Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confessions of a Casserole-Maker

I have something to admit.

I bake and serve casseroles to my family. 

And not just any old casserole.  We're talkin' THROW BACK kinds.  Like the Tuna Macaroni Casserole pictured above. Oh yes. 

Above you will see the usual suspects of a throw-back casserole.  The ubiquitous cream-of-something soup, canned tuna, elbow macaroni (I could have at least used penne or something remotely 21st century - alas), and some string cheese.

Wait - did she say "string cheese?" 

Yes, in the Downey household, if you don't have an ingredient, you don't just make a mad dash out to the local grocer to retrieve it.  Ridiculous.  You just "make do" (love that phrase) with what you have.  So, we didn't have enough cheddar.  The string mozarella is fine.

Please notice this adorable recipe, taken from the Cotton Country cookbook.  Mrs. Charles W. Belt, I salute you. 

The dish is purported to be "a creamy and colorful" one. I can speak for the creamy part, but as for the "colorful," I'm not so sure.  This recipe pretty much falls into the category of "beige food," a culinary genre that my sister christened one family Thanksgiving.  We noticed that, like on many Southern tables, the majority of items offered in the repast set before us were "beige" - green bean casserole (beige on top), dressing (beige), turkey (beige), some other indistinguishable casserole with crushed Ritz crackers on top (beige), and, well, you get the drift.

That is indeed my scribbled note at the top of the recipe - I deemed this "delicious" and left a reminder to use cheddar and crushed crackers.  My progeny will thank me.

I am completely aware that casseroles are unhip.   After all, the Food Network is one of only two TV channels I watch, and the chefs are usually whipping up something fashionable like "Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Chili Butter". . . which sounds pretty good to me.  They're not making much with things that come in a can, ya know. . . except for Paula Deen.  She never met a stick of butter or can of cream-o'-mushroom she didn't like.

So, in a nod to modernity, I added some minced garlic and chopped mushrooms to the onions and peppers when I sauted them, and I mixed in the cheese, too.  I topped it all off with some Asiago Wheat Bread crumbs (I had made some of this bread and had some of the loaf in the freezer) and a bit of butter.  Crunchy, yummy, goodness.

Can anything made from "Cotton Country Cooking" (the 25th anniversary edition, mind you) turn out badly?

Some may think "Why doesn't she just open a box of Tuna Helper?"  To you I say - How dare you?  In her wildest dreams, boxed Tuna Helper is only half as good as this. 


  1. MB - I vividly remember visiting you at that duplex on University in Auburn after we graduated, and I brought you a Southern Living cookbook as a little hostess gift. You quickly thumbed through it, and proclaimed: let's make something! I was in awe that you had the ingredients for a recipe you had never seen before just sitting in your pantry and I often think that is something Martha Stewart would do. This blog post is no different... love the tuna casserole!

  2. Elizabeth, so funny! Ahhh, the memories. YOU would be the Martha, my dear. I would be more Martha's slightly-off-kilter Southern farm-girl cousin. You know, having staples in your pantry and "making do" with what you have is such a depression-era mindset. Think my grandparents passed that down to me. :) Love and miss you!

  3. I love it! You are the quintessential southern woman!

  4. You are so funny. ha ha. love it.

  5. Mary Beth, I feel as though I was in the kitchen with you when you were making this. I make do all of the time, especially with cheeses. I love this! Thank you, Mary Beth!

  6. proof positive that an excellent writer can make any subject interesting. :)

    May I suggest your next topic:

    Uses Of Clorox: 5 Reasons Why Your Grandmother Is Smarter Than You

    bonus points if you can clearly explain why it's properly pronounces KLO-rocks (ie doe) and not chlor-ocks (ie bore)

  7. I love everything about this post---your writing, that casserole, the cookbook, etc. Oh, and maybe one day we'll get bold in the kitchen and make something from that Frank Stitt's "Southern Table" book. Mine sure does look pretty in my bookshelf...collecting dust.

  8. I agree; Clorox would make a great post. This was funny, Mary Beth. love and miss you :)



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