My son, Noah, got very lucky when he entered high school. He found forever friends. And I got lucky, too, because they’re all adventurous eaters and they like my food.
Think about this. Noah was a freshmen when he met Anna (at the top of the photo), who was a senior; Linda (next one down), who was a junior; and Evie, a sophomore. (That’s Anna’s friend, Daniel, at the bottom – visiting from New York City). What are the odds that upper classmen in high school would allow a freshmen to infiltrate their ranks? Four years later, they are still fast friends although life has taken them to different corners of the country. Anna is an aspiring actress in New York, Linda is studying at Tulane and Evie is an art major at Warren Wilson outside Asheville. Noah is, of course, at the University of Tennessee leaning toward a major in business administration (much to the delight of his mother who still cannot do percentages).
Food. I’m getting to the food. So it’s Christmas break and everyone’s home. “Mom,” Noah says one day. “Can Evie come to supper?” Of course, she can. “And Anna might come, too.” That’s fine. Somehow I conveniently forget that Anna is bringing Daniel and that – how did I miss this? – Linda is coming, too. All of them. In an hour.
So I resort to the cheater’s casserole. It’s quick. It’s tasty. And it involves Velveeta, as so many truly outstanding casseroles do. I made up this recipe a few years ago under similar circumstances. If I were a professional culinary person, I would say I “developed” the recipe. But when you see what’s in it, you’ll understand why that would be too grand a description.
It just consists of two boxes of Velveeta Shells and Cheese, ground chuck, a can of diced tomatoes and a few special flourishes. I cannot express to you how good this stuff is.
By the way, reading a food story about the guilty pleasures of chefs on the Huffington Post made me feel so much better about my love of Velveeta. Do you know what Wylie Dufresne’s guilty pleasure is? American Cheese! And what is American cheese at its core? Velveeta, of course.
2 boxes Velveeta Shells and Cheese
1 pound ground chuck
2 tablespoons dried onion
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
½ cup panko bread crumbs
Prepare shells and cheese according to package directions. Brown ground chuck well, until parts of it brown. Drain excess grease and add dried onion and tomatoes. Mix with the shells and cheese. Add the smoked paprika. Put in a casserole dish and top with dried bread crumbs. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.