By Linda Lovely
I’m not sure why April is our chosen month to blog about comfort foods. Maybe it’s the need to seek comfort after completing our tax returns, because we’re either (a) weeping over how much we owed the government, or (b) sighing that we didn’t earn enough to owe a penny. Authors often fall into that second category unless they have a day job, rich parents, well-paid spouses, or some combination of the above. But I digress.
I consider almost all foods a comfort. I LOVE food—including items from every section of the food pyramid. Broccoli and Brussel sprouts. Turkey and gravy. Potatoes au gratin. Chocolate chip cookies. Any flavor of ice cream.
But as comfort foods, I’m obliged to list two of the most maligned entrees that grace American (well, at least, Midwest) dinner tables—tuna noodle casserole and meatloaf. Both made frequent appearances on our plates when I was growing up. They top my comfort food list because of the fond memories each provides. (Okay, I liked how they tasted, too. I don’t have a sophisticated palate.)
Let’s begin with tuna noodle casserole. Cost, simplicity, and the ability to reheat leftovers made this a go-to favorite of my working mother. The fond memories come from all the different recipes and ingredients we tried to add variety. As I recall the starter version had canned tuna, egg noodles, frozen peas, mushroom soup, and breadcrumbs. Later iterations featured potato chips, corn flakes, fried onions, green peppers, corn, carrots, onions, pimentos, and cheese. The winner? A casserole we baked in a bread pan so it resembled a meatloaf (more on that later) and could slice when cold. Cold was my favorite!
I can’t share an actual recipe as I’m not sure we ever wrote one down. But, if I were to make it today (and I might, despite my husband’s avowed aversion to any form of tuna-noodle casserole), I’d cook and drain a package of elbow macaroni, chop and sauté a an onion and a (sweet) red pepper, drain a couple cans of tuna, and stir all the ingredients together in a big bowl. Then I’d make a thick cheese sauce with milk, flour and a combo of Velveeta and shredded cheddar. Mix and pour into a couple of bread pans, top with buttered bread crumbs and bake. Yum.
Now it’s time to put meatloaf in the spotlight. When I think of meatloaf, I always recall our annual family vacations. Each summer Mom drove us from Keokuk, Iowa, to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where we visited her brother (my uncle) and his family. Mom liked to start out at five a.m. to avoid some of the heat of the day. She always packed meatloaf sandwiches for our “lunch.” I’m not sure if we ever made it past the Keokuk city limits before my sister and I started asking for meatloaf sandwiches—slathered with ketchup, of course.
Mom was convinced that tomato juice and eggs made meatloaf “tough.” So her version was held together with milk and cracker crumbs, kneaded together by hand. She also used a combo of ground beef, pork and veal (it wasn’t that expensive then). I still make meatloaf three or four times a year, though these days the meat tends to be ground turkey, and I use breadcrumbs and tomato juice/sauce, an egg, chopped green peppers, celery, mushrooms & onions, basil and oregano. No recipe. My cooking is like my plotting. Seat of the pants.
What comfort foods bring back good memories for you? Do you still cook/eat them?
Time to quit writing, I’m suddenly hungry.