Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday–“Broccoli with Rice” (aka Broccoli. Cheese and Rice Casserole

To kick off the first installment of CCTT, I decided to play it fairly safe and select a recipe I was reasonably sure everyone in this house would eat. (For info about my CCTT project, read here).

This recipe comes from Cotton Country, which was published by The Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana in 1972. The book includes over 1000 recipes, and this particular recipe was submitted by Mrs. Armand E. Breard.

I made this following the directions exactly, and both the husband and the Heathens liked it. You really never can go wrong with a good broccoli rice casserole, and this version is a tasty, basic recipe that is also quick and easy to throw together.

**For CCTT, I will post the recipe exactly as written in the cookbook, but provide my notes and interpretations at the end.**

Broccoli with Rice

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 package frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup grated cheese or one small jar Cheese Whiz
  • 1-1/2 cups cooked rice
  • Tabasco
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread crumbs

Procedure

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and celery in butter until the vegetables are clear. Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well. Mix broccoli with soup and cheese; add celery and onions. Stir in rice; season and mix well. Put into a greased casserole and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. This cam be mixed ahead and frozen.

My Notes

  • I used a package of steam-in-the-bag frozen broccoli and I think it was about 10 or 12 ounces
  • You can easily substitute cream of celery in this
  • I used Cheese Whiz, and I think a small jar is about 8 ounces. If you can’t find a small jar, just use half of the 15-ounce jar. If you go with grated cheese, NEVER use pre-shredded cheese in casseroles and sauces. The anti-caking agent they put on pre-shredded cheese to prevent sticking also prevents it from melting evenly and you won’t get the best result in any recipe.
  • I only added a couple of dashes of Tabasco to keep the Heathens from fussing too much.
  • I’d say I probably added 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper for the seasoning, but just play it by ear.
  • When she says “clear” in reference to the veggies, she just means translucent/softened.
  • You can use seasoned breadcrumbs for this or plain.
  • Usually, the term “casserole” means a 9×13 dish, but when I added the mixture, it ended up being a pretty thin layer in the pan. Next time, I will use a smaller dish or double the recipe.
  • This would be a great potluck dish or side for a big gathering.
  • You could turn this into a full meal by adding cooked chicken, but I would consider increasing the sauce by half to accommodate the chicken.

 

 

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Coming Soon: “Communty Cookbook Throwback Thursday”–A Haphazard Journey Through Grief and Seriously Questionable Coping Mechanisms.

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***Insert meaningful and insightful intro here…or not***

Before my mom passed away, she amassed quite the cookbook collection, many of which she inherited from her mother, or were gifts from the dozens of cousins, aunts, etc. that make up my huge, southern, zany extended family. And that’s where this post and the new series on my blog begins…

I remember spending hours flipping through those books, and not really understanding all of the history they contained, or what they represented to my mother. I would sit at her small, marble-topped kitchen table, turning the wrinkled, dog-eared pages while she miraculously bent our tiny, galley kitchen to her culinary will. Often, she’d pause mid-dinner prep to wash my cornsilk-like hair in the sink, setting a towel on the edge to cradle my neck before sending me off to a proper bath.

I always knew when she was feeling particularly down or frustrated, because that’s when she would fry chicken. After I had kids, she confessed that cooking our traditional fried chicken dinner (with rice, gravy, peas, and biscuits…preferably with mayhaw jelly), was a mental and emotional escape. She found that cooking that meal was the closest connection she could find to her own childhood memories, as well as a unique therapy when tackling the more difficult of life’s challenges.

When we moved to California, Mom was alone in a new place with no family and support system, which looking back, must have been incredibly lonely for her. Sometimes, her loneliness seemed like an invisible raincloud that blanketed our home, and she retreated to the kitchen like it was the only connection to her family and sense of home she could find.  I also remember that, during these low periods,  she pulled out the same few cookbooks from her collection, which were published works from the assorted regional chapters of Louisiana’s Junior League, churches, or other community cookbooks.

When she wanted to try something new, those were the books she looked to for a familiar foundation. Unlike a nationally published cookbook full of glossy photographs of culinary perfection, Mom was more inclined to try a new recipe that she knew came from the communities of her home state (as well as what came from her mother’s and aunts’ generation), and I think these books helped ease the homesickness that seemed to be her constant companion during those years. Other than the familiar recipes and techniques of her up-bringing, any recipe experiments began with a foray into those collections for research she felt she could trust. Looking back, I see that they were more like dictionaries and encyclopedias for a generation that wouldn’t see accessible internet or even unlimited long-distance calls for many years to come

By the time I was in middle school, I knew that the chocolate pie recipe I liked was in The Revel, the Christmas cookie recipe was in Cotton Country, and if I could not remember which recipes she had tried, I could always see her handwritten code in the margins to clue me in (a “check-plus-plus” meant she really liked it). I didn’t realize until we moved home, and I had spent more time with my extended family, that the various Louisiana Junior League  and community cookbooks from that era were staples in every kitchen. Growing up in southern California, I did not realize how much community cookbooks were such an ingrained part of our Louisiana culture.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Mom’s cookbook collection, so when I stumbled across a copy of Cotton Country at a local bookstore, I snatched it up and ran to the register like I was Indiana Jones avoiding that whole boulder issue. What is amazing about the iconic cookbooks of the various chapters of the Louisiana Junior League (published in the 60’s and 70’s) and local churches, is that they continue to be staples in many of our homes, which is why I was able to find this one. For example, Cotton Country was published in 1972 by the Junior League of Monroe, with a first printing of 10,000 copies. Since that time, the book has gone through 21 additional printings, with some topping 60,000 copies per printing, and the most recent being 5,000 in 2016. The book I purchased is identical to the original publication, with the only upgrade being a hardback binding that replaced the annoying comb binding. The book has no photographs, hundreds of recipes, lots of original artwork, and demonstrates just how much a labor of love these books were for their creators. I remarked to my husband about how much work these books were for local communities, because they were complied long before we had computers and software to streamline the process. From the meticulous index to the sheer volume of recipes, I imagine this book, and those like it, was a momentous undertaking and a great source of pride for the women who created it.

As I flip through the recipes, they seem like a microcosm of a by-gone era, both good and bad. I see how much they focused on entertaining (some have notes “will feed 25 for appetizers, or 12 for entrees”), which is something I think we all could use a little more of (entertaining, that is). I feel like the more digitally connected we get, the less meaningfully connected we become to our friends and neighbors, and that a little real togetherness could do us all some good.  These books also often give the ambiguous language of seasoned cooks (“just add to your taste”), which definitely reminds me of the women in my family, and why growing the confidence in cooking through experience is important in familial development.

However, along with all the feel-good nostalgia, I also know that these books also reflect the imbalances of race, gender, and socioeconomic classes that were just as much a part of those decades as beautiful Crab Mornay in elegant silver chafing dishes. In fact, each recipe in my recent purchase features the contributors’ names not as their own, but as a subset of their husbands. For example, rather than see “Mrs. Ann Smith,” you see “Mrs. John Smith,” a tradition that luckily seems to have faded slowly as modern South catches up. If anyone ever tried to call me “Mrs. Bayou-Husband,” I’d probably snort my cocktail right out of my nose. I well know that as charming as many of these books are, and the nostalgia they trigger, we could uncover an entire underlying narrative of racial and class dynamics that deserves acknowledgement, and that I could never do the justice that it deserves.

So, let’s circle back around to what this post is really about. A couple of months ago, I lost my father suddenly, and without warning. I’m trying to process the year-after-year grief sandwich life keeps serving me, losing my grandmother, mother, and father in such a short, successive time. After Mom died, that grief was like acid, eating away at me and it’s pretty much been a self-pity party ever since. This was a trauma I did, and do not, handle well. Except for those times when I kick myself in reminder that I am so blessed, it’s ridiculous. I wallow, but I also kick my own ass nearly everyday because perspective is the first step to a more graceful approach to the grief sandwich digestion project.

I think one of the most difficult parts of losing both parents is that I also feel like I lost a connection to my grandparents, because my parents helped keep their histories alive through their own stories and memories (though I was truly blessed to have my grandmother on Dad’s side live to see all of her great-grandchildren born and to be here for me into my mid-30’s). My mom regaled me of stories of her mom, including that she was a master sewer though my mom could not sew a stitch. I’m scared that I’ll lose those pieces in the telling of the stories to my own kids, and that they lost their own maternal grandparents at such a young age, when I had most of mine into my late teens to 30’s. I had the village. My kids’ village has shrunk in ways they will never know how to miss, but it also encourages me to embrace what’s still here.

I decided that one way to try and prevent an even deeper dive into the unhealthy grief sandwich starts with these cookbooks that defined so much of both my mom’s life, but also all the people in my crazy, zany, lovable family. Both Mom and Dad carried emotional weights from their own upbringings, and I want to learn from what worked and what didn’t. As a crafter, cook, and general maker, of course my approach starts with “PROJECT!!!”

I’m starting a new segment on the blog called “Community Cookbook Throwback Thursday” in which I will make a recipe from an old Junior League, church, or otherwise community cookbook close to me. You will see an unvarnished attempt at the recipe of the week, even if it fails epically, as well as my notes on how to translate the vague portions and directions into coherent words for an actually repeatable recipe.

So, if you actually managed to read this, you get a gold star! Stay tuned for culinary adventures and plenty of mishaps. And maybe, by the end of this little or big experiment, grief won’t be quite such a four-letter word. No promises there, but I promise a good cocktail along the way.

A Couple More Finished Knits

The past couple of weeks have been a flurry of activity. Two of the Heathens had birthdays, we celebrated Easter with family and friends, and spent time constructing new raised beds for the garden. Meanwhile, despite my vow to never join another mystery knit-along again, I fell down the fiber rabbit hole of temptation when I heard about Cascade’s 2018 Knitterati Knit-Along. Besides loving the color palates in the kit, the prospect of adding in some quick knits between my bigger projects, ones that would add up to a blanket at the end of a year, seemed like my kind of project. I got the kit from Jimmy Beans Wool just in time for the first square’s pattern release:

Pattern: Gradient Lapghan Block 1 (pattern available for purchase on Ravelry, and each new square will be released every three weeks. Block 2 is already up. However, if you sign up for Cascade’s newsletter, you can get the patterns for free with coupon codes they send).

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Sweet Pea Colorway

Needles: US 7

Notes and Mods: This block was a learning curve as far as gauge and most people were having issues getting the dimensions. This wanted to block way larger than specified. After watching the Ravelry group, Cascade advised that wet blocking is not ideal, and that the squares will go best if pinned, then lightly sprayed. I should have remembered that superwash wool can be a bit finicky. Overall, it’s a good pattern but row gauge could be an issue for some people. I like the yarn texture, and am definitely more of a fan than the traditional Cascade 220 Superwash.

____________________________

After I finished the block, I did a deep stash dive and pulled out a UFO that has been lingering there for years. I started these mittens at least four years ago, but kept getting discouraged on the cuffs and their time-consuming pattern. I vowed at New Years that I would finally finish them. I may not be skinny or able to run a 5k yet, but dang it, this UFO is finally a FO! How’s that for a resolution win?

Pattern: Grove (available for purchase on Ravelry).

Yarn: Berroco Comfort in Filbert Colorway

Needles: US 6 DPNs

Notes and Mods: The pattern has been updated since I purchased it, which is good because my copy had a couple of errors. This pattern is almost 100 percent charted, so if you can’t do charts, it might not be for you. Additionally, something about my copy made it impossible for my Knit Companion software to magic mark the charts, which slowed down my progress. Rather than removing the needles to turn these inside out for the three-needle bind-off, I just grafted the tops closed. As for sizing, my hands are on the smaller side, and these fit me perfectly. I noticed on Ravelry that others had to make modifications for sizing, and some changed the YO increases because they did not like the spaces they created. Overall, I love the stitch pattern, but if I make them again, I may modify the tops to be more rounded and even.

Finished Knit–Voyager MKAL

I ordered the kit for the Voyager Mystery Knit-a-Long last year, and it subsequently languished in my stash. After feeling guilty, I used the Ravellenics as an excuse to finally tackle it, and though I did not make my deadline, I’m glad this yarn kit did not get swallowed up into my stash black hole.

Pattern: Voyager MKAL (inspired by Season 3 of Outlander). Available for purchase on Ravelry.

Yarn: Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock and String Quintet in the exclusive Voyager colorway kit. I’m not sure if the kits is still available, or of Lorna’s Laces can hook you up with the colors.

Needles: US 4

Notes and Mods: No mods on this one, though I’m on the fence about a-symmetrical shawls, but that’s just personal preference. The slipped stitch techniques made for an interesting fabric, and the lace offered a nice break. But dang if weaving in the ends didn’t take foooor-evvvvv-errrr. Good project, but I’m ready to take a break from fingering weight shawls for a while.

**Knitting readers, just as an FYI, I updated this post about Yarnbox versus Knitcrate. While I may give Knitcrate another try after having to break up with Yarnbox, I’m interested to hear any recommendations on other yarn subscriptions, so drop a comment if you have one**

Greek Bacon-Chicken Wraps and BBQ Bacon-Chicken Wraps–Low SmartPoints and Weight Watchers’ Friendly

So, a couple months ago, I joined Weight Watchers to try and get my health pendulum to swing into a more positive direction. I had previously just been calorie counting in My Fitness Pal, but I was getting concerned that I was so focused on the calorie content of foods, I was missing the fundamentals of nutrition and turning to too many processed foods. I decided to give the new Freestyle program a try, and it’s slowly been changing the way I approach most meals (dinner still has to be a compromise for the husband and Heathens). What made me try it? Here is what is making it worth it for me…for now:

  • I used to just grab a ZonePerfect protein bar for breakfast. It only has 210 calories, so that’s good, right? Um, nope. WW rates this bar at a whopping 8 points, which is over 1/3 of the 23 points I’m supposed to eat a day. Not to mention, I’m starving by 10 and sugar-crashing. However, most fruits have 0 points, as do eggs, which means I could eat a larger portion of something that is better for me, and not a processed, added-sugar cocktail.
  • Lunch was typically a Lean Cuisine. Convenient, and low-calories, right? Um, no again. The Chicken Alfredo meal clocks in at 8 points (man, that protein bar is really looking evil now). The portion is tiny, and I’m starving by 2. However, I can now craft one of my wraps below, piling on chicken and spinach, and come away with a 3 point meal with fruit or veggies to fill in any cracks.
  • Dinner, like I said, is a compromise. I try to make a couple of healthier meals, and air-fry extra veggies for me on the less than ideal meals. However, just running the meal through WW to see points helps me adjust my portion back into sane levels.

Overall, I was skeptical that WW had any value for me, because the food equation seemed straightforward. However,  I fell into the trap of a calories-in-versus-calories-out approach to fitness. Now, I am more thoughtful about the underlying value of what my food choices have, and I can say that I can feel the difference. While I still have some processed ingredients, it’s way better than it was.

So, there’s the explanation as to why you will occasionally see me share a few meal ideas for WW peeps. Now, onto my 3 SP lunch this week. Just remember not to overfill if you want to be able to actually wrap them:

Greek Bacon-Chicken Wrap

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Ingredients

  • 1 Ole Extreme Wellness Spinach & Herbs Wrap
  • 2 TBS Hidden Valley Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing, divided)
  • Fresh baby spinach leaves (as much as you want)
  • Cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, shredded (as much as you want to try and fit in there)
  • 1 ounce fat free feta cheese
  • 1 tsp. real bacon bits

Procedure

    1. Place wrap on a plate and spread with 1 TBS of the ranch dressing. Add spinach and top with cooked chicken. Top chicken with the remaining ranch, then sprinkle with feta and bacon bits, wrap burrito style, and enjoy!

These wraps clock in at only 3 SP:

Additionally, I also make a BBQ variation that comes in at only 2 SP! Same concept, just swap the ranch for Stubbs BBQ sauce and the feta for fat free cheddar:

P.S. I cook chicken breasts in the Instant Pot on Sundays, shred them, and store them in the fridge, so I have the chicken ready on-hand.

**Disclaimer as usual. Weight Watchers doesn’t know me, my blog is not monetized or sponsored, and nobody gives me free crap or anything like that. Oprah is cool, but she doesn’t know me either. I just want to pass along stuff I like someone might like too**

Italian Pot Roast in the Instant Pot

I love my slow cooker, and as much as I love my Instant Pot, I believe that they cannot be 100% interchangeable when it comes to recipe outcomes. However, after forgetting to start my Italian Pot Roast yesterday morning, I decided to adapt it to the IP and see what would happen. With a couple of changes, it came out tender and delicious.

The ingredients are simple:

And it only takes about 7 minutes to throw together. While the cook time is a little longer than many IP recipes, I think trying to shorten it would result in meat that is not as tender as it should be.

The Heathens ate it over some egg noodles, and I did not have to pull together a more labor-intensive Plan-B dinner. Sounds like everyone is a winner, and sanity reigned for another day. Can’t beat that with a stick.

Italian Pot Roast

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Ingredients

  • 3-lb chuck roast
  • 2 TBS canola oil
  • 8 ounces sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix
  • 1 (14-ounce) can beef broth
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 3 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 TBS cornstarch

Procedure

    1. Season roast with pepper on all sides. Set Instant Pot to Sauté setting and let it get hot. Add the canola oil and brown the roast on all sides (this can be a little awkward but it can be done).
    2. Remove roast from IP and set aside. Add mushrooms and onions to the IP, stirring well so they can pick up any browned bits from the bottom of the IP. Return roast to IP. Top roast with onion soup mix, beef broth and tomato paste.
    3. Place lid on IP and switch to Manual mode for 70 minutes at high pressure. When cooking is complete, let it release naturally for 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure. Skim as much fat from the top as you feasibly can.
    4. Switch IP to Sauté mode Add the tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Mix cornstarch with 3 TBS of water and add to the IP, stirring well. Let simmer 5 to 10 minutes until slightly thickened. Shred beef to desired texture. Serve over hot egg noodles and garnish with parsley if you are feeling fancy.

A Couple of Finished Knits

I finished up a couple of knits, just in time to cast on my project for the Ravellenics, which is plodding along:

Pattern: Copycat C.C. Beanie (pattern available for free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Berroco Vintage in Paprika colorway

Needles: US 8

Notes/Mods: Knitted as written, and it was my first time doing a provisional cast on. Pattern is super-easy. Many people add a faux fur pompom on top, but I decided to pass on that.

Pattern: The PussyHat Project (Also free on Ravelry)

Yarn: Brown Sheep Natures Spun Worsted in Cherry Delight Colorway

Needles: US 7 and 8

Notes and Mods: I had no desire to seam a hat, so I stalked other projects on Ravelry and adapted the pattern to knit in the round with a three-needle bind off. I made the brim too long, but doubled over, it fits Bean perfectly. If I make another for myself, I’ll shorten the brim a little to ensure the hat fits as intended.

Chicken Fajita Chowder in the Instant Pot

It’s been a bad couple of weeks around here, so comfort food that is nearly effortless is definitely dominating the menu. I adapted my Chicken Fajita Chowder for the Instant Pot. It’s warm, slightly spicy, and the perfect one-pot meal. It starts by sautéing seasoned chicken, onions and garlic:

Then you just dump the remaining ingredients in the IP:

Just 10 minutes of high pressure later, and dinner is served:

 

      • Chicken Fajita Chowder

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          Ingredients

        • 3 T. all-purpose flour
        • 1 envelope fajita seasoning, divided
        • 3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
        • 4 T. olive oil
        • 1 medium onion, chopped
        • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
        • 15-1/4 oz. can Fiesta Corn
        • 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
        • 4-1/2 oz. can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, undrained
        • 4-1/2 oz. can chopped green chiles
        • 3 c. chicken broth
        • 1 c. instant brown rice, uncooked
        • 10-3/4 oz. nacho cheese soup
        • Garnish: sour cream, shredded cheese, crushed tortilla chips, green onion
          Procedure

        • Combine flour and  2 tablespoons of the fajita seasoning in a large zip-loc bag. Add cubed chicken and give the bag a good shake to coat the chicken.
        • Set Instant Pot to Sauté setting. Add olive oil, and when hot, add the chicken to the pot. Sauté, stirring occasionally until chicken is lightly browned (Some of the flour coating will probably stick to the bottom of the IP. This is normal, and will be fixed in a minute).
        • Add onions and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes, then add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Add the chicken broth to the pot and use a spoon or spatula to help deglaze the bottom of the pot (i.e scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon to release those browned bits).
        • Add the remaining fajita seasoning, corn, black beans, stewed tomatoes, green chiles, and rice to the pot.
        • Put the lid on the IP and switch it to manual. Set timer for 10 minutes at high pressure. When the time is complete, do a quick pressure release. Stir in nacho cheese soup. Serve with desired garnishes.

Finished Knit: “What The Fade?!?” Shawl

I finally finished this monstrosity, and it taught me I am definitely not cut out for mystery knit-a-longs. I love all of this designer’s Fade pieces, so I took a chance on the MKAL, despite being a pretty picky knitter. I can’t decide if this is clown barf or the perfect Mardi Gras accessory.

Pattern: What The Fade?!? (available for purchase on Ravelry)

Yarn: Simple Sock from The Lemonade Shop in the Wade, Goldfish, Sunday Funday, Doughnut, Jeepers Peepers, and Mommy Juice Colorways.

Needles: US 3

Notes: My shawl ended up fairly larger than most, so I may have blocked it too aggressively. I was just trying to even out the tension between the brioche and garter sections. As much as I swore off brioche knitting in the past, this project gave me a lot of practice so I am more confident about my understanding of the technique. As for the yarn, I’m on the fence about this one. I love the quality of the hand-dying, but this yarn is fuzzing and pilling like crazy just from the handling during knitting.

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