Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confessions of a Casserole-Maker

I have something to admit.

I bake and serve casseroles to my family. 

And not just any old casserole.  We're talkin' THROW BACK kinds.  Like the Tuna Macaroni Casserole pictured above. Oh yes. 

Above you will see the usual suspects of a throw-back casserole.  The ubiquitous cream-of-something soup, canned tuna, elbow macaroni (I could have at least used penne or something remotely 21st century - alas), and some string cheese.

Wait - did she say "string cheese?" 

Yes, in the Downey household, if you don't have an ingredient, you don't just make a mad dash out to the local grocer to retrieve it.  Ridiculous.  You just "make do" (love that phrase) with what you have.  So, we didn't have enough cheddar.  The string mozarella is fine.

Please notice this adorable recipe, taken from the Cotton Country cookbook.  Mrs. Charles W. Belt, I salute you. 

The dish is purported to be "a creamy and colorful" one. I can speak for the creamy part, but as for the "colorful," I'm not so sure.  This recipe pretty much falls into the category of "beige food," a culinary genre that my sister christened one family Thanksgiving.  We noticed that, like on many Southern tables, the majority of items offered in the repast set before us were "beige" - green bean casserole (beige on top), dressing (beige), turkey (beige), some other indistinguishable casserole with crushed Ritz crackers on top (beige), and, well, you get the drift.

That is indeed my scribbled note at the top of the recipe - I deemed this "delicious" and left a reminder to use cheddar and crushed crackers.  My progeny will thank me.

I am completely aware that casseroles are unhip.   After all, the Food Network is one of only two TV channels I watch, and the chefs are usually whipping up something fashionable like "Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Chili Butter". . . which sounds pretty good to me.  They're not making much with things that come in a can, ya know. . . except for Paula Deen.  She never met a stick of butter or can of cream-o'-mushroom she didn't like.

So, in a nod to modernity, I added some minced garlic and chopped mushrooms to the onions and peppers when I sauted them, and I mixed in the cheese, too.  I topped it all off with some Asiago Wheat Bread crumbs (I had made some of this bread and had some of the loaf in the freezer) and a bit of butter.  Crunchy, yummy, goodness.

Can anything made from "Cotton Country Cooking" (the 25th anniversary edition, mind you) turn out badly?

Some may think "Why doesn't she just open a box of Tuna Helper?"  To you I say - How dare you?  In her wildest dreams, boxed Tuna Helper is only half as good as this. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Bandwagon of My Own Uncertainty - and teaching 10th graders

So I showed the above video clip to my students today.

Teaching English to high schoolers is never a dull experience.  On some days, the class clown makes an observation that is so on-target that I want to hug him.  On other days, my spirit is buoyed by comments like "I really didn't think Shakespeare could be funny, Mrs. Downey, but this is pretty good."  

Last week, one student (who isn't normally interested in things literary) was awe-struck that we were using "dirty words" - Bottom's head is, after all, transformed into that of an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Then there are the days when, grading essays, I find them neglecting to capitalize people's names. And apostrophes have completely disappeared.  Makes me want to jump from something tall.  Maddening.

Many of my students are well-spoken, well-read, and excellent writers.  But we have to fight against the culture which glorifies vague mediocrity. When I showed this clip, some snickered, some laughed. . . some didn't "get it."

Perhaps Puck has mistaken me for Bottom.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Kid-Approved Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders

So, I never really buy chicken tenders from the grocery store.  You know, the frozen, pre-battered kind.

I know, I know. . .

Actually, we try not to eat a lot of processed foods in the Downey house.  No, I'm no one of THOSE people.  You know, the crazy ones.  But I do believe that if you can make it yourself, then you are usually going to (a) save money and (b) make something healthier and tastier. 

The first time I made these, my stepson said "These taste just like Chick-fil-a."  I was speechless with joy. 

The popularity of these tenders may mitigate (on some small level) the displeasure of having to eat steamed broccoli, so throw a green veggie in there.

Pecan-Crusted Chicken Tenders
(adapted from Southern Living)
1 1/2 pounds chicken (I use three large chicken breasts and slice them into tenders instead of buying actual tenders - more economical with minimal effort)
16 saltine crackers, finely crushed (I do this in the food processor)
1/4 pecans, ground (again, food processor makes this a snap)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 egg whites, beaten until foamy

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix crushed crackers and next 4 ingredients. 
2.  Place a wire rack coated with cooking spray in a foil-lined jelly-roll pan.
3.  Drege chicken in flour, shaking off excess.  Dip in egg white, then dredge in saltine mixture.  Lightly coat
    chicken on both sides with cooking spray; arrange chicken on wire rack.
4. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden brown, turning once after 12 minutes.  Serve up with ketchup and
    honey mustard. Watch them DISAPPEAR before your EYES.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Scallops Provencal and Herbed Jasmine Rice

This is an Ina Garten recipe - I idolize her on multiple levels, but that's another post. 

The link to the recipes is here - - under "Recipes in this Episode."

I used jasmine instead of basmati rice, and you can use whatever herbs you have on hand.  I threw in some steamed carrots.  The Husband-ator cleaned his plate.  Yummers.

The prep work (chopping parsley, garlic, shallots, scallions, etc.) is minimal but it helps to do it in advance and have it in its place, ready to go, before you saute the scallops.  The French call this "mise en place."  How awesome is that?  Wish I could "mise en place" everything in my life.  But you can't make a phrase a verb, so never mind.


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