Thursday, July 24, 2008

Be it ever so humble, the casserole

We've been eating a lot of casseroles lately. I'm not sure why but for some reason my menus have gravitated to things like tuna casserole and mac n'cheese. Usually, I dust those off in colder weather but moving must have put comfort food on the top of my list.

The casseroles as we know them developed in the 1930s and 1940s. Before that, a casserole often meant a filling encased in pounded rice or some other type of coating. No doubt the Great Depression had much to do with developing ways to stretch expensive things like meat. Not only are casseroles budget conscious but they are fairly easy too. That makes them winners for folks looking for homey, hot food in a hurry (wow, that was poetic).

Tuna casserole, that staple of school lunch rooms in years gone by, really didn't catch on until the 1950s, even though canned tuna was around in the beginning of the 20th century. I would guess that it isn't the most popular food with adults; it can be awfully bland. My own attempt at this old school favorite actually turned out pretty good because it relied on a heavy dose of dijon mustard. The recipe came from a recent Better Homes and Gardens magazine issue. I omited the potato chip crust and went with bread crumbs instead. I also omited the celery (I know, sacrilage) and upped the onion, adding a bit of celery seed to the sauce instead. Hubby isn't a fan of tuna so it was a gamble and while he liked the sauce, he still would rather avoid the fish. So next time, we'll do it with chicken I think. But for someone looking for a meal that costs under $2 a serving, it is worth a try.

Macaroni and Cheese, for the last five years in our house, has consisted of one recipe - Alton Brown's version with plenty of chopped onion and powdered mustard. Yesterday, I tried something new; sliced tomatoes, gruyere and sharp cheddar cheeses and nutmeg. It made for a nice change and moved Ina Garten's version to the top of the cheesy pasta pile. To keep it a bit cheaper, I would bet that plain old Swiss could be substituted for the gruyere. It made a ton, so leftovers, that kindred spirit of casseroles, can do double duty for lunch or another dinner.


Sling said...

Tuna casserole is the food of the gods.
I like mine leftover,with sliced jalapenos,and tobasco.
..and more jalapenos.
And a big glass of milk.

forsythia said...

Personally, I LOVE tuna casserole, with potato-cup-crumb topping, accompanied by a green salad. (That's shredded carrots and chopped black olives in lime jello with mayonnaise on top, served on ice-berg lettuce (optional.)