Saturday, June 17, 2006

Potato Casserole in the Kitchen

I didn't post last weekend but intended to. What happened was that one of my children had gotten themselves into a jam. It was the sort of thing that was a minor detail when it happened and, if it had been taken care of then, it wouldn't have been as big a problem as it was. By the time it was brought to the "folks," it was a very huge problem. These things happen and are part of the growing process. (We continue to grow and learn, I know I still do.) So addressing that wiped me out. I did attempt a post but couldn't log in. I only tried once, I was too tired.

So that's my explanation.

Now we'll pick up where we left off, with Lila. She was proclaimed a cook when she wasn't and left in a jam that she needed out of quickly.

Potato Casserole
4 medium potatoes, sliced thin
2 cups of diced ham*
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 1/4 cup of milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a casserole dish (a pie dish will also work). Take the potato slices, ham* and onion slices and layer them in the dish, one on top of the other making the last layer potatoes. If that's not clear, you're layering potatoes, ham*, onions, poatatoes, ham*, onion, potatoes . . . and ending with potatoes. You need the potatoes on top. If you like pepper, you can pepper the layers as you go along. (I wouldn't recommend salting them because we all have too much sodium in our diet as it is, but it's your life, do what you want.) After you've finished the last layer (remember, potatoes need to be the last layer), add a dash of salt and pepper.

We're not putting the dish in the oven but I want to stop here to add a few notes.

*You don't have to use ham. I don't mean you can use another meat, though I'm sure you can. I mean that you can make this without meat.

I've needed a side dish before and had nothing but potatoes, onions, milk and cheese left in the kitchen. If you don't eat meat, don't eat pork, or don't have it in your kitchen, the casserole will turn out nicely without ham.

If you don't use ham, you can just use the other ingredients. If you want to add to it, Lila added a small can of mushrooms as she tried the recipe out a variety of ways. She did it using the mushrooms as she did ham. A word of caution, you need to drain the can. Beyond that, you should then set the mushrooms on a clean hand towel or paper towel so that they are not moist when you begin layering. You don't want a saggy casserole.

Before you put it in the oven, you pour the milk over the top. Then you put the dish into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Wally's mother has used a recipe similar to this one for years. However, she skips the milk and instead uses a can of cream of chicken soup which she dilutes with a half can of water. I didn't have time to try that step because I was trying Lila's mushrooms. So to combine both their suggestions, I used a small (6 oz.) can of mushrooms and a can of mushroom soup (diluted). That was used instead of ham and it turned out very tasty. You can also (and I usually do) top it with cheese. I honestly prefer it without cheese and only add it (on top of the last layer of potatoes, after the dash of salt and pepper and before I add the milk) because little kids will often run from a dish of vegetables -- add cheese and suddenly they want to taste it. (That's actually true of many grown ups -- check the frozen food section of your grocery store and notice how many frozen vegetables have cheese added to them these days.)

If I'm making it for myself, and this is a dish I have made for just me -- many times, I'll skip the ham and the cheese and just use the potatoes, onions, salt and pepper and milk.

However you make it, you'll find that it doesn't last long.

In any form, it's expensive and it will fill you up. I had planned to do this recipe last week and then move on to a different staple but there were so many e-mails from people saying that they wish they knew what to do with potatoes that I'll offer another potato recipe next week before moving on. Potatoes are inexpensive and there's much more you can do with them besides tossing them into the mircowave. If this recipe makes you nervous, attempt it and you'll be pleased with the results. There was a wonderful recipe that Zoe sent in but it's a complicated one. I enjoyed it and maybe in time, we can share it here. But it's been a bit of surprise to hear from so many about what I'll call "oven & stove top fear." I expected that from those who'd just moved out because I've seen that phase in my own children. (Parents, if you're wondering if your adult child may suffer from "oven & stove top fear," here's a clue. When you visit, is every area 'lived in' except the kitchen? If so, the kitchen's probably not being used.)

I think that's because we're so used to using microwaves now. That wasn't always the case. I have nothing against a microwave (and actually have two in the kitchen because I may be using one to melt something while I'm preparing dinner and someone may need a quick snack heated up) but I think it's allowed us to raise a generation far from the kitchen and the stove. That's wonderful if someone has the money to eat out or bring in take out every night. Most people don't have that option. When I was a kid, even TV dinners had to go in the oven (regular, not microwave). So we got used to using it even for the quick meals. My oldest daughter (who is no longer suffers from "oven & stove top fear" -- though she did when she first moved out) brought home the changes last Sunday. (Obviously, if you read Mike's entry on last weekend's difficulty, you know she's not the one who had the problem last Saturday because Mike noted that the one with the problem did not show on Sunday.) She wanted some popcorn and went to the kitchen for a few minutes then came back to the living room and sat down.

I asked her if she changed her mind and she explained that the box of popcorn was empty. (Someone forgot to throw it out.) What about the bag of kernals? It was as though I was speaking another language. (And she's had popcorn prepared for her that way.) So we went into the kitchen and I showed her how to make pop corn without a microwave bag. At the end of which, she remarked how great this 'new' method was because now she could pop what she wanted and not worry about being wasteful (she usually can't finish a microwave bag by herself).

She has seen me make pop corn in a pan before. All the children have. But there's a difference between seeing and doing it yourself. We're very proud of our children when they're able to pop something into the microwave (and should be, it's a sign of growing up) but I think we all (including myself) assume that since they see or saw us using the oven and stove, they grasp how it's done. (My oldest son had a revelation with the stove top shortly after he moved out -- "Ma, it's just like using the fire in a camp out." Yes, it is. And yes, I laughed when he told me that.)

I don't know if toaster ovens are still popular. I doubt it because anything I'd use one for, I now use my microwave. But using the microwave is like using the toaster oven and being able to use one doesn't mean the person is able to use the stove or oven.

I enjoy all the e-mails and never think, "Well why are you so scared of the oven?" I know that exists because I've seen it in my own kids. That's why, after it happened with both the two oldest after they moved out, I made sure the younger ones were using the stove and oven. (And if you do that and think you have the bases covered, you may not. Be prepared to hear, "Oh sure, I can cook in your oven but I don't know a thing about mine.") It's normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

The only surprise for me has been hearing from so many who do suffer from "oven and stove top fear." I appreciate the sharing and the honesty and we'll continue to move slowly and try to get you more comfortable. But for those who have children, whether you're comfortable yourself or not, start thinking about including your children in the process. (Or be prepared for the Thanksgiving dinner, when you're much older, that one of them prepares which features a turkey dinner.)

To me, using your stove and oven regularly isn't a requirement. But I do think knowing how should be. No one should be chained to the oven (metaphorically women once were) and anyone who hates cooking shouldn't cook. But it does provide you with another avenue for food.

Matt wrote a wonderful e-mail about how he was addressing his "oven and stove top fear" with the recipes. He takes little breaks when he prepares a meal. He only has time on Saturday to cook and he says at first he was rushing through it like it was a race.

I think that's the biggest turn off to cooking. When I was starting out, I thought the dinner had to go on the table at a certain time. I would freak out and get so angry with myself. The truth is dinner doesn't have to be on the table by any set time. If you usually eat at six o'clock and dinner's not ready until six-thirty, no one died and no one starved from waiting a half-hour more. Betty is someone with a small window of time because she has young children. She loves the oven recipes because she's not standing at the stove, listening with one ear to make sure nothing's gone wrong in the living room. With the exception of having to cook and guard over small children at the same time, there's no reason to rush. (I told Betty what she needs is a tattle tale. I had two in the family and though I'd always say "Now you shouldn't tattle" as I turned the stove off, I secretly appreciated it. With more than one child, the odds are that she'll have a tattle tale shortly.)

So what Matt does is put on some music before he goes into the kitchen. (He says if he used the TV, especially during a ball game, he'd be going back and forth and burn something.) Then he slices and dices what he needs. As he preheats the oven, he sits down, reviews the recipe and just relaxes for a few minutes. Then he goes back to cooking with additional breaks as needed. He says that sometimes means what should be ready in less than an hour takes two but it's the only time when he's not rushing. He wrote that he got the idea while he was at the gym and on a break between sets. You're apparently supposed to rest muscle groups when working out with weights. While he was resting a muscle, he realized that those rests were the only time he wasn't rushing (rushing to work, rushing at work) and thought he might enjoy learning to cook more if he wasn't looking at it as some sort of race.

It shouldn't be a race. (Racing leads to people thinking, "I know the temperature is supposed to be X, but if I double it, it will be ready twice as fast!" No, it will burn in half the time.) If you can, invite a friend over (or speak on the phone). It can be a social time. It can be a quiet time. But if you're seeing it as one more deadline, it's going to be a very aggrevating time.

There are enough of those already. Such as the fact that we passed the 2,500 mark on American soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq in Bully Boy's illegal war. I was very disappointed with the coverage and spoke with C.I. about that. C.I.'s comment didn't make it up at The Common Ills so, with permission, I'll share it here:

The Pentagon announces Thursday that we've hit the 2,500 mark and the press pretty much stays silent. It may be the only official statement they haven't glommed on in the last few years.

Our paper either didn't get tossed this morning or 'walked off.' My daughter was going out so I gave her money to pick up a paper and she came back in the afternoon with the New York Times. Our paper runs stories from the Times (I assume most do) but I'm not a regular reader of it. (Our paper is actually owned by the New York Times, by the way.) On page A7 of the New York Times is a small box with the headline "Names of the Dead." It lists a Michael A. Estrella, twenty-years old, from Hemet, California who was with the Third Marine Division. Before that, it tells you: "The Department of Defense has identified 2,492 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war. It confirmed the death of the following American yesterday." Yes, and it confirmed the death of 2,500 earlier this week. But apparently readers of the reporting in the paper will have to wait for eight more names to be released before they do a story on the fact that 2,500 Americans have died. (C.I.'s noted the lack of coverage in Friday's paper in "NYT: Dexy puts on the redlight (yet again).")

Apparently, we're all supposed to look the other way. The New York Times, which has a bad reputation for running with official sources and with anonymous plants. The Pentagon annouces that 2,500 troops have died in Iraq and the paper's suddenly waiting for all the names to be released?

Michael A. Estrella shouldn't have died, none of the 2,491 before him should have died. (Nor any troops from other countries or Iraqis.) The illegal war should have never been launched. Acting as though the Pentagon didn't announce 2,500 doesn't change the fact that they did. But sitting on it, waiting to report it, may be an attempt to minimize the shock some who will learn it from the New York Times when the paper finally gets around to covering it.

I'm with Ruth, people need to get real about the war. Shrugged shoulders won't bring anyone home alive.

Recommended: "War Hawks in America, War Cheerleaders in the Green Zone"
"The 'revolutionary' Thomas Friedman"
"Hillary and The Beat of Black Wings"
"Iraqis protest, Take Back America silences protest"
"TV Review: Windfallen Perry and Gedrick "
"extra "
"Editorial: Administration attacks the American Way of Life "
"Guns & Butter, the war hawk Hillary"
"Law and Disorder, Dahr Jamail & Amy Goodman on Falluja, the death of two Iraqi women, Ramadi and more, and Jason Leopold"
"Law and Disorder discussed Tasers plus some other stuff "
"'the way i see it,' he said 'you just can't win it'"
"The American people are demanding answers" (Barbara Lee)