Tamale Pie

by Stacey Jaros


When I was very young, my mom, dad and I would have dinner together at the dining room table a couple nights a week. Most nights my mom and I would have dinner together just the two of us because my dad was working in retail and wouldn't get home until after my bedtime. On those nights dinner would be often be simple.

One of my favorite meal memories that I have no recollection of my dad ever eating is frozen tamales, canned refried beans, and canned asparagus. The asparagus was served chilled, soggy, and plain. Don't judge. I love fresh, roasted, asparagus but sometimes the canned stuff is just what I'm craving.

At first the meal sounds "instant" but it actually did require a bit of planning. The asparagus needed to be placed in the fridge to chill. The beans were easy enough, they're just heated on the stove top. The frozen tamales took about 45 minutes to steam on the stove top. Sure the beans and tamales COULD be warmed in the microwave but it really is best to do them on the stove. So the meal isn't instant but less than an hour is pretty quick.

The variety of frozen tamales we always had were XLNT.

Neither Jeff nor I likes olives so I decided to leave them out.

Neither Jeff nor I likes olives so I decided to leave them out.

When I thought about the tamale pie recipe from The Red Box I thought a tamale alone is a pretty perfect dish. Why would I want to mess it up with all those other ingredients? Unfortunately the only frozen tamales I've tried locally aren't very appetizing. Whereas when I lived in Southern California I always kept a few tamales in the freezer, since I've lived in Northern California it's only something I prepare from time to time and it's never as delicious as I wish it would be. Maybe using the frozen tamale as the base for a meal would help amp up the flavors.

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The first thing I did in preparation was steam the tamales. The instructions with the recipe don't specify whether the tamales ought to be cooked. In fact, it doesn't mention whether they should be frozen or fresh. I thought it would be very hard to cut frozen tamales. Since the other meat going in the dish would be hot, I thought the tamales ought to be a similar temperature. I'm pretty sure this was the right decision. I suppose if you had fresh tamales which were merely refrigerated it would be fine to add them to the dish cold. If you were using frozen tamales I think heating them is the way to go.

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While the tamales were steaming I browned the meat and onions. I drained the meat and then placed the meat and onions in the baking dishes.

When the tamales were steamed I probably should have waited for them to cool but I wanted to get the casserole in the oven. I thought they would slice easily if I kept them in their wrapper but that ended up being a poor choice.

Keeping the wrapper on ended up smushing the tamale and breaking up the masa.

Keeping the wrapper on ended up smushing the tamale and breaking up the masa.

This particular brand of frozen tamales has very chunky meat, making them even harder to slice.

This particular brand of frozen tamales has very chunky meat, making them even harder to slice.

The recipe instructions call for slices of tamale to be placed over the beef and onions. I figured it wouldn't matter much if I spooned it all over the dishes. The tamales held together much better with just the ends sliced off and the remaining wrapper removed.

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Even though it was a little easier to slice them this way it still didn't end up with discs like I thought the recipe was suggesting. Hmm, maybe they were meant to be sliced frozen. I could have gotten pretty neat rounds from a frozen tamale with a really sharp knife. Too late at that point.

The recipe easily serves 8 so I initially thought of halving the recipe and having two meals from it. Instead I made the entire recipe and split it into two halves. One half I immediately froze. The other half made dinner one night and leftovers another night. The half that was frozen made another meal and leftovers a week or so later.

Whether neatly sliced, or mushed from my failed first slicing attempt, the tamales ended up looking about the same in both of my cooking dishes.

Whether neatly sliced, or mushed from my failed first slicing attempt, the tamales ended up looking about the same in both of my cooking dishes.

Over the tamales went some of the tomato sauce and corn kernels.

Over the tamales went some of the tomato sauce and corn kernels.

I wish I could have made the tomato sauce cover a bit more of the other ingredients.

I wish I could have made the tomato sauce cover a bit more of the other ingredients.

I added the remaining tomato sauce. I wanted to cover as much of the surface with sauce as possible. I suppose you could warm the sauce before putting it the dish to help speed along the cooking process. It would probably only save you 5 minutes or so in the oven and would dirty another dish. It doesn't seem worth it but if you're in a hurry give it a shot.

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I put the portion I was serving that night in the oven. The other dish I covered and put it in the freezer. By the time I cleaned up my prep-mess, dinner was hot and bubbly.

It was quite delicious. I really liked the corn with the other ingredients. I think there is an opportunity to add some seasoning to the ground beef and onions. I'm sure if I was using my favorite XLNT tamales I would want that special flavor to stand out.

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I doubt I would ever make this dish with XLNT, or homemade, tamales. I will probably make this again with the store-bought frozen tamales I have available to me locally.

My favorite discovery when working on this recipe was learning that a limited number of local area stores of a certain chain carry my favorite frozen XLNT tamales. You can bet I'll be checking my local outlet.

Tamale Pie

1 lb hamburger
1 onion
1 can olives, sliced
2 big beef tamales
2 small cans tomato sauce
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Grated cheddar cheese

In pan brown hamburger & onion.
Beef tamales sliced.
Cover with tomato sauce, corn, and olives.
Top with cheese.
Cover and bake 30 minutes 350° oven.


Powdered Sugar Pound Cake and Lemon Topping

by Stacey Jaros


This one's a twofer. Remember when radio stations would have Twofer Tuesdays when they'd play two songs from the same artists? It's like that.

Several of us having been on vacation when it first aired, some friends and I wanted to gather to watch the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony together. The party was held at the house of my friend, Lisa, the biggest Rush fan I know.

I confess I sneaked a peek of a clip of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins performing in white silk pants and kimonos before the party. Who could resist that rock and roll excess? It was really fun enjoying the remainder of the ceremony with other fans.

The party was a pot luck & I was asked to bring a dessert. There are many options in The Red Box but I chose a cake, and a topping. The cake is a Powdered Sugar Pound Cake. There is no mention of a topping or serving suggestion on the recipe. I thought of using fresh berries or whipped cream but I also realized I could knock out another recipe by also making a Lemon Topping. Lemon Topping is a recipe from the box that suggests "serve as topping for cake." Hey, I was making a cake with no other topping. It was an easy decision.

Apparently a full pound of each ingredient makes a cake too large 
for most home consumption. Consequently, most modern recipes are scaled 
down and as long as the ratio among those four ingredients remain equal 
it is still considered a Pound Cake.

Apparently a full pound of each ingredient makes a cake too large for most home consumption. Consequently, most modern recipes are scaled down and as long as the ratio among those four ingredients remain equal it is still considered a Pound Cake.

I had never attempted a pound cake. I was a bit intimidated because the recipe is written in paragraph form. I read and re-read the thing so many times I probably had it nearly memorized. I just really didn't want to have to do it more than once.

The ingredients aren't numerous but it calls for a lot of each item. I understand a traditional Pound Cake calls for one pound each of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs.

You can see in the bottom of the bowl how shiny the butter was.

You can see in the bottom of the bowl how shiny the butter was.

When I decided to make the cake I did not count on it being an outrageously hot day. Nevertheless I had to turn on the oven & get to baking.

I set the butter out early in the day so it would be soft when it was time to work with it. It was such a hot day the butter passed the softened stage and was quickly on its way to melting. I didn't even think about it until I placed the butter in the mixing bowl and it was more melty than I thought it should be. I guess I spent so many years living in San Francisco, where sometimes butter wouldn't even soften, that the prospect if it softening too much never occurred to me.

I began beating the butter and the three cubes came together really quickly. It was also extremely shiny.

Nice try, clumps. You're not getting in this batter.

Nice try, clumps. You're not getting in this batter.

Sifting the powdered sugar went quickly and I managed to get it in the bowl without getting it all over the kitchen - or me.

I started creaming the butter and sugar and that's when I really started to worry. They simply would not get to a light and fluffy stage like the directions instructed. My confidence was pretty low because it was my first attempt at a Pound Cake but I've done enough baking that I didn't panic. I was concerned the sugar was actually melting into the butter. I thought the worst thing that could happen was it might make for a heavy cake that was denser than it ideally should be so I decided to keep going.

Once the butter was creamed, I thought the mixture was slicker than it should have been.

Once the butter was creamed, I thought the mixture was slicker than it should have been.

At that point I thought I should mix it as little as possible. In went the eggs. Thankfully they didn't scramble from the heat of the butter.

Once the eggs, and the vanilla, were incorporated it was time for the flour. As with the powdered sugar I was glad to get most of it in the mixing bowl.

It didn't mention to do so in the instructions but I was so concerned about the creamed butter and sugar being too heavy to successfully rise I sifted the flour to give it the best shot. The completely mixed batter still really glistened. I decided to put the mixing bowl in the fridge while I was prepping the pan.

I didn't own a Bundt pan or a tube pan. As a treat for myself when I started this project I decided to buy one. I decided I wanted something different than a classic Bundt pan. Recently, Melissa at Cupcake Friday Project made a beautiful Lemon Lady Grey Bundt Cake With Lemon Icing  in a Heritage Bunt pan. There are several really tempting Heritage designs currently available. Her cake was so beautiful it really tipped the scales when I was choosing a pan.

I was so nervous the cake wouldn't successfully release from the pan I really wanted to be sure to adequately grease and flour the pan. A combination of a silicone brush for the tiniest corners and the old-stand-by paper towel dipped in Crisco (a family technique) did the trick.

I was so nervous the cake wouldn't successfully release from the pan I really wanted to be sure to adequately grease and flour the pan. A combination of a silicone brush for the tiniest corners and the old-stand-by paper towel dipped in Crisco (a family technique) did the trick.

The batter filled the pan a little higher than I think is ideal. Since I was concerned it wouldn't rise high enough I thought I'd just keep an eye on it.

The batter filled the pan a little higher than I think is ideal. Since I was concerned it wouldn't rise high enough I thought I'd just keep an eye on it.

It turns out the cake rose just fine.

It turns out the cake rose just fine.

I was really happy with how well the cake came out of the pan.

I was really happy with how well the cake came out of the pan.

Since the whole point of making the desert was to take it to some friends' house I needed to figure a way to transport the food so it wouldn't look inedible when it arrived. I decided to take the cake unfrosted. That choice gave me the opportunity to tackle a second recipe from The Red Box. I decided I could take the Lemon Topping in a separate dish.

I don't serve desert at home very often. One of the simplest things I've made, that Jeff really enjoys, is store-bought Angelfood Cake topped with warm cook-and-serve pudding. This cake, with this topping, seemed to be pretty similar to that. While the cake was baking I began the topping.

The ingredients for the lemon topping are simple. I pretty much usually have them on hand. Fresh lemon is key. You can't get zest from a lemon-shaped plastic bottle. I love the aroma of fresh lemon zest. Luckily I was able to get all the juice I needed from one lemon. After some furious stirring the topping really came together. I was glad to see it come to a boil because I knew it would thicken. Once off the heat the remaining ingredients came together really easily.

I tasted the sauce and was really surprised. It was a bit like a thin lemon curd. I loved the texture. It was thin enough to pour over the cake slices and never did begin to congeal unpleasantly. The nutmeg adds a bit of a surprise. I think it is a pleasant flavor but I think the nutmeg was slightly stronger than I'd like.

I put a couple of spoonfulls of the sauce on the platter before I transferred the cake to the serving dish so it wouldn't slide around in transit.

I put a couple of spoonfulls of the sauce on the platter before I transferred the cake to the serving dish so it wouldn't slide around in transit.

The cake was so enormous I had to use two widths of wrap to cover it.

The cake was so enormous I had to use two widths of wrap to cover it.

When I unpacked the supplies and unwrapped the cake at the party house, one of the other party-goers said, "That cake is badass." I was delighted the other party goers all found it to be an appealing cake. I was concerned the topping may have thickened too much but I was so pleased to discover it was still a great, saucy, consistency.

Everyone said it was delicious and they enjoyed the sauce. I thought the cake was ever-so-slightly overcooked, which is odd because I baked it 5 minutes less than the instructions called for. I wonder if the heat of the day had anything to do with it. It soaked up the Lemon Topping and crushed strawberries quite well.

The spread at the party. I'm glad I chose to offer fresh berries as well as the cake and topping. It was refreshing on such a hot summer day.

The spread at the party. I'm glad I chose to offer fresh berries as well as the cake and topping. It was refreshing on such a hot summer day.

Powdered Sugar Pound Cake
In large mixing bowl beat 3 cubes of butter or margarine until creamy. Sift 1 pound or 1 box of powdered sugar. Gradually add to butter, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in 6 eggs one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Beat in one teaspoon vanilla. Measure 2 3/4 Cups flour, and gradually beat into creamed mixture. Pour into greased and floured 10 inch tube cake pan. Bake in slow oven 300° for one and one half hours, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Turn out on rack. This cake freezes.

Lemon Topping

1 1/2 Cups water, heated
3/4-1 Cup Sugar
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add beaten egg then add hot water to mixture 2 tablespoons at first then add water slowly bring to boil. Stir until it thickens. Remove from heat add butter, lemon juice, grated rind, and nutmeg. Cool.

Serve as topping for cake.


Mexican Chef's Salad

by Stacey Jaros


Back in April I posted about my Mom making Taco Salad  when she visited before we went on vacation. At the time I thought that recipe I know by heart was the one I found in The Red Box. I was mistaken.

Check out that nifty bag of chips. 

Check out that nifty bag of chips. 

One thing I definitely remember about this salad as written in The Red Box is that it called for Taco Flavor tortilla chips. Taco Flavor Doritos were created in 1967 but were discontinued at some point. I don't recall when that happened but I do remember thinking, "aw, bummer, we used that for that recipe." Recently I began seeing Taco Flavor Doritos in nifty retro-designed packaging in the supermarkets. I couldn't recall what they tasted like but I thought I'd like to try them in the recipe before they're discontinued again. I assumed they'd be a limited edition but they're here to stay.

Just like the Taco Salad from my memory this recipe begins by browning 
ground beef. I added salt and pepper to the cooking beef.

Just like the Taco Salad from my memory this recipe begins by browning ground beef. I added salt and pepper to the cooking beef.

While that was browning I prepped the other ingredients. I shredded the lettuce. The recipe doesn't call for the tomatoes to be seeded but that is how I prefer them, especially when I'm adding tomatoes to a salad.

I don't like excess
 moisture in a salad. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine.

I don't like excess moisture in a salad. It's kind of a pet peeve of mine.

Although it's not mentioned in the recipe I rinsed the beans. I don't think it's necessary but sometimes I think canned beans can be a little slimy. I did drain them pretty well.

An onion chopper similar to this makes quick work of 
chopping onions. It's not necessary but I find it very handy.

An onion chopper similar to this makes quick work of chopping onions. It's not necessary but I find it very handy.

Whenever I'm tossing a salad I like to use a bowl about twice as large as the ingredients need. I tend to be a very messy salad tosser and I find the extra volume in the bowl helps cut down on messes.

Salads like this are so easy because once all the prep 
work is complete everything just gets dumped in one bowl and mixed.

Salads like this are so easy because once all the prep work is complete everything just gets dumped in one bowl and mixed.

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The recipe calls for one onion. The onion I used yielded more than a cup. I thought that would be way, way, too much raw onion in a salad. I added a couple tablespoons before initially tossing the first ingredients.

The recipe calls for the entire bottle of salad dressing. I barely used a third of it. Jeff likes his salads well dressed. You could definitely get away with using less.

The recipe calls for the entire bottle of salad dressing. I barely used a third of it. Jeff likes his salads well dressed. You could definitely get away with using less.

The French dressing is such a surprising complement for these ingredients. It adds a spicy color but a cool flavor. I don't ever order French dressing in a restaurant. In fact I seldom see it offered but it works really well with these flavors.

I added all the next ingredients except for avocado. I was using a perfectly ripe avocado which I chopped. I was afraid if I tossed it too much with the salad it would break down to mush. I tossed it and tasted it. I thought it could use some more onion so I added a few more tablespoons. In the end I didn't end up using even half the onion I chopped.

It's not necessarily a very pretty salad.

It's not necessarily a very pretty salad.

Once I was happy with the balance of ingredients in the bowl I dished up the salad and added avocado as a topping. I like to serve a few whole tortilla chips along side the salad.

I should have set aside a couple tomato bits to place on the top to brighten it up.

I should have set aside a couple tomato bits to place on the top to brighten it up.

This salad was delicious but I think the beef could benefit from a little more seasoning. As for the onion, even though this particular onion was quite strong and really added a pungent kick, it blended well with the cool dressing and smooth beans. While I don't exactly remember the flavor of the Taco Chips, and they're not my favorite bagged chip flavor, I must say they really work with the combination of flavors in this salad.

Mexican Chefs Salad

1 onion, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 head of lettuce, shredded
1 package grated cheese
1 8 ounce bottle Kraft French dressing
1 6 ounce bag taco flavor tortilla chips
1 large avocado, cut up
1 8 ounce can kidney beans
1 pound ground meat

Toss onion, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and dressing. Add tortilla chips, avocado, and kidney beans. Brown ground meat. Salt and pepper to taste. Drain. Add meat to above mixture.

Decorate with extra chips, avocado, and tomato.


"I can eat that."

by Stacey Jaros


Jeff will eat almost anything. Squash is something he really does not care for. I attempted this recipe because I thought it would hide the flavor and, most importantly, the texture of the squash. Plus, Jeff likes fried things. I was relieved when that reasoning turned out to be valid.

After the first taste Jeff said, "I can eat that." Phew.

The thing I found most surprising about this recipe is that it called for Bisquick. That was not an ingredient Noni kept in her kitchen. I remember once when lots of extended family was staying at my grandparents' house while they were away. My mom's childhood friend, whom I called "Aunt" Gene, was going to make pancakes for everyone. I wish I had a picture of her face when she started looking for the Bisquick and my cousins and I told her it didn't exist in Noni's house. I can almost picture her, gulp, realize she had to make something from scratch she wasn't used to doing. I don't even remember if we ended up having pancakes that day.

Here's another recipe with too-few-for-my-comfort instructions.

It cracks me up that I didn't include the Bisquick in the photo of my ingredients.

It cracks me up that I didn't include the Bisquick in the photo of my ingredients.

Zucchini Pancakes

1 8 ounce corn muffin mix
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 Cup milk
2 Cup shredded unpeeled zucchini squash
1/2 Cup Bisquick

Mix and fry in small pancakes.

When I first grated the zucchini I wondered if I should drain some of the moisture from it. It was a pretty wet mess. Once I mixed it into the other batter ingredients I could see that wasn't a problem.

When I first grated the zucchini I wondered if I should drain some of the moisture from it. It was a pretty wet mess. Once I mixed it into the other batter ingredients I could see that wasn't a problem.

I made these on a work night and I didn't feel like getting the electric griddle out. It probably would have been faster to do so because I could have fried more at one time.

I made these on a work night and I didn't feel like getting the electric griddle out. It probably would have been faster to do so because I could have fried more at one time.

I had the pan too hot. It was a good thing I didn't do all the batter at once. These were pretty close to burned and the inside was undercooked.

I had the pan too hot. It was a good thing I didn't do all the batter at once. These were pretty close to burned and the inside was undercooked.

A closeup of one pancake from the second batch. The outside is brown, not burned. The inside is cooked.

A closeup of one pancake from the second batch. The outside is brown, not burned. The inside is cooked.

Eventually I was able to manage several, non-burned, pancakes. It didn't make a lot but it was a yummy side dish.

Eventually I was able to manage several, non-burned, pancakes. It didn't make a lot but it was a yummy side dish.


Dutch Babies

by Stacey Jaros


Why the name? If you've never heard of this type of pancake you're probably wondering too. It's always struck me as weird. I'm sure we talked about the mystery when my Noni began making this dish. If we wondered things in those days we had to keep on wondering them. Guess what, the Internet didn't exist then, kids.

But the Internet does exist now and with the benefit of Wikipedia I can share with you the origin of the name and the pancake. The pancake apparently originated in a Seattle cafe. It's derived from a German pancake. The term "Dutch" referenced the German immigrants known as Pennsylvania Dutch. Apparently it's well known in certain pancake chains. I'd never seen it until I found it on the menu at Outerlands in my former neighborhood. They offer a sweet version and a savory version. I've tried the savory one, with crumbled bacon, and it was delicious.

This dish made a lot of appearances on the breakfast table at my grandparent's house. Sometimes there were so many of us dining Noni had to make two pans of it. It continues to be a popular breakfast item among our family. Recently, when family was gathered for an occasion, my cousin's son left a note for his grandmother requesting Dutch Babies for breakfast.

The ingredients assembled.

The ingredients assembled.

I've always made it with a blender but I think you could have success if you used a hand mixer, or even a whisk and some tenacity.

It's such an easy thing to make. You just blend the eggs, add some salt (Noni's recipe doesn't include salt but I add a few shakes because other similar recipes I've seen call for it), then alternately add flour and milk. I think it helps to scrape down the sides of the blender a couple times after adding the flour.

Keep an eye on the butter as it melts to ensure it doesn't burn.

Keep an eye on the butter as it melts to ensure it doesn't burn.

Melt the butter in the skillet while the oven is heating. Once the butter is melted, remove the hot skillet from the oven and carefully, slowly, pour the batter in the pan. It is important to ensure the butter surrounds the batter in the pan.

I used a 10 inch skillet. I've previously used a 12 inch pan and I didn't get much height. The Wikipedia article specifically mentions a cast iron skillet. I only have a cast iron chicken fryer. I tried it once but it didn't work because the pan has really deep sides. Outerlands serves theirs in tiny single-serve cast iron pans. They're totally cute but unnecessary.


I like to position the pan in the center of the oven if I can. One of my former ovens was quite uneven (the joys of an old kitchen in an old, settling, San Francisco building) and I found it helpful to turn the pan halfway through the cooking.

The size and shape of your pan will make a difference in the height of your Dutch babies.

The size and shape of your pan will make a difference in the height of your Dutch babies.

As you can see in the photo above, there is a lot of volume there. I have had the dish climb so high it broke and toppled over the edge. It's a good idea to keep an eye on it and if it looks like it might break off, you could put a baking sheet below it in the oven. I think it's easier to clean eggs off of a baking sheet than the bottom of the oven.

It's fun to serve because it's impressive looking but the best thing about it is that it's delicious.

It's fun to serve because it's impressive looking but the best thing about it is that it's delicious.

When the eggs are completely set, and lightly brown, they're done.

Inverted on platter.

Inverted on platter.

Invert onto serving platter. It begins to fall immediately. Let it cool a bit before cutting into it so there's some lightness left when you serve it.

Dusted with powdered sugar.

Dusted with powdered sugar.

Powdered sugar isn't in Noni's ingredient list but it's definitely how Jeff prefers this dish to be finished. I can neither confirm nor deny I shouted a certain three letter word while I was dusting the Dutch Babies with powdered sugar.

Dutch Babies

1/3 Cup butter
5 eggs
1 Cup milk
1 Cup flour

Melt butter in large fry pan until hot.

Put eggs in blender for 1 minute on high speed.

Turn to low and add milk and flour and return to high for 30 seconds.

Pour into melted butter. Bake at 425 until puffy and lightly browned (20-25 minutes).


Chicken Divan

by Stacey Jaros


Chicken Divan is a dish I definitely remember. I remember it having broccoli, cooked chicken, and some kind of condensed soup dumped in a casserole. I do not remember at all the curry powder or the bread crumb topping. It really makes me wonder if there's another Chicken Divan recipe floating around the family. This is The Red Box version.


An easy work night meal.

An easy work night meal.

Since I made this for only Jeff and me I halved the recipe. I think that decision worked out quite well. I thought about making the dish as written and freezing some but I wasn't sure how that would work out. Even halved we had two dinners out of it. What's better than leftovers on a work night?

The chicken breasts I picked up from the local butcher (boneless and skinless) were enormous so I used just one.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

The recipe didn't call for it but I added a little salt and pepper to the cooking chicken.

As I was cooking it up I realized you could substitute any cooked chicken (or even turkey). Once the chicken was cooked I spread it on a board to cool more quickly. I honestly didn't wait for it to cool thoroughly.

I steamed the broccoli briefly on the stove top.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

I love how bright green briefly cooked broccoli becomes.

Maybe it was the brand of curry powder I used but I thought it was a little too mild. When I make it again I'll add a tiny bit more of the spice. Otherwise it was a really yummy dish.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

This photo is a good representation of the creaminess of the casserole. You can also see we had plenty of leftovers for another meal.

Chicken Divan

3 whole chicken breasts
2 10 oz frozen or 2 bunches broccoli
2 cans cream chicken soup
1 Cup mayo
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 Cup bread crumbs

Cook chicken until tender - cool and debone. Cook broccoli lightly. Place broccoli in bottom of casserole pan, layer chicken on top. Mix soup and mayonnaise, lemon juice and curry and pour over top of chicken. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes.


Mexican Spoon Bread

by Stacey Jaros


I was looking through The Red Box for a side dish that wouldn't take too much time to prepare. Mexican Spoon Bread wasn't a frequently made dish but I do recall having it at my grandparent's house.
 
This is a very straightforward recipe. What a relief since I served it with the somewhat complicated Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

A glimpse of the Mexican Spoon Bread in this photo with the Savory Pork Steak.

The recipe offers the most important note, "Don't over cook - just till it sets."  This was the detail that kept me most nervous. Thankfully it came out of the oven just right.  

There were differing opinions at the table about a similar, but sweet, side dish offered at certain Mexican restaurants but everyone agreed this savory version is delicious. It was a big hit all around.

I definitely look forward to making it again soon.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Photo taken after the meal. There was a little Spoon Bread left to enjoy the next night. Only a little.

Mexican Spoon Bread

1 can cream style corn
1 Cup yellow corn meal
1/3 Cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 Cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 can green chilies, chopped

Mix all ingredients except half of the cheese. Pour the mixture into greased 9x9 inch pan. Sprinkle with remainder of cheese.
Bake at 400° for 40 minutes. Don't over cook - just till it sets.


Savory Pork Steak

by Stacey Jaros


Confession: I'm not good at making gravy. I haven't tried it all that much and have only about a 50% success rate. Why I opted to attempt a recipe with gravy for the first entry I can't say. I wanted to try something I didn't remember having and that wouldn't take too long. As excited as I was to get started, it's difficult to plan ahead when instructions are unclear or ar incomplete. This is going to be a running trend. 

Thankfully I can sort of estimate how long it takes to sear a 1/4" piece of meat; I know potatoes will turn brown if they're grated too far in advance; if potatoes are grated and onions are sliced, carrots meant to be cooked at the same time ought to be sliced small-ish. I've grilled meat and made simple pan sauces before and I've made casseroles to be baked with seared meat on top. But I've never made this sort of thing on a stove top.

A handful of cippolini onions. I can never resist them when they're available.

A handful of cippolini onions. I can never resist them when they're available.

Do you know what a "blade steak" is? I sure didn't. Luckily I have a great local supermarket with knowledgeable and helpful butchers. Me: "Do you know what a pork blade steak is?" Butcher: "I'd better." Laughs all around instantly calmed my first fear surrounding this recipe. It turns out a Pork Blade Steak is sliced from Pork Butt. He said its usually quite thin (which made sense since the recipe calls for 1/4") and cooks quickly. He said he'd just grilled some the night before. Luckily it happened to be on sale that week. Bonus!

Problem number one (not knowing what a blade steak is) was solved pretty smoothly. Problem number two I would have to figure out on my own. Take a look at the instructions, after searing the steaks and removing them from the pan, "add the onions, potatoes, and carrots." Whataminute. Carrots? There are no carrots listed in the ingredients. Gulp. I estimated the volume of the sliced onions and the shredded potatoes and then sliced some carrots in about 1/2-2/3 the volume of each of those piles. I was really winging it at this point. I assumed I didn't want the carrots shredded small like the potatoes because I thought they'd cook too quickly and fall apart. I sliced them kind of chunky but in a way I didn't think Noni would've done it. It felt like the right thing to do though.

Carrots?

Carrots?

By the time to start cooking rolled around I was pretty confident I could make something edible out of the recipe and ingredients. I was so confident I suggested my husband, Jeff, invite his parents over for dinner. It was a weekend, I hadn't seen them in a while, and I knew I'd have plenty of food. Plenty of food unless I messed up in grand fashion, in which case we could just have takeout. Low stakes, no pun intended. 

My in-laws are wonderfully easy-going people and they were game for the experiment. I started by prepping the carrots and onions. I washed the potatoes. Next I started searing the steaks. Uh-oh, another problem. The ingredients list "oil." The instructions never mention oil but say to sear the steaks in shortening. I assumed oil/shortening were being interchanged (probably both subbing for lard once used for this purpose). I used a little vegetable oil. It worked fine. My biggest pan held only one steak at a time so I put each finished one on a plate, tented it, and held it in a barely warm oven.

Pork blade steak searing one at a time

Pork blade steak searing one at a time

About the time my last steak went in the pan I started grating the potatoes with a box grater. I'm still not sure this was the best approach. Getting out the food processor for only two potatoes seemed excessive. Grating them by hand was only a little frantic as things on the stove were coming together but had I done it any sooner they would've turned brown. They did turn a little browner than I was hoping. I don't know what would happen if I grated them in advance, held them in water and spun them with the salad spinner when needed. I assume they would still be holding too much water. I don't know what I'll do if I attempt to make this dish again. 

Into the pan went the broth (minus the 1/4 C. the ingredients say to set aside). I scraped the bits of steak off the bottom of the pan. Then added the onions, carrots (shrug), and potatoes. Gave it a stir, added the basil, and covered the pan. I probably should have turned the heat down more at this point. 45-60 minutes is a long time to cook these vegetables. I did turn it down a bit but not much lower than medium. I decided to give it 10 minutes to cook and sat down to visit with my in-laws

After 10 minutes I took a look and it wasn't pretty. Since I hadn't turned the heat down much there was a glob of potatoes/onions stuck to the bottom of the pan. More precisely the onions had melted into the potatoes and it was like a pan of hash browns speckled with carrots. I checked to be sure the bottom of the glob wasn't actually burned and was relieved to see it had merely formed a crust. Phew.

Hoping all was not lost I turned the pan heat way down & re-read the instructions. What's that? Take a look at that bit in the middle, "... cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables ..." Remove meat? When was I supposed to put the meat back IN the pan? It's still tented in a warm oven. Of course I'd only browned each of the steaks. They were thin but they'd need more cooking. I put them back in the pan, along with the juices on the platter.  I covered the pan & gave it another 10 minutes.

After the second 10 minutes I found the pan was probably cooking at a good temperature (the stuff stuck to the bottom was still not burned) and the steaks still looked moist. They looked done cooking though and I was worried they'd dry out so I buried them under the potatoes and carrots. I was 20 minutes in to this process & the instructions said to keep cooking for 45-60 minutes. I was confident the steak was cooked and the vegetables were more a pile of mush than recognizable food items so it was safe to say they were done, too.

Back on the platter went the steaks. Since I'd covered them with the vegetables they were a little messy. I topped them with the vegetable mush and it was time to make the gravy. If I hadn't been making this for The Red Box project I would've served the food like that without attempting to make gravy. It was indistinguishable from gravy as it was. Plus there weren't any juices in the pan, there weren't any yummy bits of steak left stuck to the bottom of the pan because they'd become incorporated into the vegetables. But I pressed on.

Combine flour and ____.

Combine flour and ____.

Let's take one more look at the instructions.  "Combine flour and ____." That blank bit is indecipherable. Since there was no other mention of the 1/4 cup reserved broth I assumed it was to be mixed with the flour for the gravy. That's what I did. I did end up with a little gravy but it was pretty messy since there were so many bits of vegetables still left in the pan.

Since our dining table is really small I decided to serve up the plates in the kitchen. The steaks were really big and we all agreed 1/2 steak each to begin would be plenty. Onto each plate went 1/2 steak and a spoonful of vegetables. I left out the parsley entirely. It would've added some green but it didn't seem necessary. I served it with Mexican Spoon Bread, also from The Red Box. I'll be writing about that dish in a future post.

This dish isn't going to win any awards for beauty.

This dish isn't going to win any awards for beauty.

Savory Pork Steak looked nearly inedible but everyone went back for seconds. It was really delicious. There was still a whole steak left. We had plenty of food for a whole meal after work the next day.

Savory Pork Steak

2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 can beef broth
4 pork blade steaks, cut 1/4 inch thick
2 medium onion, sliced
2 medium potatoes, grated
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons flour
Snipped parsley (opt)
Carrots?

In skillet brown steaks on both sides in shortening. Pour off drippings. Season with salt & pepper. Reserve 1/4 cup broth. Pour remaining broth in skillet add onions, potatoes, and carrots. Sprinkle with basil, cover and simmer 45 - 60 minutes, or until meat & vegetables are tender. Remove meat & vegetables to warm serving platter to make gravy. Measure pan juices. Add water to make 1 cup. Combine flour and ____ Add to juices in pan. When thick pour over meat & vegetables. 


Taco Salad

by Stacey Jaros


I haven't spent much time in the kitchen lately. Last weekend I was away at a family gathering. Today I flew to a conference in Cleveland. The conference is the U2 Conference, "U2:Trans-." My Mom is joining me for the travel, though not the conference. I'm not sure why Mom was so excited to come along to Cleveland but I look forward to hearing what she explores while here. I'm pretty excited to visit the RRHOF which has been on my bucket list since it opened in 1983.

This is the second U2 academic conference. The first one was in Raleigh, NC, in 2009. I was very lucky to attend that conference as well. I had bought tickets for my Mom & me to see U2 at their Raleigh show and then the conference was announced that same weekend. Mom & I extended our trip so I could attend the conference.

Unfortunately this year's conference doesn't coincide with a show. U2 isn't on tour right now. Nevertheless I'm extremely excited to see friends from all over, meet friends I've only previously known online for the first time, and meet new fans. I've already met two women on my very flight. My fellow passenger-conferees were easy to spot in their Vertigo tour and (PRODUCT)RED shirts.

Since Mom & I had such an early flight this morning she arrived at my house while I was still at work yesterday & made dinner for us. What an awesome treat not to have to cook after work & then finish packing my suitcase.

I couldn't have been more surprised when I realized Mom was making Taco Salad. It's a recipe that's in the Red Box but I think it might be a late addition. I think it's actually one of my Aunt Bet's finds. Mom was surprised to discover it's in the Red Box.

Taco Salad is something I make pretty frequently. Frequently enough I have the recipe memorized. It's super easy to make & you can make some of the components ahead (the seasoned meat even freezes well). Jeff loves the salad. He loves it so much I've surprised him with it for his birthday a couple times.

My Mom hadn't made it in years. So she brought along her own handwritten recipe. I snapped a quick photo before we caught our BART train this morning.

I think it's written on the thinnest non-parchment paper I've ever seen. It's a pretty wrinkled little piece of paper. If I close my eyes I can picture it sitting in its home in Mom's own (off-white) recipe box. There are some treasures in there too.

Transient

Best Homemade Gift Ever

by Stacey Jaros


Noni, my Mom's mother, was an excellent cook and hostess. She was an artist in the kitchen who enjoyed trying new things and had a very good understanding of basic techniques.

Noni's reputation for being a good cook was agreed upon by everyone who tasted her cooking. I think she knew was skilled and was also happiest enjoying the company of loved ones over a good meal.

Noni's personal cookbook library was impressive. She frequently received food themed gifts (including cookbooks, gadgets, and years of subscriptions of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Cooking Light). Cookbooks overflowed the kitchen and took up some room in the den. In a guest room closet was an entire wicker hamper filled with loose recipes. Not the best organizational technique, admittedly, but all of that was secondary to "The Red Box."

As far back as I can remember next to or above Noni's stove rested a small, misshapen, plastic recipe box.

The Red Box as it appears today.

The Red Box as it appears today.

It was overstuffed with recipes, it had long ago lost it's lid (whether from wear or un-usefulness), and it had signs of heat damage from literally not being able to stand the heat in the kitchen. The box contained proper recipe cards, hand-written or typed pieces of paper, and a few pages torn from magazines. This collection included instructions for Holiday must-haves, favorites of close loved ones, and frequently requested items. The inventory changed a bit as new favorites world replace things that fell out of favor. But Lemon Meringue Pie and Angel Biscuits earned permanent tenancy.

When Noni left this world, and her belongings were distributed to loved ones, my mom and her siblings each brought home some of Noni's most iconic belongings. For reasons known only to my Mom, Aunt Bet, and their brother, Uncle Butch, the Red Box went home with Aunt Bet.

Throughout the years since Noni passed the red box has been consulted during meal planning for most family gatherings. On more than one occasion my uncle, Aunt Betty's husband, requested "anything from the red box" be prepared for his birthday meal. I've certainly called Aunt Bet to ask for a specific recipe I wanted to prepare. As time passed a few select recipes found their way into the collection. It could be considered a corruption of Noni's collection but I think she would approve of the additions. I know the red box is not a living creature but family gatherings continue to happen and celebrating the legacy of good times passed feels like the right way to honor our ancestors.

Which brings me to Thanksgiving weekend 2011. Close family, with whom I usually exchange Christmas gifts, decided we'd all make homemade gifts to exchange. It's an idea we try every couple years theoretically to reduce the commercial aspect of the Holiday, and minimize the shopping stress associated with the Holidays. While I like the personal aspect of exchanging homemade gifts I allege it increases stress in those of us who aren't particularly skilled at making things.

Regardless, the edict was handed down and since I hadn't started shopping for any of them yet I agreed. I'm so glad I did. I made two items for each recipient that stretched my repertoire and I was satisfied with the outcome.

The winner of the exchange, not that it's a competition, but her gift was so good it demanded the title of winner, was my Mom's younger sister, my Aunt Bet.

My Mom brought the gifts for the homemade exchange to my house for Christmas. Upon opening the gift from Aunt Bet I discovered a pretty, pastel floral, box.

My yellow recipe box.

My yellow recipe box.

Inside the box, astonishingly re-created, were the contents of the red box. Aunt Bet had not merely re-typed the recipes for each of us, she had re-created them. She scanned them and printed them on luscious card stock. It's a beautiful collection but the most amazing thing is that the recipes appear just as Noni had them. They're in Noni's handwriting. They have the same spots from battle-earned spills.

My "new" recipe cards.

My "new" recipe cards.

I pretty much burst into tears when I realized what the box actually is. She re-created Noni's Red Box for each of us.

I spent much of my post-turkey and wine sleepy evening combing through the box; reading Noni's handwritten notes; reminiscing over particular dishes from particular gatherings. I couldn't wait to make all the things. I noted the contents were heavy on casseroles and baked goods. Two items I don't happen to cook very often.

Pretty much before I knew it Holiday season 2012 was rolling around. My in-laws hosted Thanksgiving. They asked me to bring Angel Biscuits. Even though I've had the Angel Biscuit recipe since I liven in my first apartment, I reached for the red box (even though my personal version is a beautiful floral it is still known as The Red Box). As I did so I realized that was the first time I'd gone to the box since I perched it on the shelf. I immediately felt awful I'd never consulted the box since I'd received it. Once my initial disappointment passed I decided what needed to be done was cook my way through the box - to cook my way through the box and share it with you here.