We’re All Casserole Queens On the Inside

The ingredients, with original art by Michael Owens

~Posted by Julie

Once upon a time, long before I realized my book selling destiny, I prepared food for a living.  While I’m glad for the career shift (books don’t quite pack the pounds the way all of that “taste-testing” did), I do still love to cook. My specialty these days (or what every dish I ever make becomes) is a one-dish wonder.  Give me a wok/frying pan/pot/baking dish and a sack of groceries and I’ll whip up what is pretty much the same meal every time: carbohydrate + protein + more vegetables than even your mother would advise eating in one sitting.

So you can imagine how much I’ve been looking forward to expanding my horizons with The Casserole Queens Cookbook.  All those recipes!  And I get to mix all of the ingredients together and cook ’em all at once in a way that’s way more skillful and exciting than what my lazy former-cook’s bones come up with on their own!  Yeah!

Feeling inspired and a little hungry, last week I set out to make their Baked Fish with Vegetables and Tangy Caper Sauce.  Here is my tale:

First of all, the list of ingredients:

2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices (about 6 cups)
4 cups thinly sliced fennel (about 2 small bulbs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
¾ cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
6 (6-ounce each) sea bass fillets, or other firm white fish fillets
Tangy Caper Sauce

Being the cost-cutting bookseller that I am, the first thing I did was figure out where I could scrimp. Central Market proved a gold mine for scrimping.  The fennel was the biggest expense of the whole meal, aside from the fish, coming in at $3.50 per (I bought two.)  I used dried oregano instead of fresh to save almost two and a half dollars, and, because Central Market does not stock sea bass, went with the always affordable, always dependale Tilapia – the common woman’s fish.

My biggest savings, however, came with the capers.  I had in my cart a two ounce jar of the savory little buggers which was going to run me another two and a half dollars, when a very helpful (really wish I had read her name tag) CM employee tipped me off to the capers sold in bulk at the Deli.  Hot damn! I thought, and scooted my cart on over there. Well. There I met yet another very kind, very patient CM employee who weighed out exactly three TB of capers and did the math with me to make it clear that I was saving a bundle getting those capers from behind his counter. I wheeled my cart away feeling like a money-saving rock star. Yes I did.

I walked out of Central Market having paid around $25 for everything. So bully for me.  And for the Casserole Queens. Not only is this recipe easy to put together and healthy to consume (I used a total of 3 TB of olive oil for the whole meal), it was cheap, too.

Then the cooking began.

It began at ten o’clock at night, after I returned with my partner in crime & wine from the Revolving Door Gallery where our friend Emily was showing some work. We’d had some cheap beer, some champagne, and won the grand prize in the raffle.  It was time to cook some fish, and cook it good!  We’d won the grand prize. Nothing was going to stop us.

Here’s a photo montage of the experience:

This smelled SO GOOD: sliced red potatoes and fennel. Those gorgeous, feathery fennel leaves are totally useless. Unless you take a picture, in which case, their beauty endures forever.
After the potatoes and fennel cooked for about half an hour, it was time to lay down the Tilapia and lemon zest. I used about half the amount of fish the recipe called for, since I was only feeding two people. And I'm cheap.
The garlic & pepper beginning of a red sauce that turned into:
I had the wrong kind of canned tomatoes, but guess what, STILL TASTED AWESOME! The versatility of this recipe was truly appreciated.

While the casserole baked, I prepared the Tangy Caper Sauce, an element of the dish which my partner in crime & wine was still raving about days later.

Tangy Caper Sauce:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons capers, drained
Dash of freshly ground black pepper

This was FREAKING EASY!  I combined all of the ingredients and whisked.  Here I am whisking:

Then we got to eat. It was only around midnight. So soup to nuts, it took about two hours, which included baking time and the time it took to find all the utensils (we were house sitting, that awesome floor is unfortunately not at all our kitchen.) Not bad!  So this Casserole Queens recipe = versatile, inexpensive, easy to put together, and pretty quick to cook. And the taste?

Lemony and delicious. This was my first foray into fennel, and probably not my last.  Slicing the potatoes thin was a good idea, and the tomato sauce on top kept the fish nice and moist.  The caper sauce added a nice zing.  We ate leftovers for lunch and dinner for the next three days and, with all the complex flavor action going on, were never tired of it.


(But not really THE END….this Thursday, August 25 at 7p I get to meet the Queens behind the recipe, Sandy Pollock and Crystal Cook, when they’re here at BookPeople to officially launch The Casserole Queens Cookbook.  They won’t be recreating the delightful fish and potatoes recipe, however they will be serving up samples of their Idea-Generating Margaritas, thanks to a generous donation from Republic Tequila. The event is free and open to the public, so come on down and get some tips on making your own one-dish wonder.)

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