Comfort food. What does that phrase mean to you?
For me, comfort food means my favorite food memories of childhood: my mom’s Potato Leek Soup, Gigi’s lasagna, Nana’s cornmeal mush with butter and sugar, my dad’s soft-boiled eggs on buttered toast, homemade cinnamon swirl bread fresh from the oven, even the chocolate pudding with whipped cream that was an occasional special treat from the elementary school cafeteria.
The list goes on and on, and seems to change as I grow older. But one thing that is always near the top is my mom’s Tuna Noodle Casserole. It’s by no means an exclusive recipe. I’m not sure where her version originated, but similar recipes can be found just about everywhere. But regardless of where it came from, this is now a family recipe and it’s the one that my sister and I will make for our own kids.
I don’t make many dishes that use condensed canned soup as a base. I’m not judging, I know that many a good casserole gets thrown together using cream of mushroom, cream of celery, or cream of chicken soup. I just didn’t grow up eating many of those casseroles. In fact, tuna noodle is the only casserole I remember eating as a kid, other than mac and cheese. As I learn more about cooking, I find that I generally prefer creating things from scratch, using whole ingredients rather than processed ones. But certainly not always!
I see no problem with keeping a few cans of condensed soup on hand, especially cream of mushroom. I don’t eat the soup by itself but it’s great for casseroles (it even says so on the front of the can!) and I sometimes like to simmer pork chops in it, which, when served over rice, makes for an easy and satisfying main course.
When I moved away from home at age 19, my mom put together a family cookbook for me. She added hand written recipe cards with several of my favorite recipes from childhood. The book also came with extra plastic sleeves and blank recipe cards so that I could add my own favorites in the years to come. I have now added several new recipes including some of my husband’s childhood favorites that were given to me by my mother-in-law.
The cookbook, tattered from fifteen years of use and several moves, is still one that I turn to whenever I need a taste of home. And since we lost my mom ten years ago, seeing her handwriting on the recipe cards can sometimes be just as comforting as the food.
So, if you have children that are getting ready to leave the nest for the first time or even ones that have been on their own for years, think about creating a special cookbook for them. Even family recipes that come from a cookbook will hold special meaning in the future if they are written down by you.
Now on to the recipe!
I made Tuna Noodle Casserole yesterday to take to my sister’s house for dinner. We both love it and these kinds of things taste even better when they’re shared with loved ones. I don’t think I’ve made the casserole for a few years and I admit that while putting it together I made a few needed changes to the hand written recipe. For one, I added a bit of milk because it seemed a bit too dry. I also used homemade bread crumbs that I toasted in a little butter before sprinkling on the top. Like I said, small changes, and the casserole tasted better than ever.
Dinner with my sister and brother-in-law turned out to be a lot of fun! As often happens over meals like this, we reminisced about some childhood memories. I had almost forgotten that our dog Lucy sometimes got leftover tuna noodle casserole in her dinner bowl. The reason we remember this is that Lucy, a big furry Newfoundland/Shepherd mix, would eat everything but the peas. She’d wolf down the casserole and manage to leave nothing but a pile of small green peas, each one licked carefully clean. I smile every time I think about it. I guess these memories are what really make a comfort food.
K’s Tuna Noodle Casserole
6 oz. egg noodles (wide or extra wide), cooked*
1 small can of tuna, drained and flaked with a fork
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 cup frozen peas, cooked
1/2 cup (or more) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup fresh bread crumbs cooked in 1 T. butter until slightly crisp**
fresh grated parmesan cheese***
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. In a large bowl, stir together first six ingredients until well combined.
3. Spread into a small greased casserole dish then sprinkle bread crumbs and parmesan cheese evenly over the top.
4. Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes and serve warm.
yield: four servings
Recipe notes: This recipe makes a fairly small casserole but it can easily be doubled if you have a large family or like to have lots of leftovers! *Don’t overcook the pasta! Read the package for times and use a timer. **If you don’t want to use fresh bread crumbs, use the seasoned dried kind from the store and cut the amount in half. Toss the seasoned dried breadcrumbs in one tablespoon of melted butter before sprinkling over the top of casserole. ***I now use a good quality parmigiano reggiano sprinkle on the top but we grew up using the stuff in a green can. Just use whatever parmesan cheese you normally keep on hand.
So, what are your favorite comfort foods and what memories do they conjure up? Here are some more of mine:
- Potato Leek Soup
- Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage and Sage Gravy
- Cinnamon Swirl Bread
- Nana’s Lemon Jello Cake
- Jagger Pie
And some comfort food from around the Web:
- Reuben Casserole from A Veggie Venture
- Cheese Grits Casserole from You Gonna Eat All That?
- Chicken and Broccoli Casserole from Divine Domesticity
- Beef Stroganoff from Simply Recipes
- Chili Dogs from Blue Kitchen
- Orgasmic Mac and Cheese from What We’re Eating