Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Recipe Request: Kate's Tuna Casserole

This spring, I went home to spend a couple of weeks helping mom recover from a shoulder surgery. When I headed back to California, I needed to leave a store of food for her that would be wholesome, delicious and comforting. It needed to freeze well and be easy to prepare with with only one arm.

I made a big pot of my tuna casserole, baked it in single-portions using an oversized silicon muffin "pan." (Amazon) When completely cooled, then frozen, I popped the individual servings out and into freezer storage bags to leave behind a dozen easy-to-store servings of protein- and vegetable-filled yum. (I did the same with my Bison Bolognese, but that's another post.)

And, yay! The tuna casseroles were a hit. In fact, friends are now asking for the recipe. So I am posting it here for all. It is a slightly fancified version of the casserole my mom made for me as a kid. Still, it remains pretty easy and humble. I kept the can of Campbell's Cream of Celery Soup as the base for its sauce.

This is a recipe that I've made for many years without writing it down. It's one of those do-by-feel things. Feel free to vary the amounts of the ingredients to your own tastes; the basic recipe can accommodate lots of tinkering. It would still be yummy -- though slightly different -- if you exchange button mushrooms for the shiitakes, or swap out the fresh herbs for dry. Wide egg noodles or big shells can stand in for mostaccioli or campenelli. You can skip the white wine, but you'll lose a pleasant little tanginess. I've made a "lighter" version by dropping the butter, using fat-free milk even using less pasta. Please don't, however, exchange the fresh grated Parmesan for store-grated; I can't be responsible for that! And yes, because this is a good old mutt of an American casserole, this tuna dish includes cheese.

Don't be intimidated by the long ingredient list; it all comes together simply.

  • A large casserole dish (at least 2 quart / 8 X 11") or -- for individual servings -- a silicone mold for extra large muffins
  • A large sauce pan, stew pot or dutch oven - you need lots of room to stir
  • Large pasta pot
  • Sheet pan or cookie sheet
  • 1 - 11oz pack or 2 - 5oz cans of tuna packed in water, drained
  • 1 can Campbell's Classic Cream of Celery Soup or the Healthy Request version (10.5 oz)
  • 1 medium-to-large yellow or white onion chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small stalks of celery
  • 5 large toes of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 or 2 serrano peppers, chopped (I use mine with the seeds and veins, but you can remove them for less heat. Use 1/4 bell pepper for no heat at all.) 
  • 3-1/2 to 5 oz Shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (not too thin)
  • 1 c. frozen green peas, rinsed in warm water and drained
  • 1/2 c dry white wine -- Pinot Grigio or even champagne, if that's what you're drinking
  • About 1/2 c milk -- I use the empty Campbell's can and fill it half way
  • 2 or 3 tbs olive oil.
  • 2 Tbs butter cut in a few small cubes
  • 2 round tsp of fresh thyme chopped
  • 1 Tbs fresh oregano chopped
  • A small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley (a big handful), leaves coarsely chopped; stems chopped finely and set aside separately
  • One pound pkg of dried pasta -- I like mostaccioli or capenelli, but any hearty casserole noodle will do
  • 1/2 c bread crumbs -- I like Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs or panko
  • 6 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano or other tasty hard cheese; grated 
  • Salt and black pepper


Preheat oven to 375°.

Cook the pasta in salted water.* Cook for 2 minutes less than is recommended on the package. Drain completely and set aside.

In a small bowl combine 1/4 of the cheese and the bread crumbs, use your fingers to mix well, set aside.

Over a medium-high flame, heat the olive oil in the sauce pan. Add onions, sprinkle with a little salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Add celery, parsley stems and peppers and sauté until onions are translucent. Add garlic, thyme and oregano; stir to combine and continue to cook for another minute.

Add the mushrooms, stir and continue to cook until they soften a bit.

Add the wine to deglaze. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Add the tuna and stir to combine all the ingredients. Cook for a couple minutes until the tuna is heated through and everything is well mixed.

Add the can of soup and 1/2 can of milk. Stir to combine all ingredients and smooth out the condensed soup. You can add a bit more milk if things look too thick, add only a small amount at a time. You want the result to be a very thick tuna sauce.

Continue to cook, stirring often until the sauce begins to simmer. When it is lightly bubbling, add the butter and when the butter is incorporated, add the remaining grated cheese.

When the cheese is fully melted into the sauce, stir in the peas and parsley leaves.

Taste and add salt and pepper as you like.

Now, add the pasta to your pot a little bit at a time until your mélange starts to take on a casserole consistency. Mix everything well. You especially don't want pockets of sauce and areas of "dry" pasta. The pasta should be well coated and suspended in the thick sauce. (You may have some pasta left over, see * below)

Pour the pasta mixture into your large casserole dish (or spoon into your muffin pan)**, pressing lightly on the pasta with your cooking spoon, helping it to settle into the dish. It should be densely packed. Don't flatten the pasta on top, though, as the uneven areas where the pasta peaks on top creates a pleasing crispy finish.

Sprinkle your bread crumb/cheese mixture on top of all, carefully and lightly covering the whole top surface. (It you really want extra richness, you can dot the top with butter, too.)

Place your casserole dish on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and bake uncovered for 40 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.

Allow to stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving -- this is difficult with the whole house smelling like yummy casserole, but worth it as it really affects the texture of the casserole. 

Spoon servings onto plates or into shallow bowls with a little side salad and enjoy the casserole comfort!

A note about freezing individual portions: This recipe makes 12 big "muffins" with some left over for the mandatory cook's portion. (Cup diameter = 3 inches) To freeze single servings, let the casserole cool completely in place in the silicone muffin pans. Tuck a little plastic wrap loosely around the top of each muffin of casserole and place the whole pan in the freezer. Freeze until solid, remove the plastic wrap and carefully pop each muffin out. Wrap each muffin in aluminum foil and store in a large freezer bag. Remove foil and heat in microwave or oven, thawed or straight from the freezer.

*Depending on the kind and shape of pasta you choose, you may have some unused pasta left from this recipe. (I refrigerate it and use it for a quick dinner -- like pasta all'aglione -- later in the week.)

**I've also made my mixture in a dutch oven and sprinkled the top with the breadcrumb mixture and put the whole thing uncovered into the oven. It's more casual, but it works great and there's less to clean.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Twitter demands: WTF is Red Bean Pie?!

Wow! I posted a picture of my red beans soaking for my annual Thanksgiving Red Bean Pie and Twitter went kind of crazy. People seemed confused, grossed out and even angry.* So I thought I'd take a minute out of my holiday preparations to post the recipe and the history of the sweet -- but not too sweet -- Red Bean Pie.

In New Orleans in the early 1980s I was a huge fan of Omar the Pie Man. Omar Aziz was a humble, energetic, sweet guy who made some heavenly pies. I'd see him at the University of New Orleans campus and events hawking his pies off a big tray or a box carried on his shoulder and every year I'd get his pies at the Jazz Fest. By the good grace of some friends in the radio biz, I'd get onto the Fairgrounds before the gates opened. The first order of business: go look for Omar's little white van to get a bean pie for breakfast. Bean Pies were not his most popular (that was sweet potato), so he never had very many. I wanted to get mine early. I loved the bean pie -- for its earthy not-too-sweetness, its wholesomeness and its uniqueness.

When I heard that Omar had passed away in the early 2000s, I thought about how sad it was that his great energy and pies had passed too. I searched for information on the recipes, but learned that they were a cherished family secret (As his legacy, they should be!)

I poked around and thought about it for a long time. I learned about the tradition of bean pies in the Black Muslim community. I looked for other bean pie recipes. I tried to remember a pie I hadn't tasted for twenty years. And then I tried to make my own bean pie: sort of a cross between sweet potato and custard pie. It came out fine. Not a duplicate of Omar's, but a good pie. And everyone who tried it, liked it and learned about my respect and fond memories of Omar. The pie itself is not a "New Orleans thing" but Omar, the man -- with his great vibe and talent -- was a beautiful part of the New Orleans of my youth. He was a great representative of the New Orleans I am proud to call my hometown.

So now, filled with thanks for all Omar's good food and inspiration, I offer my recipe for Red Bean Pie:

Kate's Red Bean Pie

  • 2-1/2 cups red beans - soaked overnight 
  • 2 Tbs Steens Cane Syrup or Molasses
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp each: cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger, all spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • Pie crust - Of course, homemade is best, but frozen will do too. Prepare it per the instructions for a custard-style pie. Some people pre-bake their crusts, some do not. It is up to you or your frozen pie crust manufacturer.
My 2014 pie crust last year lost its sides, but the pie was still a hit :)

Sort, rinse and soak the beans in water overnight.

Gently simmer beans in ample water for an hour or more until very tender. Don't let them boil; it toughens the skins.

Reserve a cup of the beans' cooking water and set aside two cups of drained beans. (Use left over beans in a salad. Yum.)

Combine beans and all other ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. If the mix is too thick, use the reserved bean water to help smooth things out.

Pour into the pie shell and bake at 350 ° for about 1 hour or until pie is set and a pick comes out clean.

Pie will set further as it rests. Rest for at least 15 minutes.

Serve with whipped cream.

I hope you enjoy it! Happy Thanksgiving to Twitter and to all. Love, K

*Postscript: Tweeps were also laughing at me and my dowdy-looking pie. I'm cool with that, too. The world is full of so much hateful garbage right now. If anybody gets a good laugh from some old white woman and her goofy pie, I say laugh on, friends, laugh on.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Recipe resurrection: Lemon Chicken Legs

Working on DinnerTonight, I had to dig through NightNote offline archives from 2006 to find my recipe for lemon chicken. So, I thought I'd repost here to provide easy continuing access for all. Enjoy!

Kate’s Meyer Lemon Chicken Legs

5 nice big all-natural chicken legs
7-10 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced into strips
3 green onions, sliced thin
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 c. dry white wine — I used an inexpensive Pinot Grigio
1 Meyer Lemon, zested, then juiced
1 tbl. butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

You will need a skillet or sauté pan with a lid that can go into the oven.

Preheat oven to 400 °

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into your skillet, salt and pepper the chicken legs and brown them on all sides. (Please note, olive oil has a low smoking point, so take your time browning the legs.)
Remove the legs from the pan and set aside. Remove the pan from the heat. When the oil is cool enough add butter. With a wooden spoon scrape the sides and bottom of the pan and mix the melting butter with other oils in the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat, add garlic and onions and sauté gently until onion whites are translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue sautéing for about 2 minutes.

Add the white wine, deglazing the pan and stirring ingredients together. Add lemon juice and zest. 

Return chicken to the skillet, cover and place in 400° oven.

Cook for 30 minutes covered. 

Remove cover, baste and return to oven for 10 minutes.

Serve legs on a bed of mushrooms and sauce.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recipe request: White beans and pasta

Sis-in-law Sharoan texts to ask for our easy Tuscan white bean recipe, so for her and for all, here's our easiest: a quick-cooking, dryer cousin to the famous pasta e fagiole soup of Italy.

  • A large bowl for soaking the beans
  • 2 sauce pans
  • Pasta pot

  • Dry cannellini beans (3/4 to 1 lb)
  • Carrot, cut in big chunks
  • 1 or 2 stalks of celery, cut in large pieces 
  • 1 large whole onion, quartered (you don't even need to peel it)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme (or a tsp of dried)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, crushed and coarsly chopped
  • 3 - 6 canned roma tomatoes, crushed, w/ 1/4 to 1/2 c liquid
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Pasta -- I like orecchiette but you could also use shells, digitale or elbow noodles

Sort, rinse and soak the beans in water overnight.

Drain beans and pour them into a large saucepan. Add onion, carrot, celery & bay leaf. Add water to cover by 2 inches.

Bring beans to a simmer. Don't boil them or salt them yet; this leads to toughened and loosened skins. Simmer gently until beans are tender. Start checking at 30 mins. When beans are tender, drain and remove vegetables & bay leaf and herb stalks.

While beans are simmering, in your second suacepan, heat 2 tbs of olive oil. Add tomatoes and sautee until the sauce starts to thicken and turn and golden orange. Add the garlic and continue to cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Make your pasta in well-salted water. Drain.

Add your beans in large spoonfuls to your tomato sauce, mixing as you go. You are aiming for beans lighly dressed in tomato sauce. ( You may have some leftover beans -- put them away for a salad later in the week.)

Now, add pasta until you have your desired ratio of beans to pasta. Taste and season with salt in pepper to taste. Serve in big bowls, dressed with your best olive oil.

Pictured here: the beans and pasta served on fresh greens with garlic toasts.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Recipe Request: Seared Flank Steak

Mom asked me for our go-to flank steak recipe, so I'm posting here for all to share. Its based on one published in the great Cooking Light magazine in the 1990s.

  • A frying pan large enough to accommodate a 1 to 1-1/2 lb flank steak. (You can't beat cast iron for searing)
  • A kitchen timer

  • A 1 to 1-1/2 lb flank steak
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 lemon or lime


Trim the "silver skin"and fat from steak. Rub with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Heat your pan over medium high heat. You want the pan to be hot to get a good sear. 
Drop in your steak and leave it where it falls for 6 minutes -- don't turn it, don't move it, let it sear. (It will be a little smoky, don't let this tempt you to move it.) Baste top side with a little vinegar.

In six minutes, turn the steak and cook another 6 minutes. Baste with remaining vinegar. 

Remove your steak from the pan and let it rest on your cutting board for 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain. Squeeze on a little lemon or lime juice and serve.

Tip: We like our steak rare, so we cook the second side for 3 or 4 minutes, but 6 minutes renders a steak whose center is cooked to medium doneness. Here's an an easy tutorial on how use the finger-touch method to check your meat for doneness. If you want a rare or well-done steak, start using the touch method at about 3 minutes into cooking the second side of your flank steak.