Monday, November 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Casseroles

I've been cooking and eating a lot of casseroles and gratins lately. My little white Corningware vessel hasn't seen this much action since the Ford administration. Out of all of my crockery, it's by far my favorite. Not just because of nostalgia for Grandma Laverne's celery-cheddar-water chestnut casserole (which I flawlessly reenacted one Thanksgiving for my wistful dad, just for him to admit that he'd always hated it), but because it is virtually stain-proof. Nay, it is literally stain-proof. Okay, I also love it because it used to belong to Grandma Laverne.

Obviously, this time of year begs for bubbly shit coming out of the warm-your-house-up oven, but there's something far more primal about making and eating casseroles in cooler weather. It connects us to our aproned, canned soup-having ancestors in a way that DNA just can't. I was a frumpy housefrau in a previous life, I just know it, and casserole was my weapon.

Tuna Casserole

There's just no way to make this look good, is there? Maybe that's why so many kids hate tuna casserole. I always loved it, personally, which is a good thing since my mom made it on a semi-regular basis. Now, I make it pretty much exactly like she did, but I use a better brand of cream of mushroom soup and solid albacore. Everything else, though - frozen peas, wide egg noodles and crunchy topping - is just the same. Though I normally like to fuck with everything I grew up eating until its foundation is unrecognizable, tuna casserole garners my subscription to the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of recipe adulteration.

The best part is the crunchy edge noodles. Or the sweet peas. Or the briny, flaky tuna.

Ham and Cheese Orzo Casserole

I know what you're thinking. "Again, with the melty cheese and French-fried onions." Well I can't help it, okay? I need to see shit coming out of my oven with bubbly sauce and crispety topping. I can't help it. Norm and his (adorably gawky) tween son Connor were coming over, and this kid's picky. Normally, I believe in punishing pickiness by sneaking loathed ingredients into every dish, but I like Connor (and Norm), and decided to play nice. I know Connor likes broccoli, if nothing else that's green, and he likes meat. And all growing boys like melty cheese and pasta. No brainer.

Okay, I went ahead and snuck in some chiffonade of baby bok choy and sliced green beans just to be a bitch. He didn't seem to notice.

So, casseroles. I probably have one or two more in me, probably for Thanksgiving, and then I'll seek help for my addiction.

33 comments:

Ken Albala said...

Wow, I am the first to comment here! Something new. I feel like I'm one of your proper stalkers now. Seriously, the tuna noodle casserole is a thing of grace and beauty, and I agree, you go totally traditional with cans, must be Cambells and Starkist, or you mess with it. These are great. Or you can do it all from scratch. I mean freh tuna, noodles, cream, real mushrooms. It really does work.

So ok, one other thing, have I missed something with the sound off all this time, or suddenly is there music? There were bells, on a hill.... Wait, did this come with the ad for tomato sauce?? What's happening here?

Emily said...

The crunchy noodles are the best! I agree.

Heather said...

Ken - Haha, the sound was a funny anti-meat Flash game from PETA that I posted last week. I took it down a few minutes ago because it was annoying.

Em - I wish they'd just bag those.

Peter G said...

I love the title of this post! How about the "The Casserole Tales" ala Chaucer? Ok enough! I agree, you wanna see steaming, bubbly, melted cheese creations coming out of the oven in cooler months...in vintage casserole dishes even better!

glamah16 said...

Im loving these retro casseroles. Arent you all June Cleaver ish lately. I love all the the old cookware I got form my Mom, and wouldnt trade it for anyhting. My favorite of yours is that ham and orszo.

Manggy said...

I love how you've somehow been keeping up with the "food kids hate" theme :) Though there is absolutely NOTHING objectionable about your tuna casserole. More, please. The crunchy bits on top, whether they are cheese or dried-up noodles, are indeed the best part! :)

Oh, you're not being a bitch to Connor, think of it as encouraging him to grow (in secret). :)

Stacy said...

Oh yeah, I'm with you on the casserole home cookin'! My mom always made mac an cheese (with ham) casserole (elbow macaroni only - or it just isn't right), and she would always overcook the top a little just for me. The crispy edges were my favorite.

Foodycat said...

My friend's dad used to make tuna casserole with no noodles (served it with boiled white rice). It was tuna, creamed soup, crushed pineapple and a crushed potato chip topping. There is a special place in hell for that casserole. I taste it sometimes in my nightmares...

On the other hand, the cheesy orzo looks fantastic and I would definitely like some of that!

canarygirl said...

Oh God yes! Casseroles are one of life's pleasures. In Minnesooooda, hey, we call them hotdishes. lol And now I have a hankering to do some hotdishing of my own. YUM.

Darius T. Williams said...

WAIT - did someone say ham and cheese orzo casserole? WOW!!!

-DTW
www.everydaycookin.blogspot.com

Darius T. Williams said...

WAIT - did someone say ham and cheese orzo casserole? WOW!!!

-DTW
www.everydaycookin.blogspot.com

MrOrph said...

TUNA CASSEROLE????

*winces*
*makes sign of cross with fingers*

I can't do it. Waaaaay too much of that and Tuna Helper as a child.

Now, you can slide me over some of that there ham and orzo stuff.

Syd said...

Awww, you really do have white trash roots. That's so cute.

I'm still not down with the tuna casserole. I think I can smell it from here. (STFU)

maggie said...

This looks good. and I can't stand tuna. My mom used to make a similar dish with the boiled-beyond-oblivion chicken from soupmaking...

Brooke said...

That orzo casserole looks so freakin tasty. You make me hungry. I love tuna casserole too (agreed, the edge noodles are the best).

peter said...

If my memory is correct, I had tuna casserole exactly once, during college, at a friend's house. His Mom had made it the night before, and we finished the leftovers. I remember being kind of grossed out, and yet kind of loving it, too.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Okay, I confess... I love tuna noodle casserole.

The ham and orzo thing looked rocking, though.

Pam said...

I haven't had a tuna casserole in years...this looks so rich, creamy and the crispy top is calling my name.

A perfect dish for this rainy, cloudy, cold Oregon day.

cookiecrumb said...

I hope the crunchy topping is crumbled potato chips.
What's your superior brand of cream-of soup?

maybelle's mom said...

I didn't grow up with casseroles and so they can often seem slightly exotic to me. Though that said, my mother in law knows how to DESTROY a casserole. If she would ever touch the computer we gave her, I would be sending this to her in emails for all of the days before Christmas. (WOW, kind of bitter comment, eh?)

Audra said...

Wait! Where's the recipe for that really awesome looking ham and cheese casserole? I have to admit that, being Chinese, we don't eat a lot of casserole. Ever. But that looks too good to pass up.

I just found you on foodgawker... do you usually not post recipes, or did I miss something...? Sorry to bother you and thanks for your time!

Judy@nofearentertaining said...

My Mom always topped ours will scrunched up potato chips. We loved tuna casserole night!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to figure out how to improve on a broccoli casserole that was only so-so and it occurs to me that orzo would be good. So I google "orzo cheese casserole" and I find your blog. PLEEEEASE share the recipe for the Ham and Orzo casserole.

JeanE

Peter M said...

Ford administration...were you even born, wee one?

Those crispy noodles in casseroles are a sign of a fine casserole and it reminds me of crispy rice in a good paella.

Norm Schoen said...

I love very sentimental story of your Corning Ware. I promise I won't tell Connor about the Bok-Choy addition to the casserole

Heather said...

Oh dang I waited too long and now there are too many comments! I have a lot to do today (you're too busy to check back here to see what I retort anyways), so I'll skip it just this once.

Except to say that it was my grandma that used the casserole during the Ford administration, when it was still hers, doy.

And Cookiecrumb - I use the illustrious Campbell's Select Gold Label Creamy Portobella. Gold Label.

Pearl said...

WOW! Pictures look great! Being Chinese, we don't usually eat casseroles, but I'm so tempted to cook that up for my family!

cookiecrumb said...

Oh.
Well!
Gold Label.

Torina said...

I hate tuna. It smells like catfood. BUT, that casserole looks delicious. Heather, you may have turned me into a tuna lover, especially by how much you say "fucking" when talking about something as wholesome as casseroles.

I did buy one of those packaged tunas (not canned - too catfoody) a few months back and tossed it with some penne, cream and halved cherry tomatoes with some herbs from the garden (whatever I grabbed). And get this, it didn't taste like catfood! It was GREAT!

I'm trying your casserole.

Nic said...

I'm gonna ask it too! Where did the recipe for the ham and cheese orzo casserole come from, i'll buy the book, if it came out a book, or if you have the recipe that would be awsome, cos I have a bag of orzon sat in my cupboard with no idea what to do with it, and that looks so so so good.

Brittany said...

Tuna noodle was also in my mom's weekly rotation. It's been far far too long..

The ham orzo one also looks amazing and I am delighted to see a recipe for it above. YaaaaY!

PS- Be it in another life , or not. I just can't picture you as 'frumpy'

We Are Never Full said...

you get my vote on this - i mean you do claim you're "overcompensating for your white-trash roots" - right? so the casserole may be slightly white-trash... a bit 1940's and 100% delicious. why fuck with something that involves creaminess w/ noodle?

cook eat FRET said...

for the record, i totally love TC. love love love it. isn't that weird?