So casseroles kinda freak me out.

Well, they don't freak me out when I'm eating one fresh out of the oven.
It's actually the leftovers that freak me out.
The mixture of meat, vegetable and cream smells, cold and congealed food bits...ugh.

But I do like casseroles a good bit. Yep, I'm a fan. It's so nice to throw everything into a pan and into the oven. The casserole comes out piping hot, and everything compliments one another so well. And casseroles have been around for awhile. Well, cooking food in earthenware dishes has been around for awhile. So I feel like I am continuing and contributing to a well-kept tradition.

From what I understand, the term "casserole" is French for "saucepan"...and we know now it has come to mean both the dish being cooked for consumption and the dish in which it is cooked and served. Casseroles tend to have a meat (chicken, beef, or tuna are common), lots of chopped vegetables (at least ours do :), a kind of starch (flour, pasta, potatoes, etc.), and a liquid or two (like chicken stock or wine). There are far too many variations to list, and many a dish can qualify as a casserole.

But poor casseroles...they can be notoriously disgusting. For instance, take any kind of tuna casserole. It goes in the same category as meatloaf, which can be the best at times and the worst at others. Even though I like tuna casseroles, I still quiver and shiver at the sight of them. Especially the leftovers. Yuck. :) Certain occasions still call for such dishes, however: potlucks and pitch-in's, church gatherings and family reunions, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I LOVE green bean casserole now, and I used to hate it. (I think part of my former dislike has to do with my continual aversion to mushrooms.) I do wonder what other recipes call for French-fried onions because I adore those and will eat them out of the can as I prepare my casserole. Goodness, I love onion.

This week I learned a new term for the casserole: hotdish. It is an upper-Midwestern term for the one-dish meal I have been discussing, although it can run a bit more Scandinavian or Germanic. On the other hand, a favorite seems to be the tater tot hotdish. Tater tot hotdish: now that is an American food dish! I like the sound of "hotdish" perhaps better than "casserole" because it doesn't hold any negative connotations for me as the French term does. Besides, we all know casseroles are at their best when "hot." ;)

SHEPHERD'S PIE isn't a casserole with which we may be familiar, unless you've ever ordered it at Dixie Cafe. *lol* (Of course they just take their meatloaf and top it with their smashed potatoes...which is a-okay with me because I still like it.) It's another traditional British dish--I'm sorry, but I'm nuts about all things British and Irish right now!--and my version isn't technically SHEPHERD'S PIE, but Cottage Pie. SHEPHERD'S PIE is made with lamb while Cottage Pie is made with beef. However, nowadays people tend to call both SHEPHERD'S PIE. Besides, Cottage Pie reminds one of cottage cheese, and there are plenty of bad vibes regarding that dairy product. (Now, I do like cottage cheese, especially with canned peaches, but I can see why it is creepy and gross to others. It's in the same category as tapioca and rice pudding) I hadn't meant to go on and on about casseroles when I chose this dish for this week, but I was reminded of casseroles when I went to reheat the leftovers. (Actually quite a few things appear rather disgusting as leftovers, but once you nuke 'em, it's all better. And let me tell you...our microwave nukes things. You just have to see how B I G it is.)

1/2 lb. ground beef
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 med. onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. flour
1 c. chicken stock
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 c. mashed potatoes

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
-In a skillet, brown the meat until it is completely browned and crumbly. Drain the fat off the meat and transfer to a dish. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel if needed.
-Add the oil and heat. Add the onions and garlic; saute over medium heat until the onions turn golden brown. Return the meat to the skillet and stir to combine.
-Sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture and stir it in. Slowly pour in the chicken stock while stirring. Add the tomato paste, carrots, salt, and pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until the filling is think and bubbling and the carrots have softened (about 15 minutes).
-Pour the meat mixture into a 11 x 9-in. baking dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. (You can make peaks and swirls with the back of a spoon or a crosshatch pattern with a fork. You can even pipe out the potatoes using a pastry bag and a star tip, though this might take awhile. *lol*) Bake the pie until it is bubbling around the edges and the potato crust turns a deeper yellow (about 45 minutes).
-I recommend you serve this with some peas!

[Serves 8]

And because no blog is complete without some kind of picture:

The Lake District in 2009: view from atop Helm Crag
I think this is Derwent Water.


In case you didn't know, I'm a little obsessed with Harry Potter:

The Elephant House: one of the local establishments in Edinburgh where Rowling penned the first HP

my seventeenth birthday cake

my husband as The Boy Who Lived

One of the Gryffindor scarves I made :)
Next on the list: a Gryffindor beanie.

Monica and me at the midnight release party of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Zach got me a Dobby minifig for Christmas 2010

Magical and Muggle at the showing of Part 1 of Deathly Hallows

my collection of HP books along with my Freeing Dobby Lego set & the Harry Potter Sorting Hat charm holder Sara got me for my birthday once upon a time
(We recently got rid of all our paperback Harry Potter books.)

with Harry

I recently had a $10 Amazon voucher from Coinstar I needed to use, so I consulted my Wish List. And what did I find I really, really, really wanted? This. :)

The week when it arrived we had tried to bake PUMPKIN BREAD in our bread machine. It did NOT turn out. The recipe called for canned pumpkin, but all I had on hand was pumpkin pie mix. It was my understanding that you could substitute the pumpkin pie mix for the canned pumpkin as long as you omitted the seasonings and (part of) the sweetener because these are already included in the mix. The first loaf we tried did not have nearly enough pumpkin for our tastes. It did not have that dense, rich texture either. So we tried to double up on the pumpkin pie mix. Well...the bread machine rebelled and did not mix the dough enough, so it did not rise. Alas, alack, we decided to discard that recipe.

When we had all but given up hope, luckily this gem came in with a pumpkin bread recipe. Even though it wasn't a bread machine recipe, I baked it up. It turned out beautifully! :) The following recipe is based on the one in the cookbook:

1 1/2 c. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
a sprinkle of each of the following: cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter or margarine at room temperature
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 c. pumpkin pie filling
1/3 c. whole milk
powdered sugar, for dusting

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.* Grease and flour a loaf pan. Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and seasonings.
-In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about four minutes. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the pumpkin and beat until combined. Add the milk and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture in thirds and mix on the lowest speed until combined. Scrape and fold with a rubber spatula to finish.
-Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, rotating halfway through baking, until the top is golden and the loaf is well risen and feels firm when pressed lightly in the center. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan. To serve, remove the loaf from the pan and dust with powdered sugar.

[Makes 1 loaf]

*If you are using a glass or dark metal pan, reduce baking temperature by 25 degrees to prevent overbaking.


I have embraced the bean.

Yep. There. I said it. I embraced the bean. I like beans now.
Well, I like them again.

Just like cabbage, I used to love beans when I was a little fat toddler hopping around. Then I got all weirded out by the texture and smell and stopped eating them. Somewhere in high school, I think, I decided black beans were okay every now and again because they stayed much more firm than normal beans. And I loved Mexican food. And I ate it a lot. So I had to get used to them. (I still won't do refried least, not by themselves. They're okay in burritos, but I prefer a good chicken chimichanga!) Slowly I started to eat more beans, but only in dishes. Finally, I grew to love green beans. (Yeah, I didn't like those beans either. :)

When I started dating Zach, we faced a problem. He loved them; I tolerated them sometimes. Somewhere along the way I started craving chili every now and then. I would eat a few baked beans, especially the ones his mom makes. This summer I did the unthinkable: I ate beans and cornbread. And I didn't die of disgust.

Don't get me wrong...I'm still not crazy for them. I really do not like how they smell when they are cooking. The odor reminds me of school and hospital cafeterias and those yellow janitorial buckets. Ew. The texture is what really weirds me out, and I'm not a texture person. But beans do. I've learned I can ingest them, and with pleasure, so long as they are with something else that distracts from their texture. Strangely enough I've started to avoid hamburger meat on the other hand because its texture has started to get to me. I like my three-bean vegetarian chili much better than any with ground beef. I can't explain these things rationally. It is like my horror at words that begin with "bel-," excluding "bell" and "belle" and "bella."

Now that I typed out those words, I feel a little squeamish.

Anyway, I have embraced the bean. And this past weekend I made some really delicious BLACK BEAN SOUP. It is my favorite bean after all...not counting the green ones. Or the jelly ones. (But then I get picky. :)

2 slices bacon
2 tsp. olive oil
1 c. diced onion (about 1 medium onion)
1/4 c. diced celery (about 1 rib)
2 (14 1/2-oz.) cans chicken broth
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained*
1 (10-oz.) can chicken breast, drained (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
sour cream (optional)

-Cook bacon until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels.
-Add olive oil, onion, and celery to bacon drippings and cook 5-7 minutes until onion is translucent.
-Combine broth, beans, chicken (if desired), bay leaves, salt, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and paprika in a large pot. Add onion and celery. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves before serving.
-Top with crumbled bacon and sour cream (if desired).

[6 servings]

*Instead of using canned beans, I used about 3 cups of cooked beans (1 cup dried).

NOTE: I didn't use the chicken this time around, but if and when I do, I will probably use fresh over canned. (Canned chicken is kinda freaky. *lol*) I also didn't have any bay leaves on hand. :( I always add more black pepper because we like pepper A LOT. :)

This is very tasty. You may need to add more chicken broth than what is called for if you allow it to cook down. (We did.) It also could be tasty to substitute beer for the broth. (Just a suggestion... ;)

Menu Monday: COLCANNON

This week on facebook I began a note listing the books I (will) finish in 2011 as I attempt to fulfill a New Year's resolution to read more. It was unspoken...well, it was until I wrote it down. :) So far I'm on my third/fourth book this year. (While attempting to finish a book I started last June, Pilgrim's Progress, I have started a new book. I don't think I will ever finish it.)

This is one of the few years that I did not write out my resolutions, along with mini-goals that would lead to their fulfillment. Don't get me wrong...I can't think of a single resolution I have stuck to, although there are some that became rather *frequent* habits. Then you take something like my daily photo album that began not as a New Year's resolution--though I often plan to journal more every January--and I am still going strong.

This time around, I just mulled them over. But it doesn't do much good to state your resolutions, even to yourself. So I have been looking for ways to fulfill them and be proactive. I decided I would start a weekly feature on this blog regarding another unspoken resolution: to try a new recipe (once a week or so).

Besides, it would give me something to write about on here. ;)

I love to try new recipes, but it's very easy to get into a rut. That being said, since we've moved, I have probably tried more than one recipe a week...probably because I haven't cooked in my kitchen for more than six months. I doubt this will continue once I become gainfully employed, so I want it to become habitual now while I have the time to get started and find recipes I want to make. I like to be as adventuresome as I can in the kitchen, taking into consideration our time and resources and event, so I also like to adapt old recipes to new situations. I want to share my experiments...uh, recipes...with you, including some favorites every now and then. I suppose that will be my back-up plan if I fail. *haha* Everyone LOVES food, so I can't think of a thing more fun to blog about. (Hey, I told you upfront a lot of this blog would be about food.)

I'm not going to go back over the things I have cooked since the year began, so my first recipe will be from this past weekend.

I wrote about COLCANNON the first time in my daily photo album back in October:

"Originally I had planned to make colcannon, which, if you do not know, is an Irish dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. How Irish can you get?

Well, you can throw in some corned beef, but that would not be true to form. Bubble and Squeak is a similar British dish in which leftover vegetables from Sunday's roast dinner is fried and served with cold meat. (And Rusty could not understand why I was dying to have roast and Yorkshire pudding on Sunday! It's tradition! At least I finally found some--on Monday, might I point out--and it was a HUGE dish. No wonder they eat the leftovers the next day. This same dish is called Rumbledethumps in Scotland. (I also dream of making lumpy bumpy cake. We have such boring food names here. *tehe*)

I also read that it was a Halloween tradition in Ireland to hide coins in colcannon, like the British do with Christmas plum pudding."

I used to like cabbage when I was younger, then I hated it, and now I am rediscovering it. This is something I have wanted to try since the summer. I have found it to be very tasty in this recipe, which is great for spicing up instant mashed potatoes. (OR you can make your own, which are even better.) This dish is easy to make, and neither the smell nor the flavor of the cabbage is overwhelming. Also, cabbage and potatoes are cheap, and this works well as leftovers. (We know; we had them again today.) Of course, if you don't like onion or garlic in your mashed potatoes, you probably won't like cabbage. But I say the more, the merrier. :)

3 c. green cabbage, finely shredded
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. water
4 cups mashed potatoes (instant or homemade*)

-Place cabbage, onion, and water in a saucepan or Dutch oven and quickly bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until tender, about 8 minutes.
-Add mashed potatoes and stir well to heat through.
[4-6 servings]

*Recipe for homemade mashed potatoes: 6 cooked potatoes, 1/4 c. milk, 1/4 c. butter, salt & pepper to taste

Our 2010 (Part 2)

We began celebrating the Fourth of July early with the annual Spa Blast at Oaklawn.
Using my free tickets from participating in the APA and UCA Graduate Conference, we went to see The Comedy of Errors. It was one of the best productions I have seen!

Linda Adams sent me a copy of her second cookbook after we met at Lindsey and Sam's wedding in June. I gushed like a teeny bopper! :)Zach, Bree, and I scored free Chick-Fil-A when we celebrated Cow Appreciation Day by dressing up like them.We went to Juanita's to see Delta Spirit!

Zach built a sweet Lego pub.We played lots of board games and card games with our friends.

The anniversary of our engagement was July 19 and we wanted to celebrate with some Italian, but Angel's disappointed us.I celebrated Monica's 26th birthday at Mimi's with bohemians.Erin and I had a Boone's Farm night. Epic bad decision? Probably. *lol*

Zach had an interview in Illinois, so we stayed with Joe and Beth and celebrated his 26th birthday Normal-ly.
The month kicked off with my best niece Briley's third birthday. She is growing up too fast!Zach and I went to the Malco to watch a documentary, Forgetting Dad, and Night of the Living Dead.I mastered Apples-to-Apples!My hand was burned once again, and this time it wasn't my fault. I was helping make Momo's 90th birthday dinner when I used a potholder with a hole.
We fell in love with McCann's Irish Steel-Cut Oatmeal and Cadbury Mini-Egg Cookies.

Zach's parents bought us a beautiful cinnamon settee for graduation!Anatoliy joined us for the night in Hot Springs. We took him to the Brau Haus (of course!) and went swimming after touring the Diamond Bear Brewery in Little Rock.I finally got my chocolate chess birthday pie. It's never too late for pie. Especially birthday pie.

Mockingjay arrived just in time.

I finished knitting my first scarf, a tri-color block skinny scarf.We attended the Blues Festival and Gallery Walk with Zach's parents. I did not like getting carded! *boo* *hiss*
Later in the month, Zach and I went to the Jazz Fest.

Monica came down this way, and we headed to Christy's wedding. She made a beautiful bride!The next day Zach and I headed to Little Rock for Whitney and Brian's reception. :)We went to the library, and I looked into some knitting books. I found the absolutely coolest one: a Harry Potter knitting guide. Thus began my marathon Gryffindor House scarf knitting session!

The first Saturday after Labor Day is the annual Powell reunion. My dad's maternal side joined together for food, fun, and fiddling.
Our anniversary weekend was B-U-S-Y: we attended the county fair with Erin and Josh before celebrating Bobby's birthday at Cajun Boilers and with a chocolate cake I decorated. Finally, Zach and I went on a picnic at sunset atop West Mountain. It was a lovely first wedding anniversary. :)I got a surprise cookbook in the mail from the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, and I cooked up some delicious dinners including French onion soup and homemade pizza.

My mama came down to Hot Springs for us to celebrate her birthday (and Hobie's). I made and decorated her a cocoa-nut cake and gave her the scarf I knitted. We had a blast.
Zach went on interviews at NorthWest Arkansas Community College and at Penn Valley Community College. We stayed with Uncle Chuck while in NWA and with Adriane and Terry while in KC. Boy, we had missed that city!

Zach's roommate from UA, Brandon, and his wife, Anna, invited us to the State Fair. We had a blast!The Kings of Leon released their latest album, Come Around Sundown. *swoons*Erin won a free makeover, so we had a girls' day trip to North Little Rock for some pampering.

Zach and I attended my cousins' annual Spooktacular. He went as Harry Potter, and I went as a peacock. I won Best Costume! It was great to see my Omicron's again.We headed back to KC and NWA after Zach was invited back for a second round of interviews.

Zach got the job at NWACC! We celebrated with Braum's holiday ice cream.
On October 28, we lost our dear friend Dan in a car wreck. He was a loving friend to all, and it has been heartbreaking to lose him.
We miss you, buddy!As we were moving in a few days, we went ahead and hosted a Halloween party to visit with our family and friends. Rob and Mechelle cheered us up with their wild get-ups. [We forgot to tell them they didn't need to wear costumes anymore.]On Halloween, we moved to Springdale to stay with Zach's relatives until we found our own place.

Zach started his new job at NWACC!
We went on our first NWA date to the Pinnacle Hills Promenade.Osage oranges are creeptastic.
Dickson Street, anyone? We met Zach's friends Mervin and Teryl in Fayetteville for drinks.

Aunt Jeannie and Nancy kept us fed very well. :)
Zach's parents celebrated their thirty-first anniversary together on his mom's birthday.

After seeing many a place, apartment, and duplex, we found our HOME! We signed our lease on November 19, our lucky day.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 blew. our. minds.
The weekend before Thanksgiving we attended the lighting of the Fayetteville Town Square.I caught a terrible stomach bug and struggled through Thanksgiving.On the last day of the month, I celebrated the anniversary of my day-by-day photo album on facebook.

We moved into our new home in Bentonville and christened it The Owlery. We are so blessed. :)Terry stopped by on his way back to KC from Mandy's wedding and shared brunch with us. His daughter, Maeryn Beatrix, would be born that weekend!
Before finishing unpacking, we put up our tree and decorations.I started this blog to follow our adventures in NWA. ;)

Our first Christmas cards were mailed. (We were too busy last year to send any.)I fell in LOVE with my new kitchen and cooked nearly every day and night.We baked Christmas goodies for our sweet family and friends.

I traveled to Bryant for my old friend, Amber Mac's baby shower. She is having a boy, and they are naming him Carson. My mama and I are so excited from them and her mama Lisa.The Pharr's hosted Josh's family for Sayer's Christmas. He LOVED his Duplos.After a very eventful ride home, Hobie is now living with us and loving it.Santa Alan visited me. I was on the nice list. Not so sure about Zachary... ;)

Kevin and Bree paid us a visit and stayed the night after her interview at UAFS. She got the job!

Following a candelight service at Chuck and Jeannie's church, Hobie, Zach, and I spent Christmas Eve watching cartoon specials and opening presents. We loved everything we got, and I am so thankful I had the good sense to push some things back to other days.Christmas Day we headed in the SNOW to Hot Springs to spend it with Zach's family and my mama. It was a beautiful and wonderful day.The days after the holiday were filled with shopping, visits with friends, loads of sweets, and Legos. We got to visit my Bryant girls, and Zach held a baby--Drake--for the first time!New Year's Eve was spent watching Trapped in the Closet with Brian and Whitney and eating these shortbread fingers. Who could ask for anything more?

May your 2011 be filled with the blessings of joy and peace.
What are the highlights of your 2010? What special events happened or memories do you have of this past year?