Monday, October 18, 2010

Casserole Reclaimed

Last night, my daughter and I were rifling through the recipe box when we hit upon a Jeanne classic. “Hamburger Corn Casserole!” my daughter exclaimed. “That sounds really good!” I cringed. Mom’s casserole consists of hamburger meat, canned cream of corn and Fritos. Who am I? Betty Draper?

We ate this dish quite regularly when I was a kid, particularly during the years when our schedules brimmed with afterschool activities. I absolutely loved the crispy topping formed by the Fritos and cheese. In fact, when Mom was sick in the hospital, I tried to soothe my frayed nerves by preparing her casserole for dinner. The crust came out tough as nails. I mentioned it to Mom the next day, to which she asked with grave concern:”Did you use real cheese? Oh. Well, it works a lot better with Velveeta.” Really. Velveeta. I gave up on Hamburger Corn Casserole then and there.

I was still feeling sheepish, when a friend made an observation I hadn’t considered. “If more people had casserole recipes, more people would cook.” She was right. Casseroles are an easy way to get a balanced dinner on the table. I had a nutso “soccer mom” cliché of an evening – homework, afterschool activities, and meetings. Surely, Hamburger Corn Casserole was a better nutritional option than the frozen chicken nuggets my children hold so dear to their hearts.

Casseroles are also incredibly cost effective. My Dad told me he and Mom used to make a casserole with tofu when they were really broke. (“It was cheap, and GOOD,” he insists.) I anted up big bucks for Grass-fed Obe hamburger meat, and my total bill for the casserole still came to just $12. Not bad.

Then I glanced at the bottom of the index card where Mom had scribbled in capitals, “An Old Stand By.” I had to give it a try.

As for the Velveeta, sorry Jeanne, but that’s where I draw the line.

Hamburger Corn Casserole
“An Old Standby”
Cooking Time: 1 hour; 25-30 minutes active time

1 – 2 lb hamburger
1-2 onions
1 bell pepper
1 tsp of chile powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee above ingredients (First cook hamburger, and then add onion and pepper.)
Put hamburger mixture at bottom of casserole
Add creamed corn
Then add rest of hamburger mix
Top with more corn and Fritos
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

NOTE: Interestingly enough, Mom did not include any cheese in the recipe. I sprinkled some cheddar cheese on top. Baked it for 30 minutes covered, and then 10 minutes uncovered. The cheese did not have the same cardboard consistency I remember from years ago. Give this a shot if you want they cheesy topping.

END NOTE: My daughter LOVED it. She did, however, assiduously pick out the onions. Next time, I might halve the amount of onions.

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