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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Don't Mess with the Classics

“Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?” 

—Robert Benchley

Last month we traveled to New York for my birthday. This time, I wanted to see a play.  There were several good choices that weekend, and we decided on The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. I was excited. Not only is this one of the greatest of American plays (and one of my favorites), but the main role of Amanda Wingfield was being played by Sally Field. As I had not read the play in many years, I bought a copy and re-read it on the train. I finished it shortly before we arrived at Penn Station. 

The production we were going to see is directed by Sam Gold, known for his bold reinterpretations of the classics. I'm not opposed to "re-interpreting" the classics—Richard III set in a counter-factual fascist England or Romeo and Juliet in mid-20th century New York. For Shakespeare, this works reasonably well because his plays are about language, regardless of time and place.

We booked the tickets for this play before the reviews had come in, flying blind so to speak. But it was Tennesse Williams; it was Sally Field; it was Sam Gold. That was all the information we needed, right?

Lunch that day was at ABC Cocina, a shabby-chic styled tapas restaurant next to the famed ABC Home design Mecca in Manhattan. At this point, however, instinct suddenly kicked in; my amygdala woke up. “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” Much like my Neanderthal ancestor who grabbed a spear upon seeing a saber toothed tiger, I quickly grabbed my iPhone to read the reviews. 

I know that reviews about plays and movies, much like restaurant reviews, should be taken with a grain of salt—merely one person's opinion—but when three major New York-based publications slam a production for nearly identical reasons, then it's time to pull the fire alarm. The opening paragraph from the review in The New Yorker was especially blistering:

The despair and disgust I felt after seeing the director Sam Gold’s rendition of Tennessee Williams’s 1944 play, “The Glass Menagerie” (at the Belasco), was so debilitating that I couldn’t tell if my confused, hurt fury was caused by the pretentious and callous staging I had just witnessed or if my anger was a result of feeling robbed of the beauty of Williams’s script.

Ouch!

But I couldn’t agree more.

Thankfully, dinner at The Modern did a lot to compensate for what we had just witnessed. It certainly gave us plenty to talk about.

As is my custom, I ordered a martini before dinner. That got me thinking. Just like certain classic plays have no business being “reinvented,” the same holds true for certain cocktails, the martini being the prime example.

With the simplest of ingredients, the martini is sleek, cool, and seductive. It’s like someone poured a Maserati into a glass. Even the glass is elegant. It forces you to be deliberate in how you progress through happy hour. It forces you to be civilized. You must be careful not to spill any of the contents, guiding the glass slowly—but too much so—to your mouth while making a witty, but obscure, comment about Dorothy Parker. This is not some cheap whisky thrown over ice into a double old-fashioned glass at the 19th hole. 

And then it all came crashing down. The martini’s simplicity became its first victim. What followed in the early Aughts was like so many bastards with claims to the throne. There was the ubiquitous "Apple-tini" with an electric day-glo green tinge that looked like it had been cooked up in a meth lab. There was the Chocolate-tini," the “Cinamon-tini,” and the Lemon-tini. The martini was corrupted because it was made complicated.

And this is what Sam Gold didn’t realize when he reinterpreted The Glass Menagerie. He forced complexity onto the audience. He gave his audience the theatrical version of an Apple-tini. The Glass Menagerie is a great and timeless play because Williams’ language distills all of our very sad human hopes, dreams, and fears into a drink that must be handled carefully and sipped slowly. 

There are just some classics that don't work well unless performed in the vernacular. 

And by the way, a vodka martini is not a martini. Enough said. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spring Has Sprung and so Have the Peas!

Everyone has their hypothetical “last meal” (or at least they should). For me, it would be my Mom’s baked chicken, white rice with gravy, and green peas. I grew up in the 70s and the concept of fresh, locally sourced vegetables was unheard of. Mind you, this was the era of big cars, shag carpet and T.V. dinners that came in aluminum trays with that mystery desert at twelve o’clock.

So my peas came in a can, but not just any can—Le Sueur! This was considered gourmet back in 1976! And my Mom would not dare buy any other variety.

To this day, green peas remain my favorite vegetable. However, I didn’t discover fresh green peas until I was an adult. If you have never had fresh peas, then you don’t know what you’ve been missing. But don't feel bad because there is a a good reason if you haven't. 

Peas are best eaten shortly after picking, but alas they do not travel well and spoil very easily. They are also in season for only a short time during spring. This is why most peas are found frozen or canned. In fact, only 5 percent of peas harvested are actually eaten fresh. It is this rarity that historically reserved them for the wealthy and the royalty. They became quite the rage in the Court of Louis XIV of France. Here’s what Madame de Maintenon (second wife of Louis XIV), said about peas in a letter to Cardinal of Noailles in 1696:

The question of peas continues. The anticipation of eating them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the joy of eating them again are the three subjects that our princes have been discussing for four days...It has become a fashion—indeed a passion.

Peas are best eaten simply and require very little effort. They are good raw in a salad or gently simmered and served with butter and mint or other light herbs. 

Peas are spring’s reward for our survival of winter. So, pick some peas (or more likely grab some frozen in a bag) and enjoy. More peas please!

Here’s a simple recipe for peas called “peas in butter” from Larouse Gastronomique:

Cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain them, and put them back in the saucepan over a brisk heat, adding a pinch of sugar and 3 ½ ounces of fresh butter per 6¾ cups of peas. Serve with chopped fresh mint.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Oryza Sativa (a/k/a Rice)

I have a culinary confession to make. It’s nothing terrible—I’m not talking about serving Spam at Thanksgiving or passing off a cake from the local bakery as my own. No, I’m talking about the fact that I really stink at making rice. In fact, I am a complete bust at the process from start to finish. And wait, the confession gets even worse. I’ve actually purchased (in bulk from Costco), and used, Minute Rice. I’m not proud of it, but you do what you have to do to survive. 

Ok perhaps I’m exaggerating just a bit, and I have gotten better lately with practice because one kid has been asking for rice at every meal here lately. He claims his rigorous soccer practices require more carbs. But the thing is I can’t maintain consistency. Some nights I nail it; other nights there’s a hissing, foaming, overflowing covered pot on the stove that looks like a white volcano. 

And with this in mind, you will certainly ask me, “what were you thinking,” when I tell you that this past weekend I decided to make shrimp risotto. Yeah, go ahead and shake your head in disbelief. I did.

Rice could possibly be the most popular food in the world. And while many folks may associate rice with Asian cuisine, it is the Italians who I think have really perfected it with risottoliterally “little rice” in Italian. For thousands of years rice has been the understudy in Asian cuisine. But in Italy, she has become the quickly rising star. If plain old white rice were a car, it would be a Chevy to risotto’s Ferrari. 

Three different types of rice are used for risotto: arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano (which sounds like a character from The Godfather). According to Larousse Gastronomique, these grains are “characterized by high absorbency and a firm, but ‘clinging’ texture” which are “ideal for achieving a moist, slightly sticky risotto in which the grains retain their separate identity with a little bite.” That sounds like a good description of Rome!

To make risotto requires a certain degree of patience, which I confess (again) is something that I lack. And while there are as many risotto recipes as there are Italian grandmas, there is little variation in the preparation. The rice is first toasted on low heat in a pot with a little olive oil, butter, or both. Hot stock is added slowly, sometimes spoonfuls at a time. The rice is stirred frequently and quickly until the stock is absorbed. A little more stock is added, and the process begins again. After forty-five minutes, you have a creamy sauce with rice just slightly al dente.  

Bellissimo!

It may have been beginner’s luck, but I nailed this risotto. And based on past experience with plain white rice, this should have been a disaster. But maybe I wasn’t giving the understudy her due. After all, an understudy does sometimes perform and shine. Anthony Hopkins was an understudy to Sir Laurence Olivier and got his big break when Olivier came down with appendicitis during a production of August Strindberg's The Dance of Death

Good rice is harder than I thought, and making risotto—something that I had not tried before and, thus, garnered more of my attention—made me realize that. I may be getting carried away here, but making rice could be a metaphor for our lives. We rush through things. We take things (and people) for granted. Life is not Minute Rice. It requires slowing down; it requires attention. Friendships, families, and marriages take time. They also take patience and the knowledge that, like a boiling-over pot of rice, they’re imperfect and messy. 

Love and chaos. Maybe that’s why the Italians do rice so well.

Buon appetito!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Let the Good Times Roll!

New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”  ― Mark Twain

© 2014 Chris Terrell
That New Orleans is a major gastronomic destination can hardly be disputed. Within its confines, one will find food both low-brow and high-brow, and everything in between. Everything from po-boys and red beans and rice to high-end French. What may be less evident is how New Orleans became the center of creole cuisine that we know today.

It is a port city that, over many, many years, welcomed an immense variety of humanity: French, Africans, Spanish, Portuguese, and Asians. As a port city, somewhat isolated from the rest of the United States, it cultivated a certain openness and joie de vivre that fostered culinary experimentation. After all, the unofficial motto for New Orleans is "
Laissez les bons temps rouler"—“let the good times roll!”

I love New Orleans. I love its insouciance. I love its practiced shabbiness. 

It's been a few years since I lasted visited New Orleans. I miss it, though I'm not sure I would trust myself there this time of year. I still remember the first time I shared my love of New Orleans with my two boys. In was in late January, and we left around 2:00PM on a bright, clear, somewhat warm Friday afternoon. It is not a bad drive from Birmingham to New Orleans. A straight shot on interstate the whole way.

We stayed at a condo in the Warehouse District with my dad and his significant-other, Veronica. The kids were excited for different reasons. My son Hamp, with a strong interest in anything martial, was looking forward to the WWII Museum. My son Forrest, with a strong interest in anything culinary, was looking forward to the restaurants.

By the time we settled in and I had parked the car, it was nearly 8:00PM. We were all hungry. Though I was unfamiliar with the Warehouse District, there was no shortage of places to eat. Wee were not necessarily looking for fine dining, and so we ended up at Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar on the corner of Girod and Tchoupitoulas. This worked out well. Hamp and I both got hamburgers, which were quite good. Forrest got the special: catfish over rice, which was also quite good.

The next morning was another clear, beautiful day. After I had a quick run along Old Man River, we headed off to the WWII Museum. Breakfast that morning was a surprise. We came across the Crescent City Farmers Market at the corner of Girod and Magazine. It is open every Saturday from 8:00AM to Noon. I grabbed a croissant and some chicory coffee. Forrest grabbed a muffin the size of his head. Fully fueled, we headed off to the museum

After the museum, it was pushing noon. We were all hungry. One thing that Hamp (the non-foodie son) and I share is a love—some would say, a passion—for pizza. For me, pizza and beer is one of the perfect food-drink combinations. But beer, pizza, and Saturday afternoon is the perfect food-drink-time combination. After we quick check on Yelp and Tomato (Urbanspoon back then), we discovered Dolce Vita on a nondescript section of St. Charles.

We were not disappointed. This was some of the best pizza I’ve had outside of NYC! Believe it or not, the chef and owner, Bogdan Mocanu, is not Italian, but Romanian! He grew up cooking with a wood-fired oven and was trained in John Besh’s restaurant, Domenica, so he knows what he’s doing. The story of how he ended up in New Orleans is interesting. He had a food truck in Baton Rouge, but it got totaled by a drunk driver. Only in Louisiana! Bad for him, but good for us. 

By this point, my enthusiasm and love of walking and exploring new places had taken its toll on my little tour group. My dad, Veronica, and the kids were tuckered out and ready to nap. I dropped them off at the condo, and after a quick 15-minute power nap myself, I grabbed my camera to take some photographs in the French Quarter—a “target-rich environment” for any photographer. 


© 2014 Chris Terrell
© 2014 Chris Terrell
That night we had 8:30PM dinner reservations at Cochon, a restaurant that I had been trying to get into for the last three trips to New Orleans. Because I had some time, and happy hour had just arrived (isn’t it always happy hour in New Orleans?!), I decided to meet up with two dear friends who live in New Orleans: Victor and Jennifer. Victor is an amazing jazz pianist who teaches at the University of New Orleans and Jennifer owns a children’s clothing store in the Garden District on Magazine called Angelique Kids

We had conspired to ditch our kids and meet for drinks at Delmonico on St. Charles. Delmonico is one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants. Now, I don’t know about the food, as I’ve not eaten there (Victor and Jennifer both agree that its good), but if the food and service is anything like the bar, then “bam!” I’ve got to try it. I had a Sazarac—of course!—and a rum punch (emphasize the word “punch”). Both drinks were perfect. And the service! Usually, I time my second drink so that there is a little bit left in the first one, so as to ensure no lag time. No need!  I had barely taken another sip after I placed my rum punch order and “bam!” there was my drink. 

© 2014 Chris Terrell
As I mentioned, dinner that night was at Cochon. “Cochon” is French for “pig.” An appropriate name, for this place is all about  pork! And speaking of “pig,” we pigged out! 



Here’s what we had: 
  • Wood-fired oysters with chili garlic butter 
  • Shrimp & tasso ham with charred greens & field peas 
  • Fried livers with pepper jelly & toast 
  • Smoked pork ribs with watermelon pickle 
  • Rabbit & dumplings 
  • Oven-roasted gulf fish “fisherman’s style 
  • Oyster & sandwich 
  • Macaroni & cheese casserole 
 And for dessert we had:
  • Farmers cheese and Meyer lemon pie 
  • Chocolate peanut butter pie with candied spicy peanuts 

After we stuffed the last bite into our mouths and paid the bill, we then made the long oscitant walk back to the condo, groaning with delight. 

We slept in late the next morning and then headed off to Cafe du Monde for beignets and café au lait. But before heading back to Birmingham, I gave in and took my kids for a stroll down Bourbon Street. Okay, so I may not win parent of the year, but at least it was a Sunday afternoon. Bourbon Street was relatively calm. After picking up some king cakes at Rouses on Royal street, we had to hit the road and head back to Birmingham.

© 2014 Chris Terrell
A few days later, I got to thinking about New Orleans. I recalled that in law school I made jambalaya all the time. It is a great dish—cheap, simple, and sustaining. Having just been to New Orleans, I decided I would make it again. When I made jambalaya back then, I relied heavily on The Joy of Cooking, my one and only cookbook. Consequently, I cracked open the latest edition and looked up the recipe for jambalaya. 

I was a bit  underwhelmed. 

It seemed like such a good recipe eighteen years ago, but not now. It lacked flavor. No worries. I took the basic recipe and improved upon it.  Maybe I've changed. Maybe I'm a better cook. Anyway, here's my version:

The Insouciant Chef’s Jambalaya

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter
16 oz. andouille sausage 
1/2 cup red wine
1 medium chopped yellow onion
3 garlic cloves minced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup extra long-grain rice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups warm chicken stock
14 1/2 oz. can of whole tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon of dried thyme 
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
2 tablespoons of paprika
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

In a dutch oven, melt the butter and add the sausage and brown. When the sausage has browned, pour in red wine and de-glaze the pan, then add the onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic and simmer over low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add rice and tomato paste and stir to coat.

Add chicken stock and tomatoes (crushing tomatoes by hand).

Add bay leaf and other spices and simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour until thickened and rice is soft.

Salt and pepper to taste. (Of course, you can adjust the spices as you wish depending on how spicy you like your jambalaya.)

Bon appétit!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I Think I Got Shipwrecked on the Spice Islands

I’ve tried everything....

Chris Terrell © 2017
Before
I’ve tried alphabetizing. I’ve tried country of origin. I’ve tried flavor profile. I’ve even tried color. No, I’m not talking about the latest culinary fads, but my spice cabinet. It’s a mess. And no matter how hard I try, I cannot keep it organized. So I continue to buy spices I don’t need because I cannot find the spices I already have. I have two jars of ground nutmeg (obviously a panic buy during Thanksgiving 2015); I have three jars of chili powder (2014 Iron Bowl?); and I have one unlabeled jar of a spice that I cannot identify (don't ask). 

If this were 1517 rather than 2017, I'd be sitting on a fortune. I would've retired on this spice cabinet way, way back in the day! 

What a difference 500 years make. 

Chris Terrell ©2017
After
If you were living in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages, life was dull as dishwater. Speaking of dishwater, I’m pretty sure this is where the “don’t-drink-the-water warning” came from! The only option you had for hydration in 1354 was  to drink beer…at breakfast…at lunch…and at dinner. These folks had to have been buzzed most of the time. 

But if the water didn’t kill you, the food certainly could. It was bland. It was boiled. It was boring. No wonder folks tried to score some Malabar black pepper in a back alley moat to make that stuff edible. Pepper was medieval crack to these people. 

It was no wonder then that the Europeans' need to "spice up" their dull culinary lives lured the Portuguese explorer Vasca da Gama to India in 1498. The spices he hauled back to Europe covered his expenses several times over. Nice rate of return Mr. da Gama!  

These days, spices are cheap and scoring some nothing more dangerous than a short drive to the Piggy Wiggly. We even have entire stores dedicated to selling nothing but spices. First world problems, right?

No cuisine may have a stronger association with spices than  Indian, especially curry—a melange of various individual spices. Many of these mixtures, or "masalas," are family secrets, passed down from generation to generation. 

And speaking of Indian spices, during my expedition into the dark recesses of my spice cabinet, I found six jars containing different Indian spice blends, made by a company named  Ajika. I grabbed the jar for Tandoori Chicken Blend and, believe it or not, the “use-by” date was many months away. And on the back of the jar in very fine print was a recipe for grilled tandoori chicken that sent me scurrying in a huff to find my reading glasses. Dinner that night was solved. It was quick, easy, and tasted great. 

For this post, I wanted to share my discovery with my dear readers. However, there was one problem. Ajika no longer appears to be a going concern. I couldn’t find the website advertised on the back of the jar, and even on Amazon the available jars were limited.   

Sharing a recipe for a commercial spice blend that may or may not be readily available doesn't make a lot of sense if one can't get ahold of it. The only other option was to re-create the recipe. On the back of the jar, the ingredients were listed simply as: “cinnamon, clove, fennel, turmeric, ginger, spices.” Not much to go on. This was going to take a bit of detective work and so down the rabbit hole that is the Internet I went.

I quickly uncovered more tandoori masalas than there are bodegas in Manhattan. After several dead ends, however, I came across this recipe for tandoori masala that looked promising. So, with the Ajika spice blend  recreated—perhaps—here’s the recipe:

Grilled Tandoori Chicken

For the Tandoori Masala:

2 T cumin powder
2 T coriander powder
4 tsp turmeric powder
4 tsp chili powder
4 tbsp sweet paprika
4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom

Preparation:

For the marinade, combine four tablespoons of the tandoori masala with 1 cup of yogurt, 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, 4 tablespoons of lime juice (about 2 limes), and salt to taste. Pierce four boneless chicken breasts and poke numerous holes in the chicken breasts with skewers. Place the chicken in a gallon Ziploc bag with the marinade and marinate for 4 to 24 hours. Grill at high heat on both sides until tender. 


So what started out as the dreaded task of cleaning out my spice cabinet, turned into a delicious recipe for grilled tandoori chicken. And much like those discoverers of the 15th and 16th Century, I realized that one will never know how to get from the start of one's journey to the end. But then there’s a real reason for that phrase: “variety is the spice of life.”

Thursday, January 26, 2017

More Soup for You!

Winter—or the random days in Alabama when it feels like it—is one of my favorite times to cook, full of stews, braises, pies, and soups. All foods that warm the belly and feed the soul. Soup in particular pairs well with winter. It is communal; a single pot simmering on the stove for all to walk up to and savor its aromas.

And soups are surprisingly easy to make. If one can boil water and chop vegetables, one can surely make soup. This may explain why soup is one of the oldest forms of cookery. At some point, one of our distant ancestors, the proverbial “cave man,” got tired of eating tree bark and sipping water from a stream. He perhaps took that bark, maybe even a few veggies and herbs, and put them together in an earthen pot on that new-fangled invention called “fire” and—voila—soup was born!  

M.F.K. Fisher liked soup and devoted a whole chapter to it. Here’s what she had to say:

The natural procession from boiling water to boiling water with something in it can hardly be avoided, and in most cases heartily to be wished for. As a steady diet, plain water is inclined to make thin fare, and even saints, of which there are an unexpected number these days, will gladly agree that a few herbs and perhaps a carrot to two and maybe a meager bone on feast days can mightily improve the somewhat monotonous flavor of the hot liquid.  

      —M.F.K. Fisher, How to Boil Water.

Wise words indeed! (And if she thought there were food “saints” in her day, she’d be downright shocked by today’s gastronomic high priests and priestesses!)

And while making soup is a relatively fuss-free endeavor, there are some basic tips one should keep in mind. Here are some good ones from Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking:

  • Rich soups can benefit from a counterpoint of acidity. For example, vegetable purees can benefit from the savoriness of a little bacon or tomato or parmesan cheese, soy sauce, fish sauce, or miso.
  • To thicken soups with flour or starch, always pre-disperse the thickener in a roux or slurry to prevent lumpiness.
  • Add uncooked ingredients in stages to a simmering soup to avoid over- or under-cooking them. First, add whole grains, firm carrots, or celery, then more tender onions or cauliflower, pieces of chicken great or white rice or pasta; at the last minute, add delicate spinach, fish, or shellfish. 
  • Take care not to overheat the soup when adding protein, in order to avoid curdling. You can also use starch or flour to keep proteins from coagulating or curdling.

So one evening when the mercury finally fell into the moderately cold zone, I put on some music and fired up the fireplace and made soup. (OK, I don’t actually have a fireplace, but I have a great app that plays one on my TV.) 


Copyright © 2013 Chris Terrell
The Finished Product!
I made roasted cauliflower and carrot soup, a recipe for the most part of my own creation. My recipe uses sumac to add some acidity. Sumac is a shrub originating in Turkey and certain varieties are cultivated in southern Italy and in Sicily. The fleshy petals and small berries are dried and reduced to a powder which has a lemony, acidic flavor and is popular in Middle Eastern cooking. Mixed with water, it can be used in the same way as lemon juice.

Here’s the recipe:

Roasted Cauliflower and Carrot Soup with Sumac

Ingredients

1 large head of cauliflower
2 cloves of garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 1/3 lbs of carrots
1 tablespoon of coriander (ground)
1 tablespoon of sumac
1/2 tablespoon ancho chili powder
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 qt of vegetable stock
1/2 cup of dry white wine
3/4 cups of water
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Break apart of the cauliflower into florets and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and spread out onto a sheet pan and roast in an oven at 425 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.
While the cauliflower roasts, dice the onion and mince the garlic. In a stock pot, place the butter and a tablespoon of the olive oil, along with some salt and pepper and sauté the onions until soft, about 10-15 minutes. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.  

Add the carrots to the stock pot, along with the vegetable stock, wine, and water and bring to a boil. Then add the roasted cauliflower and reduce the heat. Cook on medium for about 35-40 minutes until the carrots and cauliflower are tender.  

Puree the soup with an immersion blender until puréed. (This is fun!) Add coriander, sumac, and ancho chili powder Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve into bowls and add a table spoon of heavy cream to each and mix. Serve immediately.

NOTE: You can also take whole coriander and roast and then grind in a mortal and pestle.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Where Are They Now?: Tuna Noodle Casserole




When: Friday, September 22, 1961
Where: Somewhere in Cleveland
[Phone rings]
Julie: Hello?
Nancy: Hey Julie, this is Nancy. Are you and Frank coming over for dinner tomorrow night?
Julie: Yes. We found a babysitter! Betsy Thompson, though she does let them watch a bit too much TV. 
Nancy: Yeah, I can see why—they just bought one of those new color TVs. Speaking of little Jimmy, how does he like his new teacher?
Julie: I think he does, especially after she brought some homemade cookies for the class. I tell you one thing though, he doesn’t like the school food. Little Jimmy still wants a homemade lunch every day. This kid is going to turn into a bologna sandwich and a Twinkie!
Nancy: No kidding! Little Bobby takes a PBJ and a Dr. Pepper in his Lawman lunchbox to school every day. Hey, speaking of something sweet, are you going to make that new Jello salad recipe?
Julie: Probably so. I know John loves Jello.
Nancy: Does he ever!  But if I could only figure out what to make for dinner. John insists on grilling some pork chops, but I don’t know…
Julie: How ‘bout something out of that fancy new cookbook John gave you for your birthday? French, right? What’s her name, Julia Child?
Nancy: Yeah, but it looks a little complicated…
Julie: What about your tuna noodle casserole? Everyone loves it, especially little Jimmy.
Nancy: Great idea! And I’ve got everything I need for it here in the cupboard… I think.  Let me  check.… Shoot, I don’t have a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. It’s OK. I’ll have Bobby ride his bike to the Fishers and grab a can.
Julie: Sounds good. We’ll take care of the cocktails. I think Frank owes John a bottle of Canadian Club. Gotta go, Jimmy is playing with Frank’s cigarette lighter again!  
Jimmy – stop that right now!
* * *
This dialogue is not an exercise in early 21st Century hipster irony. People really talked like this in 1961. More importantly, people ate like this in 1961. They liked tuna noodle casserole, Jello, and Canadian Club. 
And yet, tuna noodle casserole— let’s call it “TNC” for shortmade a comeback in my house recently. But more out of necessity than anything else.
Anyone who has visited my kitchen, quickly notices two things. First, I have a lot of pots, pans, and appliances devoted to cooking. Second, if one were to open the cabinets, one would discover a surfeit of bottles, jars, boxes, and cans containing everything from verjus, sardines, almond oil (not kidding), various types of olives, lentils, sushi rice (even though I’ve never made sushi), and jars of spices (typically 2-3 jars of each kind because I don’t check before hitting the store). It all looks like the kitchen Prospero would have had.
So one of my informal new year’s resolutions was to slowly cook through this backlog of epicurean ephemera. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. After all, what does one do with a bag of chia seeds and a very large jar of organic peanut butter from Costco?! 
And then, behind the half-empty box of elbow macaroni and saltines, I discovered several cans of tuna fish. 
Are you with me? 
Yes. TNC!
Though I grew up on TNC, it is certainly not something in my culinary wheelhouse. As a result, I consulted The Joy of Cooking, the best source for these kinds of dishes. Sure enough, there on page 96, I found a recipe for TNC. I scanned the list of ingredients. I had everything but, like Nancy, I lacked one lousy can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Does anyone buy that stuff anymore?
After a quick trip to the Piggly Wiggly, I was in business. And what a business it was: easy and cheap. And it helped clear out my cabinets. 
Like I said, I grew up on this stuff. My kids, however, were newbies. They had never had TNC I was curious how they would react. They each took a bite…. Wait… Score!  I’m making this again!
Mid-century modern is certainly having a moment. Mad Men was a huge hit. Skinny ties are back, and Eames chairs are all the rage. But the food? Not so much. 
As for “little Jimmy?” He retired from the hedge fund he ran in New York. He lives in Napa. He’s vegan and hates tuna noodle casserole.
Hey Jimmy: my kids love it. 
Times change.