Today's entry is straight from the ladies' pages and the Favorite Recipes column -- an anonymous submission by a mid-century modern lady simply know as "Friend". Perhaps Friend was a frugal woman or maybe just a busy cook but this casserole is the quintessential whatever-is-in-the-house preparation. Read on:
One Dish Dinner
Butter Casserole, put in 3/4 cup washed uncooked rice, next add a layer of raw sliced potatoes, then 3/4 pound ground beef, a layer of raw onions and lastly a small can of tomatoes. Season each layer with salt and pepper as you put it in the casserole. Dot top with butter. Cover and bake in oven 1 1/2 hours.
I chose this one for several reasons -- April 10 would have been Grandma's 97th birthday and we were also expecting a visit from John's mother, Marilyn, who I knew would enjoy a blog recipe. Plus, I did indeed had all the ingredients in the house except for the meat.
Meat -- to Cook or Not to Cook?
Speaking of meat, at the store I had several lean ground beef options. In the 1950s there was probably only one choice but for health I chose a 90% lean ground round. I couldn't imagine a casserole swimming in grease. But another question arose -- does the meat really go in the dish raw? Or, should I brown it first? The recipe gave no indication. After asking around, the consensus was to leave the meat raw. After all, the 1 1/2 hour cooking time should be suffice in cooking the meat to appropriate doneness.
I chuckled to myself as I prepped the ingredients for layering -- I had Jasmine rice, Yukon Gold potatoes and Vidalia onions. A marvel of marketing or science? I buttered a french white Corning Ware dish and assembled the ingredients (yep, and the raw meat) in the order listed. I covered the whole thing with foil and placed it in a 375 degree oven since no temp was listed.
While the casserole was baking I cooked split peas, tore apart some Hawaiian rolls, and carved up a fresh pineapple. I could only imagine a similar meal taking place fifty-some years ago. I even grabbed a stick of real butter for the table. No tub butter here!
Moment of Truth
After laboring in the oven for 1 1/2 hours the casserole was done. VERY done. The rice was still semi-crunchy and stuck to the bottom like glue and whole thing was pretty dried out. Everyone was a good sport about it and overall taste wasn't a total loss. It was lacking seasoning and moisture but we decided it was good enough to try again -- with some minor alterations. After all, the convenience of such a meal was very appealing and after over-examining the whole recipe (Grandma used to do that as well, as I recall) I decided to have another go at it -- for the sake of all that was modern.
Exactly one week later I commenced with round two. This time, however, I felt smarter. I still had the Jasmine rice, Yukon Gold potatoes, and Vidalia onions but this week I had Worcestershire sauce and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes for flavor. I also swapped the ground beef for ground turkey to tie it all together. I knew I had to look for liquid opportunities so I also added a half-can of water to the whole dish after I poured the tomatoes on top. Extra butter all around and in it went.
Bake, Baby, Bake
I set the oven at 350 this time and vowed to check the dish at the one-hour mark to check for doneness. At one hour the potatoes still had some crunch but the moisture level was WAY up. This was a good sign. At 1 1/2 hours I removed the casserole and we dished up.
Moment of Truth II
Not bad. Paired with frozen broccoli and canned peaches we were back in the 1950s but the casserole still lacked something. The rice STILL stuck to the bottom but this time it had more liquid to absorb which was a good thing. The meat was fine but not terribly flavorful or interesting (could have used more Worcestershire) and the whole thing could have used a second can of tomatoes, perhaps with roasted green chilies.
Could the framework of this casserole take me to a speedy, frugal weeknight meal? I could imagine taking the whole thing down south with a Mexican feel -- rice, canned black beans, ground meat cooked beforehand with taco seasoning, and two cans of mexican-style tomatoes perhaps. The rice on the bottom needs a bit of additional liquid to start -- maybe that would correct the sticking problem -- or a big shot of cooking spray. Regardless, the search for a tasty, speedy weeknight meal is always a worthwhile pursuit no matter the century. I am sure Grandma would agree. Happy Birthday!