Bean bake casserole for dinner? We’re excited here.
Quite a few things have changed around here in the last decade.
In fact, one of the few things that hasn’t changed is the fact that all the recipes here are gluten-free. I still have celiac. I still have to avoid even a smidge of gluten. I still love food and the moments I share with the people I love around the table.
Other than that, it’s all different. 10 years ago, I had met Danny, just barely, but I hadn’t introduced him here yet. The tiny site I built on Blogspot had an entirely different header and a very cramped font. Back then, I was writing recipes in a creative-writer-kind-of-way, using words instead of numbers in ingredient lists. (Shauna, there’s nothing wrong with writing 1 tablespoon butter. One tablespoon of butter is confusing.) I was living in the city of Seattle, not the rural island of Vashon we now call home. Back then, I had just finished the first draft of my first book. There were 3 cookbooks coming down the pike. Mostly, our children had not been born.
Without children, and Danny and I in the first throes of wonderful love, our food was very different than it is today. 10 years ago, the recipe on this site this week was Halibut Cheeks with Sorrel and Basil.
Now, that dish of halibut cheeks with sorrel and basil was delicious. It was absolutely of the moment. I don’t mean the first week of May in Seattle, with the sorrel and basil hitting the market, the halibut from Alaska finally back at the seafood market. I mean that recipe was of the moment for me. Danny and I went to the University Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning, before he had to leave for the restaurant. He returned home from the restaurant late that night and we made that halibut at nearly midnight. Danny seared the halibut, completely unafraid of the hot oil, of course. He knew to not squeeze lemon juice on the fish until it was out of the pan, since lemon juice on raw fish breaks down the protein and makes it stringy. I had no idea. I dutifully wrote it down while he cooked. Danny threw fresh sorrel and basil over the hot fish and let it wilt. He plated it up with risotto he had brought home from the restaurant and we ate, late at night, knowing we could sleep in the next morning.
That’s where that dish came from.
Now I read that post from May 2006 and kind of flinch when I read this line at the end of the recipe: “For extra decadence, smear a little first-lactation, basil goat cheese on one side of the fish before removing from the heat. You won’t believe how good this tastes.” First lactation basil goat cheese. Oh, Shauna.
That’s one of the gifts of growing older. One of the pains of keeping records. You have to see some of the work you did earlier and be honest with yourself. First lactation basil goat cheese. Shauna. Shauna.
There’s a piece from Slate by Nicholas Hune-Brown that has been rocketing around social media, setting people talking. It’s a good look at the gap between the ways that those of us who run food blogs (and people who create food magazines and many of the cookbooks coming out now) present food and how most of the rest of America actually eats. Specifically, it looks at some of the most popular recipes on AllRecipes and how they differ from what’s on blogs now. As you can imagine, the gap is bigger than the last 10 years have been for me.
Here’s the part that is not in that piece, but I know it’s a driving force behind the food on blogs.
When I started this site, nearly 11 years ago now, no one was making money off a food blog. There were fewer than 500 of us weird enough to take time out of our days to take photographs of our food and write the stories inspired by our meals. With only a few exceptions, those of us who kept food blogs in the old days were artists first: writers, photographers, chefs. Not one of us ever dreamed of the world as it is today. We were publishing the food that inspired us because we were sharing our stories, not because we honestly thought people would make those dishes. That changed here when I realized that people truly were making our dinners in their homes. For the first 5 years of this site, Danny and I kept making our food and sharing it. That’s all it was.
Now, anyone expecting to start a food blog (or Tumblr or podcast or Instagram account) and make money off it will find herself in a crowded elevator, elbows hitting her in the face as she tries to find some space. There’s no going back now: this is part of our culture. There are 22-year-olds who were 11 when I began this site, young people with wonderful ingenuity and talents, folks who have grown up on blogs and have never known another world. They are far more savvy about the business of blogging and branding themselves than I will ever be. They’re earning far more money at this than I am. Brava. Hats off. But given that, people who are trying to replicate their success have to make more and more food that no one has thought to make before, mostly because those recipes don’t have a lot of hits on search engines yet.
You see, so much of the food in magazines is made because the editorial team needs something to fill an entire issue. Bloggers make healing turmeric bowls with avocado sauce and chia dressing because those are terms the bloggers read are big on Google now. The food on food blogs (and by proxy, or maybe even first these days, social media) is created to attract attention.
Meanwhile, most people are merely trying to feed their families with real food that doesn’t cost that much. That’s why Allrecipes has such tremendous traffic: the recipes are created by home cooks with no technical training, in their kitchens. Look at the top recipes on AllRecipes as seen on Pinterest and what do you find? A lot of recipes that start with the words easy or awesome or basic. Chocolate chip cookies. Meatloaf. Pot pie. Lasagna. Sugar cookies. Cream cheese frosting. The most unusual one is buffalo chicken dip.
Strangely, none of those recipes call for first lactation basil goat cheese.
That’s why Danny and I created Feeding Our People. We wanted to offer simple recipes with lots of fresh ingredients, in the moment, with preparations that wouldn’t intimidate. And a batch of those foods so people could have something waiting in the refrigerator when they returned home from a long day of work. Carrot salad with red wine vinegar, parsley, and currants. A big pot of braised white beans. Quinoa cooked well and stored in plastic bags in the freezer, ready to make salads for lunch and fritters for breakfast. The best food is often simple. And the community of people who have gathered there are really happy to be cooking and talking about it.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with intricate recipes with unusual ingredients. Danny and I wrote our first cookbook as a way to show gluten-free people that they could have restaurant quality food without any wheat. I still love this cookbook. But I completely understand now why lots of people might have picked up our cookbook when they first had to go gluten-free and put it down when they saw recipes like Crab, Avocado, and Cucumber Salad with Tarragon Vinaigrette or Crisp Pork Belly with Wild Rice, Cabbage, Sour Cherries, and Honey-Sage Gastrique. If you have the time, those are both tremendous dishes. But most of us don’t have the time.
We don’t have the time to cook like that anymore.
This bean bake casserole is also from our first cookbook, but it’s in the section at the end of the book with dishes that I made for Danny when he returned from the restaurant.
This casserole dish, full of cheesy baked goodness, made my husband so happy when I first made it for him. His mother made something like this for him when he was a child in Colorado. And it’s reminiscent of so much of the Americanized Mexican food I ate as a kid in Southern California. There’s nothing authentic about it, except a nostalgic authentic hit back to our 1970s childhoods.
(If you would like to see me demonstrate how to make the casserole, we did a live video on Facebook yesterday, with an appearance by Desmond. We’re doing live videos there every Tuesday at 10 am, PST. Mostly, we’ll be showing you the week’s recipe to make it easier for you to cook.)
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with food like this. It’s good eating.
bean bake casserole
If you need to make a quick dinner, this is sure to be a great pleasure. However, this is only a template. You could make a dish that is even more memorable by making some of these ingredients yourself. Homemade corn tortillas? Yes. Heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, braised with leaf lard, then refried yourself? That would be tremendous. Adding roasted poblanos or Spanish chorizo to the mix? You can’t go wrong. Think of this as the first step. Make it again your own way next time.
Prepare to bake. Heat the oven to 450°.
Brown the beef. Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil. When the oil is hot, add the ground beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is entirely browned, about 10 minutes.
Take the beef out of the pan, leaving oil and fats behind. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin and chili powder and stir to coat the onions. Add the beef back to the pan and toss with the onion, garlic, and spices to coat. Move the beef to a large bowl.
Assemble the casserole. Line the bottom of a baking pan with some of the corn tortillas. Scoop in 1/3 of the ground beef, 1/3 of the refried beans, 1/3 cup of each of the cheeses, 1/3 of the olives, and 1/3 of the salsa. Top that with another layer of corn tortillas, and repeat. Finish with another layer of tortillas and filling. Top with the remaining cheeses.
Bake the casserole. Bake the casserole until the cheese on the top is golden and bubbly and everything is heated through, about 40 minutes. Take the casserole out of the oven and slather the top with the sour cream, then the avocado.