My life is full of surprises, and just this week I had yet another one. Daughter Sherry asked me for my recipe for that seven- layer casserole I used to make when our guest ranch was in full swing here.
Oh, yes, our kids had to eat it often and there was a bit of grumbling (perhaps sharing their plate with the dog) so I never expected to hear any of them actually wanting the recipe.
Actually, I don’t have a written recipe for this concoction. I developed it as an emergency or fill-in lunch when I was also a wrangler, taking guests on a horseback ride and knew I had to have a presentable hot lunch quickly when I returned. Because we raised beef (and still do) our meals centered around beef of any cut ... a subtle bit of promotion for our product. And a standing rule here was “never serve leftovers” because our guests paid big money for three very good meals a day, among other things.
All of our meals were cooked on a huge wood-burning stove, with a hot side and a simmer side. It had to be fed regularly and I had great help who kept the fire burning so the stove would be hot when I got in from the ride.
I simmered, browned up a good amount of our own ground beef while cooking breakfast for our guests. I also boiled a package or two of noodles, drained them, then stirred in a bit of cooking oil to keep them from sticking. Both the beef and the noodles could then just sit on the far back of the stove until I got the last rider off his/her horse. I sent the riders off to wash up before lunch and then I hit the job at hand hard!
It went something like this: the beef was seasoned with garlic, onions, some powdered red chile and spices (I didn’t have time to measure anything) and a large casserole dish was greased with bacon grease (what else for flavor). The noodles were placed in a big dish, then covered with the beef. The next layers depended solely upon what was available in our large pantry and refrigerators. They almost always had green beans, canned corn, green chile (chopped) then canned tomatoes plus some tomato sauce on top. The whole dish was covered with grated cheese, then baked until bubbly and brown on top. Leftovers were known to hide out in this combination, yet no-one ever caught on, that I am aware of.
The other serious rule one must obey when making this dish is: “Never, ever stir it!” The various layers were to show through when it was served.
I recently quoted Chris, one of our many summer ranch kids, in a column here. He remembers so much about those fun dude ranching days and he asked me if I remember the time when his dad ambled into our busy kitchen just before lunch, just as I was about to pop the seven- layer casserole into the oven. How could I forget that incident? Paul saw what I was doing, dug out a very large spoon and stirred the layers. Yes! Stirred this pieces of layered art! Oh, wow! I was horrified, but had nothing else to serve for lunch that day, so suddenly we had a new menu item called “the seven layer stirred casserole.” And, it turned out so well I often stirred it together when I made it after that.
I also know there isn’t a ranch wife anywhere near here that hasn’t come up with a dish like this, because when one lives an hour away from a grocery story, one learns how to just make do. So, have fun, Sherry as you layer up this old time ranch special.
And, stir it if you want, now that you know “the rest of the story”!
Editha Bartley lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.