Tommy Andres is an associate producer at CNN. He's great at making lunch for other people.
In the rich, creamy center of the country, there is a certain category of dish that helps usher in life’s most meaningful moments. As hearty as the Midwest itself, these mixtures of all things good rival the importance of cake on birthdays, cookies on Christmas and turkeys on Thanksgiving.
They fit cozily into any occasion where meals are passed and smiles are shared. The craftings of Crock-Pots and Corningware adorn family tables on holidays, picnic tables in summers and office tables during potlucks. They can be a risk to try, a reward to savor or an endeavor to regret, but they are always served with a big spoon and good intentions.
Casseroles have the power to do magic. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard of another food that can turn a condiment into a main ingredient? My mom makes a dish called Chicken Divan, which in her version is somewhere between 60 and 70 percent Miracle Whip. I think I just heard Jillian Michaels pass out.
Casseroles are also eco-friendly, a final respite for forlorn and forgotten foods tucked in the corners of cupboards and dug deep from the dregs of refrigerator drawers. Casseroles are where leftovers go to live - or are at least be reincarnated into their next life as, well, leftovers.
Casseroles have the power to cover up the mistakes of even the most marginally talented cook, skewering nearly any kitchen quandary with one simple parry. Underdone? Add more cheese. Overdone? Add more cheese. Runny? Add more cheese. Tasteless? Add some salt. Oh, and more cheese. Like a gift wrapped in dairy, casseroles can hide just about anything below. Stocked with a meat, a starch and a vegetable, they render side dishes irrelevant.
Some of your favorite foods might be casseroles and you don’t even know it. Lasagna? Casserole. Macaroni and cheese? Casserole. Green bean casserole? Okay, you probably knew that one. At they’re best they are everything good – lasagna. At their worst they are everything bad – tuna noodle.
They're treasure maps left by grandmas and great friends on faded yellowed cards that lead to discoveries that can be created and concocted over and over again. They are the nightmare of your friend who hates when foods touch and the only reason cream of mushroom soup still exists.
So, unlatch that belt, lie back and sigh and take a moment to honor the unsung hero of the dinner table.
The good, the bad, the casserole. I salute you.
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