We’ve opened our presents, said our grace, and finished a Christmas Dinner (as a mid-day largest meal of the day)… tonight we will have supper of the leftovers, and boy, do we have leftovers….
For the meat eaters of the group, there was a roast ham (Ham, meet oven, wait…)
For the vegetarians there were the same side dishes (listed below) along with a couple of main courses. Two Lasagnas (yes, 2 ! ) and one ‘scalloped corn casserole’ (which I always thought was an old family specialty then I found out that it’s an old cultural specialty and a lot of folks make it…) Trying to explain to a friend from Ireland how to make it, I discovered that we had different ideas of what a ‘saltine cracker’ might be, so here’s the wiki for “saltine” where it has a picture and lists what they are called in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK too.
As added side dishes we had mashed potatoes (boiled potatoes, butter, bit of milk, salt, white pepper; whip, “rice”, and / or mash), candied yams, bread, butter, green beans – French cut; and a variety of cookies, brownies, and 3 kinds of pies (pumpkin, cheesecake, cherry – all commercial from the Marie Calendar’s restaurant and pie shop).
Yes, I’m laying down now ;-)
I’m including the Lasagna and Scalloped Corn recipes below. Along with a simple Candied Yams.
My family is fond of simple foods, so these candied yams leave out the ‘white stuff’. They are fairly trivial to make, but taste pretty darned good. Take a large can of canned yams, dump out most of the water (but not quite all of it… i.e. be quick about it.) Put these on the stove on low. Add a dollop of butter if you like (I do it about 3/4 of the way to done) and dump on about 1/4 the yams volume of brown sugar. Adding a tablespoon or two of REAL Maple Syrup is an option, but a nice one. Don’t use fake maple syrup, it’s not the same… Let that simmer for about an hour (or up to two). No lid. The sugar pulls moisture from the yams and it evaporates (leaving a syrup). Start low, as the water forms, turn up to a slow simmer. Toward the end it can be turned back down to hold warm for hours. Yes, it gets a bit darker and the syrup gets thicker and the flavors get richer. I’ve found no upper limit… at least, none inside my patience limit ;-)
Simple. Easy. Effective. Yes, you can ‘dress it up’ with marshmallows and all kinds of other stuff. Those just seem to me to confuse the flavor…
Incredibly easy to make. Unique flavor.
Take a casserole dish of about 9 x 9 inches (yes, you metric folks get to convert… I’d make it about 25 x 25 cm)
Put into it one ‘stack’ of crushed saltines. (Here they come in a 1 lb box, so it’s 1/4 of a lb – call it about 125 grams.)
None of these sizes are very critical, I’ve made it in many different ratios, with some ingredients missing or substituted, and it just seems to ‘work’. For example, for a gluten intolerant friend I make it with neutral rice crackers of about the same volume.
I crush them inside the wrapper, then open and dump (sometimes this can be ‘exciting’ if they have a weak wrapper !)
Add one beaten egg. Dump in a #2 1/2 can ( 15 ounces or so, about 430 grams, or a 1 pint canned at home) of cut corn drained of any liquid. Add a similar can of creamed corn. (I’ve made this dish with 2 cans of regular corn and a bit of the liquid to make things damp. The flavor is not as rich, but it still works). Mix it all together. ( Creamed corn is like cut corn but with a bit of sweetness and some of the ‘corn milk’ from young kernels making a sort of a sauce).
At this point you have the basic dish made. Yup, just corn, crackers, and egg. Now you get to choose your flavours. I typically put on a load of butter because I love buttered corn (and the saltines already supply salt). Pats of butter on top just melt into it during the baking. If made with bland non-salted crackers, you may want to adjust the salt. I’ll use about 100 grams of butter, a bit under 1/4 lb. It works with anywhere from 1/4 lb to 1/8 lb pretty well. Like pepper? Sprinkle it on… (we usually don’t and leave that to the individual). Put in the oven at about 350 F to 425 F (depending on what else is cooking in there) for about 25 minutes (Same temperature used for chickens up to biscuits).
When it’s browning a bit and bubbly at the edges (it doesn’t bubble much, so don’t over cook it waiting for a lot of bubbles – if it’s browning it’s likely done) take it out. It can stand for 5 minutes pretty easily, leftovers from the fridge are great for days.
I ‘short cut’ this by using commercial sauce. I’ve used a lot of them, they all seem to work. I tend to use Prego brand as it’s not made with any Soy products (and one relative has a problem with soy products). Pick your favorite spaghetti sauce and go for it. ( I have used home made a lot, and one of my favorites is a home made sauce with a pound each of Italian Sausage, hamburger, and 1/2 lb pepperoni with sauteed onions and garlic, slow simmered in the sauce… but this is the vegetarian quick version…)
Italian Seasoning (sold as such all over, or make your own mix – lots of Oregano in it, please ;-)
Garlic – a couple of crushed cloves or dehydrated granules
1 can olives – black, drained (about 15 ounce / 1 pint / 400 grams)
1 can mushrooms – about 5 ounces or up to twice that if you like more, drained.
These things are all done in pound units. Part of why I like the pound is that a LOT of things are ‘just the right size’ done in pounds. It goes in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish (though if you make the meat sauce it overflows into a 2nd dish… 3 pounds of meat stuff will do that to you!) For those who are “pound challenged” you can use 1/2 kilo and two pans, or 1/3 kilo and be about right.
OK, I use “way too much sauce” because I like a sloppy lasagna. If you like a drier more solid lasagna, just cut the amount of sauce back.
1 pound mozzarella – shredded
1 pound ricotta cheese – dry cottage cheese can be used in a pinch, creamed cottage cheese if really pushed.
1/2 pound parmigiana ( though I like using Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk for added ‘kick’ ;-)
1 can (see above per corn size can) spinach, gently squeezed to reduce moisture.
A good sprinkle of Italian Seasoning. 1 tbs? I just dust it until it smells good and is about 1/8 saturation of the surface.
Dump those in a mixing bowl and squish it all together with your hands. Lick your fingers before rinsing at the end ;-)
Yes, you can use fresh spinach if you cook it first. Same thing for frozen. I’ve tried them all. Canned just works better. Others are prone to being a bit tough or stringy unless you cook them as much as canning anyway… Just be careful to gently squeeze the water out of it and stop when the spinach starts to squirt between your fingers …
That’s the “cheese mix”.
I use about 24 ounces of sauce ( which becomes a lot more if you put the meat in it…) so between 1 and 2 pounds of sauce as you like it.
1 lb of lasagna noodles, cooked al dente, cooled in cold running water and mostly drained.
Now you are ready to “assemble the lasagna”….
In the bottom of the pan, put a very thin layer of sauce. About 1/2 cm. (for you non-metric folks, that’s about 1/4 inch ). I sprinkle in a light dusting of Italian seasoning and optionally put in some crushed garlic – about one clove – or a sprinkling of dried garlic granules – depending on season and what I have). That’s the layer that first hits the tongue, so it gets the added spice.
From here on up, it’s: Layer of noodles, 1/2 covered with cheese spoons / crumbled blobs from the hand, other half sauce daubs, add any ‘variety filler’, REPEAT.
If I’m running out of space, I’ll push things down to gains some space. If I’ve got way too much stuff I’ll make a second pan… Some folks have started selling lasagna noodles in 12 ounce or even 10 ounce packages. They always fit in one pan, but have leftover cheese mix…
The final layer is noodles, then topped with crushed or sliced in half ‘olive dots’ on about 3 inch centers and sprinkled over with a layer of Parmesan about 1/4 inch thick (until stuff is covered). Sometimes I’ll put a sprinkle of Italian seasoning on the top in the middle of the cheese, too; makes for a very fragrant lasagna. If it’s “just me” I’ll add garlic and pepper to the top too ;-)
The “variety filling” is any of: Olives, black, drained, broken. Mushrooms, canned, drained or sauteed. Meat in the meat sauce. Whatever. I once made one with the odd hard boiled egg in it. It made for a very rich creamy character… The Usual is just olives and mushrooms. “Just for me” is with those spicy meats sauteed in onions and garlic prior to adding the sauce; and with added garlic on top.
I’ve also been known to use some Cheddar if low on Mozzarella cheese. It makes a very nice rich lasagna… but not ‘traditional’. 1/2 and 1/2 is my favorite, really.
As one of the family has started having an arthritic response to tomatoes (as explained in The Arthritics Cookbook – this is common) I made a non-tomato version this year too. Simply swapped Classico brand jar of Alfredo for the tomato sauce. Yes, you could make your own. As mine isn’t any better to speak of, this is fast and works well on a holiday with ‘hustle and bump’… I backed off on the garlic, and it seemed to work well. “Lasagna Alfredo al Forno” if I’ve got the Italian at all close… I used a bit less sauce to keep it a bit ‘tighter’.
This one and the other one both go into the oven at about 350 F to 425 F (doesn’t seen to matter much – I did these at 325 F with the ham, then pulled the ham out and cranked it up to 425 F to brown the lasagna and corn – at Thanksgiving I’ll do them at 350 F the whole time in with the Turkey). This one looked a little more sensitive to rapid browning that the tomato based so watch for that and back off the heat if it’s too much too fast.
It is about 45 minutes at 375 F for the base case, when cooked alone. Look for bubbly edges and browning top. If cooked with the ham, pull the ham from the oven about 10 minutes before the lasagnas are done, and give them 10 minutes of a higher temp (top rack, away from the radiative heat of the element) to brown the tops (if cooked alone at 375 ish it will brown without the ‘high heat’ at the end). Then they rest for 5 minutes to ‘tighten’ as the cheese sets a bit. That gives a 15 minute rest for the ham and 5 for the lasagnas and you still have 5 minutes of standing around talking and doing “Grace” for the ideal moment to serve.
Well, almost. We also had some “Sparkling Grape Juice” ( don’t worry, I’ll get my wine later ;-) along with a variety of coffee, tea, milk, water, etc. for beverages.
The whole thing takes little effort to make and is a pretty good presentation. There’s something about the combination of ham, yams, and green beans that has a unique reaction in the mouth. Then a bit of buttered bread with it, and it’s just special. I don’t know what the chemistry is, but it isn’t just additive. I suspect it’s the blend of salty protein from the ham, with sugars from the yams, and butter from the bread. Don’t know what the green beans add, but it is important too. The ‘mix’ in the mouth is just unlike any parts alone (or mixed with other things).
Putting away is just about as fast. Again it’s largely a “dump and go” process (but instead of dump in a pot to the stove, it’s dump in a tub in the fridge…) The lasagna freezes well (and if you make the meat version you will have about a month of food ;-) in portions. I make “home made TV dinners” with some nice ceramic bowls with plastic lids from Corning. They don’t get tomato stains when microwaved like the plastic tubs do. About 6 inches in diameter, mix a “main course in 1/2 and 1/4 each of two sides” and it’s a meal.
A few days later the leftover ham (and bone if you do a bone-in ham) go into a bean pot… Simple ham and beans… fond memories from long ago. Grew up with ’em, with bread and butter and some ketchup… Sigh… I’ll wait ;-)
So that was Dinner At The Smith’s.
Next stop, New Years!