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  • Leigh

In the Kitchen—December 26

In the Kitchen -- December 26, Black Bean Salad Chile-Cheese Casserole Southern Cornbread Dream Bars

Black Bean Salad

Chile-Cheese Casserole

Southern Cornbread

Dream Bars

Christmas isn’t the end, it’s the beginning, so we include a menu to help you get beyond the leftovers (which will be great later in the week!) and start on something new.

The menu is easy, economical, and filling. First, a black bean salad can be assembled and refrigerated ahead of time. Serve the spicy-sweet salad plain or atop some salad greens. The main dish is a comforting, lightened-up chile-cheese casserole that is wonderful warm from the oven and topped with green onions, tomatoes, and light sour cream. While you’re mixing up the casserole, bake some cornbread. The nubby cornbread will go well with the creamy casserole. And while the casserole bakes, you can mix up and pop into the oven a batch of old fashioned dream bars. With coconut, pecans, and just the right amount of chocolate chips, the bars really are a dream. Be sure to have them with coffee, tea, or a tall glass of milk. Mmmm.

Black Bean Salad – Serves 4-6+

This is an adaptable salad—use what you have on hand for the fruit, fresh, canned, or frozen (thaw it first, though). The fresh tasting salad is very easy, can be made ahead, and is wonderful with Southwestern fare. The leftovers also are great for lunch.

1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup of chopped red onion

¼ cup of chopped red bell pepper

½ cup of chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup of frozen corn, thawed, or canned corn, rinsed and drained

1 large peach chopped or 1 cup of canned peaches drained and chopped*

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup of lime juice and zest from a lime

¼ teaspoon of lemon pepper

½ teaspoon of cumin

Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate them for at least an hour to blend the flavors. Serve the salad plain or on top of the greens of your choice.

*Or use a nectarine or half of a chopped mango, if you have one on hand.

Chile-Cheese Casserole – Serves 8+

This is a great meatless supper or brunch dish. It’s simple to put together, economical, and quite comforting with its cheesy-eggy goodness. You can vary the heat by using mild or spicy chiles. I’ve made the casserole in a 13 x 9-inch pan, and I’ve also divided it into 8 x 11-inch pans (one for us and one to share or freeze). If you go the 2-pan route, you won’t have quite as thick a casserole (I actually like it better that way) and you may need to shorten the baking time by about 5 minutes. Try the casserole with any or all of the options—green onions, tomatoes, sour cream, and avocados—they’ll really dress up the simple casserole.

8 eggs

2 ½ tablespoons of flour

¾ teaspoon of baking powder

24 ounces of low-fat cottage cheese

2 cups of reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend, divided

1 7-ounce can of chopped green chiles

12 corn tortillas, divided

½ cup of chopped green onions (optional)

½ cup of chopped tomatoes (optional)

½ cup of light sour cream (optional)

1-2 avocados, sliced thinly (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a large casserole or 9 x 13-inch dish with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the eggs well. Whisk in the flour and baking powder. Whisk in the cottage cheese, 1 cup of the Mexican cheese blend, and the chiles. Cut 8 of the corn tortillas into slices and then into little rectangles and mix the cut up tortillas into the rest of the ingredients. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Cut up the remaining 4 corn tortillas into little rectangles and sprinkle those evenly on top of the casserole. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake the casserole for 40-50 minutes or until golden and set in the middle. If you’d like, sprinkle the top of the casserole with chopped green onions and tomatoes. Cut the casserole into rectangles and top each piece with a little light sour cream and a slice of avocado.

Southern Cornbread – Serves 6+

Variations of this old recipe probably exist in many households in the US South. This recipe is for “real” cornbread, as opposed to the “Jiffy mix” version (although, I have to admit the “Jiffy mix” cornbread is quite good in a pinch as well as being inexpensive). The homemade cornbread doesn’t take much longer than the mix, but you will need to use a pan that can go from the stovetop to the oven. Most Southern cooks use a cast iron skillet for that reason and because the heavy cast iron helps the bread bake up crispy on the edges. Serve the corn bread warm with a little butter and honey or preserves.

1¾ cups of yellow corn meal

1 tablespoon of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 egg

2 cups of buttermilk

1 tablespoon of butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk the corn meal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the egg and buttermilk. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together just until everything is moistened. Heat a cast iron or other oven-proof skillet on the stove until hot. Add the butter and swirl it to melt it and coat the bottom of the skillet. When the butter is sizzling and beginning to brown, pour in the cornmeal batter. Using a potholder or mitt, put the hot skillet in the oven. Let the cornbread bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven carefully. Let the bread cool a few minutes before serving.

Coconut Dream Bars – Makes 18+

A local barbecue place has dream bars on its menu, and I occasionally will indulge in one, sharing it with my husband, if he’s nice (he usually is). The bars are incredibly rich and very sweet. I don’t know the recipe the barbecue place uses, but I think the one below—using the nuts and chocolate chips—comes close. I also like the bars with just the coconut. Either way, because the bars are rich and a special treat, cut them in very small squares and savor them.

Bottom Layer

½ cup of Smart or Earth Balance (or butter)

½ cup of dark brown sugar

¼ teaspoon of salt

1 cup of flour

Top Layer

3 eggs

1 cup of dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons of flour

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

¼ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

½ teaspoon of coconut extract

1½ cups of shredded coconut

½ cup of chopped pecans (optional)

½ cup of mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray or line the pan with aluminum foil and spray the foil with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, combine the Smart Balance and brown sugar. Add the salt and flour and stir the mixture until it’s crumbly. Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake it for 10-15 minutes until it’s beginning to brown. In the same bowl you used to mix up the bottom layer, combine the eggs, dark brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract, coconut extract, and coconut. If you’d like, you can also add the chopped pecans and chocolate chips. Stir the ingredients well and spread the mixture on top of the baked bottom layer. Return the pan to the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the bars are golden brown (don’t over bake them—they’ll harden up a little as they cool). Let the bars cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes before trying to cut them.

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