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Chefs cook up tasty dishes that give mushroom soup new life in the '90s


This week, I'm coming out of the pantry.

At food conferences, I've laughed along with other writers and editors when someone mentioned their readers' requests for "easy casseroles."

Scornfully, we knew that meant those dreadful '60s things made with cream of mushroom soup.

But the truth is that, just as I often drink cheap jug wine, I sometimes throw together quick beef stroganoff or smothered pork chops, both simple and comforting dishes.

And though it's been years since I made it, it seems to me that Hurry Kurry, made with soup, onion, curry powder, sour cream and shrimp, was tastier that some of the "gourmet" take-out and microwavable foods that today's harried home cooks rely on. Major Grey's chutney made it party fare.

There must be other secret devotees of mushroom soup out there. This column is for them and for me -- and to give our recipe files a more '90s slant.

Three well-known Dallas chefs were asked to create casseroles using only ingredients available at the average supermarket and, most important, at least one can of cream of mushroom soup.

Good sports all, Kevin Rathbun, Chris Svalesen and Jack Chaplin accepted.

None had taken cooking school classes on the use of the '60s classic, but all admitted to having savored dishes that incorporated it.

"My mother used to cover browned beef and onions with mushroom soup and let it simmer until the meat fell off the bones," said Mr. Rathbun, smacking his lips.

Mr. Chaplin said his mother, "an upstate New York farm girl who took a lot of cooking lessons," made the family's food from scratch. He relished eating at the homes of friends whose mothers relied more on the can opener. He still likes tuna-noodle casserole.

To ensure variety, I gave each chef a different main ingredient. Mr. Svalesen's was red meat. He settled on veal, combining it with noodles and French flageolets, an unusual but tasty choice. If flageolets are not available, try navy beans instead.

Mr. Chaplin's category was seafood. He fixed a squash, stuffing mix, crab and shrimp casserole.

The spicy chicken dish from Mr. Rathbun calls for Rotel tomatoes -- a brand name for canned tomatoes packed with chilies and onions. Any similar brand will do.

Cooking purists may also substitute white sauce for the cream of mushroom soup in any of the recipes.

I wouldn't.

The I-hate-squash casserole

Serves four to six.

2 pounds yellow squash, sliced

1 sweet onion, chopped

1 cup grated carrots

1/2 pint sour cream

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 stick butter or margarine

1 package herbed stuffing mix

1 pound cooked shrimp, chopped

1 pound lump crab meat

Saute onion and squash in a little oil until onion is just translucent; cover and let steam for a few minutes.

Mix squash, onion, carrots, sour cream and mushroom soup.

Melt butter and toss with stuffing.

Place about a third of the stuffing in a casserole dish and sprinkle with the shrimp and crab meat. Top with a second layer of stuffing, then pour squash-mushroom soup mixture over. Sprinkle with remaining stuffing and bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

The real veal deal

Serves six.

1 1/2 pounds lean veal shoulder


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 cups light beer or chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

8 ounces wide egg noodles

1 can flageolet beans (see note)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Asiago or Romano cheese

1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Cut veal into 1-inch cubes and dust with flour. Heat oil in heavy pot and brown veal cubes on all sides. Add onion and saute until lightly browned.

Drain oil from pot; add beer or chicken stock, salt and pepper; cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour or until veal is tender.

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water for 3 minutes only; drain well and set aside.

When veal is done, add noodles, beans (drained) and soup. Pour into casserole. Mix butter, bread crumbs, cheese and parsley and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until bubbly and browned. Garnish as desired.

Note: Flageolets are tiny French kidney beans, usually white or ,, pale green, and can be found in the gourmet section of many supermarkets. White navy beans may be substituted.

Boomerang chicken

Serves four.

4 skinless chicken breasts

4 tablespoons olive oil or salad oil (divided use)

2 onions, diced

2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

10 mushrooms, sliced

2 cans Rotel tomatoes, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 pint cream

salt and pepper to taste

1 bag tortilla chips

1 pound ricotta cheese

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated

In a saute pan, sear the chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of the oil and cook until just medium rare. Remove chicken from pan and julienne. Set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and saute onions, poblanos and garlic until onions are transparent. Add mushrooms, tomatoes, cilantro, mushroom soup and cream. Simmer for 5 minutes and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Line bottom of a casserole dish with tortilla chips. Crumble half of the ricotta over the chips, then sprinkle with half each of the Monterey Jack, chicken and mushroom soup mix. Repeat layers, ending with a sprinkle of chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

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