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'Make and Take Dishes' Are Taking Over Our World

Remember the good ole days when mealtime meant walking a few steps from oven to table? Just like that, dinner was served. Nowadays, hectic lives and crowded social calendars mean very few families are actually sitting down together at the table to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

The need for “make and take” dishes to join others at office and church potlucks, neighborhood supper clubs, tailgate parties, and numerous other social engagements has increased to the point that recipes that aren’t portable are passed over for ones that will survive a ride to the next meal on the calendar.

I’m guilty of joining the current meals-on-the-move crave and as a result, have a number of recipes that travel well and usually arrive in one piece. But that doesn’t stop me from longing from the good ole days when special dishes took a few hours to assemble, then spent an hour or two simmering away in the oven before being moved gently a few feet to the dinner table. My trip down memory lane was triggered by a post on an internet site entitled “Old Biloxi Recipes.” The site is filled with intriguing stories about “gone but not forgotten” restaurants on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When I have time, I scroll through the site and read touching stories from those who grew up on the Coast. As an added bonus, accompanying recipes from the author of a series of cookbooks by the same name as the site are often shared.

A lengthy recipe for hamburger steak with onion gravy from Mary’s Drive-Inn triggered numerous posts from those who still daydreamed about the savory dish. One by one, they recounted wonderful childhood memories of special meals with their families at the little restaurant near the beach.

Besides wishing I’d sampled Mary’s famous hamburger steak, po’boys, and other dishes, it hit me that nobody makes hamburger steak with real gravy anymore. Oh sure, there are numerous slow cooker and shortcut versions filled with powdery gravy mixes, but finding the time to make it the old-fashioned way like Mary did is something that almost never happens in our busy lives.

Back to limitations on our cooking time. I have to admit, I’m in a rut when it comes to my favorite "make and take” dishes. For tailgate parties or other social gatherings, more times than not, I rely on my baked muffaletta sandwich.

To make it for a crowd, I purchase a long loaf of French bread. You can use the classic round muffaletta bread if you’d like. After slicing the loaf lengthwise, I remove a little of the bread filling to make room for additional ingredients.

First, I spread a layer of olive spread on the bottom and let it soak up all the delicious flavor for a few minutes. After the olive spread has soaked in, I pile on thick layers of sliced salami, Black Forest ham, and sliced mozzarella cheese, then spread another layer of olive spread on the top half of the bread.

After wrapping it tightly in foil, I place the loaf on a baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the filling is warmed through. Once it’s sliced, you can easily feed a crowd, and as an added bonus, you can do it without spending a fortune.

When it comes to more formal gatherings , I’m prone to take my secret recipe hash brown casserole. It’s easy to make, holds up well on the buffet table, and is decadently-rich and creamy. Recently, I decided it was time to change up my game and add some interest to my regular hash brown routine.

I found a recipe that is just as tasty as my old standard, but is more filling, and as a result, made it to the main dish table. It may not be as memorable as Mary’s hamburger steak, but it’s near the top of the best “make and take” pack.

Make and Take Cheesy Chicken, Potatoes and Broccoli

32-ounce package shredded hash brown

1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed 16-ounce package frozen broccoli, thawed and drained 2 cans Cheddar cheese soup 12-ounce can evaporated milk 6-ounce can French fried onions, divided 12-ounce package Cheddar cheese Salt and pepper to taste

Combine hash browns, chicken, broccoli, soup, milk, and half the onions in a casserole dish sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray. Add salt and pepper, cover with foil, and bake in 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.

During last 10 minutes of cooking time, uncover dish, sprinkle with Cheddar cheese and remaining French fried onions. Cook uncovered for remainder of time until cheese is thoroughly melted.

Tip: If dish is too thick for your liking, pour a little water in one of the cheese soup cans and stir into mixture before adding cheese and onions at the end.

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