Since 2013, Merriam-Webster has annually proclaimed a Word of the Year. This is an honor based on the number of times a word or an expression is used online and how frequently it compares to the previous years. Some past winners have been blog in 2004 and bailout in 2008.

Because of COVID-19, there has been an explosion of new words and phrases — self-isolating, pandemic, lockdown, essential workers, social distancing and quarantine. The odds are that this year’s Word of the Year will be associated with the virus.

I know one new word is homegating — tailgating at home. Not being able to attend our favorite college football games and tailgate has put a damper on some of our Saturdays. But if you really think about it, at home we have great TV, good food, clean bathrooms and terrific friends and family. This one might be a plus.

One thing that has been a result of people quarantining and staying at home is the fact that families are doing a lot more cooking at home. Today, I have a few cooking tips that may help those who are still cooking at home.

• To easily remove food odors from your hands after cooking up onions or garlic, rub your hands with a piece of celery. Then wash your hands.

• To keep brown sugar soft, place a slice of bread in an airtight container with the brown sugar. The sugar will draw moisture from the bread.

• For the perfect hard-boiled eggs, add vinegar to the boiling water. Cover the eggs with room temperature water for 15 minutes before boiling.

• Toast pecans before using in recipes. This adds a ton of flavor. They burn easily if you aren’t watching closely. Try toasting in a microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until they start to sizzle. Cool before using.

• To chop nuts easily, place them in a bowl and use a pastry cutter to keep pieces confined.

• Use garlic for extra flavor in sandwiches. Rub a peeled garlic clove over bread before adding condiments.

• Rather than putting salad dressing on last, put the dressing in an empty bowl, swirling the bowl as the dressing coats the inside of the bowl. Add salad greens and other ingredients, and then toss before serving. The greens are perfectly dressed.

• For restaurant-style salad in minutes, place lettuce and all other vegetables in a bowl filled with ice water for a few minutes. Then dry and make the salad. This makes for a super crisp and brightly colored salad.

Today, I have some casserole recipes to accompany your meals. I hope you will give them a try. Thanks for reading.

BENTON POTATO CASSEROLE

Boxed instant mashed potatoes, make a recipe according to box direction for 12 servings

Add:

1 (8-ounce) cream cheese

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon Accent seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Grated cheese for top of casserole

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together, except for the grated cheese. Top casserole with grated cheese, and bake for 30 minutes.

SOUTHERN MACARONI AND CHEESE

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni

½ cup butter

2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk

1 tablespoon black pepper

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 pinch paprika

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with Pam. Boil pasta in salted water as per package directions, and drain well. Slowly melt butter in a large pot over low heat. Stir in evaporated milk and black pepper, and heat. Whisk eggs until smooth, and whisk half milk mixture into the eggs until thoroughly incorporated. Put egg mixture back into evaporated milk mixture and continue to cook until sauce thickens. Gently combine salt and cooked macaroni into mixture. Spoon ¼ of the macaroni mixture into prepared dish. Top with 1 cup of cheese, and repeat layers three more times. Top with paprika. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE POTATO CASSEROLE

2 (4-ounce) packages butter and herb instant mashed potatoes

1 (32-ounce) package frozen shredded hash brown potatoes

½ cup butter, softened

4 ounces softened cream cheese

1 (0.7-ounce) packet Good Seasons Italian dressing mix

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 (2.8-ounce) can French fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Prepare instant mashed potatoes according to package directions. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, butter, cream cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and Italian dressing mix. Stir in shredded hash browns, spinach and artichokes. Spread into prepared pan, and bake uncovered for 35 minutes. Top with grated Parmesan cheese and French fried onions, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes.

• Contact Lee Ann Flemming at lafkitchen@hughes.net.

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