My niece's funeral in June reinvigorated my interest in TCP, but apparently not my interest in writing about it so I'm getting to this months after the fact. After the service during which our family all cried until they were dry we sat down to a church lunch in the most traditional sense of the concept. While it didn't take place in a cinderblock basement, it did feature loving church ladies moving amongst us in a warm hush delivering hugs, pats on the back, and compassionate commands to enjoy the meal they'd prepared for us. It largely consisted of traditional casseroles in disposable foil pans or simmering in crockpots. I can't remember them specifically, except for my favorite that had seen a generous inclusion of jarred enchilada sauce and sliced black olives, the only things that set it apart from its brethren. They were exactly what you'd imagine at a church supper - warm masses of carbohydrates and chopped chicken or canned tuna held in fatty suspension by canned, condensed soup and/or shredded mild cheese - and they were exactly what we needed to heal enough to get through the day. After crying so hard during the service, I was starving, and those casseroles were truly a balm for my troubled soul. If ever an embrace could be delivered gustatorily or nutritonally, it would be through a casserole lovingly pepared by devout hands for the benefit of wounded strangers.
And it was with this in mind that I decided to revisit Best of Country Casseroles and revive TCP using my bookgroup as guinea pigs. Because one of us is a vegetarian, my options were limited to meatless dishes. And because SLB is a caring gentleman who values my friendships even when I don't, my options were limited to the Southwestern Veggie Bake. While I was pondering aloud whether I should make the Fish Stick Supper, a Microwave Tuna Casserole, or the Black Bean Nacho Bake (ingredients: macaroni, black beans, nacho cheese soup, milk, tortilla chips, and cheddar), SLB sternly reminded me that my bookgroup consists of friends who I want to speak to me again and that it's not nice to force others to eat shit because I think it's funny. So, seeing as the Southwestern Veggie Bake was my only option that did not feature canned soup but did feature actual spices, it's what was for dinner.
Project-continuing, friend-keeping dinner
Here's the recipe as originally written:
Southwestern Veggie Bake
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
.25 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
.5 cup milk
1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (4 ounces) chopped green chilies
1 tube (11.5 ounces) refrigerated corn bread twists
In a large skillet, saute the carrots, celery, onion and seasonings in butter until vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually add the milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Remove from the heat; add beans, corn, tomatoes, and chilies. Spoon into an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. Separate corn bread twists; weave a lattice crust over filling. Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 20 - 25 minutes or until corn bread is done. Yield: 8 servings.
Now, although Julie Zeager from Kent, Ohio's narrative promises that "refrigerated corn bread twists create an appealing lattice top on this zippy main dish," after visits to 3 different supermakerts in search of the damned things proved fruitless, I subbed refrigerated tube-biscuits for the tube-twists. The only downside to this would be that it dictates serving sizes in an unpleasant way, which can cause your delicate lady bookgroup friends to act shy and apologetic for their appetites. Eat up, ladies! There ain't no shame in eating two biscuits' worth of Southwest Veggie Bake!
This dish is an unmitigated, unironic success. It's basically a chili that's been thickened with a roux, and the combination of butter, flour, milk, and cumin renders it somewhat reminiscent of a shamelessly American butter chicken on the finish. It really is a decent dish separate from, rather than because of, The Casserole Project. My 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish was licked clean by the night's end. So was my 8 x 8 x 2 baking dish after I made it a DOUBLE CASSEROLE NIGHT by whipping up a batch of what we call Old Cold Pancake.
Two - TWO! - casseroles for the price of one!
This recipe is adapted from a back issue of Real Simple and so can't technically count toward The Casserole Project. It is so in the spirit of the project, though, that I felt no compunction in including Old Cold Pancake in this particular menu. After all, it's an ad hoc cobbler, which is generally the dessert equivalent of a casserole, and the recipe includes pancake mix, which is generally the baking goods equivalent of canned, condensed soup. Thus, SVB + OCP = TCP BFF's.
To make Old Cold Pancake (so named because of the inclusion of pancake mix and for SLB's sick prediliction for eating it from the fridge the next day), follow this recipe:
Butter for greasing your 8 x 8 x 2 dish
2 or 3 cups of stone fruit and/or berries, frozen and thawed are fine. (I think I used nectarines and blueberries here.)
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
2 cups pancake mix
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
Whipped cream and/or maple syrup
Heat oven to 375. Butter your baking dish. Add the fruit and confectioners sugar to the dish and toss. In a large bowl combine the pancake mix, milk, and eggs until no lumps remain. Do not overmix! Bake about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve with whipped cream as a dessert for bookgroup or maple syrup as a dish for brunch with Uncle Damon and Aunt Katie. Voila! You are a genius!
So geometric. So modern. So delicious.