Today is the day when poets will post their favorite recipes that are quick and cheap in response idea on the 32 Poems blog (original call for recipes here; updated list of participants here). Here's one of my all-time favorites, loved by kids and adults alike, by Mexican food lovers and those who would never eat Mexican food. It needs a better name . . . hmm.
I always make a 9 x13 inch size pan because we eat so much of it and it's cheap. You could always do less. And almost all these ingredients keep for a long time, so you can keep them in your pantry, and you're always prepared when you need a quick meal. Makes a great party dip too (in fact, it's a variation of that old 7 layer dip).
Grease the pan (or spray with Pam).
Spread 2 cans of refried beans (make sure they're fat free if you're watching your fat intake--or experiment with different flavors if you want) across the bottom.
You could cook up some hamburger meat and spread layer of hamburger meat--but it's fine without it. I suspect that cooked chicken would also work well. If you use meat of any kind, you could spice it up however your family likes: chili powder and/or cumin are 2 that come to mind. Or go unspicy.
Spread a layer of salsa on top (I use the kind that I get in the deli--it comes in a 16 oz. container, and I think it tastes fresher. You could also use a jar or go to the canned veggies section and get a can of diced tomatoes--the kind with Mexican flavorings might be good).
Spread a layer of grated cheese over top of that (I like cheddar--the Kraft grated 2% cheddar has less fat and melts well--I often mix it with full fat grated cheddar). Use a half cup or 1 cup--or live it up and add more!
Pop the pan in a 350 oven for 15-45 minutes--you want the cheese to be bubbly and melty and the beans to warm through. I can program my oven to come on when I'm not there, and I often have this for dinner on Friday nights--I make the meatless version of the casserole in advance, leave it in the oven, and anticipate it all day long. If I run a tad late, the stuff can handle overcooking.
When the pan comes out of the oven, you could top with sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips for scooping or serve on top of a salad to boost your veggie content.
Eat until you're full. If you make this without the hamburger, the leftovers will keep 1-2 weeks in the fridge.
And because everyone has the kind of day when they just need some good soup, here's one of my favorites. It's a great way to get both veggies and the comfort of melted cheese. I've never met an adult who didn't love this soup.
Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup
Take a bunch of broccoli and chop it into pieces that you’ll later put in the blender or food processor. If you want, you can save some florets, steam them, and add them to the soup later—it gives the soup texture. But if time is short, don’t worry about it. Frozen broccoli would likely work just fine.
Put the broccoli pieces in your soup pot and chop up 3-6 potatoes into chunks. Add these to the pot. By now, you should have about half your pot full. You can also add 3-6 carrots (chopped into chunks), for a nice touch.
Add some fresh (chopped into chunks) or dried onion. Here are other spices that are nice: a few cloves of garlic (or garlic salt), basil, and oregano.
Put enough water in the pot to cover the vegetables. Boil until everything is mushy. Whir it all together in a blender or food processor. It will probably take several batches.
Return the soup to the pot. Add 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese. Taste to see if you want more. I usually use half a pound of grated cheese. Heat gently to melt cheese.
If you want thinner soup, add milk (of any fat level: skim to whole) or cream and heat gently.
You can create any kind of variation. Use a different main vegetable, like cauliflower. Use a different cheese. Use Mexican spices (chili powder and/or cumin) instead of the Italian above.
This soup is a variation of the soups that appear in Molly Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest Cookbook and The Moosewood Cookbook.
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