How to Update Childhood Dishes

Mac-n-cheeseMacaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, chicken parmesan, pizza… the meals we loved as children are fun to reminisce about, but actually eating them again is a completely different prospect. Looking back, a lot of the food we used to eat bordered on the bland, with simple preparations that our harried parents could whip up on the fly. It makes sense: why waste the good stuff on picky kids who won’t appreciate it?

Sometimes, though, a big, heaping plate of mac ’n’ cheese is just the kind of comfort food we need after a particularly bad day at the office. Though it’s tempting to just hunt for that familiar blue box, it would be much more satisfying to make it yourself and adapt the ingredients to more grown-up tastes. The following are some of our favorite childhood dishes coupled with easy ways to make them a bit more age-appropriate.

Tuna Casserole
This Midwestern classic is like a heartier version of tuna salad, festooned with egg noodles, peas, canned tuna, and cornflakes united by a base of cream of mushroom soup. It’s far from diet-friendly, and isn’t the most appealing to one who prefers to make their meals from scratch. To give it a haute cuisine upgrade, swap out the canned tuna for sushi-grade ahi tuna steak, which you can sear and serve atop pasta or a pea puree (or both!). If you want to mimic the satisfying crunch of the casserole top, grind up a handful of cornflakes and use them to crust the tuna before you sear it.

Macaroni and Cheese
The beauty of mac ’n’ cheese is its versatility, which makes it super-easy to upgrade! First, start with the cheese. Though Cheddar is a logical addition, it works best with a buddy: we’d recommend Gruyere, a higher-end Swiss cheese that melts beautifully. Grate a heaping helping of both cheeses into a homemade bechamel sauce to make your cheese sauce. Experiment with add-ons like roasted red pepper, English mustard, panchetta, broccoli rabe, and lobster; most everything goes great with this dish!

Pizza
Pizza can be so much more than what you can find on your local delivery place’s menu. Making your own crust doesn’t even have to be a chore: many pizza places and grocery stores sell pre-made pizza dough or mixes on the cheap. When you make your own, your options for toppings are truly endless! Though shredded Mozzarella is always a nice base for a pizza, try the fresh or smoked versions to mix it up. Gouda is also a nice alternative, though it tastes a bit more complex. Instead of regular tomato-based pizza sauce, use pesto or a thin layer of harissa, a Tunisian hot chili sauce that goes great with cheese.

Meatloaf
Of all the childhood classics on this list, meatloaf may perhaps be the most beloved. It hasn’t become very popular on restaurant menus, partially because there’s something magical about Mom’s meatloaf that a professional chef wouldn’t dare to attempt. No two people can agree on what makes a great meatloaf, because their memories of it are so individual. If you dare to improve upon this dish, here’s what you could try. First, use pasture-raised meat. Whether it’s beef, pork, or veal, the grass-fed variety is vastly superior to the cheap stuff. Second, make a good mushroom sauce to eat it with. Third, shape your meatloaf into smallish loaves on a baking sheet, rather than in a loaf pan — the finished product will be juicier.

Grilled Cheese
Though we’re the first to admit that nothing melts more nicely in a grilled cheese than Velveeta, we urge you to try experimenting with different cheeses, like Brie or goat cheese. Fill your gooey sensations with interesting spreads like fig jam or grated horseradish, which contribute bold flavors to otherwise one-note tastes. You can also add fruits and vegetables like roasted beet slices, caramelized onions, and raw apple.

Soleil is a former chef, with an encyclopedia of recipes floating around in her head. Nowadays, she applies her culinary expertise to the wonderful world of fancy picnic baskets.

Image Credit: simplyrecipes.com

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