Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Story Behind the Casserole

Careful readers will have figured out that Miss Chef was out of town this weekend, visiting family. We have these short separations a few times each year, as both our families live at least two states away, and Miss Chef only gets one week of paid time off. While we do miss each other, there are a few, short-term advantages to having the house alone.

I'm sure Miss Chef enjoys her free days with no "suggestions" from me of projects to accomplish or "reminders" of chores to get done in a timely manner. We probably both enjoy, for one or two nights, the selfishness of the bed to ourselves--no worrying about snoring, being able to turn the lights and radio on in the morning or evening while the other one slumbers elsewhere, using all four pillows if we so chose.

On the other hand, I must concentrate and plan ahead to be sure to eat decently while on my own--no depending on Miss Chef's getting a craving or sudden inspiration at the farmers' market. If she's gone for more than a day or two, sandwiches will soon pall in their attraction. No, I must get into that kitchen and cook. (To be honest, I'm not a bad cook; I just get lazy when Miss Chef's around, and some of my skills can atrophy.)

Fortunately, I have a ready answer to my dietary dilemma: tunafish casserole. Oh yes, there's a story.

Firstly, I must explain that one of the pillars of our perfect love match is the fact that neither of us likes seafood. Oh, sure, we'll enjoy some good shrimp from time to time, and we can both manage to eat a few bites of lighter fish, if well-prepared and generously sauced. But neither of us will be ordering the seafood special off of any menu.

And yet, for reasons I can't fully comprehend, I have always enjoyed tunafish casserole. Not just tolerated it, but enjoyed it. To the point that it's actually one of my comfort foods. I don't know what it is, but anything with gooey oozy noodles has to have some attraction for me. I've tried to adapt the tried-and-true recipe Mom taught me--making my own roux-based sauce, adding different seasonings and toppings--but I've decided it's best as it always was. It needs that can of mushroom soup, dammit. (And I don't like mushrooms,'s just so inexplicable.)

Miss Chef, naturally, does not share this same affection. In fact, she absolutely detests canned tuna. Of course, she can handle preparing and serving a tuna steak at work if she has to, but she doesn't want a single can of tuna in the house. When we shared a house with our dear friend the Crazy Puerto Rican* (or CPR), Miss Chef would practically have fits when the CPR dared to prepare herself a tuna salad. "Oh my God, that smells disgusting! How can you eat that??" And so on.

Obviously, I quickly learned that tunafish casserole would not be a staple in our home. And yet, sometimes, I just need that mixture of lusciousness and salt, of noodles and cheese and that underhanded spike of mustiness that only tuna can offer.

So I wait. I forget about it. I enjoy Miss Chef's amazing meals and concoctions, and revel in my cleverness in marrying a Chef. Until she goes out of town.

She left Friday while I was at work. On Saturday morning I stopped at the Teeter to pick them up: two cans of tuna. A can of mushroom soup (ok, I went for the fancy "mushroom with roasted garlic"). A pound of egg noodles--no, wait, these cool things are on sale. "Radiatore." Cool, little radiators! They'll hold in all that saucy goodness even better!

Then I went home and boiled noodles, mixed up the tuna & soup with some milk and frozen peas, added some tarragon and the last bit of shredded parmesan, just to see, then dumped in the cooked noodles, gave it all a stir, and popped it into the oven with a topping of grated cheddar.

And there it was: a one-sentence recipe! No, wait, I meant, my childhood love, come back again. Sort of. I should have added salt. I always forget to add salt, and Miss Chef generally gets to smirk and say "I knew you would." Not that it matters in this recipe, as far as she's concerned!

Once the casserole is done, my assignment is clear: get rid of the evidence. I rinse the tuna cans and toss them into the recycling; that will be out of the house before Miss Chef gets back, or I'd have to scrub all the offensively-scented oil off of them and hide them at the bottom of the bag. I now have two days to finish off the entire casserole myself. Which is not quite as hard as it might seem. I can eat this stuff all day long. And I probably will.

Yes, some people enjoy a once-a-year binge on Girl Scout cookies. Others spend the early days of summer giving themselves tummyaches with the first ripe strawberries. I, however, sit here with a belly full of noodles, mushroom soup and canned tuna.

I'm just glad Miss Chef loves me so. It's nice to be accepted with all one's faults.

*Don't fret about any ethnic insults here; the CPR has fully embraced both her nickname and the insanity that inspired it. She claims it's genetic. Whatever the reason, we love her just the way she is.


  1. LOVE this!! And totally feel the same way. There is something... freeing... about turning to those food things that your partner has no interest in. I do that when Jeff goes away, too!

  2. But what about the potato chip topping? You MUST crumble potato chips on top! My dorm mates and I made this often when I was in college - no cooking in the rooms, we had to go to the big kitchen shared by all. But it was the one thing we all knew how to make!

    Nancy in Atlanta

  3. That looks so good! Great post, and horribly tempting for someone trying to eat healthier and cut back on salt, which is hard to do because I LOVE cheese. There is a recipe for a cheesy, rich tuna casserole with zucchini on my blog. Just in case Miss Chef goes out of town again and you have some extra zucchini to use this summer.


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