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Comfort Food Casseroles

by Lori Grossman

It's wintertime in Texas. Yes, we do have winter here. It's just hard to remember that during the summer when the temperature hits 100 before noon. Weather here is changeable, though. Several weeks ago, the high temperature was a record-setting 85 degrees (yes, in December). But it evened out quickly; the next day it was down in the mid-50s. By Christmas Eve, it was downright chilly, which made me long for a hot, bubbling casserole for supper.

Casseroles are good eating. Just add a salad and you're all set. They are a great way to use up leftovers, too. In case you have some Christmas turkey left and you've run out of ideas for using it up, I have included a casserole recipe using turkey. (You're welcome!)

I love staying up late and hate getting up early, especially on cold winter mornings. This French toast would get me up, though. The great thing about it is that it's one of those recipes that you can prepare the night before, then just pop it in the oven next morning. And it's a variation of the usual French toast; this one has a yummy apple filling. What a treat!

Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast Casserole (with Apple Filling)

Apple Filling

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 5 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple juice
  • French Toast
    • 1 loaf (16 ounces) sliced cinnamon-raisin bread
    • 3 cups whole milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 10 large eggs
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    To make the filling, melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add apples and sugar. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are deep golden. Stir in apple juice and cook for 1 minute.

    Grease a 3-1/2 to 4 quart shallow ceramic casserole or a 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Arrange half of the bread slices, overlapping slightly, in the casserole or baking dish.

    In a medium bowl with a wire whisk or a fork, beat the milk, salt, cinnamon and eggs until well mixed. Pour half of the egg mixture over the bread in the casserole dish. Reserve one-fourth of the apple filling; cover and refrigerate to spoon on casserole after baking.

    Spread the remaining apple filling over the bread in an even layer. Arrange the remaining bread slices over the apple layer. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the bread, pressing bread down with a spatula so it absorbs the maximum amount of the egg mixture. Dot bread with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight.

    To bake, preheat oven to 325°F. Uncover the casserole and bake 50 to 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Reheat the reserved apple filling in the microwave until heated through, and spoon it on top of French toast to serve. Makes 12 servings.

    Black-eyed peas are a New Year's tradition in the American South. You eat black-eyed peas if you want to have good luck in the coming year. Dutch oven devotees, this one's for you. You can fix this ahead of time and refrigerate it until you're ready to bake it. If you're planning a Super Bowl watching party, this will score points, plus it will feed a crowd. This warming, filling dish really hits the spot on a cold day, and it just might bring you luck, too!

    Baked Black-eyed Peas

    • 4 slices thick-sliced bacon (about 6 ounces), coarsely chopped
    • 2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch slices
    • 1 jumbo sweet onion, coarsely chopped
    • 1 large red pepper, cut into 1/4-inch slices
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 packages (16 ounces each) dry black-eyed peas
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chicken broth (1-3/4 cups)
    • 7 cups water
    • 1-1/3 cups ketchup (14-ounce bottle)
    • 2/3 cup light (mild) molasses
    • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup bourbon (optional)
    • 1 tablespoon dry mustard
    • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
    In a 12-inch skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for 10 to 12 minutes or until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Crumble the bacon when cool enough to handle. Spoon out 3 tablespoons bacon drippings from skillet into a cup and reserve. Discard any remaining fat in skillet.

    Return reserved bacon drippings to the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add celery, onion, and pepper, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until vegetables are very lightly browned. Add garlic. Stir and cook for 1 minute.

    Rinse the black-eyed peas with cold running water and discard any stones or shriveled peas. Into a 6-quart Dutch oven, place the peas, bay leaf, chicken broth and water and heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until peas are almost tender. Drain peas, discarding the liquid and the bay leaf..

    In a small bowl, stir the ketchup, molasses, vinegar, sugar, bourbon (if using), mustard, Worcestershire sauce and salt until blended. Return peas to the Dutch oven and stir in bacon, vegetables, and ketchup mixture until combined.

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Transfer pea mixture to a deep 4-quart casserole. Cover and bake for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. (If not serving right away, cover and refrigerate up to 48 hours. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F and bake, covered, for 1 hour, or until hot and bubbly.) Makes about 14 cups or 20 side servings.

    Technically speaking, this next recipe isn't really a casserole, because it's cooked in a skillet. I included it for several reasons. Like a casserole, it combines ingredients that are leftovers or things that you probably have on hand anyway (such as potatoes, carrots, and celery). It's just right to serve on a cold, rainy (or snowy) day. Best of all, it uses up some of that leftover turkey!

    Turkey Hash

    • 3 large potatoes (1-3/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
    • 2 medium carrots, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 tablespoon canola oil
    • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
    • 1 large celery stalk, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
    • 2 cups bite-sized pieces leftover cooked turkey (about 8 ounces)
    • 2 ounces Fontina or Swiss cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
    • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
    In a 2-quart saucepan, place the potatoes and enough water to cover and heat to boiling over high heat. Add carrots to saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are almost fork-tender. Drain.

    In a nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until lightly browned and tender.

    Increase heat to medium-high. Add potatoes, carrots, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes until browned. Stir in turkey and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle top with shredded cheese. Cover the skillet and cook for 1 minute, or until cheese melts. Sprinkle with parsley to serve. Makes 4 servings.

    Brownie Pudding Cake is what I call a "magic" dessert. I first tasted it in my junior high Home Economics class. As a lifelong dessert lover, my heart sank when I looked at my class schedule: first period Home Ec! The possibilities (or rather, the lack of them) sped through my mind. Breakfast dishes. Endless breakfast dishes. No sweets. Luckily, I underestimated the teacher. Yes, we made pancakes (loved those), Eggs Benedict (okay, not crazy about them), and French toast (yes!). But we also made cookies, a very tasty pumpkin pie, and this pudding cake. I couldn't believe how easy it was to make and how delicious it tasted at 9:15 a.m. It's really two desserts for the price of one, with a brownie layer and pudding underneath. A cold, blustery winter day is the perfect time to try it. Add some whipped cream or Bluebell vanilla ice cream on top, if you're in the mood for something out-of-this-world.
    More

    Brownie Pudding Cake

    • 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder (optional)
    • 2 tablespoons plus 1-3/4 cups boiling water (optional)
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
    • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
    Preheat oven to 350°F. In a cup, dissolve the coffee powder in 2 tablespoons boiling water (if using coffee powder).

    In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup of the cocoa, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a measuring cup, combine the milk, melted butter, vanilla extract, and coffee (if using). With a wooden spoon, stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until just blended. Pour into an ungreased 8-inch square baking dish.

    In a small bowl, thoroughly combine the brown sugar and the remaining 1/4 cup cocoa and sprinkle evenly over batter. Carefully pour the remaining 1-3/4 cups boiling water evenly over the mixture in the baking dish. Do not stir.

    Bake for 30 minutes (batter will separate into cake and pudding layers). Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired. Makes 8 servings.

    As we say in Texas, Happy New Year, Y'all!

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