With the exception of three dishes I (infrequently) prepared deploying "cream of" cans of soup, when I came home from the office I faced making something completely from scratch every night. I either accommodated the tastes of my family or faced turning dinnertime into a reproduction of my childhood battlefield, something I deeply desired to avoid seeing as we had so little face to face time to begin with.
All along the way I chose not to push any particular dish on any particular diner once a preference to avoid was established. Whenever I did have advance notice one or more would be out of the dinnertime mix for any reason, I seized that opportunity to prepare some dish the missing members didn't like the rest of us enjoyed.
As time went by, this "while you were out" pattern evolved into ChefSon and I enjoying an occasional casserole together. Specifically, Tuna Casserole. Tuna Casserole became a shared comfort food my son and I bonded over while Hub and LawSchoolGirl were gratefully self excluded.
So, when I reported to ChefSon I'd tried a new recipe for tuna casserole recently, he was slightly intrigued.
Back to this new tuna casserole. I rushed to assure ChefSon that while I had jumped my usual hoop of "preparing the recipe the way it is written the first time" I had nonetheless added to this new recipe what is for us the obligatory comfortable starting point tastewise for any tuna casserole to succeed. You can offer other tweaks to the mix, but if you want our attention to be potentially followed by our devotion, this particular hot dish must be topped with fiery bits of salty crispy potato. Every bite of any tuna casserole hoping to pass muster, much less our lips, must be first be topped with crumbled jalapeño potato chips.
Thusly reassured, we moved into discussing why I'd bothered to try a new version of an old favorite.
"Nothing exotic going on" I told him, I had ingredients on hand I wanted to use up, and I'd always meant to find a tasty way to get past guiltily using that can of cream of mushroom soup to make an acceptable tuna casserole.
"This recipe for "Mediterranean Tuna Casserole"...." I started to say, and that is when our conversation took an unexpected turn.
ChefSon: (interrupting) Why is it called "Mediterranean"? What's in it?
Me: Artichoke hearts, bell pepper, shallots....
ChefSon: (breaking in again) Mom, are any of those actually Mediterranean ingredients? (no pause for answer) Is there anything in that recipe that actually represents the cuisine of the region? You know most artichokes are grown in California, right?
Me: Yes but....
ChefSon: I hate it when recipes are randomly named "Mediterranean" when there is nothing remotely Mediterranean about them. Is there anything else in there?
Me: Well, tuna, white sauce...
CS: When recipes get stupid labels people don't know any better and they have no idea what to expect when a dish is accurately labeled Mediterranean and actually based on foods from that particular region. I hate it when...
Me: (breaking in) OK, OK, let's agree to just call it Tuna Casserole then, all right?
And there we were. I had blindly accepted the name of the recipe without considering for a moment if that name related in any way to the ingredients in the dish. Do people living in Mediterranean countries ever eat what we think of as tuna casserole? I have my doubts. I had focused on what "Tuna Casserole" means to me giving any thought to what the use of "Mediterranean" in the name of the dish might imply.
Which is or is not crucial, but ChefSon does make a point. If I am going to work on understanding what it is I am cooking and eating at home or in restaurants, I do perhaps need to be more aware of that practice of carelessly slapping regional appellations on recipes or dishes when that bears no relationship to their origin or ingredient list. Inauthentically glamming up a recipe name by throwing in an unrelated food term ought not to be acceptable. Especially not when offered by no less a widely turned to online resource than the Martha Stewart empire.
Yes, this so-called Mediterranean Tuna Casserole is a Martha Stewart recipe.
No matter what we call it, I will be preparing this recipe again because it was not only acceptable as a new version of this comfort food for me, it actually appealed to the Hub in this iteration, releasing me to fearlessly throw tuna casserole into our regular rotation. When I next fix this version of tuna casserole however, I think I will call it, "No Soup Tuna Casserole". That is, after all, not only accurate, but what drew me in to try the recipe in the first place.
I followed the recipe, ingredients halved, as written with one exception. After stirring the parmesean cheese meant to be sprinkled on as a topping into the casserole itself, and topped the whole shebang off with two-three handfuls of crumbled jalapeño chips.It was everything I could have hoped for in a new run at an old classic. Creamy, rich, colorful, and I didn't miss the convenience of the can one little bit.
No Soup Tuna Casserole is a winner. Doubtless the sauce-as-substitute-for-can technique will find its way into improving the two other dishes which I previously guiltily prepared, employing as I did, cream of something soup as part of their preparation.
What do you think? Do you care what a dish is called? Have you ever avoided a recipe just going by the title? Do you agree diners ought not be potentially taken in by misattributing a dish or its ingredients? I have to admit, once I thought about it, I was surprised at what seems careless on the part of an otherwise precise and controlled Martha Stewart brand.