Category Archives: Casseroles

The Greek in me!

Ok so I don’t actually have any Greek in me since I am all Italian but I am a big fan of most things Greek, especially their cuisine! Pastitsio is one of my favorite things to eat, especially if it is from the Greek Islands Restaurant! (others have been known to overwhelm me with nutmeg and/or cinnamon….spices I feel are better left for dessert)! For those that are unfamiliar, pastitsio is a Greek lasagna, with layers of hearty meat, a rich tomatoey sauce and luscious, creamy, cheesy bechamel (my favorite part). My mom’s good friend Diane, one of the Real Housewives of Glen Ellyn as the ladies are commonly referred to by us kids, gave me a recipe a while back which I have been dying to try out! Diane is Greek and gave me her mother’s pastitsio recipe months ago and I finally got the opportunity to try it out last Sunday when I was home for more than an hour on a weekend day (how nice that was by the way….so rare it’s sad)! Good thing I had all the time in the world to make it too because it was definitely time-consuming…not so much that I won’t make it again, but enough to know to really plan ahead! The tricky part is that you are essentially preparing three separate items that get combined together; the chunky tomatoey meat sauce, the pasta portion and saving the best for last, the rich, velvety bechamel part. Another heads up, this makes a very large portion, we have been eating it for dinner since Monday and lunch yesterday and today, and I brought a few good size portions home for my mom and grandma to try last night…and I still have nearly a third of the pan left! So be aware, up to your ears in pastitsio with this recipe!

View from above!

Pastitsio:

Meat Sauce:

  • 1.5 pounds ground lamb (can use ground beef but I was trying to be ‘traditional’)
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 small-medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 can filled with water
  • 1 t rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:

  • 1 pound penne
  • 2 T olive oil (I used garlic infused olive oil that I had made myself just to add a little more flavor)
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup Kefalotyri (can use Parmesan but again, I was attempting to be ‘traditional’)

Bechamel:

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 glasses milk, warmed
  • 3/4 cup Kefalotyri
  • 3 egg yolks
  • salt and pepper to taste

For meat sauce: Brown ground lamb in a butter with onion until onion is soft and meat is browned. Add in garlic. Let cook a minute more. Deglaze pan with white wine. Add in rosemary, bay leaves and tomato paste diluted with water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cook about 15 or so minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Discard bay leaves.

For the pasta: Cook pasta until al dente (undercook by at least a few minutes). Once done, strain and return to pot. Toss with olive oil and let cool a few minutes. Once relatively cool, add in Kefalotyri cheese and egg whites, toss to coat.

For the Bechamel: While the pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour, and let cook a minute or two, do not let brown. Whisk in milk, slowly, whisking the entire time, so no clumps remain. Once no lumps remain, remove the pan from the heat and add in the cheese, salt, pepper and egg yolks, in that order while continuing to stir the entire time. Set aside when smooth and fully mixed.

Assembly: I mixed half of the meat sauce with the pasta and poured half of the pasta mixture on the bottom of a greased, large casserole pan. Then the other half of the meat mixture, then the other half of the pasta. Lastly, pour the bechamel over top and cover with more Kefalotyri. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, depending on how brown you like it. We did not eat ours Sunday night but let it sit in the fridge overnight then reheated pieces for dinner Monday which I was told really escalates the flavor. Josh ate a small piece Sunday night and said that it was a slightly stronger taste the following evening but not terribly noticeable or obvious! Also, next time I would try to find smaller pasta noodles, even the true Greek number 2 ‘traditional’ noodles if possible and use a little more tomato sauce or make extra tomato sauce to drizzle over top like they do in the restaurants! And there will be a next time, that’s for sure!

Good view of the layers!

Beer, Broccoli and Cheese!

Long overdue, a few of us girls finally got together last night to catch up and eat some grub! One of my friends, Nicole, is doing the triathlon this coming Sunday in Chicago (amazing I know) and since I was in charge of cooking dinner, I wanted to come up with a balanced, healthier meal that would help keep her fueled…one chock full of healthy fats, protein, carbs and loaded with vitamins and nutrients. I saw a recipe on Pinterest for a broccoli cheese casserole sans any ‘cream of anything soup’ which intrigued me, so I decided to go that route, but adding in some chicken for more protein! I also made a beer bread to go along with it for fun! Add in some baked polenta appetizers and an amazing salted caramel pie baked by my friend Em and we had one complete dinner!

Chicken, Broccoli, Cheese Casserole:

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thing
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cups skim milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • few squirts of lemon, to taste
  • dash of mustard powder
  • 1 t spicy mustard (I used a Habanero mustard, but Dijon or any similar would work as well)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, plus another cup for topping
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 3 cups cooked broccoli
  • 3 cups cooked rice (I used black rice, more antioxidants than blueberries and more fiber than brown rice, a little healthier alternative)!
  • 3 chicken breasts, cooked and diced

Cook rice, broccoli and chicken and set aside. I steamed the broccoli, threw the rice in a rice maker and grilled chicken breasts with garlic salt and lemon pepper. Meanwhile, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and heat oil and butter in saucepan until butter is melted.  Saute onions until soft, 5-7 minutes, add garlic, cook another minute or two. Whisk in flour, cooking only for a minute, not browning it. Slowly add in milk, broth, lemon juice and mustard whisking constantly until smooth. Once smooth, let cook and thicken for 5 or so minutes, whisking only occasionally. Once thickened, add in the cheeses and remove from heat. Once cheese is melted, add in cooked broccoli, rice and chicken. Stir to coat everything, pour into a casserole dish or 9X13 pan. Top with cheddar and more parmesan, bake for 45 minutes.

Beer Bread with Cheddar and Garlic:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt, divided
  • 10 ounces or 1 1/4 cups beer (guess you’ll just have to drink those last two ounces)!
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 t garlic powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t onion powder, plus more for top
  • 1 t mustard powder, plus more for top
  • 1 T butter, melted

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and mustard powder. Slowly mix in beer with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add in cheese, until just combined. Pour (I use this word lightly as the batter is very thick and will not ‘pour’) into a 9X5 loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm area for 30 minutes. The dough will puff lightly and grow a little in the pan. Brush the top with the melted butter and sprinkle seasonings over top. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Polenta Appetizers:

  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 large leek, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or sliced thin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh mozzarella
  • parmesan cheese
  • seasonings of choice (I used rosemary and thyme)
  • more olive oil for drizzling (this has to be really good olive oil, I used a garlic olive oil I infused myself with excellent quality oil from Italy)
  • log of polenta (I got mine from Trader Joe’s but I have seen them at Jewel, etc)

In a small saucepan, heat olive oil. Add in mushrooms and leeks, saute until softened 5-7 minutes. Add in garlic and cook a few minutes more. In the meantime, slice the polenta into slices. Cover with mozzarella cheese then mushroom leek mixture, then sprinkle with parmesan cheese, seasonings and drizzle with a smidge of olive oil. Transfer to greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted and polenta is browned a little on the bottom.

Em’s Salted Caramel Pie:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 T butter, melted
  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
  • salt

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix graham cracker crumbs and melted butter, press into a 9-inch pie plate. Top with sweetened condensed milk, sprinkle with salt. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, covered with foil! This is very important, as I burned the crap out of mine when I baked it uncovered!

Savory Bread Pudding, aka Stuffing!!

I had three chicken breasts, a container of  mushrooms, a log of goat cheese and a fresh block of pecorino-romano in the fridge and figured they would all go great together but did not want to do yet another pasta. I also had four Trader Joe’s brioche buns that were a few days old that I didn’t want to waste since they are sooooo good…so I made my first attempt at a savory bread pudding. Overall, I am not a huge bread pudding fan, not rich enough for my dessert tastes and always seem to make a better cold breakfast to me! I do however have one go-to sweet bread pudding recipe that seems to get rave reviews so I will share that recipe as well! The savory bread pudding turned out to be very good; moist and creamy, yet reminded both Josh and I of stuffing at Thanksgiving! This is obviously not a bad thing at all, but savory bread pudding is essentially a version of homemade stuffing! I would definitely  make it again and again, adding different ingredients and seasonings each time, great recipe to play around with!

Savory Bread Pudding:

  • 8 ounce container mushrooms of choice (I happened to have Portobello)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced finely or sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 T butter
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 6 or so cups of torn bread (I used 4 Brioche buns from Trader Joe’s and it was a little too much actually, but I didn’t want to waste any 😉
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk (or you can do 2 cups heavy cream for more richness)
  • 5 ounce log goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup pecorino-romano, plus more for topping
  • Thyme and rosemary to taste (this is what really gave it the Thanksgiving stuffing feel)!
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 boneless chicken breasts, diced

Heat oil and butter in large saucepan over medium-high until butter has melted. Add in mushrooms, zucchini and onions, saute until softened, 5-7 minutes, salt and pepper to taste (you can also add a little thyme and rosemary to the veggies as well). Add in garlic and saute a few minutes more. Pour in white wine to deglaze the pan and let simmer until most of the liquid has reduced. In a separate large bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, seasonings to taste and cheeses. Add in bread pieces and chicken, toss to combine. Add vegetables to bread mixture, mixing so everything is coated with the liquid. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, tossing every so often. When ready to cook, top with more pecorino-romano and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through and center is heated through. We ate it right out of the oven for dinner last night and cold for breakfast this morning and I can’t say which I liked more but I am leaning towards cold breakfast, just like the sweet bread puddings I’ve had!

As is custom, no meal in our household is complete without dessert and I stumbled across an amazing looking picture online and wanted to repeat the recipe and of course after much research, could not find a recipe online! The bars are for sale online by Whimsy and Spice and look divine! Just look at this picture:

My own version of Chocolate Butterscotch Bars:

Crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Brownie layer:

  • 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 T dark unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional but enhances that deep chocolate flavor)
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Butterscotch Layer:

  • 1 (14 ounce) can condensed milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup butterscotch morsels

For the graham cracker crust: pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together crumbs and melted butter until moistened. Press into greased 9X9 baking pan. Bake 11-12 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, for the brownie layer, whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together. Put the chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a double boiler and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan and let cool. Add 1 egg to the cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining egg and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be too cakey. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not a whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible. Pour the batter over the top of the graham cracker crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack. While cooling, for butterscotch layer, heat sweetened condensed milk and butter in saucepan over medium heat until thickens and begins to turn a nice amber color, about 10-12 minutes. Add in butterscotch morsels and remove from heat, stirring until smooth and morsels have melted completely. Pour over brownie layer in pan and let bars cool completely before cutting.

These turned out to be just ok. A little too much butterscotch in my opinion and by the end of the night when they had really fully cooled, the butterscotch layer became quite hard and unappetizing in my opinion! The only thing I can think of would be to use less condensed milk and a few tablespoons more butter next time! Here’s how mine looked…not quite as pretty as Whimsy’s!

photo.JPG

Lastly, as promised, here is the only bread pudding recipe I have yet to really like!

Cinnamon Caramel Bread Pudding:

  • 20 slices cinnamon-raisin bread
  • 12 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • Purchased caramel sauce, warmed

Cut or rip bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in very large bowl. Whisk eggs, milk, 1 cup cream, and next 4 ingredients in large bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour egg mixture over bread; toss to coat. Cover with plastic and chill at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Let stand at room temp 30 mins. Preheat oven to 375. Butter 13X9 baking dish and pour in bread pudding. Bake pudding until puffed, edges are golden, and tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Serve with caramel sauce over top!

With that much cream and fattiness, there’s no wonder this is the only one I’ve ever really cared for…sadly though, it is still a breakfast to me, fattiness and all!