Friday, January 13, 2012

I'm Pretty Sure Pope John Paul II Never Ate This Stuff

I promised to tell you about Polish chop suey.

I couldn't find an accurate picture, but I did find this,
which is equally terrifying.
My mom is a pretty damn good cook. She likes to put chopped onions in damn near everything, but I love her and her cooking anyway. When I was growing up, she had to feed five people on a budget, but she found ways to stretch her food dollar. Some of those ways were good - we didn't eat a lot of packaged "convenience" foods, because it was cheaper to cook from scratch, and obviously much healthier and tastier. I literally never ate instant mashed potatoes, jarred spaghetti sauce, or store-bought cookies at home. We got all that stuff fresh and homemade. (I do remember eating a lot of Hamburger Helper, however...especially the kind with the wagon-wheel pasta. Mmmm...Hamburger Helper with wagon-wheel pasta.)

But there was a dark side to Mom's thrifty cooking. We ate a lot of stuff that could be prepared cheaply and in family-size quantities.  Perfectly understandable. Lots of casseroles, lots of soups, not too many individual bacon-wrapped filets. Some of Mom's recipes were tasty, hearty, and memorable, like cheeseburger pie (with from-scratch crust, of course).

This actually looks like my  mom's cheeseburger pie.
It was good, even though I had to pick out the copious chopped onion.

Others haunt me to this day. Now, I admit to being a picky eater. Thank God for chocolate and booze, or there would be relatively little in this world to keep the extra pounds clinging to my hips. My brother and sister weren't picky. Just me. I was the youngest of the three, but it took me so long to eat around the stuff I disliked on my plate that I think I actually gained on them over the years.

Again, my mom was a good cook. She just happened to use an awful lot of ingredients I couldn't stand. Not her fault: there was a lot I couldn't stand. And there actually weren't that many recipes she made that I thought were awful. Individual ingredients, sure. But once I picked out the bell pepper or the celery, I liked most of her stuff just fine.

Except Polish chop suey.

I was shocked to discover that you can find recipes for Polish chopy suey all over the Internet. I pretty much assumed it was something my mom had invented as an excuse to throw together a lot of crap from the cupboard. But no. It's a thing.

We always had peanut butter in the cupboard.
I don't know why she never made us Thai food.
 A lot of the Polish chop suey recipes out there aren't much like what Mom used to make. Hers was uniquely awful. Again, love my mom, love her cooking, hate hate HATE Polish chop suey. She'd make this stuff every so often, and my gag reflex would engage as soon as she put it on the table. I'd put the smallest allowable amount on my plate and move it around until it sort of looked eaten, and if I was lucky, I'd get away with only swallowing a few bites.

The thing about Polish chop suey is that it's one of those concoctions, like salsa, that combines a multitude of things I hate to eat into one food that I can then conveniently shun. Except growing up, there was no shunning dinner. You ate what was served - you could eat more of what you liked and less of what you didn't care for, but by God you ate.

Not the kind of thing that went over well in our kitchen.
 So I had to eat Polish chop suey when it showed up at dinnertime. I will never eat it again. As God is my witness, I will never eat it again. I won't make it for my family, I won't order it in a restaurant (I can't imagine any restaurant that would actually serve it), and if my mom ever makes it for me again, I will lovingly and gently put her in a home. Yeah, really, Mom.

Yet the recipe for this stuff is burned into my memory. I thought we were supposed to repress traumatic memories, but apparently Polish chop suey has the power to transcend that. OK, if you want to make this dish, I strongly urge you to reconsider. But if you do - if you really really really have nothing to live for - then here's what you do.

You get a package of kluski noodles, and you slice up a couple of Polish sausages, and you take a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of mushrooms and a can of sauerkraut, and you dump all that shit into a Pyrex baking dish. Then you take it to the Dumpster and order a pizza. *sigh* No, then you put it in the oven until it bubbles or starts to stink or something. I don't know.

What you end up with is a waste of perfectly good kluski noodles. And a big old dish of Polish chop suey that will feed your entire family, even the members who hate it with all their heart and soul.

Mikey don't like it.
Don't try this recipe at home. Or do. I am not responsible for the outcome.
One more time: Love my mom. Love her cooking. Almost all of it.

Next time I'll tell you about Texas hash.

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