You wouldn't realize it right away, but my Japanese mother is a steak and potatoes, mid-western, American girl through and through.
In 1975, my Mom left Japan for the first time to travel across the US with a group of 15 other young people from Japan. She was 21 years old. They stayed with various host families as they made their way from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. In Minneapolis, she met a family that she had an immediate connection with. They wrote letters to each other for a year after she went back to Japan, and she worked hard during that time to save up enough money to move to the US. After just one visit, she knew she had found a country where she belonged.
She has always called the Baker family her "second family", and we grew up visiting them during hot Minnesota summers. They've come to California to watch my siblings and I all graduate from high school. She's cooked dinner for us while talking to her "second mother", our Aunty Sylvia, on the phone for as long as I can remember.
After Aunty Sylvia died a few years ago, I found a cookbook I had never noticed in my Mom's kitchen: The St. Paul Catholic Church community cookbook from 1975. My Mom was handing me a few of my paternal grandmother's cookbooks from her Buddhist Church in Hawaii when I asked if I could have this one as well. Because I've always felt that Minnesota is part of my heritage, too.
The recipes in this book include quintessential post-war convenience dishes like "Barbecue Chicken in a Bag" and a hefty casserole section with several variations on "Chicken and Rice Hot Dish". As a child, I loved Campbell's cream of mushroom soup in a can, but I've swapped out many of the processed ingredients (hello, Lipton's onion soup mix) for fresh ingredients and rice for "riced" cauliflower.
By the way, casseroles, though they might have a bad reputation in the American culinary world, aren't all that bad if you update the ingredients. Here are some examples of "casseroles" in other cuisines:
This is a great, healthy-ish dish that can be made on a Sunday and can be easily heat up during the rest of the week. While I've made some healthier swaps, the best part of it remains the same: Ease and convenience.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1.5 cups cremini mushrooms and stems, sliced (about 1x 8 ounce package)
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 medium heads of cauliflower, riced and cooked
3 cups shredded roast chicken (you can use a rotisserie chicken here for convenience)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup almond meal/flour
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/3 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
Set oven to 350°F. Fill a big pot of water and add a bit of salt. Set it over medium heat.
Rice your cauliflower with a box grater or a food processor. When the water in the pot comes to a rolling boil, add the riced cauliflower and cook uncovered for about 5 minutes. Check for doneness- the cauliflower should still have some bite but taste cooked. Be careful not to overcook, since it will cook again in the oven later. Strain in a colander and set aside.
Shred the roast chicken and set it aside. I like to add even amounts of leg and breast meat. Oil a 9 x 12" casserole/baking dish with olive oil- don't forget to get the sides!
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and a bit of salt. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until caramelized. Slide in the sliced mushrooms and a bit more salt- cook for about 5 minutes. Add heavy whipping cream and cook until mushrooms appear to be cooked through (about 5 more minutes).
In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add the cauliflower, mushroom mix, almond meal, some of the chopped dill (reserve some to sprinkle atop the casserole later), salt and pepper. Stir well to combine and pour the mixture into the casserole dish evenly. Sprinkle with chopped raw onions.
Place the casserole in the oven for 35 minutes, or until it begins to brown on top. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Right before serving, sprinkle a bit more dill on top to finish. Serve it with a simple salad and enjoy!