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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dirty Little Secrets

Ted is out of town this week, and that means I don't have to cook. Well, not literally, but it's just us girls around here, and we don't require a "meat plus two" like Ted prefers.  Honestly, if not for Kate, I would eat eggs for dinner.  Or popcorn.  Or ice cream.

So, here we are.  Total culinary freedom.  This means crusty beef casserole.  In fairness, Ted likes it too so he might feel a little left out when he finds out it made an appearance in his absence. That'll teach him not to go to New York and leave me home.  So there.

Crusty beef casserole harkens back to my childhood.  My mother fell in love with casseroles when I was very young, and crusty beef, in particular, was a big favorite in our house.  It's actually one of the few things my mother made well.  This is probably because it required little real cooking.  Nonetheless, both my sister and I have taken this casserole on the road and with us into adulthood.

Once when I was describing crusty beef to my friend Suzanne, she said "oh, casserole."  It turns out that most every family had its "signature" casserole.  How did I not know this?  Some families went the tuna noodle route, others went for the scalloped potatoes and ham.  But it's clear to me now, after polling many of my friends, that almost everybody had their "dirty little secret" casserole.  It's that guilty pleasure that no one talks about. Casserole is sort of uncool but we all love it.  Everyone makes theirs a little differently and calls it something different.  Charlie, who is in college in Minnesota, informs me that Minnesotans call casserole "hot dish," and they like to include tater tots among the ingredients.  Same horse, different color.

The really great thing about crusty beef is that I'll bet you have most of the ingredients already in the house.  And if you don't have fine egg noodles, no problem.  Use whatever noodles or other pasta you have around.  Same with the cheese and the sauce.  If you prefer, use ground turkey instead of ground beef. Anything goes.  Here's your opportunity to create your own signature dirty little secret.  Run with it!

Patti's Famous Crusty Beef Casserole
(Well, it's famous in our family anyway.)


1 pound ground meat (beef or turkey)
2 24-ounce jars Marinara Sauce
12-16 ounces fine egg noodles (whichever comes in the package)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Enough olive oil to lightly coat the skillet

Preheat the oven to 350.

Put a large pot of water on to boil.  Cook the noodles according to the package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet heat a little olive oil.  Over medium heat, saute the onion until they're translucent and then add the garlic.  Saute 1 minute more.  Add the Beef (or turkey) and saute with the onions until browned.  Add the marinara sauce and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

In a 9x13 oven dish, ladle a little of the sauce in the bottom, just enough to lightly cover.  Spread about half of the noodles over the sauce in an even layer.  Ladle about half of the remaining sauce over the noodles and then sprinkle half of the cheese over that.  Repeat the pasta and sauce layers, ending with the remaining cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbly and crusty on top.

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