Cheesy Beef and Eggplant Casserole

A true crowd pleaser, so delicious as a main course or side dish everyone will beg for more. There are many foods I love but this casserole, simple as it is, rates right up there at the top. Its creation spawned from our having one producing eggplant bush in our small garden at the back of our yard. As much as I also love fried eggplant at some point enough is enough and the excess tends to dry up the appetite. Consequently last summer I decided to do something different. I got in my kitchen and fussed and fretted and mixed and matched flavors I prefer. The result was this recipe. The deciding factor for it was my neighbor and her guests. I made a huge amount of the casserole and took a baking dish full over to them. They oohed and ahhed and gave forth so many compliments and requests for the recipe that I became convinced I had a winner – not just to appease my appetite but that of the public also.

I must admit this neighbor is the recipient of many of my “concoctions” and is always kind and so far always affirming. It is great to have a taste tester just next door, especially since we have different regular food preferences. It lends more credibility to her being a spokesperson for the public. I am indebted to her and her friends and family for assisting me with the review of my culinary creativity.

The white dots on the picture of the casserole are the chunks of mozzarella cheese nestled in the meat mixture. It is soft and wonderful and blends perfectly with the rest of the flavors. The aroma of its baking will have everyone gravitating to the kitchen. Don’t tell picky eaters it has eggplant in it, they will never know. And if you don’t like eggplant, try zucchini, or leave them both out, it will still be delicious.

Give it a try, serve some, freeze some for another night and enjoy it all over again just warmed in the microwave. That is, if there is any left to freeze. When I make it for lunch it is gone by the end of dinner.

Read through the recipe first, so you will have an idea where you are going with the preparation. Everything is cooked before putting in the oven so you can taste all the way through and adjust seasonings to your personal taste.

eggplant casserole 3

Serves 8 generously, may be frozen

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ pound ground Angus Chuck
  • 6 ounces mushrooms, diced
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and diced
  • ⅔ small white onion, diced
  • ½ tablespoon minced garlic
  • ½ tablespoon parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1½ cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • ½ cup sliced kalamata or small black olives, rinsed and drained well
  • 12 ounces tomato sauce, unseasoned
  • ¾ pound Mozzarella cheese, cubed small
  • ½ cup mozzarella, finely shredded
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • Red pepper flakes – optional

Spray a very large and deep frying pan with oil and put over medium high heat.

Add 3 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add beef and begin to brown, breaking into large chunks.

Add mushrooms, green pepper, and onion and sauté until onion is transparent.

Add garlic and sauté another minute then add parsley, black pepper and salt to taste. Turn off burner and set mixture aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel and dice eggplant.

Spray another large skillet with oil, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Turn heat to high and add eggplant to skillet. Continuously stir eggplant, brown lightly on all sides, then drain in colander. Eggplant absorbs a lot of oil and throws a lot of oil when baked.

In a 4-quart or larger bowl, put mixture from first skillet, eggplant, and breadcrumbs. Stir well.

Add olives, ½ of the tomato sauce and mozzarella cubes and stir well again. Put all into a well-greased 9×9 inch baking dish that goes from oven to table. Combine remaining tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella with cream and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour sauce over casserole. Sprinkle Parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes over all.

Put casserole in preheated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through, being careful not to let top darken too much. If top gets too dark put a foil tent over casserole for remainder of baking time.

Drain or spoon off excess oil.

Serve as a main course with a pasta side dish or crunchy hot Italian bread, or as a side dish with Spaghetti and Meatballs or other Italian dishes.

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Spanish Restaurant Review

Today we had errands to run in downtown Houston so we planned to try out a Spanish restaurant I was told had great Paella. I love trying new restaurants even if I am disappointed quite often. Even when the food doesn’t measure up there is something to take from the experience.
One of my favorite foods is Cajun Jambalaya which has its roots in Spanish Paella. Jambalaya is most popularly made with chicken and Cajun sausage and is spicy. It can also be made with a variety of other meats like ham, shrimp or pork and/or seafoods. Paella is the same but has a saffron rice base with a few green peas and is more yellow or golden than Jambalaya which is tomato based and red.
Last week we had tried a Spanish restaurant that looked very good on the internet and had a note that their Paella had been an award winner. The restaurant was run down and the Paella was awful. I could not eat it and just left the whole thing. Because of this, I wasn’t very optimistic about this new Spanish restaurant. My friend had recommended it to me because her sister had eaten there and said the Paella was excellent. So we went.
When we entered the restaurant I was relieved. It had a nice ambiance, was medium sized, and downtown close to where we going for our errand. We chatted with our waitress about menu items, I already knew what I was having but we wanted tapas also and my husband was not interested in Paella. We decided to share an appetizer of fried potatoes with an aioli sauce. That proved to be a wise move on our part because the Paella took forever to be served. When my Paella arrived it looked pretty good but still a little questionable. I had asked not to have mussels and there they were, looking up at me. Fortunately, the mussels were good. So were the shrimp, fish and clams but the escargot was tough and there was a lot of escargot in the dish. It was far too large a serving for one person so I took most of it with me. The rice was not up to par. I can’t quite describe what was wrong with it other than the consistency was off. It was not my best experience and I would give the restaurant two stars because the Paella was better than the previous restaurant and the ambience was good but all else was mediocre. I suspect I will have to make my own Paella.
My husband ordered a beef filet dish which he said was okay. The potato patty on his plate had a strange flavor and had grapes in it. Go figure. The spinach was over seasoned for our taste but could have been correct for the Spanish taste.
I must admit we did not give up that easily. We ordered dessert, Apple Tart. It too was average and a disappointment. I hope you don’t think I am too harsh a critic. There are many places I love but I am trying to find some new ones for when we indulge ourselves and my quest is proving to be disheartening to say the least.
We had a lot of to go food for dinner so I did not cook at all today even though the food did not improve when reheated. We will not go there again. Sometimes its better to cook than to be so disappointed in your meal and waste money as we did on this outing.
Since my husband has no interest in Paella I will have to wait until someone that does joins us for dinner. When I prepare it I will give you more information on the dish and am confident it will be much more delicious than the dishes at the restaurant.

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Ya’ll have a down home delicious day now and come back to see us again soon!

Peggy Sholly

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