Tonight I have experienced a rarity for me: a culinary flop. I'm not bragging about being a great chef or anything, it's just that I love to cook and so long as I'm mentally in a good place, my efforts generally pay off with happy success. There are, however, a few things that elude me: jello, any sort of jello salad (which happens to be a different beast altogether than just plain jello), and now it would seem, tuna noodle casserole.
Growing up in the '80s felt like living through a revival of The Art Of Making Casseroles. It was as if a woman was judged upon her ability (or inability) to toss a minimal amount of ingredients into a dish, stir in a magical "Cream Of" soup, top it off with some crunched up Lay's and serve it at the table a mere 20-30 minutes later. I don't know about how it was at your house, but I know it felt like we had a new casserole for every day of the week around ours. To this day I hate eating leftovers because at our house, "Leftovers" were delivered to us disguised in soup and a casserole dish, sporting a crunchy topping.
Not that I fault my mom for this culinary craze, of course. She was mearly living out the times, my friends. A victim of the countless commercials which were a conspiracy set forth by the Campbell's Soup people, who were bent on making us all think their product belonged on the family table. Every night.
I've long since forgotten about the lowly casserole, opting instead for my own brand of culinary cuisine: coordination without combination. No hidden "Cream Of's" in most of my menu items. However, every once in a while an urge will strike and I find myself returning to the casseroles of my youth.
Tonight I had a moment of nostalgia in which I thought it might be nice to make a Tuna Noodle Casserole. I had all the ingredients on hand (because, in all honesty, who really doesn't?), and I found the "Original" recipe from the Casserole Culprit itself: Campbell's Soup. I followed the recipe to the letter, and then happily slid it into the oven with expectations of culinary time travel; sitting around the table reminiscing about Banana Clips, leg warmers, and Alf.
Oh, but the results defy the imagination indeed. A sub par experience that was anything but "Mmm, Mmm Good." It all seemed to be okay until I tried just a bit in anticipation. In a word? Nasty. Thinking I was being irrational, I had Dan check it out. He had to agree, there was an unexplainable and sightly unpalatable oddness to it that could not be pinned down. I rechecked the few ingredients I had used and they were all "In Date", so I know I hadn't inadvertently tried to give us all food poisoning. But still that flavor. Yuck. Into the rubbish it went, along with my hopes for an '80s themed dinner; the Journey CD went back in its case.
And so it was a Ramen Noodle night for us instead, which is, in fact, a sad fall from grace for me. How is it that I have no trouble mixing up a Ratatouille Tart or Risotto, yet a 1-2-3 dinner fell to despair in my hands? It made me think of how much the culinary climate has changed in my own life, and I found myself wondering if we'd ever see a return to those classic "Can Do" meals.
For the record, I hope not.