I do enjoy foods that those with sophisticated palates (or a lot of money) eat regularly. Just ask Chef Boy ‘R Mine. I’m his guinea pig. [And it’s about time he comes home and cooks for me again.]
I also like a lot of junk food, pseudo food, comfort food and stuff that is plain fare. I even like stuff, some of it, that involves a can of Cream-of-Something soup.
So sue me.
In the junk food category, I get weak-kneed over Cheez-Its. Ruffles (have ridges) potato chips and Slim Jims are perennial favorites. As for pseudo food, I like Twinkies (though I prefer SnoBalls), but will not abide Cool Whip.
Comfort food and plain fare remind me of my childhood, which was good, and serve, well, to comfort me. Plain fare I regard as further up the haute cuisine ladder than comfort food. Comfort foods are those things that you’re a little embarrassed about liking. Spam is one. Morton beef pot pies are another.
When I was about 10, maybe 11, I read a Beverly Cleary book about a high school girl and her first date. I was beginning to find boys a little interesting, but overall was pretty clueless. For those of you not initiated, Cleary wrote children’s books – Ramona, Beezus, Henry Huggins – which were funny and poignant. While they sometimes had a moral, the heavy-handedness of it was blunted by the comedy. Beverly Cleary could channel all those feelings and ideas and actions of a kid somewhere between 5 and 10 years old. She wrote a few books about teenagers. They weren’t as compelling.
In this book that I’ve forgotten the name of, the protagonist is a bundle of nerves before her first date. She worries about everything including whether or not her mother is going to make Smells to Heaven Tuna Casserole. Cleary, knowing her audience, explained the onion breath problem. Most ten year olds, at least in my day, didn’t worry too much about bad breath.
It’s either a testament to Cleary’s writing or my love of tuna casserole or, perhaps, both that forty years later I remember that detail.
I like tuna casserole. I don’t remember not ever liking it.
My mom made it with Cream of Mushroom Soup, noodles, onions, sometimes celery and tuna. After putting it in a baking dish, she crushed potato chips and spread them on top of the casserole about a 1/2 inch thick.
Now I did and do abhor canned mushrooms. They’re not even as good as pencil erasers (something I chewed on quite a bit as a kid). I hate them, and when we had tuna casserole, I ate around them. They’re chopped up fine and those tiny little suckers could really slow down the eating process.
When I started making my own tuna casserole, I discovered Cream of Celery soup.
I love celery. I toss it in anything I can get away with. Cream of Celery soup and chopped celery became necessities in the production of perfect tuna casserole.
I use the extra-wide noodles. I don’t want any wimpy noodles likely to get limp and pasty. I want them bold and al dente. This is a must.
I’m not sure when or why, but sometime early in my tuna casserole production years, I began substituting French’s French Fried Onions for the potato chips. It’s now a necessity. I could no more enjoy tuna casserole without French fried onions than I could enjoy it without onions or celery or tuna or noodles.
It’s a perfect gestalt of sodium, preservatives, msg, calories and the meager Omega 3s that that the tuna provides.
And I’m having it for dinner tonight.
I haven’t cooked for myself in months. And I haven’t cooked for one person in months. I was surprised I had to think about how to go about making the casserole. This is not a recipe that’s ever been written down.
I managed to do it, but I could easily feed 12 people. I’m going to be eating tuna casserole all week. I suspect that I will, but it remains to be seen, if I will still like my Smells To Heaven Tuna Casserole next week.