I often blame and thank my parents for the food habits I have encountered in my lifetime. I certainly have had my own influences (living in Italy for 13+ months certainly provided my native Milwaukee lifestyle with a few new ideas) but ultimately my food core was established at home base.
Sure, I had Kraft Mac & Cheese and Ramen Noodle Soup from time to time (probably more often that I or my parents would like to admit) but the idea of a homemade meal was not lost on my family. Not by a long shot. In fact, all of us (my two parents and two brothers) sat around the peninsula in our Wauwatosa, WI kitchen until our parents had quite enough torturing us. Asking about our days, what we learned (the obvious response: "stuff") and challenging our political opinions was par for the course, but food was always the centerpiece.
Aside from my older brother Donesh, we were even picky little snots to our parents. My younger brother didn't like chicken or onions, and pretty much sustained life on spaghetti and alfredo sauce. I myself like to refer to my discretions as "particularities" rather that "pickiness" with texture being a major issue for me.
I think I didn't like rice for about two years somewhere in there. At one point I was a vegetarian because a teenage superstar (we won't name names) happened to be a member of PETA. Oh and when my parents brought back the idea of raw fish marinated in lime juice after their 4th solo trip to Hawaii (I'm not bitter) ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ICK! Okay, so maybe it wasn't all texture related.
I guess I'm an adult now.
I ate head cheese but mere days ago and not only did I not shutter at the idea, but my mouth watered at the sight. I was trying to convince weary on-lookers that there is nothing "gross" in headcheese while at the same time trying to make sure I got a good aspic to meat ratio on my toasted piece of bread. What would my teenage self think of me now now?
While raw tomatoes can still give my gag reflex a run for its money if the mealy "winter" variety somehow finds its way onto a sandwich I would have otherwise enjoyed, almost all of my pickiness has subsided. I still have a few textural issues, which often have to do with too much melted cheese (as in, 1/4lb of cheddar on one half of a grilled cheese sandwich. I stand my ground. That is simply too cheesy). Oh, and frozen peas and carrots. Because that is just wrong.
I admittedly still crave some of the less elegant dishes I grew up eating. Orange roughy in a butter and dill sauce (Recipe: combine the three ingredients, nuke it and Bon Appétit!), shake'n'bake pork chops and of course, casserole.
I don't actually have many memories of casserole (or meatloaf for that matter) in my vault but somehow on Wednesday in Minneapolis when everyone predicted the worst snow storm OF ALL TIME! my body wanted casserole. Not just any casserole but one that combined rice, broccoli and cheese into a delicious memory I couldn't quite put a finger on.
In typical fashion, I called my mom and asked her if that was a dish she made me while I was growing up. She confirmed that it was and told me it was my grandma's recipe. I asked her what was in it, knowing pretty well what was to come. Rice, Broccoli, Campbells' Cream of Mushroom Soup and, here's the best part, cheez whiz. Wow, really? Cheez whiz? When the hell was that even invented? How could this be my GRANDMA's recipe? I pressed on, racked my brain and went into the kitchen. What came out was pretty damn close to the original, but was definitely made the way food begs to be made (and without the MSG*) hence the idea of emulsifying my worlds. One a classic comfort dish with easy to procure ingredients, the other of the homemade and local variety.
Therefore I am proud (proud? maybe that's a strong word for this dish. Pleased? Satisfied?) to present to you
(Mostly) Homemade Broccoli, Brown Rice and Cheddar Casserole
20oz Broccoli, chopped (frozen really works wonders here and Snow Pac is local to MN)
2 cups brown short grain rice, uncooked
2 cans of Amy's Cream of Mushroom Soup (did you really think I would make TWO béchamel sauces did you? It was a weeknight for crying out loud.)
1 Recipe Cheddar Béchamel (recipe to follow)
3 T butter
3 T flour
1 onion, chopped
8 oz WI or MN cheddar, shredded
Cook brown rice according to instructions. Meanwhile heat butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until melted. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add flour and stir until well incorporated and tan in color. Add milk and whisk frequently until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low and add cheddar, stirring until well incorporated. Cover and remove from heat.
Heat oven to 350F
In a large oven safe pan, add broccoli and 1/4 cup of water over medium heat. Cover and steam until broccoli is tender. Remove from heat, draining any remaining moisture. In the same pan, add cooked brown rice, cream of mushroom soup and cheddar cheese béchamel. Stir until well incorporated. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired. Place oven safe pan in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until heated through.
Reminisce about your childhood and enjoy your fancy pants casserole with a sense of nostalgia and accomplishment.
*I am not putting off MSG. In fact, I find myself to really enjoy a LOT of things it is in. Earl's Cheese Puffs are the first thing that comes to mind, but Cool Ranch Doritos and Salsa con Queso are amongst a list of things I feel guiltier than hell enjoying, but do so with a vengeance. I believe this is an inherited trait as my Great Grandma, at least in accordance with legend, once put Ac'cent in her oatmeal. It was reported that this combination was horrible, but I appreciate the effort)