“Mama, what’s for supper?”
“What kind of food?”
“What kind of supper food?”
The kind you eat.
“Ugh. What kind of food are we eating for supper?”
The edible kind.
This exact conversation took place in my house for years! One child after another was tortured with my circumlocutious answer to the age old question, “What’s for dinner?” However, it wasn’t just because I enjoy tormenting my kids. It was, because, sometimes dinner doesn’t have a name. (Irritating the kids was just a perk.)
There are nights when I study the contents of the fridge, freezer, and pantry to plan a ‘use it up’ meal. Eating these meals often triggers another frustrating conversation. This one takes place around the dinner table. It starts politely with the phrase, “This is really good.” I smile and say, thank you. Then, someone (usually Liam) asks, “What is it?” I smile and answer, “Supper”. Everyone at the table (except me) exchanges THE LOOK. When I glance up, all eyes glare at me accusingly. Finally, someone (usually Grace) says, “You do remember what you put in it, right?” I stare vaguely into space, mumble some ingredients, pause, and say something like, “oh, and there might be some…” Suddenly, I’m surrounded by groans.
The truth is, meals like that are hard to replicate. I can get close, but if the vegetables were cooked with Sunday’s roast, the meat is diced pork chops, and the sauce was made from a base of leftover Welsh rarebit it gets complicated! However, these meals are tasty and help keep our food waste down. We really like them, even if they’re often one-show-only events.
In order to explain the one-hit-wonder nature of these dishes, I explained to my family that I look in the fridge and pull out everything that looks like it must go. For some reason, they found my explanation funny. Liam laughingly said, “So, basically, we’re having Mussgo Casserole tonight”? Since that night, we’ve happily eaten unending permutations of Mussgo Casserole, Mussgo Stew, Mussgo Soup, and Mussgo Potpie. If I give something the name ‘Mussgo Whatever’, the family knows there isn’t a recipe. So, if they want me to recreate it, they’d better get me to jot it down quickly (before I forget what’s in it) and hope it’s made with recreate-able ingredients.
Making one of these Mussgo Casseroles is all about proportions! Typically, a casserole has starch, meat, goodies, sauce, and topping. The starch can be rice, noodles, potatoes, tortillas, or another grain, like quinoa. The meat used in Mussgo dishes depends on what I have on hand. Pretty much any leftover meat will work. Since I need a couple of cups to make 9 x 13 pan, I occasionally combine meats. Ham and Italian sausage, for example, make a great “Meat Lovers Italian Mussgo” meal. For our family, goodies are usually cooked vegetables, mushrooms, and things with texture. Leftover roasted or sauteed vegetables are perfect. I use slivered almonds, wild rice, and water chestnuts for texture.
The type of sauce depends on the kind of casserole I want to make. Often, I make something similar to “Cream of _____” soups. Occasionally, I use leftover queso, enchilada, alfredo, white wine, or marinara sauces. There are tons of great possibilities depending on what you want the final product to taste like. I like casseroles to have a crunchy topping, so I almost always add one. Fried onions, crackers, corn flakes, rice krispies, bread crumbs, or chips all add texture and make the meal seem more finished.
Earlier this week, I cooked a large pork roast. I intentionally cut the roast big enough to have planned leftovers. We ate about a third of the roast and half of the roast vegetables the first night. The rest of the roast was intended to go in a pot pie and soup later in the week. However, I found myself craving a comforting savory casserole. Luckily, there was enough roast to divide out and make my casserole, the pot pie, and the soup. The casserole was delicious and very filling, so we got two dinners and two days’ lunches from it. (Note: My batch was one-third larger than the recipe listed below.)
When I cooked the pork, I roasted sweet potatoes (yams), potatoes, carrots, tart apples, and onions. I didn’t want the potatoes or apples in this casserole. So, I picked out the bits I wanted and supplemented them with sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, and asparagus from another meal (poached eggs on toast with Hollandaise). When I’m inventing a dish on the fly, I choose things that can happily live in the same baking pan. I avoid flavors that would clash (like Brussels sprouts or the apples), heavily seasoned items that won’t blend, and putting things like potatoes and rice together.
I’ve written a recipe for the dish we ate. It was great! However, this recipe will benefit you most if you DON”T follow it! If you have chicken instead of pork, use that. If you don’t cook with alcohol, omit it and add broth. If you don’t have leftover roasted vegetables, steam a bag of broccoli and carrots. If you’re broke, omit some of the pricier ingredients or cut down on the amounts (cheese, for example). If you have special dietary requirements, substitute for them. (I make everything for the family gluten free, so the sauce works with gluten free flour.) The main goal is to look in the pantry, freezer, and fridge, decide what will play well together, then make it a meal. (You get bonus points if you use up some of those “mussgo’s” while you’re at it.) If you’ve never ‘vamped’ a meal before, the recipe below should give you a starting point. Use it to help approximate the proportions needed to make your own version of Mussgo Casserole!
Do you plan for leftovers? Do you have Mussgo Meals? Do you enjoy torturing your children by talking in circles and evading questions? Please, leave a comment below if you have time. I’ll respond, and I’ll even tell you what were having for supper tonight! 😉
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