Dining With Denise Neil

It was named the grossest food to ever come from Kansas: Naturally, I cooked it

Hamburger casserole: I cooked it to decide whether it was gross or good.
Hamburger casserole: I cooked it to decide whether it was gross or good. The Wichita Eagle

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a somewhat dubious list that claimed to know the grossest food to ever come from each state.

It was dubious, I noted, for two main reasons. 1.) Never trust a list that calls chicken fried steak gross. 2.) The food listed for Kansas was hamburger casserole, and I, for one, had never heard of or eaten hamburger casserole, despite having lived Kansas for nearly all my life.

I stand corrected.

Hamburger casserole, it turns out, was in fact a common meal for many who grew up in the Sunflower State, as evidenced by the dozens of e-mails I received from readers. Several of them included recipes.

“What?! You have never had hamburger casserole?!” wrote Carrie Moore. “When I was in my casserole stage (prior to my crock pot stage), hamburger casserole was one of my standards – and my husband's "atta boy" reward.”

Jenn Seals was equally incredulous that I hadn’t ever tried it.

“One of my kids’ favorites and also one of mine as a kid,” she wrote. “Living with a single mom, casserole was always on the menu. It was a special occasion if it was topped with Tater Tots.”

Though the recipes varied, all basically followed the same formula: noodles layered with a cream cheese/sour cream mixture, topped with hamburger and cheese and baked.

Appropriately shamed, I decided I must make this hamburger casserole and decide, once and for all, if it was gross or great.

I opted to use a recipe suggested by Leigh Aaron-Leary, which she got from the original Junior League cookbook, called “Sunflower Sampler,” published in 1983. The title of the hamburger casserole printed in that volume was “Husband’s Delight,” which really made me laugh.

I was skeptical as I cooked that the casserole would actually delight my husband or anyone else. But when it was done, it smelled pretty good and looked more than presentable. My husband, also a photographer at the Eagle, took pictures for me while it was still hot. And even though he’s a notoriously picky eater, he took a big bite, then another, and declared it “pretty darn good.”

I also thought it was decent and had a good combination of flavors and textures.

Take that, gross food list maker.

Here’s the recipe I used. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Husband’s Delight (Hamburger Casserole)

1 8-oz package skinny egg noodles

1 garlic clove, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 tablespoon butter

3 8 oz. cans tomato sauce

Salt

pepper

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup ricotta cheese or 1 cup cottage cheese

1 8 oz. package cream cheese

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup green pepper, chopped

1cup cheddar cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions. Brown ground beef and garlic in butter. Add tomato sauce, salt and pepper and sugar. In separate container, blend ricotta and cream cheese with sour cream, then add onion and green pepper to cheese mixture.

In a greased 9x13 casserole, put half of the cooked noodles, then half of the cheese mixture, then the rest of the noodles and remaining cheese mixture. Top with the ground beef mixture and bake for 20 minutes at 350. Top with cheddar cheese and bake 10 minutes more, or until melted and bubbly.

Great served with a tossed salad and some rolls or warm bread sticks.

–“Sunflower Sampler”

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