While waiting for responses to arrive from readers to recently requested recipes from the past, thoughts carried me back many decades ago to Oct. 4 when I was born at St Mary’s Hospital to Sicilian and Hungarian immigrant parents. Through the years, Mother loved reminding me with a smile that one of their beloved nuns, with the softness of her voice, commented that day about what an unusual combination I happened to be.
Life has been a celebration since then until a week ago when tripping on a rug sent me airborne and ended with a broken collarbone. While recuperating, with nary a clue of what I’d attempt to feature today on my birthday, it seemed a perfect time to open a recently purchased cookbook, “9x13: The Pan That Can,” while recuperating during the days and weeks ahead. Published in 2008 by Better Homes and Gardens, it didn’t take long to realize that finishing the 400 page, softcover, spiral-bound book, would be much like completing a Cooking 101 course somewhere nearby. Using only 9x13 baking pans, 370 family favorite recipes had been tested in every category by BH&G experts for a compilation I wish I had discovered many years ago. Complete with test kitchen tips, make ahead directions, meat roasting charts and colored pages denoting potluck recipes, the $19.95 book was purchased for $4.95 plus shipping from Edward J. Hamilton Bookseller Company, in Falls Village, Connecticut, a favorite outlet providing catalogs throughout the year offering previously-published, overstocked books of varied subjects.
Considering my condition, a decision was made to take it easy by selecting a few recipes from the cookbook that I thought you’d enjoy.
Assuming there are many who would like pizza for breakfast, here is a winner to make and chill up to 24 hours before baking.
Spicy Sicilian strata
8-ounce loaf French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (10 cups)
3 ½ ounce package sliced pepperoni, coarsely chopped
½ cup pepperoncini salad peppers, drained, stemmed, and chopped
10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
½ cup oil-pack dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
8-ounce package shredded Italian blend cheese (2 cups)
6 eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread cubes in a 10x15-inch baking pan. Bake, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring once. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan or baking dish. Arrange half of the bread cubes evenly in prepared pan or dish. Top with half of the pepperoni, half of the pepperoncini peppers, all of the spinach, and all of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the Italian blend cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining bread, the remaining pepperoni, remaining pepperoncini peppers, and remaining Italian blend cheese.
In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, Italian seasoning, salt, and cayenne pepper. Slowly pour egg mixture evenly over layers in dish. Press down lightly with a rubber spatula or the back of a large spoon to moisten all of the bread. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean (170 degrees). Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 10-12 servings.
Another morning casserole with a praline-like layer, this make-ahead brunch dish features pieces of sausage patties in a raisin-bread strata.
Morning pecan casserole
7-ounce package brown-and-serve sausage patties
12 slices raisin bread, cubed (about 8 cups)
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup or maple-flavored syrup
Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan or baking dish; set aside. Brown sausage patties according to package directions. Cut sausage patties into bite-size pieces. Spread bread cubes evenly in prepared pan or dish. Top with sausage pieces. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pour egg mixture evenly over bread and sausage. Press down lightly with a rubber spatula or the back of a large spoon to moisten all of the bread. Cover and chill for at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For topping, in a small bowl, combine pecans, brown sugar, butter and syrup. Drop by teaspoonfuls over top of egg mixture.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean (170 degrees) Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 10 servings.
This traditional Hungarian dish bakes on top of vegetables and noodles flavored with bacon and paprika and a sour cream gravy for extraordinary flavor.
4 cups dried medium noodles
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
8-ounce carton dairy sour cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups milk
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 2 pounds total)
Additional salt, black pepper and paprika to sprinkle on top
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, reserving drippings in skillet. Drain bacon on paper towels; crumble and set aside. In the same skillet cook onion, carrot, and celery in reserved drippings over medium heat for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika, lemon peel, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine sour cream and flour, stirring until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk. Stir into vegetables in skillet; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir in cooked noodles and crumbled bacon. Spoon vegetable mixture into an ungreased 9x13-inch baking pan or baking dish. Arrange chicken on top of vegetable mixture. Sprinkle chicken lightly with additional salt, pepper and paprika. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink (170 degrees).
Makes 6 servings
This is described as being a potluck dish with a delicious makeover using onions and green beans.
Green bean and sweet onion gratin
2 16-ounce packages frozen cut green beans
1 ½ pounds sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Maui), halved and thinly sliced
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
14-ounce can chicken broth
1 ½ cups half-and-half, light cream, or milk
2 ¼ cups soft bread crumbs (4 to 5 slices)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cook green beans according to package directions; drain well and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or Dutch oven cook sliced onion in a small amount of boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes or until tender. Drain; set aside. For sauce, in the same saucepan or Dutch oven melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add broth and half-and-half; cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly.
In an ungreased 9x13-inch baking pan or baking dish layer half of the beans, the sliced onion, and the remaining beans. Spoon sauce over all. In a small bowl toss together bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, and oil; sprinkle over vegetables. Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Make-ahead directions: Prepare as directed, except do not top with bread crumb mixture. Cover pan or dish; chill for up to 24 hours. Wrap bread crumb mixture separately; chill. To serve, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture over vegetables. Bake, uncovered, for 50-55 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
This book covers a wealth of recipes from appetizers to desserts to enjoy for a lifetime providing you use a 9x13-inch baking pan. And if your pan doesn’t measure accurately, you should buy a new one.