A New Sort of Happy Hour and Comfort Food… Potato Casserole

One of the good things about my childhood, among many others, was that there was no “babysitter” in our dictionary. Growing up, I was never deprived of the long dinner parties my parents were throwing or attending. Neither were my friends. Most of the time, it was a given that if you were inviting a couple and the couple happened to have kids, the kids would likely to show up at your house as well.  Unless it was some kind of fancy event the kids were not invited. We had our grandparents living very near-by but still it did not stop my parents from taking us with them to many places.

And let me tell you, those dinner parties lasted late..especially if rakι was involved…late like the-bakeries-will-open-soon-late…As a kid, we never knew what the bed time was during weekends. We ran around with the other kids, screamed, played and none of the parents seemed to make a big deal out of it.Then we would crush on a couch or at the feet of our parents while they carried on their conversation. I remember going back home in my dad’s arms,exhausted, burying my face into his warm neck to sleep all the way home, smelling the residuals of the night… cigarette smoke, raki and a little bit Brut after-shave left on his face.

I guess it is safe to say the parenting style was “relaxed” back then.

What brought these memories back was actually a Happy Hour get-together on Friday. At my work, a lot of friends have gone through some big changes in their lives for the past several years. All of a sudden, most of my group has little ones mostly 1 to 5 year olds. And our night-outs as a group have slowed down of course while everyone is adjusting to the parenthood and juggling work-daycare-home trio.

We have been wanting to go out for a happy hour but logistics of daycare, babysitter, everybody’s own to-do list proved it to be difficult to plan.

So we met at Dave’s home!

He invited everyone and their kids for a Friday Happy Hour where we could just relax, eat, drink and talk without rushing or trying to hear each other through loud bar noise.

It worked! Three friends showed up with their kids who are barely 18 months old.  Hope next time, the rest will join with their clan.

I wanted to cook something for the night. I went through all the appetizer  recipes and ended up deciding on a comfort food as the main dish. Because this was not a traditional Happy Hour. There was something much more comfortable and homey about it. I remembered this casserole dish and found a similar recipe in Ayla Algar’s  Classical Turkish Cooking and adapted to what I remember from my grandma. Also made Ina Garten’s roasted tomato appetizer, layered on a thick piece of bread and goat cheese and Dave made his famous Taco Dip.

Then we served this potato casserole with basmati rice. To me, it was a good way to end the evening…hot homemade meal. Maybe I am ruining the essence of Happy Hour and I should have made chicken wings or spinach dip. But this just felt right. Well, I guess I can say that I have a “relaxed” Happy-hour style!

Afiyet Olsun!

Potato Casserole

Adapted from Classical Turkish Cooking

  • 1.5 – 2 lbs of potatoes (red or Yukon Gold)
  • 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb of ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper (diced)
  • 2 Cubanella peppers(diced)
  • 1 large onion (diced)
  • 3 ripe tomatoes (peeled, diced)
  • 4 springs of fresh thyme or 1 tablespoon dried thyme plus 2 pinches to sprinkle over potato layer
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/3 cup of Italian Parsley
  • 1 tomato (cut into thick round slices)
  • 1 Cubanella pepper (cut into thick round slices)

1. Wash and peel potatoes, slice them thick (enough slices to layer the bottom of a 9″x13″ baking dish. If you end up with more slices, you can always make two layer)

2. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a pan on medium-high heat.

3. Put several slices in a pan, without crowding, Fry each side of the potato slice until it starts to get golden brown.

4. Layer the potato slices in the baking dish.Sprinkle with some salt,pepper, two pinches of dried thyme or 1 spring of fresh thyme.

5. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat, add onions.

6. Once onions start to get soft (5 min or so), add ground beef.

7. Stirring frequently, brown the meat.

8. Add diced peppers, cook for another 5 minutes.

9. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste and stir until everything combines well.

10. Add thyme, salt and pepper (to taste) and if you want some kick, add crushed red pepper.

11. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

13. Layer the ground beef mixture with its liquid over the potato slices. Put chopped parsley, round tomato and pepper slices on top. If the liquid from the beef mixture is not about 1 cup, add some water to make it up to a cup. Cover with aluminum foil. Make several slits over the foil for the steam to escape. Bake at 350-degrees for 45-50 minutes.

14. Serve with rice and thick yogurt.




  1. by Jen
    9:56 pm
    Oct 2, 2011

    Sounds like you had fun! What cuties! Loved your story about your dad. :)

  2. by Beth Anne
    2:29 am
    Oct 3, 2011

    I adore the idea of a family happy hour! I think that it benefits everyone, allowing the adults to maintain their support structure and friendships while giving the children both lifelong friendships, socialization at a young age and tradition. It’s such a win-win :) And who would want to go back to spinach wings and chicken dip after feasting on this?! I can’t wait to try your potato casserole this week!

  3. by Peggy
    10:23 am
    Oct 5, 2011

    It does seem that people don’t get together as much anymore, don’t you think? I know all of my friends are busy, and have their own lives – but it’s great to just catch up once in a while! Your Happy Hour dishes sound pretty delicious to me… and I love that you did something difference =)

  4. by rebecca
    6:51 pm
    Oct 5, 2011

    fun times your kids will have a blast

  5. by Ceecee
    8:48 pm
    Oct 5, 2011

    Great story! I remember those parent parties from our childhood too! Great times :)

  6. by Dan
    9:17 pm
    Oct 5, 2011

    That looks like a great comfort food dish.

  7. by Katherine Martinelli
    3:27 am
    Oct 6, 2011

    So cute!! It is so nice that you all still get together and have fun. Why not?! I love the memories of your childhood, it sounds wonderful. And this casserole looks absolutely delicious – perfect for a happy hour or any time :-)

  8. by Jacqui Mosteller
    3:59 am
    Oct 6, 2011

    What a beautiful blog post and what a lovely evening…we enjoyed being with everyone and the food was fantastic! Thank you Dave for opening your home to us with all of our little ones and thank you Ilke for the delicious food!

  9. by Mary
    12:51 pm
    Oct 6, 2011

    All of these foods sound delicious. Getting together with friends is the best part though!

  10. by Beth
    1:45 pm
    Oct 6, 2011

    I love the photos of the little ones! And the food looks great too!

  11. by The Food Hunter
    2:55 pm
    Oct 6, 2011

    Looks like a great night

*: required fields

Leave a Comment

Read the fine print

By submitting a comment you grant Ilke's Kitchen a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate and irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin’s discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.