Friday, October 9, 2009

That's how we casserole

Friday night. Long week. Paper plates are the order of the night, but what to make? Thinking ahead, I'd known that a comfort-food dish would be appreciated by Senior and Junior Chefs alike. Last night I completed most of the prep work with this ham, greens, and potato casserole. A recipe from the Victory Garden Cookbook served as the foundation for this version. I added caesar salad with homemade dressing (ala Broccoli Forest) to the meal. 

The Method (Casserole)
  1. Roughly chop 1-2# of greens. (I used OPO collards and mustard leaves; any variety would work)
  2. Steam-boil the greens with the third and final smoked ham hock left from previous dishes.
  3. Cook and cool 3-4 large russet potatoes. (I microwaved them. This would be a perfect use of leftover baked potatoes.)
  4. Roughly chop 2 large onions. (Onions always do a number of my eyes. This prompted many suggestions from the rest of the kitchen staff about how to avoid the tears. Does chewing gum really work?)
  5. Dice 1/2# of cooked ham.
  6. Saute the onions with 3 TBs of butter. As they become lightly browned, add the ham and heat through. Set aside.
  7. After the greens are cooked, drain and saute with 1-2 TBs of butter until they "dry out."
  8. Slice the potatoes into 1/4" thick rounds.
  9. Grease a baking dish.
  10. Place a layer of potato slices and cover with the onions and ham.
  11. Sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.
  12. Spread the greens in a layer.
  13. Place final layer of potatoes and sprinkle with cheese.
At this point the dish could be baked, but I thought it would be helpful to add a binder. Time for a Bechamel Sauce. This sounds more impressive than it really is. 
  1. Melt 3 TBs butter in a sauce pan.
  2. Slowly whisk in 3 TBs of flour.
  3. Cook for several minutes (I let it brown very lightly.)
  4. Slowly whisk in 2 C of cold milk.
I then decided to enrich the sauce with 2 egg yolks and a bit more milk (in the absence of cream).
  1. Slowly whisk a few table spoons of the hot sauce into the egg yolks beaten with 1/2 C of milk. You want to temper the eggs so they do not curdle the sauce.
  2. Once the eggs are hot and blended with approximately an equal volume of sauce, drizzle the remaining hot sauce into the bowl - wisking continuously.
  3. After the sauce is fully incorporated, return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil.
  4. Season to taste. I added a pinch of thyme to give it a bit more depth.
  5. Pour the sauce over the casserole. (It will be fairly thick, and will not work itself too far into the dish, so I helped it along with a spoon and a shake.
  6. Bake at 375 for 35 minutes.
The Method (Caesar Salad)
This is a very simple dressing.

  1. Whisk together 1 TB each of minced garlic, horseradish, Worchester Sauce, and brown mustard.
  2. Blend in 1-2 TBs of lemon juice.
  3. Incorporate 4-6 TBs of good olive oil.
  4. Whisk in one fresh, raw egg. The dressing change into a light-colored, creamy mixture.
  5. Toss with good salad greens (and alfalfa sprouts, if you like). Eat immediately.

The Results
First, let me say that each of the several pictures I took of this meal looked horrible. I have little talent (or time) for professional or even decent photography to support this blog. 

Here are two of the less-awful shots. 

The addition of the enriched bechamel sauce was a success. It didn't do much to bind the casserole layers, but it gave an overall creaminess to the entire dish that worked very well. The potatoes were still firm and absorbed the many flavors. The greens were mellow and slightly salty/smoky...or maybe that was the ham. At this point, I was eating so quickly I may have gotten confused. Delicious. The tangy, spicy caesar dressing stood up well against this hearty dish. 

There will be at least one more meal from this casserole. I may even try to freeze it. 

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Kudya Bwino Bwino (Eating Well) © 2009