Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stretching Comfort

Participation in the Food Blogger Challenge has not only taught me about how hunger effects all of us on different levels, it's also taught me about my family and given me a new appreciation for the meals that my mom prepared. Growing up, our family was often at risk of hunger because my father's job as a construction worker was, as my Mom would say, a "feast or famine" line of work. According to the Capital Area Food Bank, statistics show us that one out of every two people will fall on hard times at least once in their lifetime and will take advantage of SNAP, even if it's just to get them through an emergency. Luckily for us, my Mom was a genius when it came to making our food stretch and keeping us all fed. One of the things that she relied on to feed both our family and friends was the casserole. Whether it was for a birth, a death, a sickness, a potluck or simply a meal at home, comfort would come in the shape of a 13x9 pyrex casserole dish. It usually consisted of a starch (rice-potato-pasta), a protein, and some leftover or canned veggies, all bound together with a can of "cream-of-something" soup and baked for 20-30 minutes so all the flavors could meld.

These days I find that if I can avoid that canned cream-of-whatever, I will. But I also believe that casseroles can still be made thriftily, healthy, tasty and stretch into the next day's lunch (even better after the flavors sit in the fridge overnight). Many clients of the food bank get cans of veggies, soup, rice and beans. Working with a "mystery pantry box" each week could seem daunting. Thanks to the Capital Area Food Bank, there are nutritionists that offer classes, recipes and tips to make a food basket go as far as it can. We also have the opportunity to give back and that makes all of the difference in the world to someone who is hungry. So whether your on a budget, feeding a large family or find yourself needing assistance from the state, casseroles are still a great "go-to" dish for stretching comfort. I'm jus' sayin'!

When I was a kid I would love it when my Mom made Taco Casserole. I mean, what kids do you know that will turn their nose up to tacos? (This dish costs approximately $8.00 to make and ended up making 13 servings.)

Taco Casserole
1 lb ground turkey
1 diced onion
2 cans of corn
1 can of diced tomatoes (drained)
1 can of black beans (drained)
2 packets of taco seasoning mix
2 boxes of jiffy cornbread mix
1/2 cup of grated cheese. (optional)
Brown turkey meat in a skillet until fully cooked. Drain. Add the onion, corn, tomatoes, black beans and taco seasoning to the skillet. Let simmer 10-15 minutes. While meat mixture is simmering, make the cornbread batter per the instructions on the package. Preheat oven to 350º. Pour meat mixture into a 13x 9 inch casserole dish. Spoon the cornbread batter over the top of the meat mixture. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top (optional). Bake for 25-40 minutes or until cornbread is golden on top.

Another go-to casserole that is inexpensive (about $7.50 to make) and makes good next day lunches is the good old Hash Brown Potato Casserole.

Hash Brown Potato Casserole
1 bag of frozen hash browns
3 oz. cream cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese
1/2 c. of onions
1 can cream of any soup.
dash of pepper.
*optional* To make a healthy protein-based casserole, stir in one of the following: 1 cup of cooked lean meat (such as chicken or pork tenderloin), 1 cup of broccoli floweretes, 1 cup of cooked shelled edamame or 1 can of diced tomatoes.
Set oven to 375º.
Grease a 13x9 in. casserole dish
Cook onions until tender, not brown.
Stir in cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the grated cheese and soup. Mix with the potatoes. At this point you could add your optional ingredients.
Pour into prepared casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake for 5 more minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Here's a little video that might give you a little idea of just one of the tools that the CAFB and the CHOICES programs offer.

Food for Thought
The next time your checking out at the grocery store and you see one of those large "Stamp Out Hunger" bins or pre-packaged bags for the food bank, ask yourself this question - "Is hunger acceptable?" If your answer is "no" then what will you do to help make a difference?