Cooking Three

Today I'm sharing some family recipes with you, pizza casserole and no-bake oatmeal cookies. Cooking and families go hand-in-hand; many times in our media grandmothers are represented as Chief cookie-bakers! We get our traditions from our families, and many times those traditions come with recipes.

I don't know where this entrée recipe came from. I know my mother made it all the time when I was growing up-- it was a good way to stretch a pound of ground beef--, and it's a family favourite to this day. I made it for dinner this week, in fact! I think she probably got it from the back of a Campbell's soup label-- they used to have recipes, although I don't know if they still do. I'm not a “brand-name only” shopper; I can't be, I have a 15 year old boy living in my house!

The dessert recipe is my grandmother's-- my Dad's mother. It's a well-known Southern dessert, and drop-cookies are simple to make. I don't use a candy thermometer (although I own two of them, they're for my soap-making!), so I can't tell you how hot it will get, sorry!  My Grandma died in 1984, and this is a way I can keep my memories alive! She loved cooking for her family, especially treats.

I was taught these recipes by "eyeball"; this means I don't have any really good measurements. I have given the recipes away enough times that I can get a very close approximation, though.

Finally, this meal has some “buy it at the store” ingredients. I like home-cooking, and I know most people do; however some things are just easier to buy, be it the time it takes to make them, or the lack of knowledge of technique. Maybe you just like such-and-such brand's flavour better! It's your table, so you do it your way!

Mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce
garlic bread/Texas toast
pizza casserole with green salad
no-bake oatmeal cookies

Shopping list:

I have never attempted to make mozzarella sticks. I “cheat” and buy them frozen. Eventually I tell myself, I'll learn how to make them. Every recipe I've found is terrifically complicated! Just pick up a package from your frozen section at the grocery store and follow those directions.

I use Hunt's tinned spaghetti sauce, because 1- it's cheap and 2- it's easy to dress up with my own seasoning. It's also pretty decent plain-- I like the taste of it better than any other pre-made marinara sauce I've had. Just pick up your favourite kind

Entrée ingredients
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1-2 T cooking oil
1-2 pounds ground turkey (I usually use turkey, but you can use ground beef if you like)
6-9 no-boil lasagne noodles (if you want to use regular ones, just follow the directions to boil them)
1- 10oz tin of cream of mushroom soup
1- 10oz tin of tomato soup
8 oz milk (just use the tin, fill it up about three-quarters of the way)
about 1 T each:
1 tsp. fennel (crush it a little bit to open the seeds and release the yummy smells)
1-2 T. garlic
1-2 T. Montreal Steak seasoning ™ (McCormick’s owns the brand. I use the knock-off stuff myself)
3-4 cups of mozzarella cheese

For the bread, you can do this a couple ways. I look for the frozen “Texas Toast” garlic bread, with cheese some times. Other times, I get the Pepperidge Farm frozen garlic-bread in the French loaf.

Lastly, though, I buy a French baguette, and turn it into garlic bread. If you do that, you need butter, fresh or bottled “chopped” garlic, your generic “Italian Seasonings” and a little bit of garlic salt, or that pre-packaged “garlic butter” stuff you can find in the fridge section.

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 cup sugar
3 heaping Tablespoons (about 4 level/slightly rounded) baking chocolate-- powder, not sweetened
about 3/4 to 1 cup creamy peanut butter
3- 3 1/2 cups quick-oats (the kind that cooks in 1 minute)

Prep-time ranges from an hour, if you're cooking your noodles, to twenty minutes. It takes about 30 minutes to bake the entrée. The dessert takes about fifteen minutes to drop, and then up to half an hour to set up.

1. We're starting with dessert, so it can set-up while we make dinner. Place a couple 15inch (or so) pieces of wax paper, aluminium foil or parchment paper on your counter. That's where you're going to drop them. I use whatever is in the house, it doesn't matter one bit. You can even use a cut-flat brown paper sack if you like.

2. Take a medium-sized sauce pan and put in your sugar and cocoa powder. Using a whisk, gently combine them until you're lumps are gone (you can sift them together if you have a sifter, but it's less to clean if you just whisk them). Add milk and stir to wet, then add butter stick. Place it over medium heat, and gently stir it for a few minutes, until the butter melts and it is completely incorporated.

3. Stirring off and on (I don't stir it the whole time, maybe give it a good swirl or three every couple minutes) until it comes to a rolling boil-- this means it's still boiling when you stir it. If it tries to boil over, lower the heat a tiny bit; stir it-- whisking it pretty good-- for 3 minutes. Time that! Three minutes. No longer than 4, and only if it's raining cats and dogs out side.

4. Put in the peanut butter (it's about a fist-sized dollop, I never measure this one, sorry, but it's about 3/4 of a cup) and stir it well, still using your whisk. You want to beat that peanut butter in there.

5. Grab a wooden spoon and toss your whisk, you're finished with it. Pour in the oats, raw, and stir well covering the oats with the chocolate sauce. It should start feeling stiff and look less glossy. Put the pan on top of a pot-holder on the counter, and using 2 "large" or soup spoons drop on to the paper (the ones that come in your flatware packet, you don't have to measure these, you want them to be roughly two-three bites big). Let them sit up while you make dinner. It doesn't take long, and if they are still soft-ish at dessert time, they're super yummy when they're gooey too!

6. If you're boiling your noodles, follow the directions on the package. Otherwise just open the box and set them aside while you make the sauce.

7. Sauté the onion in a little oil. You can omit it, if you don't like onion, or don't have one. Throw a couple teaspoons of onion powder or flakes into the meat if you're out of fresh. Then add the meat and brown it with your steak seasoning. If you're using beef, carefully drain off the fat. Make sure you stir it well as it's browning, so the meat is crumbled into small bits.

8. Add the soups and milk, gently stirring until it is completely mixed. It will be a light-pinkish red soup. Add your spices! Don't be afraid, although it looks like a lot, you might need more. Let is warm over very low heat; it will simmer a little, and that's fine. You want it to simmer about 5 minutes.

9. Taste test it, does it smell and taste like pizza without cheese? If not then add more basil and oregano. If so, it's ready to put together.

** If you are a vegetarian you can substitute veggie-meat crumbles and chopped, sautéed mushrooms for the meat; you can substitute soy milk also. I'm still working on a good vegan version of this one, it's the soups that have me stumped.**

10. Preheat your oven to whatever you need for the mozzarella sticks. Let them bake and warm your sauce in the microwave or in a small sauce pan. Put the sauce in a bowl and arrange the sticks around it on a nice place. Your guests can nibble for the half-hour the entrée takes to cook.

11. Turn the oven down to 350.

12. Place a small amount of sauce in the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking pan. Place three lasagne noodle on top of the sauce. I use no-boil so they lay the short-way; when I've used boil-first they lay the long way. It does not matter at all.

13. Lightly sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over the noodles if you like. Then add 1/2 cup of sauce to each noodle and spread it evenly over this next layer. If you need a little more to cover it, that's fine. This recipe is all approximate.

14. Three more noodles, a little cheese and more sauce. Layer it up and finish with a nice thick covering of cheese. Because, no matter how many times I have made this, and no matter how I measure I never have the same amount of sauce I recommend 6-9 noodles. This gives you 2 or 3 layers. If you have no-boil, just put them away dry if they're left over; if you did cook them, toss them into a baggy and freeze them; you can use them another time.

15. Let it bake for about 30 minutes. Check it after 20, and see if the cheese is browned; it won't brown all the way, but you want the soup bubbling nicely. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before you cut it, so it's not soupy.

**This recipe doubles very easily, and the unbaked casserole freezes wonderfully! It's also better the second time you heat it, so you can make it ahead and then just reheat it if you're feeling daring.**

16. Depending on the time needed, throw your garlic bread in while the casserole is cooking. If it calls for a hotter oven, say 375 you can safely cook the casserole at that temp, just watch it close to make sure it doesn't burn.

17. For the baguette: slice it open the long way and place it open on a cookie sheet, or jelly roll pan. Slather the butter on the inside and then sprinkle with seasonings. Top with shredded mozzarella if desired. Bake it for 8 minutes or so, the cheese will melt and the bread will toast a little.

18. Mix up your salad, whatever kind you like. You don't actually have to include it, I usually don't.

The pizza casserole looks a lot like lasagna, so cut it as you would that dish. Garlic bread on the side, and cookies for after. It's a simple but very filling dish. I love it for cold winter days, because it warms up the house, but it was fantastic the other night, too!



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