Godetta: A Mexican Casserole

MP900432760As I’ve written before, I am not a fan of green peppers. In fact, I detest them. So a lot of Mexican food is off-limits for me. I’ve been given many Mexican recipes over the years. I smile politely, and, if the recipe contains green peppers, I throw it in the trash as soon as I can.

But one Mexican casserole dish has passed my pepperless standard. It’s called Godetta, though I have no idea where the name came from. There are no green peppers—nor any added peppers—in Godetta. Moreover, it also meets my flexibility standard. In other words, many substitutions of ingredients work, though you will get a slightly different consistency and taste, depending on what you use.

Here are the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (I use as much as 1.5 pounds)
1 medium onion, chopped
6 or so tortillas (flour or corn)
1 can of enchilada sauce
1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes (or 16 oz tomato sauce)
1 small can of sliced olives
16 oz grated cheese (Mexican preferred, but any will work)

And here are the instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Brown the meat and onions until meat is cooked and onions are translucent. Drain the meat (though with 93% fat-free meat, I find little draining is needed).
3. Add the enchilada sauce, tomatoes (or tomato sauce) and olives to the meat mixture. Heat until bubbling.
4. Meanwhile, line 9×13 pan with a layer of tortillas (3 soft taco size is probably enough for each layer).
5. Add a layer of 1/2 of the meat mixture to the pan.
6. Add a layer of 1/2 the cheese.
7. Repeat with second layers of tortillas, the rest of the meat mixture, and topped with the rest of the cheese.
8. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Let sit for about ten minutes before cutting.

Makes 8-12 servings, depending how big you make them. I usually get 12 servings.

So that’s the basic recipe. Served with a salad, it makes a good meal.

But there are many ways to alter the recipe, and I do so often, depending what my cupboard contains. As indicated above, either corn or flour tortillas work. I prefer flour, but I’ve used corn. I’ve also used large corn chips when I haven’t had tortillas. And I’ve even used crackers for the middle layer when I ran out of tortillas, though I think tortillas are better for the bottom

When I haven’t had any enchilada sauce, I’ve used taco seasoning with the meat and more tomato sauce.

Any cheese will work. If I have Mexican grated cheese on hand, I use it. But I’ve used Italian mixes of cheese, or just plain cheddar.

I have never used any meat other than ground beef, though I think ground turkey would be fine. You might even try chorizo, if you are more adventuresome than I am. (Post a comment as to how this works.) I like using about 1.5 pounds of meat, but then the 9×13 pan is quite full.

Sometimes I skip the olives, which I don’t really like, though they do add some nice color to the dish.

The point is, layer your tortillas (or substitute), meat mixture, and cheese. You’ll end up with something warm and edible, without peppers, good for a winter evening. And plenty of leftovers. This casserole is pretty good warmed through, and it even holds together as leftovers better than on the first night.

I don’t have a picture of this casserole, but it looks like any casserole with cheese on top.

What flexible recipes do you use?

The Squash Dish

squash dishOne of our family’s go-to recipes is what we call “the squash dish.” I don’t have any better name for it.

It was either my sister’s or my brother’s family that started making this, and I don’t know where they found it. But once we tried it at a family gathering, my father, my siblings, and I all adopted it as an easy way to feed a large crowd. It’s flexible, easy to double, and can simmer for some period of time while people gather after a long day of vacation activities. It can be made meatless, or with extra meat (the way I like it).

Here is the usual variant of the recipe (I’ll give you my adaptations below):

1 onion (chopped)
2 pounds cooked brats or Polish sausage (sliced)
2 medium zucchini (sliced)
2 medium yellow summer squash (sliced)
2 cans diced tomatoes (or use 2 cups fresh tomatoes chopped)
1-2 cups water
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

It’s easy to remember, because there’s essentially two of everything, except the onion—and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to put in two onions.

In a large pot, saute the chopped onion in oil or with the sliced sausage until the onion is translucent. Then add in all other ingredients. Simmer until squash is tender (it can hold a while after the squash is cooked).

Ladle over rice or polenta or pasta. Or serve alone with bread.

I’ve found that this recipe (in the proportions listed above) served over rice, with bread and salad on the side, makes a hearty meal that can be expanded to fit a crowd of 8-12 people.

My variation for just my husband and myself is

1 onion (chopped)
2 pounds cooked Polish sausage (sliced) (I prefer to brats, but I’ve used andouille sausage also)
1 medium zucchini (sliced)
1 medium yellow summer squash (sliced)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
Dash of pepper (I rarely cook with salt)

Follow the same directions as above.

I made this variation and served it over fried polenta last week. It made at least six servings with lots of meat in each (we ran out of polenta sooner, but not the squash and sausage!). So we had lots of leftovers. I think it could have fed eight in a pinch, with more sides.

If you want a vegetarian option, leave out the sausage and increase the squash, or substitute eggplant and/or mushrooms for the meat.

What’s a quick and easy recipe your family relies on?

Time for Lentil Soup

20150128_152012As autumn approaches each year, I think about soup. I will eat soup any time of year, but on cool evenings, it is sustaining and comforting. Add bread and salad, and you’re ready to eat.

I make most of my soups in a crock pot, so it’s a quick and easy dinner (though does require some thought around lunch time about what’s for supper). A crock pot full of soup makes enough for several lunches and dinners later in the week. Or to freeze. And all afternoon, you get to smell it cooking.

Lentil soup is one of my favorites. It’s tasty, full of protein (particularly when I add meat, which I usually do), and requires no advance soaking like beans do. It’s my go-to meal when I’m busy throughout the day but have responsibility for dinner.

I don’t really have a recipe for lentil soup—I throw whatever I have on hand in with a bag of lentils and let it simmer for hours.

Here’s the way I made it most recently:

1 pound lentils

1 onion, diced

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 package of diced ham

1 package of Polish kielbasa, sliced

2 Tbsp of Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp of garlic salt

Some leftover fresh basil (I’ve never put this in before)

1/2 cup of sliced carrots (Yes, even though I hate cooked carrots. I pick them out when I eat it.)

A bottle of beer (I usually use wine, but the beer was getting old)

2 cups of water (you may need more—lentils are thirsty little legumes)

I think that’s all.

It was really good. Anything with kielbasa and beer will turn out fine.

What is your favorite quick and easy meal?

KLWN Radio Interview and Cooking on the Oregon Trail

MTH on radio 2

Me on KLWN, June 20, 2015

Those of you who follow me on Facebook might know that on June 20 I was interviewed by Jeremy Taylor on his program “About The House” on KLWN AM-1320 in Lawrence, Kansas. It was great fun! Jeremy had prepared well for our discussion of the Oregon Trail and my forthcoming novel. We had an excellent conversation about why emigrants set out for Oregon, the dangers they faced, and their preparations for the trip. As a Brit, Jeremy had a refreshing perspective on some of these issues.  We Americans forget how much Western lore and myth we absorbed through our education and constant exposure to television and movies.

Not only had Jeremy prepared, but he brought in a chef for the latter part of the program to talk about the food that the emigrants ate along the western trails. With samples!

The chef!

Chef, Jeremy Taylor, and me

My fellow writer (Write Brain Trust member Pamela Boles Eglinski) and I were treated to some wonderful food, including a rice pilaf dish (more frequently seen along the Santa Fe Trail, but the Oregon emigrants often did take rice along), spider cake (more on that below), spotted dog, and a rice pudding. If the pioneers always ate this well on the trail, they might not have cared if they ever reached Oregon.

Spider cake is not anything that should alarm arachnophobes like me. “Spider” refers to the type of skillet the cake is cooked in. A spider dish is a cast iron skillet on legs to sit about a campfire. But this cake can be made in any cast iron skillet. With a little syrup over it, it was my favorite dish of the day.

Here is the spider cake recipe from Food.com.

Spotted dog (and, no, Diet Coke was not on the menu on the Oregon Trail)

Spotted dog (and, no, Diet Coke was not on the menu on the Oregon Trail)

The spotted dog recipe was also wonderful. For those of you who have never heard of spotted dog, the “spots” refer to raisins. This dish is like a bread pudding, but in addition to bread, apples, raisins, and eggs, the version that Chef offered me had onion and bacon in it, so it was both savory and sweet.

I didn’t want much lunch after sampling all these dishes.

Although we ate well on this summer Saturday morning in 2015, the emigrants didn’t always have such feasts. Sometimes they had plenty, but often they scraped the bottom of their barrels well before they reached Oregon and had to live off the land.

Frankly, I had expected venison and buffalo meat when I first learned that Jeremy and his chef planned to feed me. But Chef told me the Lawrence authorities frown on killing deer that pass through the yards in town.

What old-fashioned foods do you enjoy?

Dad’s Buttermilk Pancake Recipe

My husband and I are creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast. I usually have Carnation Instant Breakfast and a Diet Coke; he eats hot cereal—oatmeal or Malt-o-Meal or something similar. When I’m in a hurry, I’ll eat granola bars, and sometimes he will have Shredded Wheat or another cold cereal.

But occasionally on a Sunday morning, my husband makes pancakes and bacon. I try not to mix up my instant breakfast until I see if we are having a pancake Sunday, because I wouldn’t want to miss out on my share. He uses a pancake mix—one of a variety that we have been given as gifts or that he has purchased to try out. His favorite is a mix from College of the Ozarks (buy it here), which is fine if you like a whole wheat flour that isn’t too heavy.

My favorite pancakes are not from a mix at all, but are my father’s buttermilk pancakes. On weekend mornings when I was a child, I’d stay in bed until I smelled the bacon cooking. No microwaved bacon then—my father fried it on the stove. One morning when I was about seven or eight, I leaned over the pan, and the grease popped and burned my forehead. I had a small round scar there for years.

After he fried the bacon, he mixed up the pancake batter. There was a variation of the batter for waffles, but I preferred pancakes, so that’s what I hoped for. These pancakes were light enough I could eat eight to ten. They were sweet, but with a little tang of buttermilk. Topped with maple syrup or sometimes raspberry jam. Mmm.

The taste still says childhood and weekend and comfort to me.

When I married and my mother typed up a box of recipes for me to have, the pancake recipe was one I made sure she included. Unfortunately, my husband prefers a heartier pancake to these light as a feather buttermilk ones, so we rarely make them.

And my father made them less often once the children were gone, preferring instead to make omelets to accompany the bacon. But he still fried his bacon on the stove, even after microwaves were available. I know, because when I visited, I had to clean the stove afterward. He never did like to clean.

Here’s the Buttermilk Pancake recipe:

pancake recipe 20150625_185334

It doubles well, if you have lots of people around. Sometimes my father had to make second batches, even after doubling it.

What foods say childhood and comfort to you?

Snowed Out On My Birthday

Forgive me one more birthday story. After this post, I’ll move on with my year.

Forty years ago, on my 19th birthday, I was in my second year at Middlebury College. It was spring break, but I stayed on campus that week. I didn’t mind remaining on the almost empty campus. I had lots of course work to do. Plus, I checked a novel out of the library—something I didn’t usually have time for, because I had 1000 pages per week to read to keep up with my classes. I relished spending some down time around my studying.

The only difficulty was that the college food service was closed, because so few students remained on campus. I was making do with soup and cereal—things that could be made easily in a dorm room with no stove. At least it was cold enough to keep milk in my window sill. But still, I wouldn’t eat well that birthday week.

But I had one consolation—my father was coming to visit. He had arranged a business trip on the East Coast for the week before, and he planned to stay east for the weekend. My birthday, April 5, 1975, was on a Saturday, at the end of the spring break week. My dad promised to take me out to the best restaurant in Middlebury.

The small town of Middlebury, Vermont, boasted the usual soup and sandwich eateries and bars near campus where students hung out. But there were several good restaurants in and around the small town. Students went to these establishments only went when someone with deeper pockets (i.e., a parent) was paying.

My favorite was The Dog Team, which featured prime rib and sticky buns. The campus food service rarely served good beef. Steak and sticky buns would make my birthday special. I salivated over the thought of a good dinner after my week of soup!

Photo courtesy of Middlebury College. But this picture does NOT capture the grey gloom of a Vermont blizzard, only the pretty aftermath.

Photo courtesy of Middlebury College. But this picture does NOT capture the grey gloom of a Vermont blizzard, only the pretty aftermath.

Unfortunately, Vermont weather did not cooperate. A blizzard hit the Northeast on Friday. A foot of snow fell all over the state and beyond.

Imagine my horror at a blizzard in April! I had never experienced snow on my birthday before.

My father was unable to drive north on Friday night from New York or Boston or wherever his business had been. He finally made it to Middlebury late on Saturday—too late for that nice dinner I had planned.

I had soup again for my birthday meal. No cake.

He did arrive in time to take me out for brunch on Sunday, and we spent the afternoon in his hotel room watching a golf match. (His choice, not mine. But that’s how we often spent Sunday afternoons at home.)

That 19th birthday—forty years ago this year—ranks as one of my loneliest. But as I look back on it now, I realize how fortunate I was that my father planned the trip at all and that he continued it despite the inclement weather.

Now that he has passed away, I would welcome a brunch and golf match with him, even a day late.

When did someone go out of his or her way to visit you?

P.S. For Dog Team friends, click here for the recipe for their sticky buns.

Black Bean Soup for Homemade Soup Day

20150128_152012I recently learned a surprising factoid: Today, February 4, is Homemade Soup Day, even though January is National Soup Month.

Those of us in Kansas City have been fortunate this year—our January was warm, and we had less need of soup than most winters. On January 28, as New England dug out from its massive storm, our high temperature soared above seventy degrees.

But, as must happen in winter, our temperatures eventually did fall. This first week in February has been cold, though still not frigid. Soup sounds very comforting.

For National Homemade Soup Day, here is one of my favorite winter soups. It’s my adaptation of a recipe from my husband’s cousin. I like a spicy sausage in it, and I use the crock pot because it’s easier.

Black Bean Soup (crock pot instructions)

1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt (I omit)
Dash pepper
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
3 vegetable bouillon cubes (chicken bouillon OK if you’re not vegetarian)
4 cups water
1 can pumpkin (not pie filling)
1 12 oz. package black beans, soaked overnight
1 lb smoked or andouille sausage (omit if you’re vegetarian)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

  1. Soak beans overnight, or use quick soak instructions on bag.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil on stove until onion is clear. Dump in crock pot.
  3. Dump all other ingredients except vinegar into crock pot. Cook in crock pot on high for 4-6 hours. You may need to add more water as beans absorb the liquid.
  4. Add vinegar just before serving. (I often forget this step. Still tastes good.)

This recipe makes enough soup for 10-12 people, and it’s hearty and flavorful, especially with the sausage. Serve with cornbread and honey for a real winter treat.

Do you have a favorite homemade soup? Share your recipe in the comments.