and I had hot dog casserole for dinner last night.
of baked beans. Half dozen or so hot dogs. Mix them up with a
bit of brown sugar and some other additions of your choice (we
usually add a bit of ketchup and ground mustard to the baked beans
and brown sugar, with some chopped onions in with the frying hot
dog slices, which all becomes a big dish of goodness heading for
some time in the oven before serving), open a can of brown bread,
and you’ve got quite the meal.
right. I said a can of brown bread. And if your eyes have turned
to a vacant stare of “I have no clue what the hell you’re talking
about” on that suggestion, well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to
help you understand much of this effort.
cheap and easy and far from gourmet. It’s much, much closer to
a beat-up campfire kettle than any formal plating arrangement.
It’s also amazingly delicious and incredibly satisfying.
not each and every day satisfying. More like once or twice a year
making the dinner, I began to wonder about it. Does this count
as comfort food? I suppose it does. Actually, it most certainly
does. It’s not as complex as a great stew, but it delivers on
almost all of the same atmosphere.
me though, I usually think of two particular stories when it comes
to this dish. Both of them involve my mother.
first is a bit off in the ultimate outcome, and I want to warn
you about that. These days, both of my parents say they have no
memory of it happening. But, I think you’ll understand from the
details that not only could it easily have happened, it also sounds
like something a child would remember.
was frying the hot dogs on the stove, and I was doing what kids
ordinarily do… getting completely in the way without realizing
I was completely in the way.
had just started making the dinner. No doubt following a busy
and potentially frustrating day, needing to feed the family, and
hoping to get some quick meal assembled and moved to the table
so everyone could eat and get on with the evening.
on the other hand, was standing next to the stove, hungry, and
grabbed a hot dog slice.
mother caught me, and proceeded to inform me not to do that… because
it wasn’t cooked and I could die and get out of the kitchen NOW!
don’t remember her exact words, but I can vividly remember sitting
on my bed, scared to tears, my father next to me with a notepad,
taking dictation from me as I presented him with my will.
whatever it was my mother actually said about eating an uncooked
hot dog slice and dying, it connected. I was convinced I was going
and was passing along my final wishes to my father.
claims to not remember this. Mom says she doesn’t remember it
either, but can at least acknowledge that she was likely happy
I had left the kitchen. So, there is that.
time, I was helping out. Most of the time, hot dog casserole was
one of those meals… something the kids could be trusted to assist
with, since there was pretty much no way to mess it up.
usually started with a four-ingredient mix in our house… baked
beans, ketchup, ground mustard and brown sugar. Easy enough. Take
a can of baked beans and add so many tablespoons of this and so
many tablespoons of that, stir. Add the sliced up hot dogs that
have been fried, stir. Bake in casserole dish.
our house, things were pretty traditional. B&M Baked Beans
and the standard Corningware casserole dish. (You know the set…
blue flower on the side, with matching glass lids.) Plus, as an
added bonus, it provided an argument-free dinner that everyone
would eat without kicking and screaming, so it had a regular spot
in our rotation.
I was good at making it.
good, I knew the recipe without looking it up.
time, I was adding the ketchup. Mom said two tablespoons, which—as
all of you probably know, just as I did—is wrong. (It’s three.
Or… it was three… now I don’t measure any of it, which is exactly
where this story is headed…)
looked at her, saying: “No, it’s three.” Her response? Something
along the lines of: “Yeah, sure, three tablespoons. Whatever.”
didn’t break eye contact. Why? Because her response was a groundbreaking
moment. I suddenly realized there was no recipe for her hot
dog casserole! She had been making it up all along.
you believe that? She knew the basics, never used a recipe herself
and just tossed things together, and had been so consistent with
it that whatever the kids tossed in was fine. Just so happened
the we usually added the same things.
have actually looked for the recipe in her kitchen several times
since I moved out and began assembling my own stockpile of recipes.
It’s mostly out of curiosity. I have this image in my head of
a piece of paper with the recipe on it. But I have never found
it. Nothing even close. And I am not surprised.
course, I now know that there is no exact science to it. We make
it by eye in our house. No more tablespoons. Which I will admit
is in part because I just don’t want the extra dirty dishes. So
much ketchup and so much brown sugar and a bit of this and a bit
of that and stir. Put in the oven with the brown bread.
almost a bit of a treat when we make it. Simple… no fuss… easy
and done. So of course, it qualifies as comfort food. But it’s
the memories that catch me. Every time. (Even if they aren’t written