Sunday, October 17, 2010

Farewell to June

Barbara Billingsley, better known as June Cleaver, the star of the hit TV series, Leave it to Beaver, died Saturday.  For those of you who are old enough to remember when television only came in two colors, black and white, this was a show everyone watched; the perfect parents, never getting too mad at their kids, the kids getting themselves into dumb predicaments, and mom always there serving the best dinners, with dessert every night.  June was the woman on the magazine covers with the perfect husband, the perfect children and the perfect wardrobe, even her aprons were stylish!

 For me, watching June and Ward parent their boys was like watching aliens---everything looked so perfect and normal, and the food they ate was straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook.  I grew up in a household where my mom cooked Italian most of the time, and I'd beg her to make Tuna Noodle casserole like my friends' moms---and my dad's reactions to things would make a volcanic eruption seem like a burp.  So, watching June, I imagined what it would be like to be the Beaver, and have parents that were perfect---in some ways I think it would have been awfully boring, but on the other hand, it would have kept my ulcer under control!

June wore lovely clothes, and could get away with a look like this.  The look is coming back if you have been watching Mad Men.

And, when it was hot outside, June always had lemonade for the boys, as if on cue, she would have the most adorable sets of glasses on a tray and a pitcher dripping with sweat because the lemonade was so cold. No juice boxes for this woman! 

And as if she couldn't be anymore perfect, she always invited you to stay for dinner; and that included this guy, Eddie Haskell---if June could love Eddie, she was OK in my book!

For those of us who grew up watching June, Ward, Wally, and Beaver, June was the glue that kept them together and the one we loved--Thanks for the memories Barbara Billingsley, rest in peace. 
In honor of June Cleaver, the mom who always had the perfect dinner on the table I offer this recipe for that 50's classic Tuna Noodle Casserole.  

Tuna Noodle Casserole
Serves 6

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup finely chopped onion

½ cup finely chopped celery

½ pound sliced button mushrooms

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

4 shakes Tabasco

Salt to taste

One pound medium egg noodles, cooked al dente and drained

Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna packed in oil, drained well, and flaked into chunks

1 cup frozen petite size peas, defrosted and drained well

1 cup crushed potato chips

3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat the inside of a 2-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, and sauté the onion, and celery for about 3 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they begin to color and their liquid has evaporated.

3. Sprinkle with the flour, and stir until the flour disappears. Cook the vegetables for 2 minutes, and then gradually add the broth and milk, stirring up any bits that are stuck on the bottom of the pan. Season the sauce with the Tabasco and salt to taste.

4. Spread a thin layer of the sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish. Stir 1 ½ cups of the sauce into the noodles, then stir in the tuna and peas, until they are evenly distributed.

5. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan, and cover with the remaining sauce.

6. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir into the potato chips and cheese, tossing to blend. Sprinkle on top of the casserole.

7. Do-Ahead: Cover and refrigerate for 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

8. Bring the casserole to room temperature and bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is golden brown.

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