Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quick & Dirty Dinners: Taco Casserole

Last night was a Quick & Dirty night. Easy to throw together and filling, this will pretty much cancel any plans for take-out mexican food. It's a big hit with the kids too. A simple salad with ranch dressing rounds this out if you don't feel like throwing some chopped lettuce and ranch dressing on top and acting like a heathen.

Taco Casserole

1 lb lean ground beef, cooked and drained.
1 10 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained (such as Muir Glen) or 1 can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes with green chiles (if you want it spicy)
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 10 oz can Campbell's Cheddar Cheese condensed soup
1 envelope reduced-sodium taco seasoning (such as Old El Paso)
1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 8-ounce bag shredded sharp cheddar cheese
12 corn tortillas, cut into quarters

Serving suggestion:
shredded lettuce, black olives, sliced spring (green) onion, ranch salad dressing

Preheat oven to 350*F. Mix the ground beef, tomatoes, sauce, soup, sour cream and seasoning together until well-blended. Simmer for 5 minutes. Spray a 11 x 7 casserole dish with cooking spray (or a 2-qt oval casserole dish) and place about 1/3 of the tortillas in a single layer. Top with 1/2 of the meat mixture, and 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat tortilla layer, top with 1/2 meat, 1/3 cheese, top with tortillas and remaining cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until heated through and bubbling, and top layer of cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Top with lettuce, olives, onion, and dressing.

Samosa Pot Pie

The filling for this is best made the day before, only because the flavors really have time to meld and intensify. The pastry throws you for a loop at first, as it is the most impossible stuff to work with, but trust me... it will be smooth and lovely when you let it stand for a bit. This is my quintessential potluck recipe. If you're pressed for time, you can always use a refrigerated pie crust (such as Pillsbury) but this one really is easier than it sounds.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. canola oil
6 Tbsp. water


6 medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, boiled in their skins and cooled.
3 Tbsp. canola oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 bag of frozen peas (about 2 cups)
1 minced hot chili pepper (I use a red jalapeno), ribs and seeds removed, optional
1/2 tsp ground ginger, or 1 tsp fresh minced ginger
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp garam masala
1/4 - 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice

For serving:
1-2 cups of chutney, preferably tamarind (Naturally India makes a great jarred chutney) or McQuade's Fig & Ginger Chutney

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch dice. Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof saute pan over med-high heat (or a large saute pan, but plan on transferring the mixture to a 13x9 inch pan to bake in the oven.) When hot, but not smoking, add the onion and saute until onion is translucent and browning at edges. Add the peas, ginger, cilantro, and water. Cover, lower heat, and simmer until peas are cooked. Stir every minute or so and add more water if it seems to dry out. Add the potatoes, salt, coriander, garam masala, cumin, cayenne, and lemon/lime juice. Stir to mix. Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Taste, and adjust salt and lemon/lime juice. Remove from heat and let cool before putting it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.

For the pastry: Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the oil, and rub the flour mixture between your fingers (like you're rubbing cold hands together) until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water and mix with your hands until you can form a very stiff ball. It doesn't hold toether at first, so do not add more water to it, just keep at it. Empty the ball onto a clean work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until it is nearly smooth (well, smooth for a very stiff ball. It is still not going to hold together very well.) Form a ball and place it in a zip-top bag with a few drops of oil (about 1/2 tsp) making sure to coat the ball with the oil. Let stand for 30 minutes or longer at room temperature. The dough will soften as it rests. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness to cover whichever sized pan you're using.

Preheat oven to 400*F. Cover filling mixture with dough, cutting a vent in the middle. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until pastry is dark golden brown and filling is hot. Serve hot, or at room temperature with chutney.

Not Quite

So, no, we're not quite over the pox on our house (I'm seriously considering taking out stock in Kleenex.) I didn't even make Samosa Pot Pie, but I will post the recipe today, come hell or high water.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


After what seemed like a nonstop cycle of everyone in our family being horrendously ill (you name it, we had it).

I'm going to make Samosa Pot Pie tomorrow, as I received a jar of Fig & Ginger Chutney from McQuade's Celtic Chutneys. It is chock full of good stuff, with nice juicy chunks of fruit and it smells heavenly. I made Turkish Lamb Burgers last night (from the latest issue of Eating Well Magazine) and I put a dollop of chutney on one of my burgers, as I was out of the yogurt topping. Well, it was better than any commerical chutney I've had. It really was a homemade experience with crisp chunks of apple, chewy raisins, spicy ginger, and lovely chunks and strips of fig. Half of the jar is now gone, but I did make sure to reserve enough for Samosa Pot Pie. If it's too hot for SPP, I'm going to wrap the potatoes and peas in tortillas instead of baking it in the oven. Either way, recipe tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I think it is fair to say that most people don't "put up" summer produce anymore. My great-grandmother used to walk for miles in a rural part of southern Italy to forage for wild foods like truffles and other mushrooms, sometimes walking over 15 miles, roundtrip. She had a dry, cool space in her house where she kept these culinary treasures, and would preserve them carefully so that all winter long she would be able to make delicious foods that no one else in the neighborhood had during that season.

Now, it is a great production to venture to a pick-your-own or to get to the farmer's market (to think, there's lately been a "status" about going to the farmer's market which I will blame solely on Martha Stewart and those photographers of hers.) That said, my yard this year and next will be in complete upheaval as we prepare to remove the old garage base and put in a fence. This year, most of the gardening will be done in containers, and at my mother's house (who very generously asked if we would like one of her three garden plots which we jumped at the chance to get.) We will drive 30 minutes to plant, sow, weed, and eventually reap the harvest.

Last summer, I had the good fortune to come upon a glut of gorgeous, perfect peaches; some of which I made into Vanilla Peach Preserves, and the small remainder, into frozen peach pie filling. I like to thicken my pies with tapioca starch, as it allows the clear, bright flavor of the peaches to really come through. I pour it into cling-film-lined pans until frozen solid, then take them out and vacuum seal the frozen brick. Every now and again, I pull one out and cover it with either a crumble topping, biscuit topping, or a roughly-made pie crust, usually torn into pieces for peach pandowdy.

Tonight was a pandowdy night. I like to drizzle it with a tiny bit of cream when it is still warm from the oven. The taste alone screams summer. Loudly. In your ear via your tastebuds.