Comfort-Cookin'You might think the Lobster Roll is Maine’s unofficial state sandwich and you probably are right.  Close behind it however is the Ham Italian.  In 1902 on the Portland, Maine waterfront, in his tiny bakery on Portland’s working waterfront, Giovanni Amato allowed local dockworkers to talk him into splitting his bread loaves lengthwise, then piling them with meat, cheese, and vegetables.  It was there the Ham Italian was born.  Today you can get other meat or no meat (and I don’t agree with purists who say if you vary any ingredient it is not an Italian) but the Ham Italian still rules.

Now why you may ask am I discussing this in a blog on cooking with pain?  Well I have developed a little system to cope with my “Pain Brain” when making things like a Ham Italian for more than one person (and you can learn how to make an Italian at the same time).  An Italian starts with a sub bun or steak roll at least 6 inches but preferably 8” or 12”.  On a post-it I write the person’s name and then list the ingredients in the order they are put in to the sandwich (I’ll keep my comments in parentheses-they don’t go on your list).   For example:

Ham Italian


  • Mayonnaise (not traditional but most of my family likes it)
  • Ham (thin sliced)
  • American cheese or Provolone
  • Sliced Tomatoes
  • Green Pepper slices (just a couple)
  • Sweet onion (finely sliced)
  • Dill pickle spear (dill pickle chips acceptable)
  • Black olives (canned slices, or Kalamata, or Italian olives sliced)
  • Olive Oil (I keep some in a salad decanter for this-you are going to add about a teaspoon or two)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Then I go to each person and cross out what they don’t want (and add stuff like both cheeses or chicken instead of ham or lots by the olives).  Now when I am putting the sandwich together I don’t have to remember only what someone didn’t or did want but also the order to put things in (Pain Brain causes me to go blank sometimes).  This has worked well also for other sandwiches, some main dish salads, as well as things like Tostadas.  Enjoy!

Next, I would like to continue our discussion from my last blog on convenience foods.

  • Lemon juice and rind:  While the bottled or dried juice may actually be a little more convenient than fresh as is the dried rind (sold with the spices), taste wise there is no competition.  The prep time is small, however the difference is almost magic.  I use an OXO Good Grips Citrus Squeezer but most of the other metal ones will work as well (not the plastic).  Remember to warm the lemon about 15 seconds in the microwave before squeezing as you will get twice the amount of juice.  Use your microplane zester/grater for the grated rind.  I do this task over a piece of waxed paper to make measuring easy.


  • Salsa: Definitely a convenience food.  Making salsa is very time consuming. There a lot of very tasty ones already made out there.  You need to taste test to find the ones best for you.
  • Onions are available as dried chopped and minced, onion powder:  When it comes to onions I usually go for fresh.  I don’t find it much of a chore to mince or chop them (besides I usually want to sauté them a little for cooked dishes).  I do keep some dry minced opinions on hand for if I am low on fresh (or out) and for using in bread recipes (which I find works better than fresh).
  • Garlic is available as bottled peeled whole, minced, dry minced, and garlic powder.  While I have read the whole peeled taste slightly better, I am a fan of the bottled minced.  The bottled whole comes in a large amount of cloves and there is still the messy and time consuming mincing.  I find the bottle whole don’t really work too well for pressing either.  I find using the minced even when it calls for pressed tastes just as good sometimes as fresh, sometimes even better.  I have a lot of recipes which call for garlic powder so I do use that.  I have found substituting fresh or bottled doesn’t work well.
  • Tortillas:  Okay, this is a gimmee- store bought are more convenient than making your own (and I don’t see a taste difference).  Find brands you really like (flour and corn); if they seem dry in the package, they are not a good choice.  I heat mine in the microwave.  To soften for rolling or folding heat 10-15 seconds or 30 seconds on a skillet.  For eating either use in the microwave either a tortilla warmer or wrap in a damp flour sack towel and heat.  I have also wrapped them in damp paper towels or flour sack towel, then foil and heated in the over at 3500.  When I say store bought I don’t mean those things (shells) which come in a box and are dry and tasteless.  You can either just use a warm tortilla to make a soft taco or using a minimal amount of oil, heat a tortilla in a skillet on both sides; side 1 until the tortilla starts to bubble, then side 2 a few seconds then fold and cook on both sides; drain on paper towel and keep warm.  It really doesn’t take much time and this is one time taste should trump convenience.

Now for the recipes:

[toggle title=”Chunky Taco Salad“]

My family loves this salad (as do I).  It is easy but very different from what people think as “taco salad”.  It is slightly adapted from 1987 Sunset’s Fresh Ways with Salads. This is one recipe my “list” is handy for individualizing.

1 sirloin steak (1 ½ – 2 lbs)

Chile Dressing Marinade (see below)

1 cup Garlic & Lime Verde Salsa (other green chile salsa can be substituted if necessary)

1 small head iceberg lettuce (enough for 4-6 servings)

¼ cup sliced green onions

2 cups coarsely crushed tortilla chips

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

½ cup shredded cheddar or Mexican Mix cheese (not Taco)

½ cup sliced black olives

1 tomato, cut in wedges or cherry tomatoes halved (3 for each person)

1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced

1 Tbs. sour cream (I use Lite) per person


[toggle title=”Chile Dressing Marinade“]

½ cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp. chili powder

½ tsp garlic salt

1/8 tsp ground cumin

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper.


Mix well.

Pour 1/3 cup of the dressing over the steak and marinate for 2 hours at room temperature or in refrigerator if longer (use shallow baking dish or plastic bag).

Add salsa to remaining dressing and set aside.

Tear lettuce into small chunks and mix in large bowl with beans, onions, cheese, sliced olives, and tortilla chips.  Mound in individual plates (I use pasta bowels).  Place tomato wedges (or cherry halves) and avocado slices on lettuce mixture.

Remove steak and discard marinade.  Grill to your liking.  Slice into thin slices and place on salads.  Drizzle salads with salsa/chilie salad dressing.  Top with sour cream and place some whole tortilla chips around base.


[toggle title=”Tostada Casserole“]

This is adapted from Old El Paso Sun Country Mexican Cookbook (1978); easy and tasty.

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 15 oz. can tomato sauce

1 envelope taco seasoning mix (your favorite)

½ an 11 oz. bag broken tortilla chips

1 16 oz. can refried beans

1 cup shredded Mexican or cheddar cheese (not Taco)


Brown ground beef well in skillet.  Add 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce and taco seasoning packet and mix well.  Sprinkle ¾ of the broken tortilla chips in the bottom of a 13” x 9” casserole pan; Spoon meat mixture over.  In skillet, combine remaining tomato sauce and refried beans; spread over cooked meat mixture.

Bake in 3750 oven for 25 minutes.  Sprinkle remaining broken tortilla chips and cheese over top and return to oven until cheese melts (2-3 minutes).


[toggle title=”King Ranch Casserole“]

There are probably almost as many variations on this casserole than can be imagined.  This happens to be my favorite.  King’s Ranch is located near Corpus Christi Texas (Kingsville) and covers 825,000 acres.  We actually visited it one time.  The history of the casserole is murky however and it is doubted it even came from the King’s Ranch (after all they specialize in beef and this is chicken) It is though a traditional South Texas Recipe and thought to be a tribute to Kings Ranch.  I got my recipe (and adapted it) in 2003 from a now defunct website called “The Lazy Gourmet”.  It is always a hit with my family and when I have taken it to a potluck as well.

1 10 ¾ oz. can Cream of Mushroom soup

1 10 ¾ oz. can Cream of Chicken soup

1 10 oz. can tomatoes with green chilies (I get the “Mild”)

½ cup of chicken broth

2 cups cut up cooked chicken (a Rotisserie chicken works well for this)

½ 11 oz. bag tortilla chips, broken

½ cup chopped onion

3 cups shredded Cheddar or Mexican cheese (not Taco)


Preheat oven to 3500 .

Blend soups, tomatoes, and chicken broth together until smooth.

Layer half chicken, ½ tortilla chips, 1 cup cheese, and ½ soup mixture.  Repeat layers.  Top with remaining cup of cheese.

Bake 1 hour uncovered.


[toggle title=”Janice’s Guacamole“]

I have been making this for probably 44 years and it (the recipe) has evolved some during that time.  I am going to have to guesstimate the amounts of the ingredients as for me this is one of those I usually just estimate at the time.  Besides serving it as a dip, it is also useful as a topping, a spread, and as a salad.


3 avocadoes (add a fourth if the seeds are big-also I only use Haas)

2 Tbs. lemon juice

¾ tsp. coarse salt (I use Kosher for all my cooking-not baking).

¾ tsp garlic powder

1 Tbs. mayonnaise

1 small tomatoes, diced

¼ cup sweet onion, diced

2 Tbs. chopped green chiles (from a can)


In medium bowl I mash avocadoes with pastry blender, potato masher, or fork.  You want a coarse texture.  Mix in lemon juice, salt and garlic powder.  Mix in mayonnaise.  Stir in vegetables.  If it is a little while before serving cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.



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