Penny Casserole–and welcome to my life

QuestionWhy was Terri hanging over a window well at 12:40 in the morning in her scrubs and socks in 39-degree weather hitting her son’s bedroom window with a rolled-up newspaper?

I pulled into the garage at 12:30 A.M. from work. My patients had been relatively easy (wahoo!) so I had made good time in getting out of the hospital at around midnight.  I was looking forward to finally getting to taste some of the casserole that I had made before I had left for work in the mid afternoon.  It was a remake of a favorite casserole from my childhood and I had been thinking for several weeks of ways to update it a bit. Okay, a lot.

Five Ten minutes past the time I ought to have left for work I finished assembling the casserole and put it in the oven, set the delay baking feature so that everything would be done when John got home from work, and blitzed out the door.  I only had a vague idea of how the casserole would taste and it seemed like it was going to be great.

Just to satisfy my enormous curiosity I called John in the evening and asked how everything tasted.  He gave me a resounding two thumbs up.  Wahoo, again!  I asked him to please save some for me and explained that I needed a sample to 1) taste it for myself so that I could write about it, and 2) photograph it so that I could also post an amazingly tantalizing picture of it here.  He assured me that there would be plenty left over for me.

When I got home, the sign on the door from the garage to the house said:

Insert teeth gritting here.

I came in the house, locked the door behind me, put my stuff down, took off my coat, looked at the empty casserole dish on the counter, picked up my camera, went back out of the door– which had failed to close completely– to the garage, closed the door behind me, and took the above picture. Did you catch the part where I said I locked the door and it had not closed completely and then I went back out of the door and closed it–completely?  Yeah. It was locked. And all of my stuff was in the house on the other side of the door. My phone, my keys, my shoes, my coat. Yep. All safely inside the house behind the locked door.

I think I might have cussed.  Just one word, but I may have said it a few times.

John was upstairs asleep with the white noise of a fan to cancel any household noises that might wake him up. Door bell ringing and loud knocking would have been a moot point. I momentarily considered sleeping in the van in the garage.  I called myself an idiot and started working on another plan.

Matt!  Matt’s bedroom is in the basement and he does not have a fan. “I’ll just whack on his bedroom window with something and wake him up and he’ll let me in the house. He probably won’t even be asleep yet!” I grabbed the newspaper that was still laying outside in the driveway and headed around the outside of the house to Matt’s bedroom window. Dang it was cold outside!

In a sort of squat-lean-reach position over the window well I started whacking Matt’s bedroom window with the newspaper.  No response.  I hit the window harder.  Still no response.  I hit the window some more and called Matt’s name.  No response.  Another cuss word came out of my mouth, but I didn’t say it very loud.  If you only think or whisper a swear word does it register as big on the repent-o-meter as if you say it out loud?

Anyway, I finally got Matt to wake up.  He was really ticked.  BUT if you eat all of your mom’s casserole and she doesn’t get any of it after slaving away for 8 hours taking care of sick people who are not even family members and keeps a smile on her face the whole time and never complains to anybody except to God because he understands everything, then you can certainly wake up and let your mom in the house at ANY hour of the night!

Matt unlocked the door, grumbled something, and went back downstairs. I walked into the kitchen and stared at the casserole dish full of murky water (soaking) and three stray peas floating around in it.  I shook my head slowly and came upstairs to write this post, mostly for me.

Out of all of the things that I could say at this point, the bottom line is this–I am home and warm and safe.

****************

When I was young, my mom used to make Penny Casserole. It was a concoction of sliced hot dogs, cubed potatoes, chopped onion, peas, cream of mushroom soup, and a little bit of mustard. Plus salt and pepper, of course. It was called penny casserole for two reasons:

  1. It was made of inexpensive ingredients which only cost ‘pennies’ to make.
  2. The hot dogs were sliced into “pennies”.

This casserole was a family favorite. We kids could never seem to get enough of it.

I mentioned that it was an inexpensive casserole. Well, I realize that that was back in the day when hot dogs were cheap; like maybe .50 for a pound of them. You could feed a family of 6 this casserole for almost nothing. These days I get sticker shock looking at the price of hot dogs. I mean really, over $4.00 a pound for a parts-is-parts pork/beef/poultry product? So sad, so sad. We won’t even go into the cost of  Campbell’s ‘cream of…’ soups.

Oh, by the way, if you want to get a good feel for the general prices of a grocery store, take a look at the price of their Campbell’s cream of whatever soups. The greater the price of the soups, the greater the overall prices in the grocery store in general. Try it, prove me wrong. I’ve been using the soup pricing as a general rule of thumb for years and it has never failed me.

Just for fun I Googled “penny casserole”. It’s out there in its original 1960’s format! So surprising…I have never met anyone else who makes this casserole. I don’t feel so alone anymore.

While I genuinely enjoy this simple casserole, one day I started thinking about a way to ‘update’ it. Evidently the results were stellar–ask John and Matt.

I am giving you recipes for both versions.

This is the sausage that I used in the casserole.  It is very good.  Any type of related sausage will work.  Choose what suits your taste.

/

Cut the sausage lengthwise, then cut across each of the pieces making half-circles.  You don’t have to cut the sausage this way.  Cut it up in whatever shape makes you happy.  However, I do recommend that you keep it chunky.
 /
Leave the skins on the small red potatoes.  I like using these potatoes because they hold up well when cooked.
 /
Cut the mushrooms into thick slices.  I cut them into approximately 1/4″ slices because I like mushrooms.  I especially like using crimini because they are meaty.  Cimini mushrooms, by the way, are simply small portabello mushrooms; hence, the meatiness.
 /
I used 2 cups of these beauties.  Sorry I don’t have an “ounce” size to give you, but I bought a large package of these from Costco and just used what I wanted for this recipe.  I’ll use the other ones for something spectacular probably tonight…just as soon as I figure out what that something will be.
 /
In a deep frying pan, saute the onions and potatoes in 2 tablespoons cooking oil for 3 minutes over medium high heat.  I used olive oil for this. Sprinkle with salt while cooking.
/
Add the garlic, mushrooms, and sausage.  Stir occasionally.  There will a moderate amount of liquid from the mushrooms and vegetables.  It is important to cook until the majority of the liquid has been cooked off, otherwise your casserole will be more of a soup than a casserole.  Now that I think about it, this would make an outstanding creamy, savory soup.  Focus, Terri, focus.
/
So, while all of that amazingly wonderful stuff is cooking/reducing, make the sauce.  Start by melting the butter in another pan.
 /
Add the flour and whisk to blend well with the butter.  Yes, you are making a roux…which, yes, will turn into a bechamel sauce once you add the milk to it.
 /
Pour the milk slowly into the pan with the roux, whisking quickly.  Sorry, no pictures of the milk being poured into the pan because I can’t pour, whisk, and photograph at the same time.  I would need one more hand (yes, I have learned to manage my camera with one hand while I cook with the other hand, but not while I am cooking with both hands)  Cook and whisk until the sauce thickens and begins to bubble.  Do not boil this sauce, just simmer it, okay?  Little bubbles, not BIG bubbles.
/
Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the mustard.  Simmer (little bubbles) and stir for a couple of minutes.  Taste.  Add more salt, pepper, or mustard if you need it.  Beautiful!
/
Pour the sauce over the sausage/vegetable mixture.  Stir gently until well combined.
/
Fold in the frozen peas.
/
Transfer to a casserole dish, dot with butter if desired.  I desired the butter on top.  It is not in this picture.  This is the part of my day where I was 10 minutes late leaving for work (I arrived at work on time…the lights were with me…the traffic lights, not the twirling lights that one might see if one were to speed on the way to work or elsewhere.  I personally have only ever seen those lights once, but I got off with a warning because I was young and cute.  Definitely wouldn’t have a prayer these days, so I don’t speed.)  ANYWAY, bake this casserole uncovered for about 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven until hot and bubbly.  I guess it got hot and bubbly.  I really don’t know.  I wasn’t home to see it.  I guess it tasted incredible since there was none left for me to eat when I got home from work.  Shaking head and looking mildly perturbed.

Updated Penny Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 (12-16 ounce) package of a kielbasa type sausage (I used a chicken sausage.)
  • 8 small, red potatoes, cut into bite-sized cubes with the peel on
  • 1 large onion, medium dice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (¼-inch thick slices)
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons mustard (I used honey mustard. Any kind of mustard would work.)
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Butter a 2-quart casserole dish; set aside.
  2. Slice the sausage in half lengthwise, then cut across the halves making thick slices of half-rounds.
  3. In a deep frying pan, over medium high heat, sauté the onions and potatoes in the 2 tablespoons of cooking oil or olive oil for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt to taste while cooking.
  4. Lower the heat to medium. Add the garlic, mushrooms, and sausage to the onions and potatoes. Sauté together, turning occasionally, until the mushrooms have reduced and given up much of their liquid. During the cooking process liquid from the mushrooms and onions will collect in the bottom of the frying pan. It will need to be cooked off or else the casserole will be too soupy. Stir the contents of the pan only as often as needed to keep things from sticking to the bottom of the pan, but not so often that the potatoes get mushy.
  5. In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stir occasionally.
  6. Pour the milk slowly into the pan, whisking quickly as you pour to prevent lumps. If there are some lumps, just keep stirring (whisking) until this sauce is as smooth as possible.
  7. Cook and stir until the sauce thickens. It will be bubbly, but will not be boiling. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the mustard. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as desired.
  8. Pour sauce over the sausage and vegetable mixture in the other pan. Stir gently to combine well. Fold in frozen peas.
  9. Pour into a casserole dish. Dot with butter if desired. Bake for 40 minutes at 350-degrees until hot and bubbly.

Notes

Original Penny Casserole

1 pound hot dogs, sliced crosswise into 1/8"-1/4" circles-- 4 potatoes, peeled, cubed, and boiled-- 1 onion, chopped-- 1 cup frozen peas-- 1 can cream of mushroom soup-- 2 teaspoons mustard-- salt and pepper to taste-- butter--

Mix everything except butter together. Dot top of casserole with butter. Bake, uncovered, at 350-degrees for 30-45 minutes.

http://tsgcookin.com/2010/11/penny-casserole-and-welcome-to-my-life/

Note: Despite the simplicity of the original casserole…I really like it.

All photos and written commentary Copyright 2010.

Comments

  1. says

    how big of a casserole dish do you need on this? all we have is an 8×11. or a crockpot. which would you recommend and how would you adapt it to fit?

  2. Anonymous says

    Made this last night, only change was I sauteed the sausage separately first, to remove some of the fat. Used grainy mustard.

    My guys loved it, said it goes on the Once a Month list (food they love and want to have once a month). I cannot eat potatoes but thinking…this would work with cauliflower or perhaps firm pasta instead of taters.

    Thanks for a great recipe!

    • says

      Anonymous, you are welcome! Cauliflower sounds like a great idea. Pasta would also work well. I’d go with a more substantial shape of pasta; something that is made for hearty, chunky sauces. Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, especially one that has good suggestions for other ways to use the basic recipe.

  3. says

    We love just about anything made with kielbasa so I’m going to have to give this one a try.

    As for your super funny story – I can totally relate because I had a very similar experience. We had just moved into a new house. While packing up in the old house, I suggested we get rid of an ancient stereo that my husband kept in the garage. In my opinion, it was a fire hazard as it had some sort of a short that would result in it turning itself on. He wasn’t ready to part with it yet so it was moved to the new garage. A few days after moving into the new house, I was awoken in the middle of the night by an extremely loud pounding noise. I stumbled out of bed and scurried down the stairs to investigate. I eventually followed the noise to the garage and quickly realized the old stereo was going berserk (the volume knob had somehow been turned all the way up during the move). Anyway, the interior garage door would open from inside the house even if the lock was locked. We had an indoor only cat so I ran out the door and quickly closed it behind me, completely forgetting that I might be locking myself out, which I did indeed end up doing. So there I was in the middle of the night, groggy and barefoot in the garage of a house we moved into just a couple days earlier. No cell phone, in my jammies, totally barefoot, freezing because it was the middle of January, in Minnesota. I pounded on the door for as long as my feet could take the ice cold cement, but I knew there was no hope… my 5 family members were all sound asleep upstairs, far, far away from the garage. I’m not one to panic so I jumped into the minivan hoping to wait it out, but there was frost on the windshield and as soon as the automatic light turned off in the garage, I realized I’d probably freeze to death if I stayed out there. So I used the auto garage door opener and ran barefoot through the snow to the front door and rang the bell relentlessly, jumping from one foot to the other, until one of the kids finally woke up and rescued me. First thing in the morning I went straight to the hardware store and bought a new lock for that door.

    • says

      Okay, you’re the winner! A Minnesota winter totally trounces anything Utah can dish out! LOL And can I just say that that stereo is just plain freaky!!!!!!? Clearly, you and I both need to have a hidden house key somewhere in our garages.

      I think that we must be twins, too. Among all of the other similarities between us, I know exactly what you mean about closing the door because of the cat. My very favorite pet cat, Jim, died about 9 years ago and I still catch myself closing all doors behind me so that he won’t get outside. ~Terri

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *