Kid-Friendly Casserole

Kids can be picky eaters, especially when it comes to vegetables. But with a little ingenuity, you can get them to eat as healthy as you want.

I’ve discovered that a food processor or something similar can make even vegetables such as mushrooms and onions, vital ingredients to some recipes, slip under the radar of even the most observant child. There’s a meat sauce that I make that has finely chopped mushroom and carrots in it that my grandson just loves. If the mushrooms were whole, though, it probably would be a different story.

I also make a wild rice dressing, which is served with baked pheasant, that contains mushrooms, onions and garlic, in a finely chopped form. It’s another of my grandson’s favorites.

But there are some vegetables that most kids will eat. Green beans are one of them. Therese makes a hamburger hotdish or casserole that the kids just love, and it contains green beans as well as a little finely diced onion and a can of tomato soup. It’s a meal that can be made after you get home from work and be on the table in less than an hour. In fact, we had it just last night, at the request of our granddaughter, Naomi, who is visiting from Cincinnati.

The hotdish is similar to the one my mom made when I was a kid, except it doesn’t have peas or kidney beans, which are found in most canned vegetable soups. If you’re looking for a winning recipe, I recommend it.

Kid-Friendly Casserole

1 10¾-ounce can tomato soup
1 14½-ounce can cut green beans
1 small onion, diced
1 cup macaroni, uncooked
1 pound ground beef, bison or venison
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in cast-iron frying pan. Brown meat and diced onion. While the meat is cooking, cook macaroni according to package directions.
After meat and onion have cooked for about 5 to 10 minutes, add tomato soup, green beans (with water) and salt and pepper. Mix well.
When macaroni is cooked, drain it and then add it to the frying pan. Mix well.
Place mixture in greased casserole dish and bake in 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

Polish Sausage Casserole

It was with great interest that I read msnb.com senior writer Allison Linn’s story today on how the corner meat market is making a comeback in larger cities in the U.S. (/www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39219833/ns/business-consumer_news/). Butchers interviewed said they are seeing demand for pricier beef, pork and poultry raised nearby on small farms with a minimum of additives like hormones and antibiotics.

It reminded me of the days when our small-town butcher shops carried a lot more local meat. I remember the meat markets that my dad frequented in my childhood carried products that were locally raised. Usually, the owner would strike up deals with local farmers for beef and pork as well as chickens, and the animals would be butchered onsite.

Things have changed, but one thing I know is that we still have some pretty good local meat markets. Right here in Grand Forks, L&M Meats has one of the best displays of meat around. In my hometown of Crookston, Minn., B&E Meats is doing the same. And across the region, there are numerous other small shops that specialize in meats such as Neil’s in McIntosh, Minn. And, of course, local supermarkets have a much better selection of meats than they did 20 to 30 years ago.

My most recent trip to one of these local meat markets saw me coming home with a half-dozen homemade Polish sausages. We cooked a couple of them on the grill last night, and they were delicious.

Since I still had four of the Polish left in the refrigerator, I went on a search for a recipe. What I found really looks interesting. The recipe is for a casserole that contains several of my favorite foods. Besides the sausage, the casserole also features beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion and garlic. I can’t wait to give the recipe a try.

Sausage and White Bean Bake
1 pound Polish sausage, sliced diagonally
1 each, chopped: green bell pepper, red bell pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 15-ounce cans white beans, rinsed
1 14½-ounce can stewed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook the sausage in a Dutch oven or oven-proof casserole over medium heat until it begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add peppers; cook until peppers soften, about 2 minutes. Remove sausage and peppers from pan with a slotted spoon; set aside. Pour off the fat; reserve fat.
Heat olive oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion; cook 1 minute. Add mushrooms, cook until liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sausage, peppers, beans, tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste; heat to simmer.
Combine bread crumbs with the reserved fat; sprinkle on top of beans. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley to serve.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 855 calories, 45 percent of calories from fat, 44 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 75 milligrams cholesterol, 2,065 milligrams sodium, 84 grams carbohydrates, 35 grams protein, 15 grams fiber.

Hurray for Hotdish

Sometimes, the best-tasting food is the simplest to make.

A case in point is the hamburger hotdish my wife makes. All Therese does is brown a pound of burger (she likes to use either ground venison or bison), add a can of tomato soup, a can of green beans (and juice), a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a little minced onion and a dash of little salt and pepper before mixing it with some elbow macaroni and plopping it in the oven for about a half-hour to an hour.

It’s a favorite of our grandchildren. One night this this week, she made some for Rakeem’s supper. And the following evening, he and I had leftovers, which really hit the spot before we went out to shoot some trap at the local gun club. In terms of convenience and taste, it can’t be beat.

Just about everybody I know has a favorite hotdish or casserole. When I was growing up, my brothers and I used to gobble down my mom’s hotdish, which was similar to Therese’s.

Another all-time favorite in a lot of families is tater tot hotdish. It’s not a meal I had very often as a kid,  but in terms of taste and simplicity, it ranks right up their with the best.

Here’s a version I came across recently, which I might just have to give a try.

Tater Tot Hotdish
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
¾ cup sliced mushrooms
1 pound extra-lean ground turkey
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1½ tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 2-pound bag frozen tater tots
2 10.5-ounce cans low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, red pepper, carrots and mushrooms and cook until soft. Add turkey, parsley, onion powder and paprika and cook until turkey is browned and fully cooked. Place meat mixture in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine frozen tater tots and soup. Top casserole with the potato mixture. If desired, sprinkle with extra parsley and paprika. Bake 55 to 60 minutes.
Yield: Serves 8.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 283 calories (36 percent calories from fat), 11 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 28 milligrams cholesterol, 33 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams protein, 471 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.