Carole’s Tuna Casserole

When days were cool, Mom baked more than usual. Baking helped warm the house, and if it got too hot inside, she could open a window or door to take advantage of the free air conditioning supplied by God.  Like all cost-conscious housewives, she baked lots of casseroles too.  My father did not like mushrooms, but he had no choice when it came to Mom’s casseroles.  Most of them had cream of mushroom soup in the list of ingredients.

Dad would have liked Carole’s Tuna Casserole.  Carole’s creation has no noodles, tater tots, mushrooms or mushroom soup.  Instead it is a flavorful combination of garden vegetables and tuna in a savory white sauce.

Jerri got this recipe before we were married when some of her friends gave her a recipe shower.  Each friend brought some of her favorite recipes handwritten on cards, and they were filed by category in a recipe box.    These recipes include many that have become staples in our home including this one which helped earn her the title of “Casserole Queen.”

For those of you who don’t like “regular” tuna casserole, try this one.  It makes a completely different impact on the plate and your taste buds.

INGREDIENTS:

2 six ounce cans of solid white tuna
2 medium large potatoes
2 medium carrots
2 stalks celery
2 T onion
1 package (about 10 ounces) frozen green peas
3 T butter
3T flour
1/2 cup water from vegetables
1 1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
2 slices bread
1 or 2 tsp. butter

PROCEDURE:

Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.  Wash and chop the carrots, celery and onion medium fine.  Put these vegetables in a covered pan, add 1/2 cup water and a dash of salt and steam for ten minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the frozen peas.

While the vegetables are cooking, make a roux:  Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan, add the flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon white pepper and cook over low heat for two or three minutes, stirring constantly.  Do not brown the flour.  Drain 1/2 cup of water from the vegetables into a measuring cup.  Add enough milk to total 1 3/4 cups of liquid.  Stir the liquid into the roux and cook it for 2 or three minutes until you have a smooth cream sauce.  Allow the sauce to cool slightly while you begin assembling the casserole.

Grease a 2 or 3 quart casserole with shortening or cooking spray.  Open and drain the tuna.  Spread a layer of flaked tuna on the bottom of the casserole.  Add a layer of half the vegetables, then half the cream sauce.  Repeat with the second can of tuna, vegetables and cream sauce.  Cut the bread slices into small cubes and spread them in an even layer over the sauce.  Dot with several dabs of butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

NOTES:  “Medium large potatoes” means potatoes about five inches long.  You want about three cups of diced potatoes.  You can make this casserole ahead of time.  An hour before dinner, take the casserole from the refrigerator and put it into a cold oven.  Turn the heat to 350 degrees and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the casserole is bubbling in the middle.

 

Red Beans and Rice

We ate a lot of beans when I was a kid.  Baked beans almost every week in the winter, bean soup at least once a month, and bean salads when Mom found a new recipe in Woman’s Day.  In the summer we took canned beans along on picnics.

But I never tasted red beans and rice until long after I had left home.  My introduction to this creole staple was on a trip to New Orleans and after about two spoonfuls I was hooked.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of recipes for red beans and rice.  I have enjoyed versions in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, but the best ones have all been in Louisiana.  Some recipes call for andouille sausage or ham in addition to the smoked hock, and some even add shrimp, but they all taste good.

Food historians tell us that the recipe for red beans and rice was probably brought to New Orleans from the island of Hispaniola by slaves of French planters during a slave rebellion in Haiti.  In any case, a pot of red beans slowly simmered with a smoked pork hock, onions and peppers and ladled over a serving of fluffy white rice is a wonderful example of comfort food.   Here is my recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups dried small red beans
2 – 3 quarts water
1 meaty smoked ham hock
1 large or 2 medium onions
1 green bell pepper (3 inches in diameter)
2 or 3 stalks celery
4 bay leaves
1/8 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
4 or 5 green onions
Salt and pepper
Chicken and/or beef bouillon if needed
White rice, salt and water

PROCEDURE:

Wash the beans in a pot, drain in a colander and pick out the bad ones or gravel that you sometimes find.  Put the beans and pork hock in a Dutch oven or soup kettle that will hold at least 4 quarts.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Peel and chop the onion.  You should have about 2 cups to add to the simmering beans.  Add them along with the bay leaves, thyme, hot sauce and about 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

The beans should simmer at least 3 hours.  Stir the beans occasionally and add water if necessary.  About an hour before serving the beans, remove the top, seeds and membrane from the pepper, and wash and clean the celery.  Chop the pepper and celery into 1/2 inch pieces and add them to the beans.  Bring back to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the pork hock and allow it to cool enough to handle comfortably.  Separate the meat from the bone, fat and skin, chop into bite-sized pieces and return the meat to the beans.  Clean and chop the green onions into about 1/4 inch pieces and add them to the pot.

Simmer a few minutes, then taste the beans and broth.  At this point, you may want to add salt or a bouillon cube or two along with some more hot sauce and black pepper to adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Prepare the rice according to the directions on the package and serve the beans over the rice in shallow bowls.  A green salad and some good bread makes this dish into a fine meal.

NOTE:  I sometimes add some slices of smoked sausage along with the meat from the ham hock.  You might want to offer the hot sauce to guests who like a spicier dish.  For traditional New Orleans beans and rice you can mash some of the beans with a wooden spoon to make a creamier sauce, but I like it just the way it is.  It’s your choice.