She was a bit of a tomboy with her dark hair, cut short in a dutch-boy bob, and with a smile and gaze that was bewitching. Slender as a young girl, she is now a grandmother, beautiful, and still slender and bewitching.
This is my cousin, Melina. We grew up living next door to each other. Her father was my father’s brother, and her mother was my mother’s sister. Super glue could not have bonded the families any closer.
Mother and aunt threw great parties. Tables were laden with stuffed grape leaves, homemade baklava (the dough too!), open-faced meat pies (like a pizza), shish-kebabs, flaky pastry and more.
Being the eldest, I was required to pitch in and help prepare the good stuff. But not my cousin. She always managed to get lost or have something better to do. Our interests were very different, yet our love could not be disputed. In maturity, I loved to cook; she would rather play a winning hand of bridge. She is a tournament bridge player; I hardly know a spade from a heart.
Through all this, her style of entertaining remains simple, hospitable but hearty. She is always looking for a quick dish that is tasty, yet easy to make and serve. Anything over two steps is considered “too much work”.
Consequently, when I need to look for a great dish that takes a minimum of effort, I call Melina. This is her version of a tasty, quick dish that she made one day and brought to her beach house in Malibu. We all agreed it was perfect for serving friends during the busy summer months.
BEEF FIESTA CASSEROLE
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (35 oz) chopped tomatoes
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1 can (4 oz) drained chopped green chilies
1 can (15 1/4 or 16 oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 (8 oz) pkg elbow macaroni, cooked and well drained
2 cups (about 8 oz) shredded Monterey jack cheese
2 jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeded for garnish
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 3-quart casserole. In large skillet cook ground beef over medium-high heat until browned. Drain off fat. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and garlic. Cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, chilies, beans, salt, chili powder, cumin and pepper. Stir to combine and simmer 10 minutes. Pour into prepared casserole. Add macaroni; stir to mix. Sprinkle with cheese and garnish with jalapenos. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking 10 minutes. Makes 16 to 20 servings.
If your casserole is deep, it will take longer to cook. This can be made ahead and freezes well. Thaw before baking.
Great with garlic bread, tossed salad and a fruit tart. The Montepulciano wine from last month is great with it.