Loving life

1 Mar

February 14, 1995.

That date, accompanied by my childish drawing of requisite hearts, is scrawled in the top corner of a crumpled notebook page tucked into a special photo album labeled “Andrea’s Recipes.”

The recipe on that crushed page had languished among my collected scraps of food ideas for five years–ever since the move to my first apartment with its tiny kitchen promising countless nights of home-cooked meals. To prepare for them, I’d searched the corners of my mom’s spacious kitchen, where I’d found, buried within her old blue folder bulging with unused recipes dating back to the ’70s, this relic of the ’90s.

Those years had been consumed with the stomach-wrenching anxiety of my dad’s first fight with intestinal lymphoma. The diagnosis had left my family choking on our favorite simple meal, affectionately called “rice and sauce,” and then smiling wanly over subsequent casseroles donated by well-meaning church friends.

“Church cookbook,” my mom had appropriately noted as she’d taken down the recipe for the best of those numerous noodle casseroles. But perhaps its generous use of egg noodles–laden with gluten that was unknowingly feeding the cancer in my dad’s intestines–had somehow subconsciously deterred us, for we made the casserole only that one time on Valentine’s Day in 1995.

Now more than 15 years later, I finally returned to the dish this past month. After all, February seemed like the perfect time to celebrate my love for life–and for my dad’s–both made possible by gluten-free adaptations that, every so often, make dishes even tastier than their original versions.

So, based on that original recipe for chicken noodle casserole, here’s my vegetarian, gluten-free take on Rice Quorn Casserole.

2 cups uncooked jasmine rice
1 tsp. salt
3 cups water
1 and 1/2 cups frozen Quorn Chik’n Tenders (my new obsession–and the most authentic fake meat on the market)
Olive oil, garlic salt, black pepper, and dried basil
1 12-ounce package Pacific Natural Foods Organic Cream of Mushroom Condensed Soup
10 ounces frozen salted peas
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
5 to 7 Velveeta slices

Combine the first three ingredients, bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes until rice absorbs water.

Meanwhile, in a nonstick pan, season Chik’n Tenders generously with garlic salt, pepper, and dried basil, and fry in olive oil until slightly brown.

In a separate bowl, whisk together mushroom soup, cornstarch, milk, and peas. Then combine all ingredients in a medium-sized casserole dish, top with Velveeta slices, cook for about 25 to 30 minutes, and enjoy this comforting Quorn casserole.

It’s sure to be love–whether or not it’s Valentine’s Day.

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