07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Friday, April 22, 2016

Maligned Comfort Food & Fond Memories

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.


Judith Ashley said...

Although we did not live in Iowa, meatloaf and tuna casserole were staples at my house. We also had the tradition of hamburgers on Saturday night. My dad was the 'cook' - grilling outside weather permitting or using the broiler in the oven when it was too nasty outside. As I basically no longer cook (although I do make squash soup a few times in the fall/winter and an occasional pan of enchiladas) I do love a good meatloaf sandwich!

Linda Lovely said...

I still cook. But I get in real ruts and often forget about old time favorites. My sister and brother-in-law are coming to visit. We'll have some meatloaf sandwiches for old-times' sake.

Anonymous said...

Eh...Tuna Casserole??? Guess it all depends on your taste buds and experiences.
Thanks for helping me stay on my diet today. lol

Fun post!

Linda Lovely said...

Not a problem, anonymous. I could mention a few more vegetables to help you out more--peas, lima beans, spinach...

Diana McCollum said...

My husband loves meatloaf sandwiches. We have turkey burger meatloaf several times a month. I always make a large one so he has plenty of leftovers for his ketchup meatloaf sandwiches!

Linda Lovely said...

Diana, the main reason to make meatloaf--meatloaf sandwiches.

Sarah Raplee said...

These sound very conforting to me!

I'm going to try to modify the tuna casserole one so that I can make it on my dairy-free diet. Thanks!