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This week's diary was intended to be "The Overwrought Vegetarian" by cookiebear.  Unfortunately, she is having a major keyboard crisis, which seems to be much like a midlife crisis only messier.  I'm not exactly sure of the details, although I understand they involve liquids running amok, electrical short circuits, much cursing in several modern languages and one or two lost ones, shaking fists at an unrelenting sky, invocation of a thunder god and a local shaman, and an urgent mail order to a purveyor of Macintosh parts.  

She did manage to send me part of what she had written.  My first thought was to post it as unfinished; but the portion I've seen was too good to treat like that.  I'd rather give her a chance to finish it and post it all in one piece as intended.

So:  here I am, pinchhitting with a last-minute edition of What's For Dinner?

I don't have a well-thought-out and researched topic for tonight, so how about an old-fashioned potluck dinner?

When I was a kid, potlucks always meant church suppers or family reunions.  They always involved homemade fried chicken, potato salad, my grandmother's seven-layer salad (which was ostensibly a garden salad but somehow seemed to have more mayonnaise, green peas, and shredded cheese than anything), and someone always brought a salad/dessert hybrid thing made with green Jello and fruit cocktail and Dream Whip (powdered precursor to Cool Whip and just as vile).      

The fried chicken was always good, though.  Sometimes there was chocolate cake.  And lemonade.

I remember, too, a time when we'd just moved to a new neighborhood and joined a new church and were invited to the Wednesday night potluck supper.  I was married and working and had two small babies, but I arranged to take off early from work that first Wednesday afternoon to go home and make a recipe from my grandmother's mayonnaise repertoire:

Potluck Chicken Broccoli Casserole

  • 3 packages frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
  • cooked, chopped meat from 1 chicken
  • 3 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 stack of saltine crackers
  1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Place thawed chopped broccoli in an even  layer over the bottom of a large flat casserole dish.  Place chicken. chopped in bitesize pieces, over broccoli.
  1.  Mix soup, mayonnaise, and 3/4 cup cheese together.  Spoon evenly over broccoli and chicken.
  1.  Top with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.  Smash crackers to crumbs and sprinkle crumbs over cheese.
  1.  Bake at 350° for about an hour.  Serve hot or room temperature; keeps well for a couple of hours.  Serves a crowd, at least 8 full-size portions.

(Rereading this recipe now, I feel faintly queasy.  However!)

I took my casserole in its approved little calico carrier ()to the parish hall, arriving in time to set my dish on the big table with the others.  Imagine my astonishment -- and outraged sense of betrayal! -- to see a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the table!  And next to it, potato salad from the grocery store deli!!  In its original little container!!!!  I was incensed that people would cheat like that!  

The next Wednesday, I stopped after work and picked up brownies from the bakery as my contribution.  I learn fast.

Years later, I joined an art critique group that met once a month for -- yes -- potluck lunches.  By this time, though, I knew enough about food that neither bakery offerings nor Grandmother's Mayonnaise Delights would do.  I dinked around for a while before coming up with this giant vegetarian summer sandwich as my contribution, which was (ahem) considerably more well-received than the mayonnaise casserole.  Leave out the anchovies if you don't eat fish or don't like the taste.

Summer Messy Picnic Sandwich

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 2 small eggplants (I like Rosa Biancas)
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, coarsely chopped (or about 3 fresh ones, in season)
  • 2 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large loaf French bread
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into thin slices and place in large bowl. Cut the eggplant and onion in half lengthwise, then crosswise into very thin slices and add to bowl. Add the garlic and half the basil. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of the oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss until well mixed and coated.
  1. Transfer the vegetables to 2 large baking sheets. Roast, stirring and turning every 5 minutes, until very soft, 25 to 35 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
  1. Combine the tomatoes and anchovies with the remaining basil in a blender. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil and process until chunky, adding more oil to make a spreadable paste.
  1. Slice the baguette lengthwise, leaving one side hinged. Hollow out the center of each side, leaving a retaining wall all around. Spread both sides lightly with the tomato- anchovy mixture. Carefully lay the roasted vegetable mixture evenly in the hollow.
  1. Carefully close the top half of the bread. Using a spatula, press any protruding vegetables back into the sandwich. Wrap in waxed paper and tie at 2-inch intervals. Top the sandwich with cast-iron skillets or other heavy weights and let it stand at least 1 hour to compact. To serve, use serrated knife to cut into thick slices.

Serves about 8.  Pack plenty of large napkins.

Time for dinner!  Who brought dessert?

Originally posted to kate petersen on Sat Feb 03, 2007 at 04:30 PM PST.

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