Monday, January 16, 2012

Plain & simple: comfort food the whole family loves.

Every family has its fussy eaters. In ours, I'm probably the worst culprit. But as I'm usually the one in charge of deciding and preparing meals, I can tailor what we eat around what I like. Bonus!

But when it's the kids who get picky, we tend to get worried that they're not eating enough or the right things. We definitely experience this with Jack and try to play down his inconsistent dislikes (usually colour-related, red and green causing the most trouble) and try to get the good stuff into him where ever possible and by whatever means.

Mostly this means having a trusty repertoire of tried and true recipes which we know he loves and make sure we get the good stuff into him at these times (note: we've recently discovered that the bribe lure of a few 'colours' (Smarties) after dinner is also a great motivator. Like I said, by whatever means).

For us, salmon casserole is an oldie but a goodie - if a bit ugly. Let's face it, comfort food is rarely pretty, and this is no exception, so don't be put off by the pictures. I've yet to find a way to serve it without it pretty much ending up as a slop onto the plate! Added bonus is that it doesn't take too long to assemble - you can be preparing the cheese sauce and the salmon while the rice cooks. All up it will be done in less than an hour including time to set the table and clear up most of the cooking dishes before serving.

However, it's a winner every time and the fact that it's 'spork food' (spoon crossed with fork = spork) means I can also give it pretty easily to Miss Nellie (she of only 6 teeth to date), or if we're in the mood on a Friday night, can be easy 'bowl food' on the couch in front of the TV. It's also got a generous layer of cheese, and we all know cheese = comfort food. Love it!

The original recipe came from a cookbook of my mum's from the 1970's called 'Great Rice Dishes of the World' but I think this was the only one she cooked regularly from it. The original recipe is slightly different and includes onion, but I've adapted it to my tastes (naturally!).

Miss Floss' Salmon Casserole

1 1/4 cups long grain rice
1/4 tsp paprika
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup frozen peas
2 or 3 (depending on size) lovely ripe tomatoes
400g can pink salmon, boned and flaked, liquid reserved
ground black pepper
50g butter
1/4 cup flour
500ml milk
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
ground or freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Cook your rice by whatever means you prefer. Add the paprika, peas and parsley and stir through. Place into an oven-proof casserole dish (I use an ancient Pyrex which has a volume of about 2 litres) and spread relatively evenly. This is your first of 4 layers which make up the casserole.

Slice up your tomatoes and layer over the rice mixture (when tomatoes are in season and our garden is groaning with them, I like to slice them thickly because they are so delicious). Next add the flaked salmon, topped with as much ground pepper as you like.

For the last layer, you need to make a cheese sauce. You may need to slightly adjust the butter:flour:milk ratio to get it to the appropriate thickness (or volume if you like lots) as I'll confess here that I don't tend to measure with this recipe but just go by instinct.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt your butter over medium heat and add the flour, using a small wooden spoon to mix it together to a pasty consistency. Don't let the heat get too high as the butter will burn. Gradually add your milk in about 3 lots, stirring it in gently. At this point I usually change over to a small whisk to get all the lumps out - keep whisking and adding milk gradually until the mixture is smooth and then add the rest of the milk, whisking throughout and keeping it to a slow simmer.

Add your cheese and whisk or stir in. You could add a bit of tasty or mozzerella cheese here if you like, only don't make it with just mozzerella as it becomes a gloopy mess - better to use a blend of cheeses. When the cheese sauce is at a nice pouring consistency (not too runny, not too thick), let it cool for about 10 minutes (you might get a skin on the sauce, this is fine) and then carefully pour it evenly over the salmon layer. Finish off with a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top and put into the oven for about 30 minutes or until a nice golden color.

Note that you could swap the salmon over for tuna if you prefer. Fresh salmon or tuna would be interesting - I have never tried it but it could be fantastic! Fresh dill in the cheese sauce would also be nice.  You could also add a layer of vegies like finely sliced zucchini or red capsicum - give it a go! Tailor it to suit your family and hopefully it will be a winner with your fussy eaters as well.

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