and easy sides to serve with them, and the idea for this salad popped into my head, even though I do not eat avocados. Or raw onion. It's basically guacamole that's not mushed up, but Stacey liked it so much that she requested I make it again a couple weeks later, so I thought it was worth sharing.

2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
1/2 a small purple onion, finely chopped
1 or 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 lemon
sea salt

Dice avocados into medium-sized cubes (cut them in half lengthwise, remove the large pit, use a small sharp knife to cut down into each half in a grid pattern, turn each half inside out, and easily cut the resulting cubes from the peel). Place cubes in a small glass bowl and add tomato and onion. Cut lemon in half and squeeze both halves over avocado mixture (I put my hand underneath to catch the seeds and let the juice run through my fingers). Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of sea salt or other coarse salt. Voila!

"Toasted" Ravioli

I put "toasted" in quotes because that's really just a euphemistic way of saying "fried." I could have also put "ravioli" in quotes, because instead of using up any of our precious, real, from-scratch Zanone Family Recipe ravioli for this cocktail-hour favorite, I use some of the inevitable leftover filling and won ton wrappers. I can't give you the actual filling recipe, because if I did I'd have to kill you, but the one I will give you is quicker and easier anyway. You could also experiment with your own fillings. Ravioli was originally designed to use up leftovers, really. At first glance this may look labor intensive, but it's all pretty basic and mindless. It's easier than it sounds and the results are sooo worth it. Serve with marinara sauce.

Most grocery stores sell won ton wrappers, although I bought them super cheap at an Asian market near my work. There are about a billion in a package, but I usually get two just to be safe if I'm cooking for a crowd. (I'm usually working with an unknown quantity of leftover filling and just make them until I get tired of cooking and my guests get tired of eating, so outcome amounts for this recipe are inexact, to say the least.) You will need a food processor to grind the filling. If you end up with extra, freeze it and use it later in lasagna or stuffed pasta like jumbo shells.


1 lb Italian sausage (in bulk or removed from casings)
1 bag or box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed as dry as possible (I put it in a thin dish towel and wring it out)
2 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
3-5 cloves garlic, minched
1 small onion, chopped
16 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped (optional)

Brown sausage, crumbling as it cooks. Dump into strainer over a bowl and leave it there for a minute. Sautee onion in small amount of remaining fat for two or three minutes. Add mushrooms and cook a few more minutes, then garlic for about 30 seconds before you dump the sausage back in, along with sausage. Stir and cook until everything is well combined.

Process filling in food processor until it is a consistent texture with no big chunks, but not total mush. It should be just wet enough to hold together in a meatball-type configuration. If it seems too wet, add some bread crumbs or cracker crumbs to tighten it up a bit.

Now, make a little assembly line. At one end is a large, deep skillet with about an inch of hot oil in it. Next to that is a plate, next to that a stack of won ton wrappers, next to that your bowl of filling. Somewhere near the wrappers and plate you need a small bowl of water. Lay wrappers on the plate--as many as you can fit without them overlapping. Dip your finger in the water and run it around the edges of each wrapper. Now, grab a little bit of filling, make a little ball (dosn't have to be rolled tightly or anything), and put it in the center of the wrapper, then repeat with all the other wrappers. Fold each wrapper over its filling so the edges touch, then press edges together firmly. I sometimes make a little fold to reinforce this but I'm not sure that's totally necessary. Carefully place each ravioli in hot oil, filling skillet but not crowding it (I usually keep adding as I make them, but you can do distinct batches if you don't like things to be at different stages of doneness in the same pan). Once the underside looks golden, gently flip them. Move to a paper-towel-lined plate and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve, but serve as soon after cooking as possible.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hodge-Podge Soup

This soup is super-easy to make and is sort of a cross between chili and vegetable soup. It's delicious and requires no cooking skills whatsoever. I serve it with cornbread.

1 lb ground beef
2 cans diced tomatoes and green chiles, like Rotel
2 cans condensed minestrone soup
2 cans Ranch Style Beans (use chili beans if you can't find Ranch Style)

Brown ground beef in the bottom of a Dutch oven or large pot. Drain fat. Add everything else, stir, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. That's it! Garnish with sour cream and/or shredded cheese if desired.