The Plain Jane
The Snazzy Stir-fry
It's ironic that some of the most favoured comfort foods don't photograph well. Perhaps it's the gooey, creamy textures. Maybe it's the well-chopped, well-cooked nature that makes it a dull, plain-Jane next to a snazzy stir-fry or a glittering confection. It could be because we put in it the foods that are meant to dull the senses instead of excite them. But it still needs to be talked about because it's the foods that takes the edge off a nasty day at work or lets us linger in the fond memories of childhood. We run back to these foods because we know they may not excite the eye but they DO excite the nose and taste buds.
One such dish in my repetoire, inherited from my mother, is Pastitsio. It's a dish I'm sure that many are familiar with in its form if not under the same name. I changed it a long time back because I still desired its undulating, spicy goodness but couldn't handle the greasy meat that made up a good part of it. Instead I used a vegetarian mock ground round made by Yves Veggie Cuisine. It substitutes well so long as salt-free tomato sauce is used. Mockmeat becomes horribly attracted to salt if too much is used and makes the dish unpalateable. And please don't poopoo the use of the sweet spices. They really do make the dish what it is. Even Ben likes it and he has a horror of mixing sweet spices with meat.
1/2 pound very lean ground beef (or soy-meat equivalent)
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 can(8oz) tomato sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz elbow macaroni, cooked
2 tbsp parmesan (grated)
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tbsp flour
3 drops tabasco (or a small can of green chiles as I used when my bottle
Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray 8x8 pan with Pam. Spray skillet. Brown meat and onions in skillet (if you use mock meat, you may want to start the onions a bit earlier) for three minutes or until meat is no longer pink. Pour off and discard excess fat. Add tomato sauce, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Mix in hot macaroni and parmesan. Spoon into baking pan.
In the same pan with leftover bits of sauce within it, stir together milk and flour in skillet until very smooth. Lower heat and cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens slightly. Stir in tabasco, remaining salt and pepper. Pour white sauce over the meat and macaroni mixture in pan. Bake in oven 25 minutes.
NB: I didn't have tabasco but did have some green canned chiles so I put them on the white sauce. They added a nice contrast and the buzz that tabasco brings. I use a glass casserole and found no need for spraying necessary to keep it from sticking. In using mock meat you also rarely need spray for the pan if you have a good teflon pan to cook it in. I made sure to add the bit about keeping the pan dirty for the white sauce as this was never in the original recipe but just an understanding passed from mother to daughter. Plus it saves time ;-)