A Ghost Story

October 21, 2016

Mullen-It-Over

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It was a dark and stormy night. Isn’t that how scary stories begin? Well, really, it wasn’t stormy.

When a colleague of mine and her husband invited Bob and me to come for dinner several years ago, we looked forward to seeing their charming little house in a small town near Des Moines. They had spent several months remodeling it and were ready to show it off.

vincent-priceAs we sipped our wine, they showed us around, pointing out the new features of their turn-of-the-century home. Then, as we tucked into a delicious lasagna dinner, the conversation took an unexpected turn. They matter-of-factly announced that their house was haunted. Whoa! Say what??? Come to think of it, her husband does look like Vincent Price! I tried to lock eyes with Bob, but he was calmly gnawing on his garlic bread as if he regularly received this kind of news. I always had thought these friends were normal; who would have guessed they were paranormal? They explained that the ghost was a woman and they were fairly certain that she and her family were the first residents of the house. Occasionally, she would appear at the foot of the couple’s bed at night. The porch lights or interior lamps were often turned on when the couple returned home after an evening out. She was a helpful ghost, you see.

My friend then related the time when she returned home from a hospital stay and left her overnight case in the bathroom. The next morning she was shocked to find that the ghost had unpacked her toiletry items and put them away on a shelf behind a glass door that had been stuck shut for years. She led me into the bathroom to show me how the glass door still could not be moved, but there were her toiletries sitting behind the glass. We returned to the table. I don’t remember much about the meal, except those first fabulous bites of lasagna. I do recall half-expecting Lurch to walk in from the kitchen with the dessert tray.

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I love the graphic quality of black and white frosted sugar cookies.

I didn’t drink any more wine or water, and skipped the coffee because I was afraid to go back into the bathroom; it was a 25-minute drive back to Des Moines. Bob’s antennae finally received my mental telegraph that I wanted to go, so we left right after the dessert. Really sorry we have to go. We’re pooped! We spent all day raking the shag carpeting, waxing the Pinto, and polishing the Harvest Gold appliances. We simply must get back to our mundane little split level in the suburbs.

I always felt guilty that we just ate and then  … departed. The couple has since divorced and moved away. I wonder who lives there now. And do they have spectral visitors? Sometimes I think I imagined the whole thing. Bob assures me I didn’t. At least I have a great ghost story to share if I’m ever invited to a slumber party.

Foodiva

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Feeling raven-ous? (Ravens made of marzipan perch warily on almond cake balls.)

Perhaps my spooky story has left you reaching for your security blanket. Maybe you need some good old reliable comfort food to calm your fears. I’m sure we all have our favorites. Here are a few of mine. A very popular one is Comfort Casserole. I have shared this recipe with many people over the years. Besides being a satisfying meal for the family, it is a perfect dish to share with someone who is ill or going through a difficult time. I am also including my version of chili, known as Chili Redemption. And a quick and satisfying recipe to accompany a casual meal is Garlic and Blue Cheese Biscuit Bites. And I can’t forget to give you the recipe for the delicious lasagna we had that night with “Vincent” and his wife. Our family calls it Hauntingly Good Lasagna. And finally, I’m sharing a very tempting and easy recipe that you won’t be able to leave alone, Salted Caramel Sauce.

Comfort Casserole is always a well-received dish when the family comes together after a busy day. It’s also perfect for emergencies. It can be assembled quickly for a timely delivery to a friend or relative who has had a death in the family or is laid up with an illness. Everyone loves its simple goodness.

Comfort Casserole

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Comfort Casserole

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 8 ounces extra-wide egg noodles, cooked al dente (about 8 minutes or so)
  • 3 cups cooked chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces (A deli rotisserie chicken saves time.)
  • 2 (10 1/2-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
  • 8 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced green pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise (more, if needed)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons dried, minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Plain bread crumbs (They usually come in a can.)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted

Mix all ingredients together, except last two. Spread into a 9×13-inch pan. (I often divide it into two smaller pans, and then bake one and freeze the other.) Sprinkle bread crumbs liberally over the top. Pour melted butter over all. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned and bubbling.

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Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Who doesn’t crave a bowl of chili when it’s chilly? The lack of joy for my old recipe was humiliating. It was a loser and a snoozer. Its sin? No pizazz. And so, after religiously studying a few “chili bibles,” I saw the light. I worked up a more spirited recipe (featuring salsa and beer) and now my family is filled with adoration. Praise the Lord and pass the crackers!

Chili Redemption

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Chili Redemption

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 (16-ounce) carton fresh chunky-type mild salsa, drained*
  • 1 (14-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes and juice
  • 1 (12-ounce) bottle beer, any kind (I like Corona.)
  • 1 (8-ounce) can V-8 juice
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green chilies
  • 2 or 3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili power
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 or 3 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 3 cubes Wyler’s beef bouillon
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt, if needed

In a medium soup pot over medium heat, brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic. Add the salsa, tomatoes, beer, V-8 juice and green chilies, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the black beans and remaining ingredients. Simmer for another hour or so. Adjust seasonings, as necessary. (*You can find fresh, chunky salsa in the refrigerated case, usually near the produce aisle of your grocery store. I like Fiesta brand, an Iowa product, but there are usually several to choose from.)

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Who would guess that a humble can of refrigerated biscuit dough could be elevated to a rich and buttery treat? Garlic and Blue Cheese Biscuit Bites (or you can use Feta cheese, if preferred) are a great casual food because they can be placed in the middle of the table at meal time and everyone can reach out and take some.

Garlic and Blue Cheese Biscuit Bites

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Garlic and Blue Cheese Biscuit Bites

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (7 1/2-ounce) can refrigerated biscuits, cut into fourths (I use a kitchen shears.)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • Garlic salt
  • 2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (or feta cheese may be used)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch pie pan with nonstick spray. Arrange biscuit quarters in pan. Pour melted butter over all. Lightly sprinkle with garlic salt. Sprinkle cheese over all. Bake 12 to 14 minutes. Pass biscuits or, if it’s a casual meal, set the pan in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves—fingers are allowed! (Original version from late great friend Bobbye Scheidler.)

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Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Even though the ghostly evening that Bob and I experienced was unusual, we certainly enjoyed the lasagna that our hosts had made. In fact, it has become one of our family favorites. My sister and her family love this recipe too, and in fact, she makes it much more often than I do.

Hauntingly Good Lasagna

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What is more satisfying than a big slice of fresh lasagna?

Hauntingly Good Lasagna

  • Servings: 10 or more
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (or 1 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound ground sausage)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons salt (This is a big recipe, so it needs plenty of salt.)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed plum tomatoes
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 (15-ounce) carton ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 9 lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Brown hamburger (and sausage, if using), onion and garlic in olive oil, breaking down the meat as it cooks. Add the next 9 ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. (If sauce becomes too thick, add 1/2 cup water.) In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the egg, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. In a sprayed (or oiled) 9×13-inch Pyrex pan (or lasagna pan), start with a thin layer of meat sauce. Then add a layer of noodles (3 noodles, side-by-side lengthwise, per layer). Next spread about 2 cups of meat mixture, then add several dollops of ricotta mixture (about a third of it), then add approximately 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and about 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Repeat layers two more times (if there’s enough room in the pan), ending with the remaining meat sauce and cheeses. Place pan on a baking sheet in the oven. Cover loosely with foil that has been sprayed with nonstick spray and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until cheese is brown and bubbling. Allow lasagna to cool for 15 minutes before cutting to serve.

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

 

ghost

Help! I’m being terrorized by the lady ghost from the haunted house story because she caught me in a lie. The truth is, the lasagna photo above is not a genuine slice of Hauntingly Good Lasagna. I ran out of time to make it, so I microwaved a slice of Stouffer’s, took a picture of it, and then made Bob eat it for dinner. I had hoped you wouldn’t notice, but you were suspicious, weren’t you? I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Now, tell this spook to disappear!

And finally, something to satisfy the sweet tooth, and it can be made in just a matter of minutes! It puts the store-bought stuff to shame. Salted Caramel Sauce, heated and then poured over vanilla ice cream, is lip-licking good. (Häagen-Dazs Vanilla or Vanilla Bean ice cream is excellent!) Or, try it drizzled over apple cake or pie. Also, the sauce poured into the little jelly-sized jars, makes great take-home gifts for friends and family during fall gatherings. And here’s a surprise! If you cook it too long you end up with soft, luscious caramel candy! What a recipe! You’re welcome.

Salted Caramel Sauce

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Salted Caramel Sauce

  • Servings: 4 or so
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup butter (not margarine)
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon (scant) kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon good vanilla

In a heavy saucepan (not smaller than 3-quart), add all ingredients, except vanilla and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Boil gently over medium-low heat until mixture thickens, about 7 or 8 minutes. Remove from heat. After 15 minutes, stir in vanilla. Allow it to cool and then store in jars, or serve warm over vanilla ice cream. If you allow the caramel sauce to continue cooking for another 4 minutes or so, it will become a soft, chewy caramel candy. If you use a candy thermometer, it becomes candy when it reaches about 235 degrees. (But, if you don’t have one, don’t worry about it. If it is too soft, then it is still sauce—and that’s okay!) If you cook it to candy (soft ball) consistency, then remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and pour into a buttered 8×8-inch pan. Allow to cool completely and then cut into squares. Wrap each one in plastic wrap.

Recipe from http://www.messycookblog.com

Last Bites

fullsizerender158Have you ever noticed that your favorite comfort foods are hardly ever low calorie? There’s nothing like a rich sustaining meal to bring on that feeling of warmth and well-being associated with childhood and Mom’s home-cooking.

Speaking of rich foods, I have never liked to use the word “grease” in my stories or recipes. Is there anyone who believes that “grease” sounds appealing? I like to use more palatable euphemisms, such as “oil,” “butter,” or “shortening,” when possible.

“Grease” reminds me of a misunderstanding that occurred when our son Bradley was about to graduate from high school. He walked into the kitchen, grabbed a snack, and said he was planning to take his friend Sarah to Grease (which was playing at the Civic Center). I snapped back, “Are you kidding? There’s no way your father and I would allow you and Sarah to go to Greece.” “But why would you have such a fit about Grease?” he asked. I replied, “I cannot even believe you would ask me why. End of discussion!” “Mom, I don’t get it. Is it because Grease is expensive?” he persisted. “Of course Greece is expensive,” I said. “Your father and I would not even go right now with four years of college ahead.” “Wow, I don’t see how it can be so expensive,” he mused. Finally he asked, “So is the real reason because it’s pornographic or something?” I paused for a moment, “Well now, that’s an odd question. I suppose there are some Greeks who are into pornography but probably no more so than any other country.” Brad gasped and his eyes burned into mine as if I had just Brylcreemed my hair into a pompadour and kick-started a motorcycle. “Greeks? Mom, are you crazy? I’m talking about Grease the Musical!” The fog cleared. “Grease the Musical?  Oh my gosh! Well then, never mind. Of course you may go, Bradley,” said his batty mother.

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Let’s return to the subject of ghosts, which makes me think of tombstones, which make me think of epitaphs. Have you ever thought about what yours would be? I have known forever what mine would say: She just needed one more day. Indeed, whenever I start a project, I seem to think of more and more things that I could do to make it better. And then I find myself scrambling right up to the last minute to get it finished. It’s not because I am a procrastinator; I would say it’s because I’m a “lily gilder,” which is so time-consuming! I inherited this trait from my late Great Aunt Dora—that desire to go above and beyond what is necessary. For example, Aunt Dora made the most spectacular decorated sugar cookies. They were loaded with intricate frosting flowers, birds, bells, hearts, trellises, glitter, and silver dragees. (You could crack a molar if you bit into one, but still, they were amazing to behold.) She also made exquisite wedding cakes. Each time she completed one, she would stand back, give it a critical eye, and then wistfully sigh, “I always put one too many roses on it.”

I hope you will come back again in two weeks, on November 4, when I’ll have another post for you. Thanks for dropping by!—Tracy

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8 thoughts on “A Ghost Story

  1. You did it again, over the top!! I love chili. My recipe is very similar to yours but haven’t ever added beer. I may try that. As always I enjoy your stories. Love the ghost story. You are incredible. Thank you for all the recipes and entertainment. Have a great Halloween!

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    1. So good to hear from you, Sherry! The beer (in the chili) has a bit of a strong taste at first, but after it cooks awhile, it gives it such a pleasant yeasty flavor. Yes, try it! Thank you so much for your nice comments and for reading the blog! Hope you have a fun fall season too! 🍁🍁🍁 Bob says hi!!

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  2. As always, your recipes sound fantastic. I just noticed the print button on the recipes and got all excited, but it didn’t work for me. Also didn’t work on this site where there is also a print button. Just thought you should know.

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    1. Hi Mary Ellen! Great to hear from you! I know. I have been frustrated about this. I had my son check it out and he didn’t know why the print button doesn’t work either. (I don’t think it ever did.) I hope you are able to copy and paste into Microsoft Word. Maddening! 😬 Hope you’re having a good fall!

      Like

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