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Making its annual appearance on this award-winning* blog — which debuted five years ago today — I give you, the infamous post, Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole:

There were two kinds of Fridays in our house: Pay Day Friday and Casserole Friday. We loved Payday Friday. Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island with a wad of bills. Sometimes he’d let us hold them. Then everyone would hop into the wood-paneled Ford station wagon and head for A&W, or the family restaurant Palby’s, for a big night out. Ahhh, A&W … sitting in the station wagon parked next to the scratchy-sounding order sign machine thing. My family ordered burgers and root beer — in those fancy frosty mugs of course — however, I always ordered a fish sandwich and grape soda. And yes, they all made fun of me. Except for Coleen, who also preferred the fish sandwich. And she believed you weren’t allowed to have a burger until you were an adult. She finally had her first Big Mac at the ripe old age of 10. Tracy had to wait till she was 11.

Now for Palby’s: if you never lived in Vallejo or visited the bustling Solano County metropolis with its abundance of 1970’ish restaurants, you might’ve missed Palby’s. Sucks for you because Palby’s was awesome. Palby’s was on Highway 80 between Vallejo and Napa in the area that’s now known as American Canyon. Palby’s was like a freaky dinner theater for kids. Look out the window and there were peacocks. There were seals. But we didn’t eat them. I preferred the deep-fried shrimp myself. I recall my little sister Pooh always ordered the ribs and proceeded to happily get the sauce all over her face. Thinking back, Palby’s seemed like a Winchester Mystery House to kids, because there were all these different areas with trippy things to see. Or maybe there was just the lobby and the main dining room and I had an over-active imagination.

Sometimes on Payday Friday, Dad and one or two of us kids would just pop over to Munchie’s on Sonoma Boulevard for 10 cent hamburgers. Munchie’s was a burger joint in a cool round building that sold cheap hamburgers and fries and I just liked saying “Munchies.” Sometimes we’d just grab 300 tacos from Taco Bell, when all they really had was tacos.

But, if it wasn’t a Payday Friday, and you didn’t make plans to get in trouble and stay after school — or better yet, offer to babysit for the neighbor’s heathen kids — you were going to experience Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole. God have mercy on your soul.

Ingredients:

No rules apply!!!

Check the cupboards for stray cans of stewed tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, deviled ham or anything else that resembles vomit. Next, go to the fridge and grab any and every leftover you can find saved in old margarine and Cool Whip tubs — these are important casserole ingredients.

Leftover examples:

Pork ‘n Beans
Kentucky Fried Chicken Cole Slaw
Canned Spinach
Taco Meat
Chopped-up Fish Sticks
Creamed Chip Beef Sauce
The last slice of Olive Loaf luncheon meat that will never be eaten
Macaroni and Cheese
Spam
White Rice
Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers
Bread Heels
Chicken Pot Pie
Deviled Eggs
Creamed Corn

Directions:

Throw all of the ingredients you found into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Feel free to add canned tomato sauce or a packet of onion soup mix to make it fancy.

Bake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to do this. Just hang around the oven to make sure nothing explodes.

Serve to your happy family. Well, they were happy before dinner. Now they hate your guts and are secretly flipping you off below the table. A few of them might be dry heaving into their towel bibs. You will definitely want to plan a huge dessert for later in the evening (maybe a nice Jello Mold).

* Award for Most Inconsistent Blog Posts in the History of Blogging

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On a few occasions, most likely a Pay Day Friday, my family would go out for Chinese Food. That was pretty much the only Asian cuisine we knew of around the Vallejo suburbs back then. I specifically remember the Cathay Inn. Not a fan. Not that their food wasn’t good. Of course I wouldn’t know, the only thing I ever ate there were the deep-fried prawns. The only thing my family ever ate was the Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein. However, this wasn’t your Sweet and Sour Pork and Chow Mein of today … I vaguely remember chunks of fat covered in limp, bready stuff with bland red sauce and bean sprouts, maybe with a few noodles mixed in. I’m not sure the waitress ever handed us menus, because this is all we ever ordered. The prawns were a safe bet for my discerning palette, and even though I didn’t like fortune cookies, at least there was the promise of a goofy fortune at the end of the meal.

I swore I hated Chinese Food until my sister, Coleen, dragged me to the Mandarin House in Napa as an adult and ordered Broccoli Chicken for me. I was in love. This was Chinese food?! What the hell were we eating as kids?! I don’t remember Orange Chicken! Or potstickers! Cashew Shrimp? Food, glorious food!! Take me to a restaurant now, and all I want is Chinese, Japanese or Thai. Make it Asian please. Domo arigato!!

But I digress. When we couldn’t make it to the Cathay Inn, Mom had her version of Asian fare, and believe it or not, I think I actually enjoyed this one.

Ingredients:
• 4 packages of Top Ramen or any dried Asian noodles on sale. Alright, Top Ramen probably cost 2-1/2 cents a package then, so I have a feeling my Mom splurged for it.
• Prepare the ramen in pot as directed.
• Don’t bother transferring the noodles to a big fancy serving dish — you don’t have one.

Prepare a few of these optional toppings:

Chopped green onions
Grated carrots
Chopped hard-boiled eggs
Chopped pieces of “Land-o-Frost” Pressed/Cooked Luncheon Meat
Diced tomatoes
Chopped Spam
Canned peas

Place each topping in its own special little bowl (substitute old margarine tubs as needed). Put the pot of Top Ramen in the middle of the table. Make sure to place it on the knitted potholder your youngest made for you in summer school. Space the little bowls equally around the pot (this is quite impressive if your kids’ friends come over for dinner). Put a teaspoon in each dish. Go to the small kitchen canister, dig your hand in past the stale saltine cracker packages and grab a handful of the soy sauce packets you saved from Chinese takeout. Place one at each table setting. Spoon some Top Ramen into each person’s dinner bowl and then let them dig into the toppings. If you want to make it fancy and expose the kids to some Japanese culture while they’re eating, be sure to turn on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

 

 

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Hey! It’s Friday Night Casserole’s Third Anniversary! You know what that means … a re-posting of the original FNC blog post, “the” Friday Night Casserole. The recipe of all recipes; I mean, the most disgusting recipe of all recipes you’ve ever heard.

I launched FNC on Mary Ann’s birthday, January 31st, in 2011.

Mom would be 71 today. I’m pretty sure she’s celebrating with something besides Friday Night Casserole. I just hope she’s enjoying all these ridiculous posts and crazy recipes as much as my three readers and I am.

So as tribute to my beautiful mom (pictured below in her Graduation photo), and in celebration of the third year of FNC, I give you, once again, “the” Friday Night Casserole.

SAMSUNG

There were two kinds of Fridays in our house: Pay Day Friday and Casserole Friday. We loved Payday Friday. Dad would come home from his job at Mare Island with a wad of bills. Sometimes he’d let us hold them. Then everyone would hop into the wood-paneled Ford Station Wagon and head for A & W, or the family restaurant Palby’s for a big night out. Ahhh, A & W … sitting in the station wagon parked next to the scratchy-sounding order-sign-machine-thing. My family ordered burgers and root beer—in those fancy frosty mugs of course—however, I always ordered a fish sandwich and grape soda. And yes, they all made fun of me. Except for Coleen who also preferred the fish sandwich. She thought you weren’t allowed to have a burger until you were an adult. She finally had her first Big Mac at the ripe old age of 10. Tracy had to wait till she was 11.

Now for Palby’s: if you never lived in Vallejo or visited the bustling Solano County metropolis with its abundance of 1970’ish restaurants, you might’ve missed Palby’s. Sucks for you because Palby’s was awesome. Palby’s was on Highway 80 between Vallejo and Napa in the area that’s now known as American Canyon. Palby’s was like a freaky dinner theater for kids. Look out the window and there were peacocks. There were seals. But we didn’t eat them. I preferred the deep fried shrimp myself. I recall my little sister Pooh always ordered the ribs and proceeded to happily get the sauce all over her face. Thinking back, Palby’s seemed like a Winchester Mystery House for kids, because there were all these different rooms and areas with fun, trippy things to see. Or maybe there was just the lobby and the main dining room and I had an over-active imagination.

Sometimes on Payday Friday, Dad and one or two of us kids would just pop over to Munchie’s on Sonoma Boulevard for 10 cent hamburgers. Munchie’s was a burger joint in a cool round building that sold cheap hamburgers and fries, and we just liked saying “Munchies.” Or, sometimes we’d just grab 300 tacos from Taco Bell, when all they really had was tacos.

But, if it wasn’t a Payday Friday, and you didn’t make plans to get in trouble and stay after school—or better yet, offer to babysit for the neighbor’s heathen kids—you were going to experience Mary Ann’s Friday Night Casserole. God have mercy on your soul.

Ingredients:

No rules apply!!!

Check the cupboards for stray cans of stewed tomatoes, cream of mushroom soup, deviled ham or anything else that resembles vomit. Next, go to the fridge and grab any and every leftover you can find saved in old margarine and Cool Whip tubs—these are important casserole ingredients.

Leftover examples:

Pork ‘n Beans
Kentucky Fried Chicken Cole Slaw
Canned spinach
Taco meat
Chopped up Fish Sticks
Creamed Chip Beef Sauce
The last slice of Olive Loaf luncheon meat that will never be eaten
Macaroni and Cheese
Spam
White Rice
Filling for Stuffed Bell Peppers
Bread heels
Chicken Pot Pie
Deviled eggs
Creamed corn

Directions:

Throw all of the ingredients you found into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Feel free to add canned tomato sauce or a packet of onion soup mix to make it fancy.

Bake at 350 degrees. I’m not sure how long you’re supposed to do this. Just hang around the oven to make sure nothing explodes.

Serve to your happy family. Well, they were happy before dinner. Now they hate your guts and are secretly flipping you off below the table. A few of them might be dry heaving into their towel bibs. You will definitely want to plan a huge dessert for later in the evening, perhaps a nice Jello Mold.

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I love cooking shows. I love to cook and I like to find inspiration from all the shows on Food Network and all the others. I certainly don’t find inspiration in the dishes I post about on this blog. When I was a kid, the only cooking show I remember was “Julia Child.” But I wasn’t that interested in Julia Child, until the Dan Aykroyd version on Saturday Night Live. But my real favorites are sitcoms. “Modern Family” is the best. That show makes me laugh out loud. That hasn’t happened since Frazier ended its last season. If you haven’t watched Modern Family, do yourself a favor and tune in to ABC on Wednesday nights.

I’ve loved sitcoms since I was a kid … a really little kid. It was kind of an extension of family dinner—we’d all eat together then sprawl out on the couch or the floor and watch TV together.  When I was growing up, we had just one TV. That’s right all you youngins  … one TV. And guess what? There was no remote. We were the remote. And we watched what our parents wanted to watch. Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. If we were lucky, we got to watch comedy shows like “Laugh-In” or “The Flip Wilson Show.” (“Killer!!”) Other times we had to watch “Gunsmoke,” or “Dragnet,” or “Perry Mason,” or something just as riveting. Of course Mom and Dad indulged us on Friday nights so we could watch “The Brady Bunch,” ” Nancy and the Professor” and “The Partridge Family.” Hey, sometimes we didn’t watch TV at all. Maybe we played Bingo for candy; Dad took great pride in being the Bingo Caller. Sometimes we’d play another board game. Sometimes we’d just hang out on the living room floor and give each other Indian burns while Dad slept on the couch and Mom piddled around in the kitchen. Or sometimes we actually went to our rooms to READ A BOOK or something insane like that.

I remember our first TV in Vallejo. It had rabbit ears on top. No children, not actual bunny ears, but an old antenna that had a box with a dial that you would turn to try and turn the antenna on your roof so you could get one of those THREE local TV stations to tune in a little better. Sometimes it would only work if a kid stood there and held one of the antennas. You’re welcome, Dad.

Kids today are so spoiled. I guess every generation thinks the younger generation is spoiled. I imagine my Grandpa B.K. sat around thinking, “These damn kids … they expect me to buy two radios so they can go listen to “Inner Sanctum” instead of the “Grand Ole Opry.”

I’ve always loved TV. My Mom said I loved it from the beginning. Apparently when I was a baby, Mom would have to sleep on the couch, waiting for my baby self to be tired enough to go to bed. She said I would lay awake in the playpen (which for whatever reason she’d prop in front of the TV) and watch “Johnny Carson.” I would lay awake and take in every second of his show, and once it went off the air, I dropped off to sleep. I guess I loved good comedy even as an infant. So why I’m watching Andrew Zimmern eat a 100-year-old egg on “Bizarre Foods” right now is beyond me. Jay thinks something as innocent as fish is gross, yet he is zoned in on this show like Andrew’s about to read off our lottery numbers. And he’s even giggling. I’m breathing through my nose and waiting for Jay to drop off to sleep so I can revisit my Netflix copy of ” The United States of Tara.” It’s like getting five TV shows for the price of one.

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When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I loved it more than Christmas. It was that cool time of year when the leaves would fall from the trees during windy evenings and the breeze still had a hint of warmth. Okay, I guess it also had to do with the fact that on Halloween night I would get CANDY, CANDY and more CANDY. I loved dressing up and loved creating my perfect costume. When we were little, my Mom would make Halloween costumes for me and Tracy:

                             ” Help, I’ve lost my sheep! And my dignity.”

In later years, Mom would sometimes buy us costumes from the store — probably K-Mart, and most likely a blue-light special. Little girls in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s had about two costume choices: nurse or witch. I chose the nurse. I liked those little candy pills that came in the little plastic nurse’s box. Hand-me-downs were also a part of Halloween: Coleen and Melissa would be wearing those Little Bo Peep costumes a few years later.

When I was a lot older (at least 9 or 10), I would pride myself in making my own costume. I wasn’t your typical girly-girl who wanted to be a Princess or Fairy or Bride for Halloween. I was immensely proud of a ‘bum’ costume I designed … complete with a pair of my Dad’s old pants I stuffed with pillows to look fat. I guess homeless people were fat back in the day. I rubbed used coffee grounds all over my face to resemble a five-o’clock shadow. “Brother, can you spare a dime? Or a Snickers?”

When I was just starting elementary school, there was a super dry spell in Halloween festivities for children in the San Francisco Bay Area. There was a crazy serial killer named the Zodiac on the loose (maybe you’ve heard of him). During those Zodiac rampage years, no trick-or-treating was allowed in the greater Vallejo area. I hated the Zodiac. I was too young to understand the awful truth about the Zodiac — all I knew was some crazy person had ruined my favorite holiday and all of us were banned to school cafeterias and community centers to celebrate our Halloween. Trick-or-treating around a cafeteria just isn’t the same once you’ve experienced the real outdoor festivities, especially when that nasty warm corn smell was still lingering in the air from lunch time.

We’d parade around the cafeteria in our costumes getting candy and snacks. Oh, and there was bobbing for apples, or as I like to call it, Hello Hepatitis! What the bleep? What were those adults thinking? Hey gang, let’s grab a huge rusty pail from the backyard scrap pile, fill it with water from the hose and throw some apples in it. Then for kicks, let’s have the kids dress up like dorks with crazy makeup all over their face, run around the block begging the neighbors for candy in the cold, then drag them and their runny noses over to the big rusty water pail full of apples and stick their faces in it. Then let’s have them bite at the apples with their candy-corroded teeth long enough so that their spit mixes together in the water. If one of them actually snags an apple in their teeth, they WIN!! They win an APPLE!!

Even as a kid I knew there was something terribly wrong with bobbing for apples. But there were more dangers lurking around in Halloween goodies. My Dad made us well aware of the potential razor blade or cherry bomb or “drug injected by needle” that just might be hiding in our mini Three Musketeers bar. When we got home from trick-or treating during the non-Zodiac years, we had to line up and pass our bags over to Dad for official inspection. Dad would check for pin holes and the like in our candy wrappers. Many times he would have to taste test our candy to be sure they were safe for us. He had to check A LOT of our candy. Well, he didn’t want a cherry bomb to blow our cheek off.

One time I didn’t listen to my Mom and Dad’s lecture about eating candy at night and I snuck lots of candy from my trick-or-treat bag into my room right before bed, and proceeded to eat most of it. That night, I had the dreaded “eating-candy-before-bedtime nightmare.” About werewolves. Dancing werewolves. If you missed that post, click here, or here (I tend to write about those werewolves quite a bit apparently … )

These days, Halloween has somewhat lost its’ magic. We have a ton of cool Halloween decorations, but never decorate because no one trick-or-treats in our neighborhood. Our neighbors have a light that illuminates our entire cul-de-sac, but strangely enough, they forget to turn it on Halloween night. So we usually go to where the nieces and nephews are to see all their darling princess, Superhero and Tinkerbell costumes. And Jay makes sure to check all of their trick-or-treat candy for dangerous items.

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Koogle It!

You may think I made a typo and meant to write “Google It.” Nope. I meant to write “Koogle It.”

Like every other kid, I loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches … especially when served with barbeque potato chips. We always had peanut butter in the house — it was an inexpensive staple. I even liked peanut butter and honey sandwiches. The King liked peanut butter and Miracle Whip sandwiches. It’s true. Oh, you thought I meant Elvis. No, Elvis liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. My Dad liked peanut butter and Miracle Whip sandwiches. I think he still does. I tried them once. I think I made it through one bite.

I remember one fun-filled evening at the Coen homestead in Vallejo when all the aunts, uncles and cousins came over for a party. The uncles were playing pool in the garage and drinking Oly. The aunts were hanging out inside. I can’t remember what they were doing — maybe knitting, or crocheting, or churning butter … and drinking Oly. All of us cousins were running around crazy outside. Before we knew it, it was near midnight and our RC Cola sugar rushes were wearing off. We needed food. So my Mom, being as cool as she was, organized a peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembly line in the kitchen with the aunts. All of us kids lined up at the back kitchen door and they handed each of us a paper plate with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a stack of barbeque potato chips. It was kid heaven–staying up after ten o’clock AND getting more empty calories.

After our PBJ’s and BBQ chips, we all sprawled out on the living room floor to watch Creature Features. That living room floor was covered with a bright red shag carpet. I remember having to rake it. We had a bright red glass divider in the entry way, and red knick-knacks here and there. Apparently red was all the rage in 1972, but our living room looked like somebody opened the elevator doors from “The Shining” in there.

In the mid ‘70s, Mom discovered an exciting peanut butter concoction at the grocery store:  Koogle. This delicacy was a peanut butter spread mixed with chocolate — or vanilla, banana or cinnamon. Koogle was delicious, and it had an awesome label, too:

http://www.mikanet.com

It was like the poor man’s Nutella®. I loved sneaking into the kitchen and eating a big spoonful of Koogle. If you know me well, you know which flavor was my favorite — the chocolate, obviously. My favorite treat today is still this:

“You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” Either way, who cares, I’ll take it.  And yes, I can hear a few of you responding, “That’s what she said.”

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Pizza ala Coen

Today is a very important day. It’s the birthday of THE Papa Don of Friday Night Casserole fame. So I figured it would be the perfect time to pay homage to Papa Don’s favorite food ingredient in any recipe:  hamburger.

My Dad loves hamburger…in spaghetti sauce, whipped into a fancy meatloaf, in Porcupine Balls, in Sloppy Joes or just by itself…wait! never by itself; it would certainly need some Heinz Ketchup. So why the “Pizza ala Coen” post you ask?

When I was a kid, Mary Ann made homemade pizza. Not a doctored-up frozen pizza—of course, I don’t even remember frozen pizza then. I do remember ‘pizza in a box’ though. I believe it was Chef Boyardee. There was a pouch of dough stuff and a can of pizza sauce…basically bland tomato paste. You were on your own for toppings. Oh look, here it is:

http://www.businessinsider.com

I don’t remember the cheese part. Probably for good reason. I don’t think Mary Ann ever used Chef Boyardee more than once. We did eat a lot of Nujo’s Pizza in Vallejo though. That was the best pizza in the area when I was a kid—in fact, Nujo’s is still alive and kicking on Georgia Street. I was sad to leave Nujo’s behind when we moved to Napa in the early ‘70s, that is, until we discovered Silverado Trail Pizzeria. I can still taste the greasy deliciousness of those large pizza pies. Yes, they were on the famous Silverado Trail in Napa. Unfortunately, they’re closed now. I’m not sure how long ago they closed their business, but it was a sad, sad day for pizza lovers. I’m not kidding when I say they had the best pizza I ever ate…probably better than any pizza from New York or Chicago—though I’ve never had a pizza from New York or Chicago. I’m just saying.

The combination pizzas at Silverado Trail Pizzeria left an impression on me, and if I close my eyes and try really hard, I can still taste them. The same is true for Mary Ann’s “Pizza ala Coen.” She made her pizzas from scratch, and Pizza ala Coen featured Papa Don’s favorite ingredient: hamburger. And onions. You’d think little kids would turn their noses up at that combination, but it was quite the contrary. We loved Pizza ala Coen. Especially when served up with large glasses of RC Cola.

I found my original copy of her infamous pizza recipe. I copied it from Mary Ann’s, and mine cheats with a prepared roll mix for the pizza dough. Sue me. This is actually a simple recipe, so the next time you think you need to order pizza delivery, give this one a try:

These days I add mushrooms and onions to my pizza, but back in the day, Pizza ala Coen featured hamburger and onion. If you like the original recipe, you can thank Papa Don, as he was obviously the inspiration. And since my Dad thinks I post goofy ‘old’ pictures of him on this blog, I dug up a few smooth pics in honor of his birthday. Happy Birthday King Cool!  (I imagine we probably promised you many years ago that we wouldn’t call you that anymore, but I think it’s appropriate today.) Love ya Dad!

Papa Don cutting a rug with his sister-in-law Terry

Papa Don’s first passport shot. I think it’s smooth. I may get a comment from him that he doesn’t like it.

Papa Don dancing (again), this time with Phyllis. He’s looking like a bad-motha-shut-your-mouth with that hat.

Jay always sneaks into the background when people are taking pictures. Here’s Papa Don giving him a taste of his own medicine. This is where I get my sense of humor. Thanks Dad! Happy, Happy Birthday!

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