HALLIE EPHRON: Confession: I serve canned soup for the holidays.
While I rarely open canned anything these days because most ingredients are available fresh in the market, during the holidays I hark back to the "traditional" foods I grew up with which, sad to say, often involve ingredients from a can.
A favorite in our house was mushroom-y potatoes made with real potatoes, sliced and parboiled, layered in a baking dish with butter; a can of condensed Campbells mushroom soup mixed with a little hot water or milk spread o'er the top; bake for about 40 minutes or until bubbly and brown.
There are never leftovers.
But my recipe leaves out Step one: Do NOT read the label. Because you will find that a serving of that canned soup contains 1/3 of your daily allowance of salt and virtually no other nutritional values beyond less than 5 per cent of your daily protein.
So are there icky delicious holiday dishes in your home that start life in a can?
RHYS BOWEN: When I was a new bride and newly in America I found out that all the housewives older than I gave me recipes that contained either a can of creamed soup, jello or cool whip... all of which were ingredients I had never used and never planned to use. But I have to confess to enjoying the green bean casserole that my daughter's MIL serves AND I have a delicious chicken breast recipe that uses a can of cream of chicken soup with the chicken breasts and fresh mushrooms and then covers the whole thing with stuffing mix.
LUCY BURDETTE: Weren't we all raised with the can philosophy? Oh man, we had canned raviolis, canned spaghetti, canned gravy, and yes, cream of everything in casseroles.
Here's something I'm making for the first time on December 31: stuffed shrimp. This is for my son-in-law, whose mom used to make it for his birthday and other special occasions. (He'll be with us for New Year's Eve day, his birthday!) She kindly sent me the recipe which includes cream of lobster soup, as in Campbell's. I'm thinking an easy little white sauce would provide the same effect, only without the salt and chemicals. What say you, Jungle red chefs?
HALLIE: I say ZOOT ALORS! MAIS NON NON NON!!! Bite the bullet, Miss Lucy, and buy the canned soup... unless you're going to make a lobster broth base for your "easy little white sauce." It's his birthday, for heavens sake.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: So funny, Hallie! We all grew up on canned things, but I eschewed everything except for canned tomatoes and beans (and sometimes pumpkin) years ago because MSG doesn't like me. However, many of the Campbell's soups are better than they used to be and Lucy, maybe you can get the "healthy" option for your stuffed shrimp:-)
Staples in both hubby's and my family's holiday dinners are green bean casserole and broccoli cheese casserole, the former made with canned green beans--yuck. But my sister-in-law made a fab broccoli casserole this Thanksgiving. She used fresh, barely steamed broccoli instead of the traditional frozen, grated cheddar instead of Velveeta (not a food fit for human consumption), mixed with cooked rice and a can of Campbell's mushroom soup. She topped it with Pepperidge Farm croutons she smashed in a ziplock baggie. The casserole was so delicious I'm actually tempted to make it myself.
PS My hubby keeps canned spaghetti, ravioli, and Wolf Brand Chili in the pantry. Those are his idea of comfort foods. I might eat them if we had a long-term power outage. Otherwise, not that desperate.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I remember LOVING Beefaroni. LOVING it. I wonder what it tastes like now, all orangey and fakey? But I still remember it was wonderful. We also loved Campbells Chicken Gumbo soup. (What a random soup choice, I know.) My brother Chip loves the cranberry sauce that gooses perfectly out of the can so you can still see the wavy lines on it.
I'm afraid my affinity with cans now lies only with canned white tuna in water, an absolute staple.
(And Roberta, it's for HIM, right? I vote make it his way. Avec salt and chemicals.)
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I have had occasions to taste Beefaroni as an adult (kept on hand occasionally for kid food emergencies) and it tastes sort of wonderfully horrible. You can recognize your consuming enough salt and preservatives to drop you on the spot, but at the same time - it's Beefaroni! God KNOWS what the meat actually is.
I'm not using canned goods for the hols, except for canned cranberry sauce. I don't care how many recipes I read that start with "Soak one pound of fresh organic cranberries overnight." I want my cranberries quivering on a plate in a six-inch long cylinder with ridges in them.
When Ross was diagnosed with high blood pressure, his doctor gave us a tip I now use: rinsing canned veggies will get rid of most of the sodium content. Since canned vegetables often have more nutritional content than frozen, I now use them a lot. Of course, it doesn't help if you're serving canned cream corn.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Actually, corn soufflé, one of my favorite holiday recipes, uses canned creamed corn — but it's delicious. It's actually Hallie's sister Nora's recipe, from the cookbook Our Meals by New York City Ballet dancers (now retired) Jock Soto and Healther Watts. Fantastic with fried chicken and collard greens.
OK, I just looked this recipe up online — and while Soto and Watts call it "Nora Ephon's Corn Soufflé," she herself called it, in Nora's Cookbook, "Cornbread Pudding Made of Horrible Ingredients."
Regardless of what you call it, it's really good.
Butter to grease pan
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 15-ounce cans creamed corn
3 tablespoons milk
Sour cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the corn, corn bread mix, and milk, and stir until just combined. Turn out into the prepared pan. Top with 6 tablespoon-sized dollops of sour cream, if desired. Bake for 45 minutes, until firm and golden.
Serves 6 to 8.
HALLIE: Oh that sounds delicious. It all does. Even the Velveeta. And I much prefer canned cranberry sauce to homemade. I LIKE the can lines on the sides and the slightly metallic taste.
So 'fess up! Do cans make it into your holiday feasts?