Thursday, 30 May 2024

Foodie Freak: Cream of soup

I’ve admitted it in the past, I can be a food snob. I want the best of everything; e.g., I pay more for a can of anchovies than most people would pay for a dinner (it may sound extravagant, but they’re really good anchovies!).

However, even for me, there are days when I’m feeling lazy and I don’t want to spend hours preparing dinner, and that’s when I fall back on the old standbys, like a casserole.

That’s when I reach for what we call at our house “Cream of Soup.” That’s right, those wonderful little cans of cream of ... mushroom, chicken, broccoli, asparagus, all the different varieties they make.

If I reach back into my cupboard and my hand rests on a Cream of Soup with broccoli, then I look in the freezer for some broccoli to add to it, maybe some cheddar cheese, some rice, a little milk and leftover chicken, toss it all into a casserole dish and poof! Dinner almost makes itself. And the great thing is that cream of soup is an item that you can keep in your pantry and forget about until that night where you just say “I don’t wanna cook!” Whoosh! Cream of Soup swoops in and saves the day.

I always get a giggle out of recipes that call for a certain type of cream of soup. Would adding cream of broccoli soup to a recipe that calls for cream of mushroom ruin it? No, of course not! It simply adds a new dimension to whatever dish you’re making.

So I don’t even ask for any specific type anymore. If you were looking on my grocery list, all you would see among the items is “Cream of soup.” Try it: if you find a recipe calling for a particular cream of soup, rebel a little, go out on a limb and use a different flavor and see if it doesn’t just add a little something more to the dish.

I normally don’t endorse any particular brand of mass-produced product because I have the fundamental belief that if you have a good product then I’ll use it, and if you have a good product and pay me, I’ll endorse it.

But this is one time that I will break that rule and say that I use Campbell’s soups for these needs, just because of their Labels For Education program. I have a manila envelope taped to the side of my refrigerator that I collect labels in, along with the associated box tops and wrappers from various other products. I gather them for a year and then turn them in to the local school. Even if you don’t have children in school, you should save these Labels For Education so we can improve our local schools. One snowflake doesn’t make an avalanche, but somehow it still happens, eh?

Cream of mushroom soup was created by Campbell’s in 1934 and came to be known as “Lutheran binder” because of its ability to bind casseroles and hot dishes together. Growing up in Minnesota, that Lutheran, Scandinavian, agricultural, ice fortress, we had a casserole (actually, in Minnesota they are called “hotdish,” one word) at least every week, if not several times a week. Cream of soup was something that families bought monthly by the case. Not only is the “hotdish” something that you eat at home regularly, but it is a staple at the church potluck.

If you would like to learn to speak with a fluent Minnesotan accent, just try your best to sound like Edie McClurg in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and answer every question with “Yah, sure you betcha!” and end every sentence with “Don’tcha know!” (Yes, “don’tcha” is also one word). You’ll sound like a native. Whip up a “cream of soup” hotdish and you’re in!

Put “Cream of soup” on your grocery list, and even if you don’t use it for months, on that one day you do pull it out, it will feel like gold.

Cream of soup hot dish (casserole)

4 ounce wide egg noodles

1 can cream of soup

2 Six ounce cans of tuna

½ cup milk

3 tablespoons grated cheese (Parmesan, Asiago or crumbled feta work well)

3 tablespoons onion, chopped

Black pepper

2 tablespoons melted butter

4 teaspoons bread crumbs (or Panko)

¼ teaspoon Herbs de Provence (Dried thyme or oregano may be substituted for the Herbs de Provence)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook noodles according to the package instructions and drain. It’s best if the noodles are slightly undercooked as they will soften more as they bake later. Set aside.

In a casserole, place drained tuna and break up the large pieces. Add soup, milk, grated cheese and chopped onion. Mix together. Season with black pepper to taste. Fold in cooked noodles and gently stir until combined.

In a small bowl, mix melted butter and bread crumbs. Crush the Herbs de Provence into fine pieces and mix into breadcrumb mixture. Sprinkle evenly over the tuna noodle casserole.

Put casserole into oven for 30 minutes or until crumb topping is golden brown. Serves four.

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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