Back in the old days of our blog, we spent many a December scrambling about and trying to cram multiple Achievements into single days. A multi-Achievement day can at times be stressful, but there’s also something fun about the feeling of accomplishment that comes with crossing a few things off the to-do list in one day. And last month, we actually completed two Achievements not only in one day, but as part of the same event.
Oh yes. That’s right. We made a picnic dinner at Hartwood Acres that included a Frito Casserole.
The idea for the Frito Casserole came to me back in 2014, when we visited the Smithsonian Museum of American History at the end of our bike trip from Pittsburgh to DC. My favorite exhibit there was called Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 (because, well, I freaking love food). If you are in DC and love to eat, please visit this exhibit. You see all sorts of old food gadgets, including early microwaves and the first margarita machine. There are features about Superbowl snack spreads, profiles of famous chefs like Julia Child, a full section on the origins of California wine, and tons and tons of old ads for food and restaurants. I am obsessed with old ads, so I found that part particularly interesting.
Oh yes. Fritos, I found out, are not just a snack you eat out of the bag. They are an actual ingredient. This opens a whole world of possibilities!!!
So I decided to make one of the recipes. There are a LOT of vintage Frito recipes floating around the internet these days (I implore you to check Pinterest, but there’s also at least one vintage Frito cookbook in existence, and husband is working hard at securing me a copy for Christmas this year). After much deliberation, I settled on the Fritos Zippy Cheese Bake, which the recipe promises can be a great part of ‘an informal get-together centered around a buffet meal.’ We weren’t having a get-together, but we did need picnic food. And Martha always says, don’t test a new recipe on guests, so I thought, why not use our picnic dinner to test out the Fritos Zippy Cheese Bake, so that I’ll be ready to actually share it at my next informal get-together centered around a buffet meal!
The ingredients of the Fritos Zippy Cheese Bake are pretty basic. I will note that most of the Fritos recipes use American cheese, I guess because it was the 60s, and that was very vogue. I substituted cheddar cheese because we are cheese snobs in this house and we do not keep American cheese on hand. But otherwise, I followed the recipe to a T.
You crunch up the Fritos, then mix them with the onions, cheese, and spices, then pour the milk and eggs over the top. (Side note: I used skim because it’s what I had on hand, but when I remake this for my guests someday, I will use a thicker milk.)
The reason we needed picnic food was because later that evening, we were attending one of the free concerts at Hartwood Acres. (It’s a Pittsburgh tradition to have loads of free events in the summer.) There are free movies twice each week (at multiple locations), free classical music every Sunday at Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch, free art and concerts at the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and every Sunday night, there are free concerts at Hartwood Acres in the North Hills.
This is something from my youth that I remember very vividly. My friend and I would go with our families, and with her elderly neighbors, sisters Betty and Rita. The concerts are free, it’s bring-your-own food and wine (although they now have food trucks and craft beer on site if you prefer that instead), and basically you sit on a blanket or lawn chairs and enjoy good music and hopefully good weather. We decided to go to see the incredible Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, since I’d been working and had to miss their performance at the Arts Festival back in June.
First – a note about traffic. Get there EARLY. There’s only one road in to Hartwood in each direction, and it backs up, especially on high demand nights like the PSO. We were a little late because I’d come from work that afternoon, and we sat for AGES and ended up missing the first two songs.
We were walking to our seats during “Ride of the Valkyries,” which enticed Layla to rompus about and throw herself onto the ground and roll and dance. (She thankfully settled down once that exciting song was over.)
For all of my faults, one thing I can say with certainty is that I know how to put out a really good picnic spread. And one of the essential pieces of each Hartwood Acres picnic spread is the salami sandwich. This goes back to those lovely elders of my youth, Betty and Rita, who lovingly packed us salami sandwiches with Miracle Whip and provolone cheese each week, fuel so my friend Jess and I could run around and do our best imitations of the Tamburitzans, our favorite dance troupe who we went to see each year.
Dogs are welcome at Hartwood concerts as long as they are up-to-date on their shots, remain on leash, and you clean up their poo. (I would recommend, however, that you stay a distance back from the stage and maybe not take them to really loud rock concerts. The symphony was pretty perfect in terms of noise level.) Layla Grace was basically overstimulated by all the excitement and spent a good portion of her time rolling around and staring at other dogs we weren’t letting her play with.
Alas, due to the high onion content, she couldn’t sample the Fritos Zippy Cheese Bake, but we certainly ate our share. It was really quite good hot – a little salty, but the cheese was nice and melty, and it still had a bit of crunch from the mashed-up Fritos. (I ate some cold the next morning, and it didn’t hold on to its awesomeness, but served warm, I would say it is a winner, especially if you put something green and refreshing like raw veggies or a salad on the side.)
The PSO was spectacular as usual, and we had a very lovely night with our little music-loving beast, our pink wine, and our Fritos Zippy Cheese Bake. I think I’m an autumn girl at heart, but there’s something I am just LOVING about the summer of 2017, and I’m so glad we get to share our fun with our readers!
There are still two Hartwood Acres concerts remaining for 2017: Billy Porter on Sunday, the 27th, and the 18th Annual Allegheny County Music Festival featuring Rusted Root with local bands on September 2nd. Most shows begin at 7:30pm, but the Allegheny County Music Festival starts at 5pm and has a $20 per car donation, which benefits the Allegheny County Department of Human Services.