Saturday, September 18, 2010

Who doesn't love a casserole?

I love to cook. I love to eat. I love to feed people. This is probably why it irks me so that my children barely eat what I prepare.

So I have this obsession. I married a chef. I meal plan most of the time ( See, I even make up verbs for my behavior). I have certain meals on certain days—pizza on Saturday, spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday. I get excited looking at the grocery ads. I think about what we're going to have for dinner around breakfast time.  Erma Bombeck would totally mock me—she's once said "There is one thing I have never taught my body how to do and that is to figure out at 6 A.M. what it wants to eat at 6 P.M." In fact, some people actually have mocked me (you know who you are). It's a miracle that I don't have some kind of eating disorder, unless the above described behavior is one.

Dinner is always on the table between 5 and 5:30 in our house. In addition to food, I love deadlines and since dinner comes around once every 24 hours, this satiates my need to have accomplished something on time and somewhat properly every day. I spent 15 years under deadline pressure as a journalist. Old habits die hard.

I hesitate to write solely about cooking, meal planning and new recipes, though, lest the posts devolve into trivial and monotonous treatises on domestic matters. I've been a full-time, stay-at-home mom for about a year and half now. And I write that last sentence with full knowledge of every minefield that I just stepped in. Let me just say: It wasn't by choice, but I'm okay with it; it is actually a nice break from working outside the home but it also entails a lot more work than I did outside the home. It's complex, isn't it? (By the way, you will never see the abbreviation for stay-at-home mom on this blog. I despise it. Words have meaning  and abbreviations cheapen that meaning. I  pretty much think words, like food, should fill your mouth and be tasted and savored.)

Now that I've stepped on everyone's toes, let's proceed, shall we?

What I'm trying to express is that enjoying certain aspects of domestic life in my new role does not make me a pre-feminist dinosaur who enjoys vacuuming in high heels. I don't vacuum, by the way. I so hate vacuuming. I once told my husband that if we got a vacuum cleaner that didn't spit out more dust than it took in maybe I'd vacuum once in a while. (Seriously, we had a vacuum cleaner that did this. He saw no problems with this. None at all.) My husband called my bluff. We have a new vacuum cleaner and now he uses it once a week or so. So don't go getting any preconceived notions about me just because I'm about to write about casseroles, 'kay?

And who doesn't just love a casserole? With Velveeta. And cream of something soup. The problem for me is that I read labels religiously. Sometimes I can convince myself that it would be okay just this once to use Campbell's soup or Velveeta cheese because it's on sale this week only. Then I read the label and get really grossed out and kind of mad that I can't enjoy the cheesy, creamy casseroles these products promise. Then I go home and grudgingly make a creamy and/or cheesy sauce from scratch on the stove top, but it never, ever tastes as yummy and comforting as Velveeta and cream of something soup. Sigh.

So on Friday, I hadn't really planned anything for dinner. I was having one of those days. Since it was Friday, I thought we should do fish, because, you know, all good Catholics eat fish on Friday. I'm not that good a Catholic, but the fish on Friday thing simplifies my life, so I just go with it. Here's what I came up with:

1 12 oz can evaporated milk
2 6 oz cans tuna, undrained
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups chopped broccoli
2 cups cooked rice (I used brown rice)

Mix all ingredients in a 9x12 pan. Top with cracker or bread crumbs if desired. 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so.

Wonder of wonders, it actually came out tasting like Velveeta cheese was in it. My theory is that the Parmesan cheese adds just enough salt to mimic Velveeta. I'm not saying this is healthy, just comforting and similar enough to Velveeta to quench the occasional craving. I'm going to experiment more with this no-soup, no-Velveeta, essentially no processed anything casserole idea. I'll share what I learn, but can't promise my recipes will be as easy as opening cans or even very healthy.

Danny's reaction?  "Thank you mommy. This is good." and then he ate maybe four bites, three of which I fed him. I've been noshing on the leftovers all day. The dog ate my second helping while I was nursing the baby down for a nap. It was so good not even the dog couldn't resist. He is so on poop list right now.

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