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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!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Where Are They Now?: Casseroles

What happened to the casserole? 


I just may try this one....
The casserole gets a bad rap. It is associated with uninspired family dinners --something harried housewives or new brides who lacked skill in the kitchen could easily make ahead. They also relied heavily on prepackaged like canned tuna or Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. A Wikipedia entry on tuna noodle casserole states, without irony, that “Tuna casserole is convenient to the extent that it may be prepared using no fresh ingredients.” Wow, that sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?!

But casserole doesn’t have to be boring. I don’t think I’ve ever made one until recently for my supper club, and it was far from boring. So before I get into casseroles, let me digress.

I first heard of a supper club from one of my good friends and former law partners. I admit I was somewhat envious that I wasn’t a “member,” but I’ll save that discussion for my therapist. I was also intrigued. It sounded so grown-up, so sophisticated. I’ve wanted to be in a supper club ever since. 

And so one night about a month or two ago, still waiting for that invitation, I decided to form my own supper club. Maybe I was inspired by Groucho Marx’s famous quip about not joining a club that would have him as a member. And so I posted something on Facebook about starting one. The response was favorable; a charter was drawn up; and I was in business.

Then I got the email.

I forgot to mention that this crazy idea and Facebook post came about two weeks after a very frenetic behind-the-scenes experience for a nonetheless very successful dinner party; yet one that took about two days to clean up (yeah, that one: "Oh the Horror!").  Laura emailed me and asked me, and not without good cause, if I were crazy. “What are you thinking?!” She also stated that she would have no role to play and would certainly not clean up. (I must say that her stance softened a bit; she did both, with a smile – and not a forced one!)

I agreed to host the inaugural supper club dinner. I thought it was only sporting that I do so. But of course, being an attorney by training, I devised a few rules for the club. For one thing, each dinner was to have a theme, which is the responsibility of the host/hostess. Second, the host was in charge of the entree and the wine. Third, everyone else was to bring a dish—potluck—appetizer, side dishes, dessert, etc.

As the host of the initial supper club dinner, I decided that the theme would be “firsts” in the sense that everyone had to make something they had never made before. For me, that would be lamb and, initially, I thought about a roast rack of lamb. But then the memories of that last successful-but-frenetic dinner party came rushing back. So, I decided to keep it simple. I went with moussaka, which has lamb; is something I’d never made before; and is essentially a casserole that could be made ahead and thrown in the oven about an hour before the guests arrived.

Just because it’s a casserole, however, doesn’t mean it’s easy to make.

When I was kid, my friend and later first crush, Kristina Vacalis, whose family was Greek-American would always tell me excitedly whenever her mother made moussaka. She didn’t make it very often, and now I know why. It’s a labor of love.

Moussaka requires a lot—I mean a lot—of slicing of eggplants and potatoes and dicing of onions. And eggplant must be the most high maintenance vegetable out there. After you slice, it must be salted and drained to get the moisture out so it’s not soggy. After it’s salted, you must rinse it and pat it dry and then roast it. I must have roasted about 20lbs of eggplant two nights before the supper club dinner. And then there’s the meat sauce that goes into the moussaka, and then there’s the b├ęchamel sauce that must be made. I’m glad I started two days before the dinner. 

But was it good?  Absolutely!  Despite the work, it’s worth it for a great dish.

And now I have my own supper club. Be careful for what you wish for, though.  Laura has made me promise not to host anything again for a few months.  Except Thanksgiving.  Oh, and except my annual holiday cocktail party.  And, well, given that, maybe there could be a small dinner party on the horizon in January . . . 

Like casseroles, old ways die hard.

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