Archive for September, 2009

Updated Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Tuna noodle casserole for the 21st century.

What would American cuisine would be like without processed foods? Would grilled cheese be so popular if it home cooks couldn’t use pre-cut slices of American cheese? Would we eat pudding if it hadn’t been for Jello? Would we be a country of mac and cheese eaters without Velveeta?

One thing I’m sure of – tuna noodle casserole would never have risen to such prominence in American food culture were it not for the Campbell’s soup company. The company heavily promoted casserole recipes using canned soups during the Great Depression as quick, filling and economical meals, including the now-famous tuna noodle casserole. I can see the appeal – mix together some canned cream of mushroom soup, cooked noodles and canned tuna, bake, and dinner is served.

That was not my experience with tuna noodle casserole, which is why I can’t imagine this dish ever becoming popular without processed foods to cut down on the prep time. After making the thing from scratch I can safely say – tuna noodle casserole is a pain. This has actually been my complaint about all of the casseroles I’ve made for this month’s project – without the processed foods, they are time-intensive little suckers.

Granted, this tuna noodle casserole could have been easier to make, but I wanted it to taste really good. This is the one casserole I made this month where I didn’t take health into account; instead, I invited some friends over to help me finish the thing off. In fact, some of of my friends now suspect I have a secret plan to fatten them up, but I swear it’s not true. I’m just tired of healthy casseroles.

I used a couple of recipes as a basis for this casserole but made alterations to suit my own tastes. This casserole was gussied up with sauteed garlic, onions, and mushrooms; a cheddar, Parmesan and white wine béchamel; fresh basil; and pesto and Asiago cheese bread crumbs.

I liked this combination of flavors so much that the tuna ended up being a distraction. I loved how the cheesy, wine-y béchamel enhanced the flavors of the sweet onions, pungent garlic, and earthy onions. I loved how the crisp, herbal flavor of the basil sang in the dish. I loved how the salty, savory, crunchy bread crumbs contrasted with the soft and cheesy noodles. But the tuna? Even with all these other ingredients, it just tasted fishy – and not in a good way.

If I were to make this again, I think I’d omit the tuna, and rename this as a cheese, onion, and mushroom casserole – I might even make it with macaroni and say that it’s a twist on your standard mac and cheese. But, like I said before, this recipe was a lot of work, so I’m not sure when that day will come. Between sautéing the vegetables, making the béchamel, boiling the noodles, coating the bread crumbs in butter, and baking the casserole, we’re looking at a four pan recipe – and that doesn’t even account for all the chopping and cheese grating that goes into this.

So that’s it. It’s the last day of September, and the end of the casserole project. Am I sad it’s over? A little. Really, these month-long projects mostly teach me that there’s so much I have yet to cook – I didn’t make moussaka, or lasagna, or a Gourmet version of green bean casserole. So much left to cook, so little time.

And speaking of time, maybe next month should be quick recipes – I certainly need a break after all these casseroles.

Tuna noodle casserole - 2

And yes, in case you're wondering, those are apple slices in the background leftover from my epic apple baking weekend.

Recipe: Cheesy Tuna Noodle Casserole With Mushrooms, Onions, and Wine


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Apple Turnovers – Not An Apple Pie

Hand pies 2

Assorted apple turnovers.

I didn’t make an apple pie. I bet you thought I was going to make an apple pie. I mean, what could be more natural in a house inundated with 20 plus pounds of apples?

But no. No pie. Not only is pie, as I’ve written before, not a good dessert for the single studio life, but pie is too expected. Too banal. Too easy. I wanted a baking challenge. I also wanted to make something that I could hand out to my choir as a mid-morning pick me up, and pie is simply too messy.

So I settled on apple turnovers. You could also call them hand pies – and, in fact, I adapted them from a Smitten Kitchen recipe for peach hand pies (discovered during the peach picking incident).

This pie dough is unlike any I’ve made before – sour cream gives this dough a flaky texture that’s a cross between puff pastry and pie dough. The dough has little buttery, crispy pockets, making it lighter than a traditional pie crust. The sour cream, along with some lemon juice, adds another dimension to the crust that I really liked.

For the filling, I decided to dress up the apples with ginger and cranberries – in fact, I might make these again around the holidays. The heat from the ginger brings out the sweet-tart flavors of the apples and cranberries, and the cinnamon and allspice give these turnovers a nice, festive kick.

I also made a second set of turnovers, with a cheddar crust, but that’s a recipe for another post. Let’s just say that after boldly facing the apple deluge, I had a turnover flood on my hands. Thankfully, I found some very lovely folks from the Adams Morgan Listserv who took them the rest of these turnovers off my hands – I may have found a solution to the problems in my pastry supply chain.

Four apples down. Nineteen pounds to go.

Apples - haul

You will not defeat me.

Recipe: Apple, Cranberry And Ginger Turnovers

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After The Apple Storm

Apples - Basket

The Haul. Well, actually, my haul was about three times this big.

The apple deluge is here. I have, sitting in the corner of my apartment, a good 20 pounds of apples from a day out at Homestead Farms. I could barely carry the haul from my friend’s car to my apartment (yes, in case you’re thinking it, I’m not very strong).

Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of writing this weekend. Instead, there was a lot of peeling. And chopping. And cutting butter into pastry. And rolling of dough. Maybe I’ll write about it. Maybe, if I can get up the energy after making all these things with apples.

Apples - Rebecca

Rebecca can't believe how big this apple is.

Apples - On the Tree

On the tree. I would tell you what variety of apple this is, but I'm honestly not sure.

Homestead Farms - More Squash

Squash for sale at the farm.

Apples - Picking

Among the trees.

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Weekly Roundup: Incoming Apple Deluge Edition


This is Elmo, from Homestead Farms. I hope I get to see him again on my return visit!

Yes, that’s right, I’ll be making a return trip to Homestead Farms this weekend (that’s the same farm where I picked those peaches that lead to such an epic baking week). I fully intend to come back with more apples than I possibly know what to do with. I’m thinking apple butter, I’m thinking apple pie, I’m thinking apple chutney. It’s shaping up to be a good weekend.

Recipes I found this week that I want to try:

  • Spiced autumn preserves from NPR, from their article on freezer jam. This is a possible use for all those apples.
  • Gradually Greener makes green tomato chutney. I wonder if I could adapt this recipe for apples . . . hmmm . . .
  • Skillet bread from Art and Soul, via Best Bites. I always think of skillet bread as corn bread, but this is actually a yeast bread baked in a skillet.
  • Golden nutmeg buns from the Washington Post.
  • Stuffed mushrooms (simultaneously indulgent and guilt free) from The Arugula Files.

And in non recipe-related news:

  • I guess I know nothing about Mexican food. When I think of “Tex Mex” cuisine I think of cheese, sure – but usually I think of enchiladas smothered in cheddar cheese, or nachos piled high with pepperjack cheese. So I was surprised to learn, via the City Paper’s Young and Hungry column, that the real sign of Tex Mex cuisine is processed cheese – i.e., American or Velveeta. Seriously? I can’t eat that stuff – it tastes so gross to me. I would like deborahdawn, a Texas native (who cooks a mean tamale, by the way), and my sister, who lives in Austin, to weight in.
  • What does a feminist look like? A woman who likes her steak rare, her burgers made of beef, and a waiter to treat her with the same respect as a male customer. At Lemmonex.
  • We Love DC thinks they know the identities of the Real Housewives of DC – not that they recognize the names. No, it’s totally not food news – but I don’t care!
  • Capital Spice reviews Cork, on 14th street. This has long been on my list of places to try – I am such a wine bar fan.
  • The Washington Post writes about late night baking. Man, I am such a late night baker – there’s nothing better than pulling a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven as the sun rises. And no, I’m not being sarcastic – I’ve totally done this on multiple occasions.

Happy Friday!

Homestead Farms - The Haul

The haul from our last visit to Homestead Farms. There was much peach ice cream making after that trip.

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Blogtoberfest Planning (And Drinking) Meeting – Sept. 30 at Axis


Beer and blogs - what could be better?

Do you have a blog? Do you like beer? Think you can write about beer? Then help the Young and Hungry Beerspotter make October Blogtoberfest.

The idea is that DC bloggers (foodie and otherwise) will write beer-themed posts during the month of October, link to them on the Blogtoberfest Facebook Group, and make the internet into one, big, beer filled blog party. You don’t have to be a beer expert – just share your personal stories about beer.

Fellow bloggers will be having a low-key blogtoberfest planning meeting next Wednesday, September 30, at Axis Bar and Grill, to kick around ideas and drink some good beer. If you can’t make that, then definitely check out the Facebook group for ideas and updates. Oh, and don’t miss the blogtoberfest-themed October Food Blogger Happy Hour on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at Commonwealth.

I don’t think I’ll be attending the planning meeting because my family will be in town (and, believe me, when your family descends on DC from Austin AND Oregon, it’s a big deal), but I encourage all DC food bloggers and non-food bloggers to show up. Drink a beer for me.

Blogtoberfest Planning Meeting
Wednesday, September 30
6:30 pm
Axis Bar and Grill
1340 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009

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Casserole Project, Take Three: Tex-Mex Casserole

Mexican Casserole - 1

A Tex-Mex casserole, topped with crispy tortillas.

Sometimes I’m mystified when I see techniques repeated in recipe after recipe that I know don’t work. Did I just not make this right, I wonder? Or did the recipe writers really not test this recipe?

Case in point is the Mexican casserole recipe I used for this week’s installment of my monthly baking/cooking project. I was inspired to make a tex-mex style casserole because I had a bad experience making a tortilla pie early in the summer, and I wanted to see if I could correct my past mistakes.

The tortilla pie didn’t “work” because the filling never cooked through, even after baking the pie an extra 15 minutes. The recipe called for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together for the filling – canned beans, corn, bell peppers, and onions – and then letting them cook in the oven. But, even after a diligent 25 minutes in the oven, the filling was still underdone – the corn was unpleasantly crispy, the onions tasted raw, and the beans were tough.

When I started doing some recipe research for this week’s casserole, I was surprised to see that many other casserole recipes used the same technique. The Parade recipe I ended up using also calls for mixing a bunch of uncooked ingredients together and letting them bake in the oven. It makes me wonder – is there something different about the canned beans I’m using? Did I not chop my onions finely enough? Or did the good folks at Parade not really test this recipe before printing it? I guess, we’ll never know – especially on that final count.

For my casserole, I made some changes, cutting back on the cheese (I do not need 12 ounces of cheese in my casserole, thank you very much) and sauteing the onion, bell pepper, and garlic before adding them to the filling. But I didn’t take it far enough. The beans really could have done with some simmering over the stove, rather than adding them straight from the can. In the finished casserole, they were firm – and not in a good way. The corn (I used defrosted frozen corn, rather than the canned corn the recipe calls for) also tasted underdone and unpleasantly crunchy.

There are very obvious changes I can make if I make this again – sauté the corn with the other vegetables, and cook the beans until tender over the stove before adding them to the casserole.

But I am loathe to offer these suggestions because, honestly, I just don’t know if this casserole is good enough to call for the extra hassle. Given that I had to roast and shred the chicken, sauté the vegetables, mix the filling in a bowl, coat the tortillas in olive oil in another bowl, and then put it all into a casserole dish, this casserole was already a big production. And the finished result was okay, flavor-wise, but I can’t shake the feeling that it tasted too much like one of Amy’s Organic Bean Bowls to be worth the extra effort.

Perhaps this is why the original recipe calls for 12 ounces of cheese.

Mexican Casserole - 2

So, honestly, those crispy tortillas were the best part of the dish.

Recipe: Tex-Mex Casserole

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Interview With Josh Short, Executive Pastry Chef at Buzz Bakery


Josh Short, Executive Pastry Chef

I’ll be honest. I have never been to Buzz Bakery in Alexandria. It’s not that I don’t want to – I do. Buzz, which is a Neighborhood Restaurant Group establishment, has been on my “to visit” list ever since  I read about them in the Washington Post Cupcake Wars. But let’s just say that when you live in Adams Morgan and don’t have a car, getting down to Alexandria requires a certain amount of personal will that I rarely have.

Still, Josh Short, the Executive Pastry Chef at Buzz Bakery found the time to talk with me a couple weeks ago about, among other things, the pastries at Buzz, the dessert menu at Talulla (another NRG joint), gluten-free baking, and cupcakes (you knew that was coming).

Short has an impressive resume, training at New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and getting his start in the Vegas restaurant scene. In the DC area, he’s served as the Executive Pastry Chef for the Star Restaurant Group, and was a 2005 and 2008 nominee for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s “Best Pastry Chef of the Year” award. In his current position, Short oversees all the baking operation at Buzz Bakery – cookies, cupcakes, pastries, and all. Short also collaborates with the chefs of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group restaurants (Rustico, Tallula, EatBar, Vermilion and Evening Star Café), to create and implement their dessert menus.

Does that sound exhausting? I’m exhausted just typing that last paragraph. Needless to say, I’m glad Short found some time in his busy schedule to dish about baking with ModernDomestic.

MD: Is there anything really good on the fall dessert menu at Tallula?

JS: Right now, we’re making a toffee chocolate brownie cake. It’s a layer of double chocolate brownie, and on top of that we put a layer of our own, homemade, English toffee, then a layer of chocolate mousse, and then pistachio ice cream. It’s great.

MD: How do you come up with desserts for Tallula and the other Neighborhood Restaurant Groups restaurants? What’s the process like?

JS: I’ll go over there and sit down with a chef. He’ll come up with ideas, and I’ll talk about what’s new and trendy.

MD: Are there any trends you see for this fall?

JS: Apples are a trend this fall because they’re getting ready to be in season – apple tart tatins, caramel apples, that kind of thing. I’d like it to be figs, but I have a hard time finding them – I want to make fig jam really badly.

MD: When you’re planning a desert menu, do you have to have a variety?

JS: Yes, you’ve got to hit everybody’s palate. And there are a lot of diet restrictions with our customers – like gluten free – that you have to think about.

MD: I always think that gluten free baking is so much harder to do.

JS: At first I thought that, but now I’m really into it. Have you heard of this place called Babycakes, in New York? Most of their stuff is vegan, and some is gluten free. I’m made these raspberry scones out of their book and they’re so good. I’ve made them three times this week.

MD: I always shy away from ordering gluten free desserts.

JS: I was the same way – I thought “this is not going to be very good.” Here’s the thing – you have to use good ingredients. I use rice flour and almond flour [in gluten-free baking], which is full of fat and flavor, and adds a whole other dimension to the dessert. We sell a gluten-free brownie at Buzz that uses rice and almond flour, and it’s really good.

MD: Buzz is known in the cupcake blogosphere for your signature cupcakes. Like the bacon cupcake you sold in August [devils food cake topped with a bacon peanut butter frosting].

JS: The bacon cupcake – that was fun. We got the idea for that because Vosges came out with that chocolate bacon candy bar, and we were skeptical. But once we tried it, we realized it was really good, and we thought, “how could we make this better?” The peanut butter adds a whole other dimension. And it helps that we use really good, applewood smoked bacon. I think people are skeptical of the bacon cupcake, until they try it.

MD: Do you do signature cupcakes every month?

JS: Yes. Right now it’s a s’mores cupcake. October will be a Guinness cupcakes for Oktoberfest, caramel apple cupcakes, and pumpkin cupcakes. I just got this new Halloween book, and I’m really excited – I want to do ghosts and other Halloween cupcakes, probably using marshmallows.

A bumblebee cupcake from Buzz.

A bumblebee cupcake from Buzz.

MD: Do you think the cupcake craze is just a craze?

JS: I don’t think there’s room for anymore out there – the fittest are the one that are going to stay open. But I don’t think it’s a fad – I don’t think it’s going to die out.

MD: Is there something that you love to bake that you never do – because it’s not profitable?

JS: Not really – everything can be profitable. If you put a lot of expensive ingredients in an item – like nuts and chocolate – your customers will pay for that. So I don’t think there’s anything out of our price range. But there are some things that you can’t eat all the time. Like cupcakes we make for the 9:30 club are so good – chocolate cupcake filled with a vanilla butter cream, topped with a mousse, and glazed with chocolate. But you can’t eat one of those every day.

When I first came here, we did a lot of fancy french desserts, but people didn’t want that. Simple, down-home cooking is more my thing now – straight forward desserts. It’s the flavors, but it’s also the memories that are tied to the flavors. That’s more my thing now.

MD: Any other events happening this fall?

The Neighborhood Restaurant Group is putting together an event for Octoberfest on Saturday, October 10. Rustico will have a band and different special beers, and we’ll have the Guinness cupcakes. It’s a benefit to help raise money for DC Central Kitchen. You should grab some friends and come down.

MD: I will try!

And I will – it’s an excuse to get down to Alexandria, drink some good beer, and finally check out Buzz. Who else is with me?

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Hungry Eyes

Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch

The Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch

This Sunday, I hosted the Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch. It was fun. A lot of fun. But it was also more than fun. It was strangely, unexpectedly moving.

The Arugula Files commented this weekend that Dirty Dancing is an “absurd” movie. And it is. I can’t think of a better word to describe the movie. So many things about it don’t make any sense. In the real world, would a 35 year old dance instructor ever find love with an 18 year old resort guest? Would the dance instructor ever care about dancing “the last dance of the season” at a resort that just fired him? Would he care if he did a half-ass job dancing at a neighboring resort?

No, no, and no. And yet, in the world of Dirty Dancing, all these illogical plot devices make sense. You accept them and allow yourself to be caught up in the schmaltz, the drama, and the poetic movement of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey on the dance floor.

In honor of Patrick Swayze’s death, I decided to go as girly as possible with the brunch. I made watermelon mimosas, as a tribute to that famous scene, and which were lovely and refreshing.

Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch - Watermelon Mimosa

Watermelon mimosas.

I knew I wanted to make cupcakes (how could I not?), but I had a difficult time choosing a recipe. After all, how does one convey the spirit of Dirty Dancing in cake and frosting? In the end, I decided to do something girly, very girly, as this is the movie that captured the hearts of little girls across the country.

Chocolate and strawberry seemed like especially girly flavorings, so I made up a batch of devil’s food cupcakes with strawberry buttercream frosting. I liked the symbolism of the “devils” food (sounds, a little “dirty,” doesn’t it?) and the buttercream was an appropriate, feminine pink.

So there it is. A memorial celebration fit for Johnny Castle.

Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch - 2

You will be missed, Patrick. You will be missed.

Recipe: Watermelon Mimosas

1/2 seedless watermelon (approximately 3 lbs of watermelon)
1 bottle sparkling white wine

Remove watermelon from rind; cut into 1 inch chunks. Puree in a blender or food processor – or, if you lack either of those appliances, place chunks in a large bowl and mash into a pulp using a potato masher. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, and pour into a measuring cup (for easy pouring. This made approximately 2 and 1/4 cups of juice).

Pour however much champagne you want into a wine glass or champagne flute. Top with watermelon juice, to taste.

For me, this made around six mimosas. But I like them . . . um, generously proportioned.

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Weekly Roundup: I’ve Had The Time Of My Life Edition


Watermelon will be making an apperance at the Patrick Swayze Memorial Brunch. / CC BY 2.0

Patrick Swayze is gone, and a tiny piece of my childhood died along with him. My sister and I were both obsessed with Dirty Dancing – obsessed with the music, obsessed with the dance sequences, obsessed with Johnny Castle. Who couldn’t fall in love with his stern yet sweet manner, commitment to his artistic integrity, and his grace and elegance on the dance floor?

Dirty Dancing caused a bit of a controversy in my town when I was growing up. My sister was still in elementary school when the movie came out, and many of her friends weren’t allowed to see it because of the “racy” content (i.e., the sex scene. Considering that there’s now racier stuff shown on family sitcoms, that concern seems incredibly quaint now). But my sister went to a slumber party where unsuspecting parents showed Dirty Dancing to a group of nine and ten year old girls – not realizing the “controversial” content. Let’s just say there was some parental hell to pay the next day. But for all those little girls, I’m sure it was worth it.

I’ll be throwing a Patrick Swayze memorial brunch at noon on Sunday. There will be watermelon, in some form. There will be mimosas. And damn it, if I have to search every video store in DC (the movie is a “long wait” on Netflix), there will be Dirty Dancing. Because I’ve had the time of my life. And it’s time to celebrate.

Recipes I want to try (found from this week’s non-Dirty dancing Internet adventures):

  • The Arugula Files shares my deep love of Ina Garten. So she was thrilled to make one of Jeffrey’s favorite recipes – baked shrimp scampi. Who’s Jeffrey, you ask? You are clearly not an Ina Garten fan.
  • The Tipsy Baker is making a Huguenot Tort from a 1961 New York Times recipe. The verdict? It’s a one-bowl cake worthy of a weekly spot on the dinner table.
  • Olga, at Mango and Tomato, is making arugula, pomegranate and fig salad with a balsamic glaze. Lovely.
  • Amelia shares different preservation methods for her summer produce: drying, pickling, and jam making (can I say “jamming?).

And in other foodie and Dirty Dancing news:

  • Lemmonex is also taking Swayze’s death hard.
  • Do you have a food blog? Help the Beerspotter make October Blogtoberfest. Via Young and Hungry.
  • The Washington Post sets out to prove that homemade fast food is cheaper and better tasting than purchased fast food. Perhaps. Perhaps. But I had a really horrible homemade doughnut experience that would dispute this thesis (how can a doughnut be both burned on the outside and raw on the inside? I can tell you how).
  • Lisa at Dining in DC has the scoop on the “Local Foods, Local Chefs” program.

Happy Friday!

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Casserole Project, Take Two: Polenta Casserole With Spinach, Sausage, and Tomato Sauce (Dairy Free!)

Polenta casserole 1

This polenta "lasagna" is dairy free.

Polenta is a grain that has always eluded my grasp. There are so many things that can go wrong with polenta – it can be rubbery, it can be undercooked and sandy, it can be unpleasantly gelatinous – the list goes on and on. And yet using the stuff that comes in a roll just doesn’t seem like a solution. There is something deeply troubling about the fact that those little rolls of polenta can sit there, pre-cooked and entirely unrefrigerated in the supermarket aisles. Can you imagine buying rice that way? Or oatmeal? Or any other kind of grain? It’s just wrong.

So I decided to conquer this fear of polenta for part two of this month’s project – casseroles. I also wanted to make a dairy-free casserole for my friend Joanne who requested a dairy-free recipe because her daughter is having problems digesting dairy.

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of using polenta in place in lasagna noodles, for a twist on a classic lasagna. So I went with a polenta lasagna recipe, layering my polenta “noodles” with spinach and tomato sauce, and omitting the cheese one usually finds in a lasagna dish. To increase the flavor, I added sausage to the tomato sauce, giving the dish a savory heft.

Now, if you’re looking for a quick casserole recipe, I must warn you – this is a bit of an undertaking. The polenta takes a full 1/2 hour to cook – plus extra time to boil the water. I think the secret to cooing polenta, by the way, is to actually follow the directions on the package – I added the polenta very, very slowly to the boiling water – like, in a very small and steady stream. It took time, but it produced lump-free polenta – a feat I have never accomplished before.

Making the tomato sauce by hand, while worth it, ups the time quotient on the recipe, as does separately sauteing the spinach. It also takes time to let the polenta set into “layers” before it’s ready to be cut and placed in the casserole.

But, while it was a lot of work, I was happy with this casserole. The polenta “noodles” soak up the tomato sauce without entirely losing their texture, and the polenta is a great foil to the bright, acidic tomatoes and bitter spinach. My only problem is that I think I over salted the tomato sauce, which is quite easy to do, but which made the dish a little salty for my taste. Yes, it would have been nice with cheese, but it’s a perfectly fine savory dish without it. I even added a crunchy bread crumb topping, which is the perfect way to finish the dish.

Polenta casserole 2

Leaving out the cheese makes the dish healthier too - if you care about such things.

Recipe: Polenta Casserole With Spinach, Sausage, and Tomato Sauce

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