In order to get through this occupational hazard known as winter, I make friends with casseroles, especially if they have carbohydrates in them. (One day, I’ll write a biography entitled My Friend, the Carbohydrate.) But in sub-zero seasons, it’s nice to have something warm and comforting at the dinner table. I learned this recipe from my mother, but I have no idea where she picked it up. It may have been something she learned from Karen Hauge, or it may have been one she learned when she was working at the dude ranch before she and dad got married. Either way, mum is to blame for teaching it to me. I’ve made several modifications (garlic! chicken stock! brown rice!) to give it more depth, but honestly, it’s a winner every time. Even better, it makes fantastic leftovers for lunch the next day.
- You’ll need a good, deep casserole dish or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Without that seal, the rice will never cook. The depth is also important as it allows the finished casserole’s flavors to intermingle. Happy food is good food, I might add.
I should point out that I’m weird about ingredients. (I’m weird about a lot of things, but I’m self-admittedly weird in this regard.) I find that it makes a HUGE difference in how food tastes when I use high-quality ingredients. We’re lucky in that we get fantastic beef, thanks to the generosity of my parents and the ornamental Longhorn that gave its all, but the bison or beef is just one portion of this recipe. Get thee to the farmers’ market and start talking to some of the farmers and ranchers there. Don’t just buy the prepackaged bacon at the supermarket. Instead, stop by the butcher counter. The knife-wielding individual often has ideas about which bacon is best, or even better, may have bacon there in the butcher case. Tomatoes matter. A lot. I generally use Muir Glen tomatoes (and yes, I’ve been known to ship cases of them up north to use when I cook), and I cannot say enough good things about the quality of Penzey’s Spices.
- 1 pound ground bison (you can also use one pound very lean ground beef, and here is my plug for buying it from the rancher at your farmer’s market)
- 5 slices high-quality peppered bacon cut into half-inch slices
- 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 14.5-ounce drained can corn (one of the smaller, vacuum-sealed cans works just as well)
- 1 chopped medium-to-largish yellow onion (here in Texas, they’re sold as Spanish onions, but mum assures me that up north they’re labeled as Canadian onions)
- 6-8 cloves minced garlic (yes, I like garlic, so sue me)
- 1.5 cups brown rice
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
- salt and pepper to taste (I generally use kosher salt)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Butter the inner sanctum of your casserole dish. Personally, I use a great big, deep bowl, but a Dutch oven will work just as well.
- Chop the onion and mince the garlic. Combine them in a separate bowl and reserve to one side.
- To your buttered casserole bowl, add these ingredients in this order: brown rice, tomatoes, and corn. You will use these ingredients in their entirety.
- Layer half of the garlic-and-onion mixture to the top of the corn.
- Sprinkle one tablespoon of the Mexican oregano over the onion-and-garlic layer. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Tear the ground bison or beef into small chunks, adding half of it over your onion layer.
- Layer 2-3 slices of the bacon over the bison, and then add the remaining onion and garlic.
- Layer the last half-pound of bison and then the last of the bacon.
- Sprinkle the last tablespoon of oregano of the top, and then add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add three cups of chicken stock, then cover the casserole dish with its lid and pop it in the oven for 75-90 minutes. I generally check it once the house starts to smell really good and my tummy rumbles, but it is done once all of the liquid evaporates.
I generally get about eight servings from this recipe.
- Calories: 293
- Total Fat 8.3g, (3.1g saturated, 0g transfat)
- Cholesterol 56mg
- Sodium 533mg
- Carbohydrate 33.7
- Fiber 2.9g
- Protein 22.9g
And while I wish you happy feasting, remember that spring will come. Eventually.
A note about the photo used for this blog post…
A few years ago, my beloved and I traveled to Belgium for our annual holiday. We started in Brussels, but then worked our way south in order to hit the Belgian Grand Prix and some WWII sites and tours around the Battle of the Bulge. (This is my plug for Reg Jans, who leads an excellent, informative tour of the area, its sites, and its history.) One of the many sites that Reg took us to was the Native American memorial near Bastogne. It was what was in the large pasture next to the granite marker that really caught my attention: a large herd of buffalo, calves at their side. I snapped the photo you see here, marveling at how healthy all of the animals looked, but considering the verdant, knee-high grass, it would be hard for them to not be healthy. Later that summer, I was up in Montana, enjoying dinner with my dad and a longtime family friend, Hilda Thomas. For many a year, Hilda raised buffalo in northern Wyoming on her Bar X ranch. We got to talking about our recent Belgian adventures, and I mentioned this photo. Hilda asked to see it, and I happily obliged. What I didn’t know, however, is that in the 1990s, Hilda had sent buffalo over to Belgium, and these were likely the offspring, several generations on, from that initial herd. How fitting to see American bison next to a Native American marker.