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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

comfort food... twice over

Some days you want to cook something that is fresh, flavorful, and nutritious.

Other days you want to cook something that uses up some of the wilting and lonely Easter Supper leftovers. Or that the kids will eat with out complaining. Or that is just plain old creamy cheesy comfort food.

Guess which day today is?

When I was a kid, I pretty much understood the universal truth that if it is named "casserole" it just ain't gonna be good.

There were a few casseroles that my mother made, with varying degrees of success. And there was one that kept coming back time after time, I suppose for the same reasons that I made a casserole today. It used up easy ingredients, no one complained about it, and it was familiar.

I swore I would never subject my kids to this tired, plain ground beef and canned corn casserole... until I realized how crowd-pleasing and easy it really is. I am not saying that I eat it, but I do cook it once every blue moon. Someday if you're unlucky, I'll let you have the secret recipe. But that day is not today. Today, I need a way to use up some extra potatoes, and some leftover holiday ham.

What better to do with all that, than to chop it all up, add creamy sauce, and cheese, and bake?

Here is how it goes:

Dice three or four potatoes. You don't even need to peel them. How great is that? You need about 4 cups or so.

Next, to give them a little flavor (and to add some more veggies that you need to get out of the fridge), slice a few green onions.

Throw the onions and the potatoes into a pot of water and boil for about 12-15 minutes, until they are soft but not falling apart. When they are done, drain them.

While the potatoes and onions cook, begin cooking a white sauce. A white sauce, for those who don't know, is basically butter, milk, and flour (to thicken it up). I went ahead and added some extra flavor to mine.

Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan.

Once it is melted, gradually add in 5 tablespoons of flour.

Keep stirring as this thickens and bubbles.

Then, gradually pour in about 2 1/2 cups of milk.

Now you have white sauce! Easy peasy lemon squeezy. But since this particular white sauce is just going to accompany boring old potatoes and ham, let's give it a little oomph.

I added in 2 tablespoons of worcestershire sauce, and about a teaspoon of prepared brown mustard.

Then I put in some salt and pepper, and a wee bit (about a quarter teaspoon -- keeping it mild for the kids) of paprika.

Hokay. Now we have some cooked potatoes, some seasoned white sauce, and some diced leftover ham. Let's build a casserole. Actually, I built two casseroles. The last thing I wanted was to have leftovers of the dish of leftovers. So, I made two smaller casseroles... one is just enough for tonight, and the other to freeze and eat another night.

If you want to make two casseroles, just divide everything between two pans. At the end, I'll give you my hints on freezing prepared dinners. If you want it all for tonight, just do it all in one larger pan.

Layer half of the potatoes, and then about a cup of shredded cheddar. Then all of your ham. Layer the rest of the potatoes on top of that, and then pour the white sauce over all of it. Top it all with another cup of shredded cheddar cheese. If you are going to freeze a casserole, stop here. If you are going to eat it tonight, sprinkle on some bread crumbs. Then dot on about 2-3 tablespoons of butter.
If you are eating it immediately, pop it into a 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes... just long enough for it all to get melty and gooey. What could be more comforting than that?

If you are freezing it, here is what I do:

First, cover the casserole with tin foil. Put it in the freezer overnight. In the morning, set the casserole pan into about an inch of warm water in the bottom of your sink, being careful not to get any of the contents wet. After a couple of minutes, you will be able to release the casserole, and pop it into a freezer ziploc bag. This will free up your pan for use meanwhile, and give you a frozen casserole that fits exactly into your pan when you are ready to defrost and bake it!

When you want to eat this casserole, move it from the freezer, out of the bag and back into your pan, and let it defrost in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Sprinkle on some breadcrumbs and dot with butter, and them bake for about 35 minutes at 350.