Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm Pretty Much the Worst Mormon Ever

A few women in my neighborhood work with a homeless shelter in town. These women do great work, and I'm just lucky to live even near them. Every month they send around a sign up list to have a few of us make casseroles to be used to feed the homeless. That's our scene: I need to make a casserole for the homeless.

Let's make something clear: I am not a casserole snob. I just didn't grow up with them, my parents never cooked them. In fact, every year on my birthday my friend Jenny actually MAKES me a potato casserole called "funeral potatoes" which thrills me to no end (two months and counting.) Unfamiliar as I am with those peculiar American gastronomic beasts, casseroles are things of awe and confusion. I do not know how to make them. I can guess, I think, but really, they're stupefying in their complexity. How do you know what to put inside? What is the sauce? I'm at a loss. I'm the worst Mormon ever. What Mormon doesn't know how to make a casserole?

Which is how I ended up at the grocery store tonight aimlessly pushing a cart and having Petit Elefant, raised good 'n' right as a renown casserole expert, talk me through the experience.
"Are you at the grocery store?"
"Yes. I have to make a casserole for the homeless."
"Of course you do."
"Only, I don't know how."
"Seriously? You take a bunch of stuff, mix it all together, throw some cheese on top of it, bake it and done."
"Ooh! Cream of chicken soup, I use that don't I?"
"Yes, or mushroom."
"Oooh! I could mix cream of chicken and cream of celery together! Oooh! I could mix the chicken and the nacho cheese soup together!"
"It doesn't matter."
"I should get some frozen vegetables, right?"
"It doesn't matter. Sure."
"I feel like there should be sour cream. There's sour cream in casseroles, right? Should I get the full-fat or low-fat? Are the homeless concerned with calorie intake? Hey! I could make tuna casserole!"
"I like tuna! That sounds good."
"No, you can't make tuna casserole for the homeless, promise me you won't."
"What about Canadian bacon! Is that a thing? I could do Canadian bacon in a casserole! That could be yummy."
"It doesn't matter."
"What kind of pasta should I use? Egg noodles, rotini, radiatore..."
"*Snicker* What kind of pasta...EGG NOODLES."
"But what about a nice penne?"
"Listen to you. No. EGG NOODLES."
"I need a topping. All I have at home is Japanese Panko crumbs."
"Stop it."
"Should I buy corn flakes? That's a topping, right? You know, if it was me, I'd toss the flakes in a bit of butter to help with the browning and then sprinkle them evenly on top."
"Do the homeless like season salt? I think I'll put some in, that could be good. I should buy cheddar cheese because I only have gouda right now."
"Do the homeless..I can't take this."

I piled all the ingredients into the store cart, paid, and made it home. I started opening cans and packages, stirring, trying to taste the beige glop as I went. I have to say, cold canned cream of chicken soup is not tasty, not even with season salt. No measuring, just stirring. Weird. I figured out that I would probably need to cook the pasta first (right?) I did make sure the noodles were drained a touch before al dente so they don't lose all integrity when baked. Wow. I'm hopeless. You casserole people are so mysterious.

Anyway, I hope the homeless like my casserole. Maybe next time I'll go bananas and put tater tots on top. That's a thing, right?

Read what happened the next day here.


Maya said...

Lol! We make meatloaf for the women's shelter. I think Jello is more Mormon than casseroles. I tried to make a fruit jello for the Elders Quroum picnic. I let it set 6 hours in the fridge. It only requires 4, you know. Some the picnic, people had to drink it. #MormonFail

~ Maya @

jennie w. said...

The best casseroles are topped with crumbled potato chips.

Erin O. said...

I'm similarly "casserole blocked". I don't have to feel totally inadequate because I'm not mormon, but I've lived in Utah for 18 years so I feel like I should have learned this skill at some point in my wanderings along The Wasatch.

Also. MAD PROPS on capturing the essence of Petit Elefant.

Kelly said...

Repent you sinner! : )

Fig said...

When I am charged with the making of a casserole, I do your macaroni and cheese. I've often thought of adding diced tomatoes or broccoli florets (or cubed chicken! gah) to super-casserolify it.

Canned cream of chicken is a frightening animal. Can be good, once you've tamed the beast. I think.

Vern said...

Just when I thought I couldn't feel WORSE for the homeless.

Michelle said...

My parents are converts-- so I am similarly casserole impaired. I just look at the things and think "why?"

Hil said...

you are hilarious! i'm not sure that I have ever made a casserole before either... minus this hashbrown casserole my mom makes every Christmas. I'm not sure that it qualifies under "casserole" though, as it does not have cream of anything soup in it. hmmm...

Hannah said...

I made my first casserole for a funeral in our ward a few months ago. I didn't grow up with them either and was totally grossed out.

Good thing you kept the integrity of the noodles...cause that would have been a shame.

Amy Jones said...

Being raised on casseroles (I kid you not), I would like to offer my services next time you're in peril. I have recipes galore...and I'm all about sharing the beige creations with the casserole-impaired. Spread the love, I say.

Sarah said...

Love it. I literally laughed outloud.

gurrbonzo said...

Oh, dear. I don't get why people bother making NON-casseroles.

Anonymous said...

My favorite thing to cook as a newlywed was tuna casserole like my mama used to make, with crushed Ruffles potato chips on top. Mmmm. We were living in Amman, Jordan so we paid dear for the American ingredients. We probably could have made Chicken Cordon Bleu from scratch cheaper.

Then we moved back to the States and I gave birth to a milk-allergic child, and it turns out it's nearly impossible to do any kind of Mormon-style cooking without Cream of Something soup.

(I loved this post, it was almost as good as my tuna casserole. And I agree with PetitElefant; you can't give tuna casserole to the homeless.)

Camille said...

Casseroles and crock pot dishes. Two genres of meals I just don't get. I can "appreciate" the outcome, but to create it, I'm at a loss.

P.S. if I'm ever homeless, promise me you'll never bring a tuna casserole

Laura said...

I hated casseroles as a child, so it is an awful shame that I ended up Mormon... I don't know how it happened. I just figured my mom didn't know what she was doing in those things and I must have been missing out on the recipes that really tasted good.
So imagine my delight when I was shopping at DI and I found a Best Loved Mormon Casserole Cookbook. I had dreams that it would be the best 1.50 I would ever spend.
It wasn't. Casseroles are still gross.
(the only exception to the gross casserole rule being funeral potatoes--definitely one of the highlights of being Mormon)

Laura said...

Oh and I agree, just say no to tuna casserole!

ali said...

I think I just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

AND-- it turns out you can make Tuna casserole. It's good, I swear it.

I can give you the recipe:

*cooked noodles (It really doesn't matter what kind as long as they are little i.e. NOT spaghetti or anything long)
*white sauce +melted cheese in the sauce

Combine and put in pyrex dish-- cover with cheese and bread crumbs. Cook uncovered at 350 until cheese is bubbly and somewhat crusty around the edges.

--yes you can use panko
--yes you can use fancy cheese as long as you are responsible about what kinds you mix together
--yes you really can use any pasta, wheat or otherwise.

Good with ketchup, and especially good the next day with ketchup.

(oh, hi by the way! I follow your blog now ;)... I'm Ali, nice to meet you )

Jill said...

Casseroles ruined the first 8 years of my life, for I lived in a city in Northern Utah, and those were all the rage.

Annette Lyon said...

Then I suck at being Mormon too. I can make a mean lasagna, but I don't think that counts.

Lucky ♥ Holly said...

I have a t-shirt that reads

"I'm mormon and can't make casserole"

Really, I can't!

Lucky ♥ Holly said...

PS can anyone explain what funeral potatoes are??

Anne-Marie said...

Casseroles baffled me also. In the last few years, I have acquired a few for my arsenal. You should have seen the mockery I made of a jello salad at my first adult mormon function. Hey...I took a long break. How was I supposed to know how to make a jello salad?

Stepper the Mighty said...

I also do not know how to make casserole. I'm a born and raised Mormon.

I am ashamed.

Also: this is bound to make me laugh all weekend. I just love your blog.

Also Also: You get serious bonus points in Stepper Land for having Japanese Panko crumbs. Just on hand. Serious points.

kerri ann said...

Casseroles are mysterious to me too but the first time I had "funeral potatoes" was at an actual funeral. They were so good and my response to them was completely inappropriate for a funeral.

Petit Elefant said...

I still can't believe you were even considering Japanese something-something or others. And special noodles? Please.

Camels East said...

I'm STILL laughing at you. Not with you, either. Straight at you.

Casseroles are a mysterious concoction of the canned-product-loving-50's. Like a good nerd, I looked up the word "casserole" in a culinary dictionary:

casserole (kasa-rol) - The word casserole is derived from the Old French word casse and the Latin word cattia meaning a "frying pan or saucepan." As often happens in history, the name of the cooking utensil was used for the dish name. (1) A casserole is an ovenproof or flameproof dish or pan that has a tight lid. It is used to cook meat and vegetables slowly. (2) A casserole is also a stew or ragout consisting of meat and vegetables, which are put in a casserole dish at the same time and cooked by stewing.

See? Casseroles can't be all that bad... they were originally French.

But then again, if you have to name a dish after the, well, dish, it may not be all that good.

"Here, family... I made a nice, um, saucepan for dinner."

~j. said...

Please to do a post-edit or additional post on what the nice neighbor lady said when she came to your home to pick up your creation.

Anonymous said...

You crack me up!!! And yes, I think your Mormon card can be revoked due to non-existent casserole skills!

p.s. I remember you are a fellow waffle lover. I went to the Provo Farmers market every Saturday until the authentic Belgium waffle booth was there. PURE HEAVEN!! Have you been to the shop in SLC by Pioneer Park? I assume you have, but my sisters and I found it after the ballet last week (Swan Lake-incredible). Bruges Waffles and Frites. So good :)

Sorry I digressed but I have waffles on the mind this morning...

Kami said...

Now I feel embarrassed. I'm planning a week of recipes for my blog and one is a casserole. with cream o' chicken. It's actually a good one once you load it up with loads of lemon juice and curry powder.

The casserole with tatertots is called Cowboy Casserole...Giddy Up!

Sell...Party Of 4 said...

oh my goodness...I'm laughing, because I wouldn't know where to even start with a casserole.

My husband isn't from Utah, and he always says when all else fails everyone in Utah adds a can of Cream of Chicken. LOL.

TX Girl said...

I was a nanny for my cousin in NYC and one day she was craving funeral potatoes, so I offered to whip her a dish for dinner. 4 groceries later I found all of the ingredients. Don't these people know the basics for a good casserole?

You know that Martha is one lover of casseroles, although the recipe is always way fancier than it needs to be. Cream of chicken/cream of mushroom is never a required ingredient.

SLCFoodie said...

I absolutely love this post and the follow up one that uncovers the truth of the generosity coming mostly from Costco. I applaud you and your casserole baking self!!

Rocketgirl said...

I feel the same way about funeral potatoes! We never had casseoles, but the thing that gets me all hot and bothered is meatloaf. We didn't eat it growing up because mom was a health nut and we never ate red meat. But every time I have it my taste buds dance a hula. Husband doesn't get why I make it for special occasions :)

Nadia said...

My kids refuse to eat casseroles, so my "go-to" dish for potlucks, homeless shelters and moms with new babies is always baked ziti. (Thank you New York for nine lovely years, and lots of fantastic Italian recipes.) A little pasta, sauce, mozarella, ricotta and parmesean and you've got your basic baked ziti. Add a little panko & parmesean on top for a crunchy bite and people in Utah will think it's a casserole. And, you've used your panko! Yum.

C said...

HAHAHA!!! I love this post! I surfed in via BlogHer. Your title for this post just made me pop on by for a visit!

I'm new to the whole casserole scene too. Coming from the city and moving to the country has me in an ongoing lesson of country fare! Biscuits, casseroles, and homemade everything are all foreign concepts to me :)

I don't like to toot my own horn, but I consider myself a pretty good cook. I'm just new to the whole casserole thing :)

P.S. My friend in Texas makes this casserole that she calls "Tater Tot Pie"!!! I'm guessing it's topped with tater tots? :)

Veeda said...

Costco sells casseroles? Where have I been?

Holly said...

When one of my younger siblings were born, someone brought "Marco Polo Casserole" over for our family. My older brother ate his portion, ran into the backyard, and threw up. Not much time after that, some sort of plant sprouted there.

True story.

Damaris said...

I am an avid cook. I love cooking. I make complicated dishes and I can not make a casserole to save my life. I am mormon, yes but I am NOT American, that must be why.

Rose said...

The State that really knows casseroles is Minnesota. It's all those French and Scandahoovian immigrants that have passed various recipes down through the generations. You can, of course, get cookbooks with only casserole (or "hot dish") recipes. In Minnesota, jello is a salad, not a dessert.

Anonymous said...

I *heart* casseroles. And we rarely ate them when I was a kid. Almost never. Here's a great cookbook if you are so inclined and want to keep making them for the homeless!

"The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever" by Beatrice Ojakangas. I love this thing.

MomItForward said...

Dude! I was born and raised in Arizona. And I'm Mormon. And we never ate casseroles growing up. But, I have since learned to make broccoli cheese casserole and it's YUMMILICIOUS!!!! I typically only make it when people are sick and need a meal. I make a double batch and my family loves me for life and secretly wishes more people would get sick.
I'll send you the recipe. It's yummy!

KT said...

I'm sure the homeless loved your casserole. I LOVE Mormon casseroles, so I'm pretty sure the homeless did as well.

Geo said...

You did it. You helped me finally understand why it is I don't do casseroles: BEIGE. Why did I never figure it out on my own? It's so obvious. I don't wear beige. I don't eat beige. I don't cook beige. I guess I am a bad Mormon too, and a neutral-hater.