In this brave new world, we all need a little comfort, a little love.
Because we are now isolated from our family and friends, many of us are turning to recipes that have been handed down through generations as a way of comforting ourselves. Food has a unique ability to connect us both to memories and to the people for whom we’re cooking. Creating a meal for someone is saying to them that you love them and want to nourish them, body and soul. Using an “heirloom” recipe sparks memories that make us smile. And let’s face it, we all can use a smile these days.
In the spirit of getting through this rough time, I’m sharing some recipes that my family loves. Some are heirloom, some aren’t. All are from the heart. I hope they make you smile.
Chicken Enchilada Casserole
1 pound cooked, shredded chicken (I use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs that I’ve roasted and shredded, but you can breasts, rotisserie whole chickens… whatever you have on hand!)
1 package corn tortillas
1 large yellow onion, diced
8 ounces shredded cheddar-jack cheese
2 tablespoons oil (I use avocado oil, but use whatever you have in your quarantine kitchen!)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth or stock (or vegetable broth/stock or water)
1 4-ounce can chopped mild green chiles
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (or regular oregano)
Salt and pepper to taste
Several dashes hot sauce (for this recipe, I use Cholula, but use what you have in your kitchen!)
1 cup sour cream
In a large skillet or on a griddle over medium heat, warm the corn tortillas on both sides for about 30 seconds. You can also wrap the tortillas in a damp kitchen towel (save the paper towels for something messy) and microwave them for about 45 seconds. Cut the tortillas in half.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste and start to toast the flour for a little depth of flavor. Slowly add in your liquid of choice, stirring constantly to make sure there are no lumps. Allow the mixture to bubble and add in the chopped green chiles, the seasonings, and the hot sauce. Stir well and remove the sauce from the heat, allowing it to cool for about 10 minutes before stirring in the sour cream.
To assemble the stack, spread about 2 tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom of a casserole dish. Cover the bottom with several tortilla halves. Spread half the chicken, one third of the diced onion, one third of the shredded cheese, and one third of the sauce over the tortillas. Make another layer of tortillas, and spread the other half the chicken, one third of the diced onion, one third of the shredded cheese, and one third of the sauce. Cover with the remaining tortillas and cover with the remaining sauce, onions, and cheese. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 40 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling around the edges. Removed from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6.
Pot o’ Beans
This is pantry and freezer cooking at its finest – dried beans, some sort of ham product, a few seasonings, and that’s it. Nothing could be easier, and few things are more comforting.
1 pound pinto, black, navy, black-eyed peas, or whatever dried beans you have in the pantry, rinsed well
1 small onion, halved
2 to 4 cloves garlic, smashed
Dried herbs (for pintos, I use chili powder and oregano; for black beans, I use cumin and Mexican oregano; for navy beans, marjoram or savory, and for black-eyed peas, I use thyme)
2 bay leaves
½ pound smoked or cured meat (this is where you get to clean out your fridge/freezer – you can use ham, smoked sausage, smoked turkey legs, ham hocks, salt pork, prosciutto ends, andouille, tasso… or you can leave it out entirely for vegetarian/vegan beans)
Enough water to cover the beans in the pot by two inches
Salt and pepper to taste
Cider vinegar, optional
Hot sauce to taste, optional
If you have time and remember, soak the beans in a bowl of water overnight. If you don’t have time or are like me and forget, don’t worry. It’s okay.
Combine all the ingredients except the salt, vinegar, and hot sauce in a large stock or soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a very low simmer. If you have soaked your beans, simmer the beans for about an hour, stirring occasionally. If you haven’t soaked your beans, simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally. The beans are done when they are creamy all the way through and the water has turned to a brothy soup. Season with the salt to taste. I like a little vinegar and hot sauce in my beans, but these are entirely optional. Serve over rice or as a soup with cornbread. Makes enough for 4 to 6 for a couple of meals.
This is a recipe that my husband brought to the family, and it’s a favorite! It has morphed over the years from the original recipe, and it’s infinitely forgiving. You can change it to your taste, adding and subtracting ingredients as you wish.
1 pound lean ground beef (or whatever ground meat you have in your freezer)
1 8-ounce box button mushrooms, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 bag frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 bag frozen, chopped kale, thawed and drained (or collards or turnip greens or another bag of spinach)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper
2 ounces grate Parmesan (you can use the real Parmigiana-Reggiano or the stuff in the green can – in these quarantined times, use what you have!)
8 ounces grated sharp cheddar
Brown the ground beef with the chopped mushrooms and the diced onions in a skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Drain well.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef with mushrooms and onions, thawed and drained greens, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, sour cream, salt and pepper, half the grated Parmesan, and half the grated sharp cheddar. Pour into a casserole and top with the remaining cheeses. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4 to 6. If you have any of this left over, it’s amazing in omelets. In fact, we usually make a double batch so we do have leftovers!
My Mother’s Meatloaf
I love this recipe. It is the essence of my childhood.
1 pound lean ground beef
½ small onion, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained well and juice reserved
1 large egg
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup bread crumbs
½ cup chili sauce (this is my addition, and I like Heinz the best)
Combine the ground beef, onion, celery, diced tomatoes (but not the juice), egg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and breadcrumbs. This is fun for little ones to get in and muck about with – just make sure their hands are well-cleaned before and after! Divide the mixture in half, and form two loaves in a large baking dish.
In a small bowl, combine the drained and reserved juice from the diced tomatoes with the chili sauce. Pour this over the meat loaves. Bake in a preheated 375° oven for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. My mother served this with rice and a green salad. I either serve rice or mashed potatoes and a green salad. Serves 4. If there’s any left over, it’s great on sandwiches the next day.
I’ve seen a lot of memes on social media essentially lamenting the fact that we will come out of sheltering in place fatter than we went in. While I’m not saying that we all need to pig out on junk food, we do need to be gentle with ourselves. We are dealing with a situation that we have never dealt with before. Food brings us closer together, metaphorically speaking, and we need that right now. Love yourself, love your family, and wash your hands!