Friday, September 29, 2006

The End of Summer, the Return of Comfort Foods

David, B, Phil, and M take one last splash at the Lilly Pool before packing away the swim suits. Nice shot, Anne!

So the original plan was that every Friday I would post recipes that I'd, in theory, tried and perfected throughout the week using a focus ingredient. Last week I had grandiose plans to not only find real turmeric (vs. the little bottles or tins of powder), but work up a recipe and post it. Apparently for a few moments I thought I was living someone else's life. Someone who doesn't get home at 6:00 and have to feed the boys in 15 minutes before they melt down.

Doesn't mean there wasn't more home cooking this week than normal. There was. But it was some pretty easy fare: chicken, slow-cooker red beans and rice, pizza.

But in honor of the crisp air here in Indiana, the first of October, and the beginning of the falling leaves, here are my favorite comfort foods-with-shortcuts.

Tuna Noodle Casserole is a specialty of my friend Katie, passed down to her by her mom, a single mother of three girls born within four years of each other. (Typing this statement makes me break into a cold sweat.) It's my favorite tuna noodle casserole and has been since Katie first introduced me to it almost 10 years ago:

1 package No Yolks noodles
2 cans tuna, drained
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can mushroom pieces, drained
Half a bag of frozen peas
A good-sized hunk of cheddar, shredded
Crackers (Katie uses Zesta; I use Ritz)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the noodles in boiling water and just barely cook them -- like swirl them around a couple times with a wooden spoon. Then drain. They'll still be a bit crunchy. Mix together the noodles, tuna, soup, mushrooms, peas, and half the cheddar. Stick the mess in a casserole dish. Now pour in milk to about the level you would with a bowl of cereal -- it should be peeking through the noodles, but not totally drenching the whole thing. Spread the rest of the cheese on top, and then crunch up the crackers and sprinkle them over the cheese. Bake it for about 75 minutes. It's even better the next day.

Dill Beer Bread came originally from a cooking with herbs class I took in my leisurely single, childless days. I played with it slightly, but as you can see, with this few ingredients, little playing is possible. Any beer is just fine here, so I like making this after people bring over beer (like a Michelob Lite) that will never get drunk in our house.

3 cups self-rising flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 bottle (12 ounces) room-temperature beer
3 Tbsp. onion, chopped finely
1 tsp dried dillweed (or 1 Tbsp. fresh)

Mix this all together and pour/spoon it into a greased loaf pan. Place the pan into a cold oven and then set the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 50 minutes -- until the top is a little brown, a cake tester comes out clean, and the smell of dill is about to drive you crazy enough to rip this out of the oven with your bare hands and start shoving chunks into your greedy mouth.

One-Pot Brownies come from an out-of-print cookbook from the late 90s that I love; it's called Cook Something by Mitchell Davis, and if you find it used, grab it. It's great.

1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (I never bother with this)
2 ounces unsweeted baking chocolate*
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. When it's all melted, pull it off the heat and use a wooden spoon to stir in the sugar. This will take a couple minutes -- you want the sugar to dissolve. Now add the eggs and vanilla; the mixture will seize up a little. Then add the flour. Pour into an ungreased 8 X 8 pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes -- the sides should just be starting to pull from the pan.

*I never have unsweetened chocolate around, so I substitute 3 Tbsp. powdered cocoa and 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil for each ounce.

Last night I'd planned to make the roast I bought at the farmer's market -- bake it in the clay pot and see if we could avoid a repeat of last week's injury. But Phil's parents are back home after a two-month driving vacation and volunteered to watch the boys. We jumped on the offer after not having anything resembling a date for more than two months. We walked to a local restaurant, had a great meal and a glass of wine, and actually talked. On our walk, we even ran into Katie (of the Tuna Noodle Casserole fame, above) and her husband Todd (owner of the best independent record store in Indy). It was a great night. The roast can wait.


Anonymous Louise said...

Hi there! I was so glad to find Mitchell's recipe on your site. He's a friend and a great guy.

Cook Something is a great book. IT IS STILL IN PRINT! Thought your readers might like to know.

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