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Sunday, September 30, 2012

A hearty brunch casserole for a crowd

For some reason, the approach of fall makes me think of brunch--one of my favorite meals--and hearty casseroles of meat, potatoes, and eggs. In summer, we think of brunch as a light meal with fruit, salads, maybe an omelet or frittata, and a bellini or mimosa. But fall, with its cooler temperatures, requires hearty meals.
I used to love to cook brunch for my big family when they gathered at my house, but, alas, that doesn't happen much any more. There are too many of them these days. and my house seems to have shrunk--or maybe, as they move into their forties, my kids are less willing to put up with crowded quarters and less than ideal sleeping space. And too often they opt to go out. I still like the idea of brunch at home, and here's what I'll fix next chance I get. The best part is that you have to do it the night before.
I first tasted this one morning when our Book Ladies group had its monthly meeting at the home of Janet and Dave Douglass. Loved it and thought the croutons were a special touch.

Sausage and Egg Casserole

Spread about 3 cups of croutons over the bottom of a greased 9x13 baking dish
Layer the following
1-2 lbs. ground pork sausage, browned and drained (your choice--how meaty do you want it? and do you want regular or hot sausage?)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 4 oz. can mushroom stems and piecs (optional and I think they got lost in all the other good flavors)
4 eggs beaten
3/4 tsp. dry mustard
1-1/2 cups milk
Pour over layered ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.
When rady to bake, combine 1/2 cup milk with 1 can cream of mushroom soup and spread over the top.
Bake in pre-heated 300 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours.

I'd serve this with biscuits, bloody Marys, and coffee.
Serves 12.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Norwegian hamburgers or kottjaker

When my son Colin and his fiancé Lisa first returned from the Caribbean, they lived with Lisa’s parents in Sugar Land, Texas. Lisa’s mother, Torhild, was born and raised in Norway and came to this country as a soldier’s bride at the age of seventeen. She still cooks some of the dishes she knew as a child, and Colin particularly fell in love with these hamburgers (and I might add, with John and Torhild, as did we all). Torhild calls them Norwegian meat cakes, but we’ve all come to use the term hamburger. In Norway these are called kottjkakers.  I can’t believe they used packaged gravy mix when Torhild was young—I think that’s an American shortcut she has introduced!

 Norwegian hamburgers

3-4 slices of onion

3 Tbsp. butter (do not use oil)

1½ lbs. extra-lean hamburger (extra-lean is important)

2 eggs

3 Tbsp. cornstarch or potato starch

½ tsp. pepper

Milk as needed

4-5 envelopes instant gravy mix, prepared as directed

2 beef bullion cubes

Sauté onion in butter. Mix hamburger, eggs, cornstarch and pepper. Add milk as needed; start with ¼ c. and add ¼ c. at a time, but DON’T let the meat mixture get soggy. The last time I made a double batch of these, they tended to fall apart while I was browning them. I bet my mom’s trick of throwing a little tapioca into meatloaf would work here, too. Shape into patties and brown in same skillet as onions. Remove.

Make gravy in skillet, according to package directions. Add 2 bouillon cubes. When gravy thickens, return burgers and onions to pan and simmer 45 to 60 minutes.

Serve with white rice, egg noodles, or boiled potatoes. Peas, beets, or green beans are nice with this.
FREE SHORT STORY: I've worked this dish into a short story featuring Kelly, from my Kelly O'Connell Mysteries. Download it or read it here:


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pomodoro al riso--tomatoes with rice

When I first came to Rome, a woman in my English class offered me a ride home after class. As we negotiated the traffic, she pointed to burn on her wrist, explaining that she had gotten it the night before preparing a dish for a potluck at her daughter’s school. She had been making pomodoro al riso (tomatoes with rice), a classic Roman favorite. When I told her I didn’t know the dish, she was appalled. She promised to bring me the recipe at the next class.

Ten years later, I still have the handwritten recipe, the first anyone in Rome gave me. It itself is a classic because it demonstrates the imprecision of Italian recipes. The directions included un pugno di riso, un filo d’olio extra virgine, and sale q.b. Those mean, a fistful of rice, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, and “enough amount” salt, which I take to mean salt to taste.  I offer you a recipe for Pomodoro al Riso with a little more guidance.

The tomatoes for this dish should be nice, fat round ones about four-five inches in diameter. They should be firm and unblemished. Pomodoro al Riso is a perfect potluck dish because it’s equally good when it comes out of the oven, when it comes out of the fridge, or when it’s been sitting on the table for an hour. This recipe serves four, but it’s easy to double or triple for a crowd.

Pomodoro al Riso
4 tomatoes (see above)

1 cup rice (I suggest medium grain)

2-3 leaves of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
1 clove of garlic, minced

Extra virgin olive oil (about 2 tablespoons, but be flexible here)
1 large potato (the waxy kind)

Salt and pepper to taste.
1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 C.)

2.      Carefully cut around the tomato to remove a little cap (see photo). Reserve.

3.      Using a grapefruit or other spoon, scoop out the pulp of each tomato into a bowl, being careful not to break through the outer wall.

4.      Sprinkle the interior of each tomato with salt and invert on paper towel to allow excess liquid to drain.

5.      Meanwhile, peel the potato, cutting it into slices.

6.      Add the rice, minced garlic, and basil to the tomato pulp and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste, but remember that the tomatoes have already been salted.

7.      Fill each tomato loosely with the rice mixture. Place the tomatoes in a baking dish brushed with olive oil. Top each tomato with its cap.

8.      Arrange the potato slices around the tomatoes, using the potatoes to prop the tomatoes upright where necessary. Drizzle with that thread of olive oil over the entire dish, making sure the potatoes are coated.

9.      Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, checking from time to time to make sure the potatoes are not sticking.
Patricia Winton writes about two of Italy’s great works of art: food and crime. Her story, “Feeding Frenzy,” appears in Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology. She is currently working on her second book featuring the sleuth introduced in that story. She blogs on alternate Thursdays at Italian Intrigues ( and Novel Adventurers ( She invites you to drop by for a visit

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hot dogs move out of the ball park

Photos by Susan Halbower
Have you noticed that the lowly hot dog has moved uptown? There are restaurants across the country specializing in a thousand and one ways to serve the dog, and some of them have really creative names: The Dogfather, Willie's Weenies, Hot Diggety Dogs, Hot Dog Heaven, Frankies by the Sea, Dogsters, Flying Weenie (We have Flying Saucer (beer) and Flying Fish in Fort Worth, so that one really intrigued me), Matt's Gourmet Hot Dogs (there it is--the idea of hot dogs being gourmet), and so many others I can't list them all.
In the Kelly O'Connell Mystery I'm currently working on, one of the characters wants to open an upscale hot dog restaurnt. At a loss what to name it, I put out a plea for help on the Sisters in Crime subgroup Guppies and on Facebook, and I was flooded with suggestions--two-and-a-half pages worth. Some I really liked included Chez Haute Dog, Dogs of Distinction, Franks with Flair, Frankly Wienerful, Dogs 'n Dijon, Oui! Oui! Weenies. The winner, submitted by a former neighbor and chosen by my daughter, Jordan, is Bun Appetit.
But the whole thing inspired me to fix a hot dog bar for a Labor Day picnic for neighbors and a few friends  I put a wide variety of toppings on a lazy susan and made little tent cards with suggestions:
Mexican Dog: salsa, jalopenos, cheese, crushed chips; wrap it in a tortilla
Coney Dog (this is traditional): chili, cheese, and onions
Franks 'n Beans: baked beans not pintos, onion, mustard
Chicago Dog (also traditional): chopped tomato, dill pickle slice, sweet pickle relish, onion, mustard
German or Reuben Dog: Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, sweet pickle relish, brown mustard
Others that I didn't offer include:
Hawaiian Dog: grilled pineapple wedges and red onion rounds, chopped and seasoned with sugar, salt and cayenne
Bahn mi Dog: Dissolve 1 tsp.sugar in 2 Tbsp. white vinegar, add 2 shedded carrots and 1/2 tsp. coarse salt; top grilled hot dog with mayo, thinly sliced cucumber, carrot mixture, jalopenos, and cilantro (how do you get all that in your mouth?)
Croque Madame (French, obviously):Wrap the hot dog in ham and Swiss cheese and top with bechamel sauce (still questioning that in my mind)
And then there are the classic Donkey Tails from Tolbert's Restaurant: hot dogs stuffed with cheese, wrapped in a tortilla, and lightly fried, served with chili and salsa for dipping or dunking. I believe these are an invention of the late, great chili king, Frank Tolbert.
The possibilities are endless, but I advise starting with a good quality hot dog. There are many brands, but my favorites are Hebrew National and Nathan's. If you have other combinations, please do tell me about them. Maybe they'll go on the menu at Bun Appetit--I'm getting so carried away by the idea I just might have to open the restaurant.
Serve with chip and dip, potato salad and dessert if you wish.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A guest blogger with two spicy recipes

Please welcome my guest, author Krista Ames. Krista lives in Northern Michigan with her husband, four children, two female chocolate labs, and a three-legged cat. Maybe in that cold country they need these recipes to keep them warm. Love the idea of crawdads in Michigan!

Hi everyone, I’m Krista Ames and first I’d like to thank the wonderful Judy Alter for allowing me to invade her blog space to share some nonsense from my world J
As for me with so many thanks to my wonderful hubby, I am a stay-at-home mom to four terribly ornery and lovable kids.  In my spare time I’m also a published author with a few houses, which was no easy feat.  I would love to share with you my most recent release but first…food.  One of my other loves is cooking.  In my house, there’s never enough food it seems whether it be feeding the six of us or even a house full of teenage friends that happen to show up unannounced and hungry. 

The first recipe I’d like to share is a creation of my husband’s but it’s one of my favorites.  Besides the fact I just love it when he cooks, and he’s so darn good at it.
New Orleans Style Pasta

1 lb. Fettuccini noodles

2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. crawdads
8 oz. cocktail shrimp without tails
Salt & Pepper and a pinch of Garlic
1 lb. Andouille sausage (or sausage of choice)
1 pint heavy cream

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil and add pasta – cook to almost tender (just past al dente).  While pasta cooks, turn a 13” skillet on med/high heat and add 2 T. butter, 8 oz. crawdads and 8 oz. shrimp.  Sauté with salt & pepper & garlic for 2 to 3 minutes.  Cut sausage into bite size pieces and add to skillet and cook 2 to 3 more minutes.  Then add 1 pint of heavy cream to skillet and reduce temp by half. Add pasta to skillet, mix until sauce sticks to pasta.
Doesn’t that sound easy and yummy?  Trust me, it’s delicious and it does have a little bit of warmth to it just so you know.

Now for the second recipe…hmmm…I think I’ll give you this ~ a perfect summer meal and another one of my favorites J
 Spicy Peanut Chicken Salad

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in bite size pieces
2 Tbsp. butter
Lettuce (Romaine hearts work best ~ 6 cups, more or less per preference)
4 Tbsp. Spicy Thai-style peanut sauce, divided (we use House of Tsang brand but any will do)
1/2 cup Chow Mein noodles

Cut chicken into bite size pieces.  Put 2 T. butter in a 10” sauté pan.  Heat over med/med high heat until butter is melted and hot.  Add chicken and sauté until cooked thoroughly stirring often.  Transfer chicken to a bowl and refrigerate until cold.  Make sure there is no excess liquid before chilling.

With a clean knife and cutting surface, cut lettuce into 1” wide strips.  Place in large mixing bowl.  Once chicken is cool, drain any excess liquid off and add to lettuce.  Add 2 Tbsp. of peanut sauce to chicken and lettuce and mix together. Add ½ c. Chow Mein noodles and an additional 2 Tbsp. peanut sauce and fold in lightly. 
~ please feel free to add more or less of each ingredient according to your taste ~

I often post recipes on my own blog as well so please visit and eave me a comment!
 As for as my writing, I have four short stories out with Turquoise Morning Press: “Love in an Elevator” in the Believe: Christmas Anthology 2010, “Love Takes the Cake” in the Be Mine, Valentine anthology, “Whiskey’s Sweet Revenge” in the All Bets Are On! anthology,  and “Surf’s Up” in the Summer Shorts anthology.  They can all be found at       

My current release is a novella out with Ruby Lioness Press called…Second Chances

If you could get a Second Chance...
When the love of Dana's life leaves without a word, she is forced to move on with her life. Despite loving him, she believes she will never see him again but, little does she know, she's being set up for a night that will change her life forever.

Nicholas, a Navy man, did the only thing he could to save the woman he loved. Driven by a secret, he disappeared and returns, years later, with hope for love. With one opportunity, will he be able to make things right, or is it just too late? Will she deny any desire for Second Chances?

Second Chances can be found at:


I can be found at various places as well….
Amazon Author Page:
TRR Author Page:

I love visitors so please stop in, sign up to follow me and leave me a message!!
Thanks,    Krista