Thursday, September 25, 2014

Audre's Pizza Casserole, My Way

When Bob and I were first engaged, Bob's mother, Audre, made a pizza casserole for a luncheon with my mother and me. That was my introduction to Audre's Pizza Casserole. Years later, when Bob and I moved to Phoenix, Audre sent me a copy of the recipe.

Audre sort of led me to believe this tasty dish was her creation, but alas, this is not true. It was a lunch-lady at Bob's middle school that shared this recipe. The lunch-lady made it on a massive scale, and it was a dish Bob actually liked from the school cafeteria. Audre asked the lunch-lady to share the recipe, and since Audre was well liked in the school community, the lunch-lady happily complied.

And so was born Audre's Pizza Casserole.

Audre's Pizza Casserole
My Way
¼ cup tomato paste, 1/8 cup tomato puree, and 1 2/3 cup tomato juice
3 cans tomato sauce, 2 tbs sugar and 1 tbs salt, a palm full of dried herbal mix
1 ½ lbs of ground beef, seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic salt
20 ounces of ground turkey, seasoned with herbal mix and garlic salt
½ lb of broad noodles, prepared according to package directions
About 12 ounces of cholesterol-free broad noodles, prepared al dente
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
10-12 ounces of reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese

When it comes to the assembly, Audre and I follow the same pattern:

1.      Sauce
2.      Noodles
3.      Meat and seasoning
4.      Cheese
5.      Sauce
6.      Noodles
7.      Meat and seasoning
8.      Sauce
9.      Cheese

Layer the ingredients and bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes.

Why Making Pizza Casserole This Way is Worth It
I've seen recipes for pizza casserole that consist of canned dough, a jar of sauce, cheese and packaged pepperoni on top. I don't call that a casserole. I call that sauce and cheese on a biscuit. (I sounded just like my mother there)

Anyway, the reason I take all this time and effort to make this pizza casserole from scratch is that it tastes that good. No doubt the quickie versions have their appeal, but once you make this dish, and have the leftovers the next day, so easily heated in the microwave, you'll never use canned dough again.

What's more, the licorice flavor brought in with the fennel seed – or Mexican Tarragon- is so subtle that at first you think you imagined it, that funny little tang in the midst of all this sauce and cheese. But no, there it is, a twist of sweet and heat nestled in a bed of comfort food.

What's more, it's easy to have some bit of this or that left over and that usually leads to some creative cooking ala Chopped – as in What's In The Fridge I That I Can Turn Into Dinner. If I have noodles and turkey, I can make noodles with turkey, veggies and white sauce. If I have just cheese and sauce, I make pizza bread on hamburger buns. And so on.

And So On
Recipes, especially family recipes, evolve and take on new ingredients, and substitute others. I'm pretty sure Audre's addition to this recipe was the fennel seed, because I have a hard time believing a lunch room kitchen in the 1970s was stocked with fennel seed. I think Audre knew this dish needed a bit of zing.

I miss my mother-in-law. She was sweet and fun and loved watching sci-fi – particularly Star Trek. And she like good food and board games and going to Star Trek conventions. And she liked animals and good books and  munchie food for breakfast. And she loved it when people raved about her pizza casserole.

So if you make this, and tell your friends you 'just came up with it', Audre will know. And she'll smile, and say something funny like, "Live Long and Casserole."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review of Krusteaz Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Mix

The cost of gluten free mixes for baked goods is higher than that of their wheat-based counterparts. This irks me, because for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, opting for the less expensive item isn't an option.

So when I saw this 3-pack of Krusteaz Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Mix for $7.99 at Costco, I bought it. The video is a review of this product.

Mixes versus Made from Scratch
The advantage of mixes is that most of the prep work is already done. All the dry ingredients plus the sugar are in the pouch. You add an egg, some oil or butter, maybe a little water and stir it all together. Bake. Cool. Eat.

Making brownies, or any baked good, from scratch is more work. There are more ingredients, more steps. Less uniformity of measurement and technique.

But you are also familiar with every ingredient in your homemade goods. There is no unpronounceable element, such as those listed on the side of the box of the oh-so-easy-to-use mix.

Is one better than the other? If I had the time, I would bake from scratch more often. But the mixes give me a way of making a dessert without too much fuss when I just don't have the time or energy to bake.

But What I've Noticed About Mixes
The cooking time for mixes is a real variable. The directions usually give you a 5-minute spread, and that should be about right. But too often, to get the middle cooked through, I find I need to cook it a little longer. My neighbor says the same thing.

This results in crunchy sides, such as those seen in the video. Cooling time, to, is a variable. As is the type of pan you use, and what altitude you live at. Maybe mixes aren't less fussy; they're just fussy in a different way.

It's All About Results
In the video, I make two batches of brownies using the Krusteaz brownie mix. The first was too gooey, and the second was better, but the longer cook time meant a hardened crust. Everyone cuts the brownies out from the middle and leaves a ring of brownie crust around the sides.

At the cost of gluten free pre-packaged foods and mixes, I get choosy about which company gets my dollars. The results I got from this mix aren't great, but I have one more pouch to go. Maybe, I'll try something different. Maybe, third's the charm.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Paula Deen in the Digital Kitchen

It's been some time now since Paula Deen was called out for her use of "the N word" and she has put that scandal behind her. Before she was accused of racism, however, she was also called out for failing to disclose a relevant medical condition: Type 2 diabetes.

For ordinary, non-celebrity folk, medical conditions are private, and while I feel that celebrities are entitled to their privacy, the conflict here was Paula Deen's promotion of dishes high in fat, salt and sugar – a diet that contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

That revelation put a ding in her empire, but it was the use of the 'N' word that resulted in her being let go from her show on Food Network, as well as the loss of several lucrative deals with retailers who sold her wares. Paula Deen had fallen, and she couldn't get up.

Until now.

Deen is building a new empire and dubbing it Paula Deen Ventures. One project is an online cooking show. But if you want to watch her unscripted program, posted daily, it's going to cost you.

This venture is based on paid subscriptions, and Deen is betting that there are enough people out there willing to shell out their hard-earned money to watch her cook to make this enterprise profitable.

The Investment
Phoenix-based investment firm Najafi Cos. is putting a sizable chunk of change into Paula Deen's comeback – somewhere between 75 and 100 million dollars. Of course, the venture isn't just an online show; it includes cookware, restaurants, foods, and all the accoutrements of a foodie empire.

But more than that, I think, Paula Deen is investing her persona into this. She's looking for vindication, perhaps, or proof that she is a true southern belle, a woman of charm and substance, an icon that is worthy of fame and fortune. If she can't reclaim her status as Paula Deen the Queen of Southern Cooking, then all the money in the world isn't going to matter.

My father, who was fond of platitudes, used to say, "Steal my purse, you steal nothing; Steal my reputation, you steal everything."

This, I think, is what happened to Paula Deen. Her reputation not as a cook, but as a gracious hostess, as a woman of the world who welcomed all to her kitchen, is damaged. This is the empire she lost. The name Paula Deen is now synonymous with racism and disease.

If She Builds It, Will They Come?
The question now is will her loyal followers pony up the cash to watch her cook? Will they buy her merchandise and her cookbooks in support of her comeback? Will the public once again hail the Queen of Southern Cooking and allow her to re-claim the reputation that was lost?

Can Paula Deen offer the public millions of dollars' worth of southern charm? Will she persuade retail giants, global networks, and the Internet people of the world that she is, indeed, worth the investment?

I don't know. But that is one expensive reputation she's looking to buy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Turkey Meatballs in a Slow Cooker

Comfort food is a necessary part of life, no matter what sort of diet you need to follow. Comfort food gives us a kind of inner hug, a bit of a respite from the pressures and obligations of the day. A plate of pasta smothered in a sweet and tangy red sauce and topped with two big meatballs is just such a dish.

The recipe here is suited to my and my husband's particular taste, but it's easy enough to adjust and adapt this recipe to your own palate. I use sweet and earthy herbs for both the meatballs and the sauce, a classic combination of parsley, basil, oregano and rosemary. You can change up the flavorings to suit your taste; for example, you can substitute the rosemary for sage, or add fresh basil to the sauce.

The recipe is a guideline, rather than an absolute. Make this classic comfort food your go-to dish for those times when only comfort food will do.


Meatball Mix
1 ½ pounds ground turkey
*Herbal mix
1 egg
1 cup bread crumbs

*Herbal mix: 1 teaspoon each of dried basil, oregano and parsley; ½ teaspoon dried rosemary

3 cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon each of dried basil, oregano and parsley; about 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary
Aromatics: 1 onion, 1 carrot, 1 sweet pepper: cut into large pieces

Combine the ingredients together for the meatball mix.
Pull off portions of the mix and roll into meatballs, making them just smaller than a golf ball.
Place them on a broiler pan.
Brown them under the broiler for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all the sauce ingredients in the insert of your crockpot. When the meatballs are browned, put them in the sauce, sinking them in so they cook thoroughly.

Put the inset in the cooker, set the temperature on low and cook for three hours.

Remove the meatballs from the sauce, and then remove the wilted aromatics.

A Word about Sodium and Fat
I use a lean ground turkey, with a low fat content. The higher the fat content of your ground turkey, the more breadcrumbs you should add to the meatball mix. If there's a lot of fat, and not enough breadcrumb, you could end up with a crumbly meatball and greasy sauce.

If you use a low fat turkey, consider adding a teaspoon of salt to the mixture. I don't add it because there's salt in the tomato sauce and that's enough for us. But a teaspoon of salt in the meat mixture will boost the flavors.

And a Final Tip
Bring all the ingredients to room temperature: the egg, the meat, and the veggies for your aromatics. This makes for more even cooking, and results in fuller flavor.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Comfort Food: Turkey Meatloaf

Traditional recipes for meatloaf call for ground beef, ground veal, eggs, whole milk and lots of salt, all of which make meatloaf a dish high in fat and sodium. Have you ever made a traditional meatloaf in a loaf pan? When you take it out of the oven, that block of meat is swimming in grease. No thanks.

It's easy to lighten up this classic comfort food, though, and still get plenty of the flavor and texture that makes meatloaf such a cozy kind of dish.

First, substitute turkey for the beef and veal. Use just one egg for every 1 ½ pounds of meat, and leave out the whole milk altogether. You don't really need it.

Add a blend of dried, earthy herbs and just enough breadcrumbs to hold the mixture together and that's it. No salt or Worcestershire sauce; let the ketchup glaze be the saltiness in the mix.

 Here's my recipe for Turkey Meatloaf, contemporary style:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a foil lined baking dish with cooking spray

1 ½ pounds of lean turkey
1 herbal mix (listed below)
1 egg
1 ½ cups of breadcrumbs
Low sodium ketchup

Place the turkey in a large mixing bowl
Add the herbal mix and combine
Add the egg and mix it in

Add about ½ the amount of breadcrumbs and work it into the ground turkey
Add about ¼ to ½ of the remaining breadcrumbs and work them in to the meat
Add the remaining breadcrumbs and knead until the breadcrumbs are absorbed

Place the mixture into the prepared baking dish and shape into a loaf
Spread the ketchup over the meatloaf
Bake for one hour

Let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes

Serve with baked potato and sliced tomato – or whatever tickles your fancy that day

The Herbal Blend and some Variations

1 tablespoon dried onion flake
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano

The herbal blend is really the secret to taste in this recipe. Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor that fresh herbs, and hold up to the long cooking time, so use dried rather than fresh. But try different blends to find the right one for your taste.

For example, trade dried rosemary for the marjoram for a more aromatic flavor, and add a little more thyme for balance.

Try a blend of middle eastern spices, such as cumin and paprika, and nutmeg for a bit sweetness. Like a little heat in your meatloaf? Mix a dash of allspice, a dash of chili powder and a teaspoon of dried oregano for your seasonings, and balance that with a teaspoon of dried thyme.

Add a Few Veggies as Well, and Maybe Fruit

A few chopped onions, carrots and celery add texture and taste to the meatloaf, but you needn't stick with the traditional trinity of veggies. Try something different, like jalapeno peppers and corn, or chopped zucchini and onions.

If, like us, you don't like veggies in your meatloaf, make sure to add them to the dinner plate. I usually keep it simple – sliced tomatoes from the garden are my favorite. But think about add some fruit instead, such as sliced apples or put a bowl of grapes on the table and let everybody munch them at their leisure. A bite of fresh fruit makes for a nice contrast to the softer, gentler meatloaf.

And the best part of meatloaf is meatloaf sandwiches. Guilt free meatloaf sandwiches.This is comfort food, with a contemporary twist.