Creative Casserole

Judson has been called away to London for a few days for work, so I’ve been home by myself this week. I love London a lot more than Judson does, so while I am jealous, I’m trying to rein in my jealousy and take advantage of this unexpected solo time to make recipes I know he doesn’t like. Our tastes mostly align pretty well, but there are definitely a handful of things I like much more than he does (Tacos! Macaroni cheese! Anything with sriracha! Breakfast-for-Dinner!), and firmly rooted in this category is anything involving cheese. Before we were married, we used to joke about how my go-to meal when I was having dinner alone was ‘Single Girl Surprise,’ basically macaroni and cheese with whatever veggies I happened to have leftover in my fridge (usually peas).*

This was obviously before I knew how to cook things like prime rib, salmon, crab, and other things. Sorry, 20-something Blair, for not learning how to cook sooner.

Anyway, Judson is gone this week and I have been plunged back into the lands of ‘single girl surprise,’ which, this time around, still involves pasta, though I have graduated beyond boxed macaroni cheese. So in honour of being alone for the week, here’s a riff on the OG Single Girl Surprise of my 20s… I give you: Creative Casserole.

This is not actually a casserole at all, but it does involve that most dreaded of ingredients: Spam. I’ve been putting off making this forever, partly because it’s on the reverse of a much tastier recipe, partly because it’s not a super healthy meal, and mostly, let’s not kid ourselves, because it contains Spam and I didn’t want to be known as a person who has ever purchased (let alone cooked with) Spam.

I haven’t actually tasted Spam since I was a kid and we used to take it on camping trips, but it is, to be fair, not nearly as terrible as I assumed it would be. That said… it’s still Spam. Not quite ham, definitely not bacon, and housed in a can. If you can get past the inclusion of Spam, this is basically baked macaroni—a dish to which I am not inherently opposed. However, with the inclusion of Spam, it becomes a Creative Casserole you’ll be too embarrassed to try, but you’ll still want to know what the result was. It’s here that I must disappoint you, dear reader. I thought it would be awful—inedible, in fact! I had the curry takeaway order all ready to go in case we needed a last minute emergency dinner in case this one went predictably awry in a blaze of pinwheeled processed-ham glory, but it turned out…ok.

I’m not saying I’m a fan, but if you ignore the triangles of Spam on top (too much for a single bite, in my humble, ex-vegetarian opinion), this isn’t a terrible dish. I mean, we all know ham and cheese go together like gangbusters, and we’ve already established that I subsisted for most of my early 20s on a diet of macaroni and cheese with frozen peas stirred in, so from there, you only have to adjust yourself to the idea of onions in your macaroni, which is not exactly uncommon, and which, in this instance, definitely adds a nice counterpoint to the salty ‘ham’ and sweet peas.** Plus the extra crunch from the still-al-dente onions was definitely welcomed.

I know this isn’t a cool opinion and if I were ever to make this again, I would 100% make it with pancetta instead of Spam, but for an experimental recipe in the quest to make everything in the Recipe Box, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be (or, for that matter, nearly as bad as some other things I’ve made).

*I have a theory that every woman has a recipe for Single Girl Surprise, and they are all different. For a good friend of mine, it's ramen noodles with peanut butter and sriracha mixed into the sauce for a faux-Thai-style curry. Another friend makes refrigerator pasta, which is just pasta with bread crumbs and whatever groceries she has that need to be used up. I'm fascinated by these 'go-to' recipes and always keen to hear what other people's are.

** After saying this at work one too many times, a co-worker recently asked me what 'gangbusters' means, and after looking up its origins, I discovered that it is an American saying dating back to a radio show from the 1940s. Fitting for this blog, I think!

The verdict:

2 spoons out of five. We ate the entire batch of it, so I feel like even though I want to act like it was terrible and only give it one spoon, that’s probably an unfair verdict. But seriously, unless you have a deep-seated love of Spam, if this sounds tasty to you, make it with crumbled bacon (if you’re Stateside) or pancetta (if you’re in the UK) instead.

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The recipe:

Creative Casserole

the directions:

Heat oven to 175C/350F.
Prepare macaroni and cheese as directed on package, except do not add any liquid to cooked noodles.
Cut 3 very thin slices from Spam, then cut slices in half diagonally and set aside.
Cube remaining meat, then add to macaroni and cheese.
Add peas, cottage cheese, onion, and basil to macaroni and stir well.
Pour into a casserole dish and top with Spam triangles.
Bake 30-35 minutes until heated through.

the ingredients:

1 box macaroni and cheese
1 can Spam (12 oz is suggested, but my can was more like 10. No one complained)
8 oz frozen peas, thawed and drained
1 c cottage cheese
¼ c onion, finely chopped
½ tsp basil, minced