• deborahreinhardt

This simple side dish is perfect for your Easter dinner or brunch table.


Using canned carrots, this vegetable casserole can be made the night before and baked the day of your celebration.

You know, the older I get, the more nostalgic I become. Easter is about a week away, and as I discuss with my daughter what we should do to celebrate (dinner or brunch; ham or roast), my mind goes back to those Easter Sundays my family celebrated so many years ago.


These had such a comforting and familiar rhythm. Each Easter Sunday started with that early morning egg hunt in our backyard. Mom was probably up at dawn in the misty late March or April weather tucking colorful plastic eggs, baskets, games, and plush toys behind posts, trees, and any shrub she could find.


Once all the treasure was found and appropriate photos snapped and film shot (yes, so long ago, we used 8mm film for home movies), we had a light breakfast, dressed in our Easter finery, and headed for church (Friedens United Church of Christ), which closed in 2010. Founded in 1857 as Friedens German Evangelical Church, later named Friedens Evangelical and Reformed Church, the building was at 1908 Newhouse in north St. Louis. We’d join other members of our extended family and fill an entire pew during worship.


My grandfather, Larry, and grandmother, Dorothy, on an Easter Sunday in front of our old home on Randall Place. Photo probably from the mid-1960s.

After church, the family—still dressed to the nines—made our way to my great uncle and aunt’s home for lunch and another egg hunt. One year, Grandpa lined up all my Easter baskets and they filled our living room mantel, which made him happy since I was allergic to chocolate at the time. Happily, I grew out of that!


When my daughter was born, the traditions continued, but they moved to different locations. It was my turn to hide eggs for my little girl, followed by breakfast, dressing up for church services, and then heading to Mom and Dad’s house for Easter lunch.


Such wonderful times and vivid memories. Of course—with the exception of my daughter—all of these beautiful people are no longer with me. And this year will mark the second time I celebrate Easter services via Facebook live because of COVID. But my daughter Em and I will have Easter dinner, and perhaps one of her friends (part of our COVID circle) will join us. The menu more than likely will be baked ham, the Tater Tot casserole, Easter Bunny Buns, deviled eggs, and Carrot Caper.


My mom, Katie, and my daughter Em in Mom's kitchen at Easter. Photo probably from 1998.

The carrot dish was something Mom usually made each Easter. Over the years, her recipe card was lost (my bad), but I think I’ve finally recreated it. There are no capers in the recipe, but canned carrots, cream of celery soup, and Velveeta. It may have been a law that the latter two ingredients had to be in any casserole from 1950–60, just saying.


And it’s just so stinking good! The buttery, crushed up crackers for a topping make it for me. It reminds me a bit of the carrot souffle made famous by Picadilly Cafeteria, but it’s not quite as airy or sweet.


A nice plus for this recipe is you can make it the night before, take it out of the refrigerator, and then bake it just ahead of your meal. It reheats well (should you have any leftovers), too. I think this casserole would work well as a side for dinner or brunch.


I was tickled to include this in the Three Women in the Kitchen cookbook, and I hope other families might enjoy this dish as we did over the years. It’s such a joy to come together around the table, isn’t it? So, whether you’re celebrating with one or several people this Easter, get out the fine china, dress up your table, and make your family's favorite foods. Make no mistake: these efforts will have an impact. I wish you all the blessings of promise and hope this season brings. A blessed Easter, and Happy Spring to all of you!



Here are other ideas for your Easter brunch or dinner menu.

Sour Cream Coffee Cake is perfect for brunch.

Limoncello Cheesecake is a wonderful springtime dessert.

Who wouldn't love Stuffed French Toast for brunch?

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  • deborahreinhardt

When you need dinner in a flash, this satisfying pasta bake is ready in just under an hour, from freezer to table.


Baked ravioli is prepped in 10 minutes and ready to place in the oven. (iStock photo)

Happy National Ravioli Day! Yes, it’s a thing. Every year on March 20, foodies celebrate this simple Italian dumpling. Made with thin pasta dough and stuffed with just about anything—although cheese and finely ground meat are most popular—ravioli is ridiculously versatile and completely delicious. It’s usually boiled, but St. Louisans love their “toasted” (deep-fried) ravioli, too. I love a pan of baked ravioli for an easy weeknight family dinner.


Did you know ravioli’s origins go as far back as the 14th century? I had no idea! It’s credited to a merchant from the Tuscan province of Prato, Francesco di Marco Datini, and these early ravioli were stuffed with chopped greens and cheese, simmered in broth. Of course, ravioli has many culinary sisters; savory little pillows are found in Jewish, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.


In America, ravioli was mass produced in the 1930s under the Chef Boyardee brand of canned pastas. And yes, there was a real chef Hector Boiardi, an Italian immigrant who left his position as head chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to open his own restaurant in Ohio. Customers frequently asked Chef Boiardi for his spaghetti sauce, which he initially sold in milk bottles. In 1928, he opened a factory in Pennsylvania, grew his own tomatoes and mushroom for his ready-to-heat spaghetti kits, and changed the name for his new brand to Boy-ar-dee because Americans couldn’t pronounce it without help.


As a kid, all I knew was Chef Boyardee ravioli was a treat for lunch, and I loved it. Honestly, when I have a bad cold, I want canned pasta instead of chicken soup.


Happily, St. Louis has its own little ravioli factory in the Italian neighborhood known as The Hill. Mama Toscano’s started as a local grocery, Toscano’s Market, and during this time, the family decided to sell the family’s ravioli in the store, so Nana Kate was upstairs in her kitchen churning out the handmade pasta. Customers’ demand for the product grew to the point where the ravioli operation was moved to a larger space downstairs and help was hired to assist Nana. Today, ravioli is the main event, although there is a deli counter inside the building.


My mom always purchased ravioli from Mama Toscano’s, so naturally, that’s where I go. These little meaty or cheesy pillows are so tender and quick to prepare. I never make a trip to The Hill without swinging by.


This recipe for Baked Ravioli is so easy because it uses frozen pasta. Maybe 10 minutes to prep and about an hour to bake, it’s the perfect intersection of frozen food month and National Ravioli Day.


Easy Baked Ravioli

(Remember, freshly grated cheese is always the best choice.)


Ingredients

4 cups of homemade pasta sauce or 1 jar (about 25 ounces) of your favorite brand

1 package (about 27 ounces) of frozen cheese or meat ravioli (St. Louis cooks, that’s two 1-pound packages from Mama Toscano’s for a very full casserole)

2 cups shredded mozzarella

2 tablespoons grated cheese


Directions

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Spread about 3/4 of the pasta sauce in the baking dish. Place half the ravioli over sauce. Top with half of the remaining sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat the layer once, starting again with frozen ravioli. Sprinkle top of Parmesan cheese.

3. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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  • deborahreinhardt

Like corned beef and cabbage, it’s not authentically Irish, but it’s completely delicious. And that’s no blarney.


Corned beef and egg noodles in a creamy sauce topped with potato chips; what's not to love?

St. Patrick’s Day is upon us, meaning it’s time we dug out everything green in our closets to wear, grab a six-pack of Guinness, and eat the one dish you won’t find in Ireland: corned beef and cabbage.


Americans—whether Irish by blood or just for the day—typically celebrate St. Patty’s by attending big parades or visiting a corner pub. But this year because of COVID (again), those large gatherings are not happening.


In my home city (St. Louis), one of our parades will be “virtual” this year (not sure how that’s going to be pulled off, but here's more info. In the city’s most Irish neighborhood, Dogtown, there’s no parade, but neighborhood pubs are doing reservations for limited gatherings, homes are decorated, and the beer and good times will be flowing.


And the corned beef will be carved. In fact, a quick poll of friends indicates corned beef and cabbage is part of everybody’s celebration. My friend, Julie, said in addition to the corned beef dinner, she's telling her little girl to put shoes out overnight so leprechauns can leave candy. She also teaches her about Irish ancestors.


But as any self-respecting Irish person will tell you, it’s not an authentic dish, but rather something 19th-century Irish immigrants put together with Jewish friends in New York’s ethnic neighborhoods. Corned beef and cabbage was cheaper than pork and potatoes. The bland vegetable also took on flavor from the salty, spiced beef. Once the foothold was made in NYC, the dish was picked up across the U.S.

What is corned beef, really?

It’s salt-cured brisket, a cut of beef that comes from around the chest of the animal. It’s typically tougher, requiring a low-and-slow method of cooking. The brine also tenderizes the brisket.


Next, point or flat cut brisket? In my grocer, it seemed point cut corned beef was stocked (at least the day I visited). This is a good choice for shredding the meat, and there’s typically more fat running through the cut. A flat cut, on the other hand, is better for slicing the corned beef and making sandwiches for later. It’s leaner, but there is a layer of fat on the bottom.


I’ve cooked both cuts in the past, with flat cut as a preference. But for this casserole, the point cut will work just fine.


No matter what cut you buy, though, the important tip to remember is to carve it against the grain.


How do I cook corned beef?

Whether you use a slow cooker, the oven, or your stove top, the key is patience because it will take a little while for this cut of meat to cook to tender perfection. I typically do either the stove top or the slow cooker. Tip: If you use the slow cooker, don’t put your cabbage and potatoes in at the beginning as they will turn mushy.


This time, I used my stove top, and followed recommended 50 minutes per pound instructions, cooking a 3½-pound corned beef in my Dutch oven for three hours. Cover the meat with liquid (you can use the juice from the corned beef package), open the little spice package, and add it to the pot. I also like to add two bay leaves and a couple cloves of garlic to mine. Tip: If you have beer, add a bottle to the pot, followed with tap water to cover your corned beef. Bring it to a boil, turn down to low simmer, cover and let the stove do the work!


So, I know you’re going to make corned beef next week and you will have leftovers. Should you be tired of the next-day Reuben sandwich (by the way, nothing wrong with that), remember this throwback casserole. It’s not really Irish, but it’s sure tasty.


Going old school

I’ve tweaked a recipe from my Mom’s vintage church cookbook. This thing has to be from the 1970s. The original calls for two cans of corned beef, but I’m not a fan of this product. There’s so much sodium; plus the dish just tastes so much better with corned beef you’ve cooked. Plus, when you use leftover corned beef, it’s easy to trim excess fat before cubing it for the casserole.


I also swapped out the ½ pound of Velveeta for 1 cup of shredded cheddar. If you want to add a little more cheese, no judgment here. And because my daughter hates green peppers, I left this ingredient out. A good swap here—if you are of the similar mind—would be frozen peas. Also recommend using the low-fat/low-sodium cream of mushroom soup.


Another thing I changed was adding one clove of minced garlic. It cooks up, but brings added depth, as do the little caraway seeds. Remember, this bakes in the oven for an hour, so cook the noodles to just al dente; just cut back a minute or two on the package instructions. I love it when some of the noodles go golden and bit crispy around the edges. So good!


So, yeah, corned beef and cabbage dinners were a part of my childhood, and we often had this casserole later in the week following St. Patty’s. The other memory I have of this holiday goes back to our time in the College Hill neighborhood on the city’s North Side. There was a tavern—I can’t remember the name—somewhere on Ferry Street not far from our house. Every St. Patrick’s Day, the proprietor put an open coffin with a skeleton dressed in a black suit with pennies over the eyes. Whenever I passed this on the street, I was attracted to and creeped out by it!


I didn’t realize it at the time, but we lived north of what historically was the city’s first Irish neighborhood called Kerry Patch. The first Irish St. Patty’s parade was here in 1820. It was a complicated neighborhood, and it’s fascinating to read about. It’s also a shame that evidence of Kerry Patch has disappeared; gone are the churches, businesses, homes.


If you’d like to ready more about St. Louis and its Irish history, I recommend this book by William Faherty, who was a Jesuit priest and noted local historian.


And so friends, I leave you with this Irish toast: May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead. Happy St. Pat's Day!






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