The other night I made a tamale pie for dinner. The recipe came out of a Sunset cookbook, circa 1980. It was pretty good, too, except I forgot to put in the corn. That’s kind of how I roll. It can be quite a simple recipe and yet somehow it ends up one ingredient short. I try to follow things to the letter, but I believe I suffer from a certain type of cookbook dyslexia. Won’t you please help?
I do enjoy casseroles. I was pretty much raised on them. Any family or church event I got dragged to over the years would feature a dozen or so. There are only three or four basic recipes, of course, but everybody has their own family variation with its own name: “Spanish Surprise” or “Hobo’s Delight” – that sort of thing. Back in the day, most of them started with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and quite a bit of hamburger. Then you’d add onion, and noodles, and maybe some type of corn or green beans. For spices, you’d go with your basic salt and pepper. Finally, you’d throw in a whole bunch of grated cheese and bake it all at 350 degrees. Presto! Let the feasting begin.
Funny thing about casseroles: they always taste better when you heat them up for lunch the next day. Yesterday I had a generous portion of that tamale pie and thought it was pretty good even without the corn. There’s a reason they call it comfort food. There’s also a reason Generation Casserole has a bit of a weight problem. It’s just too easy to help yourself to another small portion. It’s not really seconds, you tell yourself, just a teeny bit more on the plate. And then you have another teeny bit, and another. Pretty soon you’re unable to tie your shoes.
Casseroles aren’t for solo eaters or picky ones. It’s a social dish, isn’t it? A meal made to be shared. There are no potlucks without casseroles, and certainly there would be no casseroles without potlucks. You go down the line and help yourself to some of this and some of that, and every bit of it is somebody’s personal family history. The kids always liked it and along the way some aspiring chef thought to add some olives or ham.
I’d post the Tamale Pie recipe here, but you probably have one of your own. And I suspect that somebody else’s wouldn’t taste nearly as good.