Funeral Potatoes with Ham

Now syndicated on BlogHer.
A couple of weeks ago, I was startled by a cookbook among the books we picked up at the library. I don’t generally read new cookbooks and why on earth were we getting one from the library. It was too polished, too many pictures, too new. Cook’s Country Best Lost Suppers-Old-Fashioned, Home Cooked Recipes Too Good to Forget, 2009. I put it in the cold room to flip through while waiting for the dogs to come in.

I didn’t like it. First was the matter of the pictures (am not a fan). Then there was the matter of the “Notes from the Test Kitchen” at the end of each recipe. These were family favorite recipes from all over the country. How dare they change them? I read on though. And I thought. I considered. I craved.

Then I realized a couple of things, these are recipes that I would LIKE, do like, and uh, I tweak old recipes all the time. The people who submitted probably tweaked the originals as well. Ok, so maybe I love this cookbook, as new as it is and as much as it first rankled. I may even put it on my wish list. You see, there were a lot of recipes I want to try but it will be due back at the library soon. So, go see if your library has it. Give it a look. See what you think. The only thing I would have liked is the exact recipe pre-tweaking. For instance, one mentions that the original had used the crock pot but they preferred the oven to save time. I would nearly ALWAYS prefer a crock pot than the oven.

The one recipe I made already, Funeral Potatoes with Ham, got mixed reactions last night. Boy child and youngest objected to the mushrooms. (They both liked it well enough though-even if it had that horrible food included) Girl child-food snob-objected to the “casserole-ness” of the recipe. She also wasn’t impressed. But as she reflected on it, she said “You know, I didn’t think I liked this much, but now I want more.” Denise feared the ham and the “That looks like au gratin. I don’t like au gratin.” She had two servings. As for me-yum.

My notes-the peeling and shredding of the potatoes after cooking them was highly unpopular as a step. I think in the future, I will use pre-shredded potatoes-it won’t change the baking time and save a big step. We also didn’t butter the cornflake crumbs. I served with a dill cole slaw.

Funeral Potatoes With Ham

4 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb white mushrooms, sliced thin (We used pre-sliced)
salt (oops-left that out)
1 onion, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
11/2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
11/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 pound ham steak, cut into 2-inch matchsticks
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups cornflakes crushed fine

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Set aside

2. (This is the step I would skip in the future) Bring the potatoes and 4 quarts of water to a simmer in a large pot and cook until just shy of tender (a paring knife should glide through the flesh with slight resistance), 10-15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and then grate the flesh lengthwise on the large holes of a box grater. Return the grated potatoes to the pot.

3. While the potatoes cook, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. (a step we said “Huh?” to) Add the mushrooms and 3/4 teaspoon salt (yeah, that salt, forgot.) and cook until mushrooms have released their juices and are brown around the edges, 7-10 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.

4. Whisk in the milk, thyme, and pepper, bring to simmer, and cook, stirring frequently until thickened slightly, about 1 minutes. Stir in the cheese and 6 tablespoons of butter and cook until melted, about 1 minute.

5. Off the heat, stir in the ham and sour cream. Pour the mixture over the potatoes and toss to combine. (I think this could be done in the 9 x 13 pan in the future and save a second saucy pot to clean) Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a bowl in microwave. (skipped this) Stir in the cornflakes, then sprinkle evenly over the top of potato mixture.

6. Place the baking dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until potatoes are bubbling and the top is golden brown, 35-45 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Polenta Lasagna with Mushrooms Bechamel

This is totally not a retro recipe, but it is what we had for dinner tonight. This prompted @dtanton to tweet that the Polenta Funky Mushroom Lasagna was awesome. This of course brought requests for more info…which she can’t answer.

Let me preface the recipe by saying, I really didn’t think this would go over well. We are not big lasagna fans. @dtanton doesn’t like Italian food much at all and well, I am not the biggest fan of tomato sauce. She hates creamy sauces. We generally don’t do Italian food. We also are not huge polenta fans. About once a year I will fix something with polenta and it gets a meh response from both of us. For whatever reason, when pitching dinner ideas this week while flipping through the cookbook, we went with this one.

I prepped it Sunday, but we certainly were not rushing to eat it. The tofu apricot kugel went first (also in the Passionate Vegetarian-This is also excellent and totally the noodle kugel for anyone, unless your bubbe/zayde makes the only noodle kugel you can ever imagine enjoying) . Followed by the Pad Thai Wraps (pretty darn good-from Whole Foods frugal recipe gig)

Anyhow, it turned out to be a surprise favorite. Really surprise. BIG. Huge. Surprise. Awesome is not a word that describes many recipes in this house, not even long time favorites.

The original recipe came from the BEST Vegetarian cookbook ever written…Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon (a nifty writer outside of cookbooks and she can teach you to be a fab one too). The Oven Baked Chicken Fried Tofu recipe also comes from there. Even if you are a dedicated omnivore, you should own this cookbook. Huge cookbook. Buy it. We have had tons of successful meals from it, the intros to the recipes and the discussion in general…WONDERFUL!!!!

The recipe originally called for 1/2 shiitake 1/2 lb button mushrooms. I split the difference and went with a pound of baby bellas. It called for a homemade basic Italian tomato sauce, I went with a jar. Freshly grated parmesan…umm yeah, it came in a can. sorry. Yeah, I would change that but shrug. So, below is not actually what happens in the book…but you can figure it out.

Polenta Lasagna with Mushrooms Bechamel

1/2 large onion
1 lb baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk (err I used skim)
2 tablespoons cornstarch (Hey, did you know Argo comes in a little plastic canister now? way cool)
2 oz reduced fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup white wine (Gasp! Wine in the house! Thank you Redwood City Holiday Inn Express Priority Club check-in rewards. How long does a re-corked open bottle of wine last?)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper (err um, not so fresh here, sorry again) and freshly ground nutmeg. (No, we were out of even the not freshly ground sort. May have added dash of apple pie spice? maybe not)
3 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
1 tube of plain polenta (or you could make your own or use pesto flavored) sliced in 3/8 thick slices (divide this into 4 piles now so you don’t run short like I did)
1/4-3/4 c. Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375. (Skip this if you are prepping ahead like I did) Spray your 9 x13 pan with Pam. Set aside.

Spray a large skillet with cooking oil or dump a smidge of olive oil in it or both. Saute your onion until almost translucent. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until it they start to get limp. Add the 3/4 cup of milk, bring to simmer.

Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 2 T. milk. When the mushrooms simmer, add the cornstarch mixture. It gets gummy at this point (or “thick and pasty”). Stir in the cream cheese and then the wine. When well blended, remove from heat, season to taste.

Spread some spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then make a sparse layer of polenta slices (about 1/4 of the polenta). It won’t completely cover the bottom of the dish. Then dust it with Parmesan. Throw some mushroom mixture on top. Rinse and repeat. Ok, don’t rinse. Just repeat the sauce/Parmesan/polenta layering. I actually think I ended up with fewer layers because I didn’t remember the instructions very well and didn’t keep walking back and forth between cookbook and dish. (Stop here if prepping ahead)

Place in the preheated oven and bake until bubbly, 35-45 minutes. Allow to rest for 15 min after removing from oven for prettier slices (It smelled good, we didn’t wait.)

Speaking of Cookbooks

There is a cookbook giveaway going on over at Flamingo House Happenings. Yes, that is right! Give away! Free cookbooks! And, when I said down below that new cookbooks didn’t turn me on…obviously I am not talking about Elaine Magee’s cookbooks. Her cookbooks are like retro cookbooks…except healthier!

Go enter! Win…and if you don’t win…go buy Elaine’s cookbook.

I used to have some nice widget that had it on there in one shot at earning back my hosting costs but I don’t have it up there anymore. (Speaking of widgets, I am in love with the new one on the right…still not making any money but adding to my fertile daydreams of cool retro cookbook owndership.)

Ah well, you can click the link over on Flamingo House or just go buy them here, directly from Elaine Magee, if you don’t win.

You should buy a few copies anyway. They make great gifts to EVERYONE. (got graduations? weddings? Mother’s Day? gifts to buy?) (Totally unpaid endorsement of Elaine Magee and her great cookbooks.)

Have Thanksgiving Like the Vanderbilts

Exciting Holiday MenusThe Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Young Women tells you how in How to Prepare Exciting Holiday Menus. You don’t want to miss this great bit of retro food. The pages include such gems as serving your cornucopia for dessert, brazil nut stuffing, creamed giblet gravy, green turtle soup, menus, as well as supper and leftover ideas. Be sure to look at the pages in full size.

See doesn’t it look yummy?
Retro Thanksgiving Woman

Don’t you want to look this happy on Thanksgiving?