Sunday, January 13, 2008

The divine casserole

I LOVE casseroles just about as much as I love slow cookers. I just think they are really cool for entertaining and dinner parties. Plus, they make a ton of leftovers.

There are a lot of really good recipes out there for casseroles, and there are also a lot of really BAD ones out there that use way too many soups and processed cheeses. Those tend to give me a tummy ache so I tend to try to stick to ones like this that are a little more natural.

I made this for a lunch friend J came over to visit.

The Divine Casserole

1 lb ground beef *I used extra-lean so I wouldn't have to drain it.
6 oz can of tomato paste
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1 c chopped onion
1/4 c melted butter, 1/4 c melted butter, 2 Tbsp butter
8 oz small curd cottage cheese *I substituted Ricotta since it's what I had leftover from another recipe; I used what I had leftover in the fridge and then took some garlic ricotta out of the freezer that I had saved from a pizza I made several weeks ago to make up the difference.
1/2 c sour cream
1/2 c softened cream cheese *I used light since, again, it was what I had!
8 oz of egg noodles

Cook egg noodles for eight minutes until tender and drain. Brown ground beef and drain. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and oregano, combine and stir until heated. In a third skillet, melt 2 Tbsp butter and saute onions until translucent. Mix cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream in a small bowl and add onions. Blend well. Place half of the noodles in the bottom of a 2 qt casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray and drizzle with 1/4 c of the melted butter. Spread with cheese mixture. Toss other half of noodles with the other 1/4 c melted butter and spread on top of cheese. Spread meat mixture on top of second layer of noodles. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until bubbly.

What I liked about this dish: Very straight-forward and easy to follow. Very good taste and I can tell it will reheat well for leftovers!
What I disliked about this dish: It was a little harder to make than it sounded yesterday when I chose it. It's okay if you are good with multitasking in the kitchen, but basically while you are making this, you have three pots going on the stove...the pasta, the meat and the onions. I was so consumed with getting the meat mixture ready that I forgot about the butter and it browned a little bit. Thank goodness I had the heat on medium or I might have had a fire! Also, the tomato paste wasn't quite wet enough in my opinion while cooking...and the meat mixture seemed a tad dry. That also could be a result of me using such lean ground beef. I would strongly recommend having everything out on the counter and prepped to go before you start cooking so you are not distracted by measuring and portioning.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: Have I mentioned the handiness of my Sauder kitchen scale? LOVE that thing. Not only was it good to measure out the dry noodles since egg noodles do not come in an 8 oz package, but it was very handy to divide the cooked noodles since my OCD self refuses to eyeball it. The other thing that I enjoyed using was my stoneware 2 qt casserole in beige by Corningware Creations. I kind of wish I had known before I bought my stoneware set that it came in black, but oh, well.
Tastiness factor: It was good. It's not my favorite casserole, but it was very good and very tasty. My lunch guest thought it was outstanding so it might have just been my personal taste. The first thing it reminded me of when I tasted it was a dip that I would eat at a party...probably because of the sour cream and cream cheese. It was also a little cold inside, so I'm sure that the leftovers will be better as I will reheat them to be a little hotter. It never reached that 'bubbly' point, so maybe 5-10 more minutes in the oven would have improved it a little. Overall, a great dish and lunch was a hit.
Tip from me: When I boil pasta, I always salt the water to flavor the pasta and add a tiny bit of oil (usually canola) to keep the pasta from sticking together when it drains in the colander.

Also, my first attempt at fudge!

Granny's Fudge

4 1/2 c sugar
5 oz can evaporated milk
18 oz milk chocolate chips
1 c melted butter
1 c chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar and milk in saucepan and bring to a boil. Continue cooking and stirring for seven minutes. Add chocolate, butter and pecans, stir until chocolate is completely melted, and remove from heat. Add vanilla and continue stirring until mixture is smooth. Spread into the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan. Let cool completely before slicing. Makes one pound.

What I liked about this fudge: I didn't have to use my oven! It was also very, very quick to make and when it says it makes a pound, it means it. I will probably be freezing a lot of this.
What I disliked about this fudge: I don't think dislike and fudge fit into the same sentence. However, if I had to pick something, I guess I would say that it had a very long cooling time. I finished the fudge at about 12:30 am and by the time I went to bed at 3, it still wasn't hardened all the way. I covered it and this morning it was fine.
Cool kitchen gadgets used: My kitchen scale was very handy to measure the chocolate since chocolate does not come in 6 oz packages like the recipe said it did. (Every day that kitchen scale is making itself one of my most vital gadgets.) I also liked my heat-resistant scraper for stirring the milk and sugar and making sure I got all the stuff off the bottom so it didn't scald.
Tastiness factor: Licking the spoon was a joy. Eating it was even better. I loved it. My dinner guest said it was a little sweet for her taste but took some home for later. McKenna wouldn't eat it, but considering that she kept calling it "cake" and it didn't resemble cake in any way, that wasn't a surprise. If I make this again, I will probably let the sugar/milk mixture boil a little longer...the sugar was still a little grainy and not all the way dissolved. But it was very good fudge.
Tips from me: If I make this again, I will probably use a 9x9 pan instead of an 8x8. The fudge comes almost all the way up to the lip of the dish. If you have someone on hand who can hold the pot for you while you pour and scrape the fudge into the dish, all the better as that pan IS heavy. I have a heavy-bottomed Emerilware pot with aluminum/copper and I almost dropped the pot a few times. After you bring the pot to a boil, stand there and stir the mixture constantly unless you want a mess on your stove....that sugar and milk do kind of bubble on the violent side. The recipe I used just said "chocolate chips", so I would be very curious to see how this would come out with semi-sweet chips, dark chocolate chips, walnuts, almonds, peanuts, etc. I would venture to guess that you could make a lot of different combinations.

That's it for to clean up the kitchen. All my lunch dishes are still sitting here...I fell asleep on McKenna's bed reading her a book before her nap!


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