Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | February 15, 2013

Cooking at Home for Valentine’s Day + Mexican Turkey Casserole


On the latest edition of Bon Appetit magazine, there is a very short piece by Andrew Knowlon that says that one should refrain from going to restaurants on Valentine’s Day.  He adds that basically it’s “Amateur night – Picture hundreds of people going through airport security who haven’t flown in 15 years and you get the idea, “he writes.  Oh, and the staff are cranky.”

I could not agree more. Sure, having a nice candlelit dinner on that special night without having to worry about doing the dishes later has its advantages, but you can’t help notice that things are chaotic at eateries thanks to the increased volume of diners. You need to make a reservation mostly anywhere, and the staff is encouraged – especially in smaller places – to keep the rotation high, so the chances of actually relaxing after that $ 36 prix-fixe meal are less than slim. I recall that one night several years ago, a server approached my dinner companion to ask if she ‘needed a box’ because she was taking a bit too long to finish her dish.

The first time Renata and I did the ‘at home’ Valentine’s Day thing was a few years ago, when the holiday fell on a Sunday. As most of you know by now, we usually spend Sunday nights at home, when I fix us a more elaborate meal (differently from the 15-minute dishes I usually prepare during the week). I recall making paella Valenciana – complete with the mussels, shrimp and all the vegetables that go in. It was a lot of work, but in the end the result was incredible. There were a lot of leftovers, so I took a container to work and offered to one of my fellow teachers, who was delighted with the surprise of a free lunch – and a fancy one at that.

In recent years, we weren’t able to really celebrate V-Day due to my current work schedule (I teach many evenings at ASA College), but this year we are doing it at home again for completely different reasons – I caught a bit of a bug and wasn’t sure if going to a planned outing to a Thai restaurant in the East Village would be a good idea. I am feeling OK as of this writing, but why ruin the weekend? We can always make it there on Saturday night.

Since this was a bit of a last-minute decision, I had to make do with ingredients that could be easily found in the small food markets in my neighborhood. I remembered a Mexican-inspired dish that is both fun to prepare and that is quite delicious.

Mexican Turkey Casserole

(Recipe from Better Homes & Gardens’ Biggest Book of Canned Soup Recipes)

1 ½ cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken

1 10 oz. can condensed cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup

½ cup sour cream

1 2 ½ oz. ounce can pitted ripe olives, drained

2 green onions, sliced

1 ½ cups coarsely crushed tortilla chips or corn chips

1 ½ shredded jack pepper cheese

1 4 oz. can diced green chili peppers, un-drained.

1 cup chopped tomatoes

In a large bowl combine turkey, soup, sour cream, chili peppers, olives and green onions. Sprinkle one third of the chips over bottom of a greased 2-quart square baking dish. Spoon half of the turkey mixture over chips and top with half of the cheese. Repeat layers, ending with chips. Bake, uncovered in a 375⁰ F oven about 35 minutes or until heated through. Top with tomatoes just before serving, with saffron rice on the side.

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