You know when something becomes so ingrained in society that it becomes a tired punchline, a shorthand for an entire range of actions and emotion, in short, a cliche. I always thought about the casserole.
It is the panecea to death or injury, a time saver for families scrambling between house and hospital or the making of final arrangements – a call to arms from neighbors and friends. We laugh about it because of its comforting familiarity – it’s the shaggy dog of foods.
But now I fear that our society has taken a wrong turn. The casserole brigade seems to have foundered. Are we so engrossed in our own lives or do we fear that making something with love and concern will be met with distaste? Are we afraid of the recipients’ dietary guidelines or do we just hate to cook from scratch, or a can of soup anymore?
I can’t think of the last time I composed a simple casserole of meat, vegetable and sundry ingredients to deliver to a friend in need. And that saddens me.
Because recently my siblings and I lost our father. And during the 10-day vigil, my brother managed to fall and shatter his shoulder. So, my sister and I divided duties between watching over Dad and opening toothpaste caps for my brother.
Back and forth, back and forth. Friends called, they checked in and they came by – but no casseroles. The absense was startling, as if that shaggy dog had run away from home. I’m not complaining – the compassion, sympathy and humor they shared was much more important. But still…
After the important things were taken care of, I returned home with a long drive on a rainy day. And there on the counter, with a magnificance that defied its humble foil container was a chicken casserole delivered by a wonderful friend. Forty minutes later, as I took the first hot creamy and crunchy bite, I knew that I was going to have to dust off my casserole recipes, stock up on disposable containers and march forth in times of need from now on. I’m recruting. Join me, won’t you?
Death-defying Chicken Casserole
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cans mushroom soup
3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 cup celery, diced
4-6 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
5-oz. can water chestnuts, drained
3-oz can of Chinese noodles
1/4 cup sliced almonds
For delivery so your very grateful recipient can bake it when they need it.
In a large bowl mix the broth and soup together. Mix in chicken, onion, celery, mushrooms and water chestnuts. Pour into one to three foil containers and cover. Put Chinese noodles in a zip top bag and crush slightly, add almonds to noodles.
Send the bag and the casserole over with the following instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake casserole for 35 minutes, remove from oven, sprinkle on topping and return to oven for 5-10 minutes, until almonds brown.