Comfort Food, Take II

As I mentioned in my last post, I had every intention of making a classic comfort food, tuna noodle casserole, the other night.  But I’d had a bad day and ended up combining some steps and giving up.  I threw the whole mess into the freezer and decided to deal with it another night.  That night was last night.  But instead of tuna, I used chicken.  I just wasn’t in a tuna mood. (My friend, Mrs. N, is NEVER in a canned tuna mood and declares that fish and dairy do not mix.  I beg to differ and offer fish chowder as one example)

In general, casseroles are not my cup of tea.  They were really popular back in the day because it’s basically condensed soup, noodles and some kind of protein.  Maybe a veg if you feel like it (usually peas).  Now, I can’t stand canned soups.  I use boxed broth because it’s easier but I always check the ingredient lists and make sure that I’m buying one whose first ingredient isn’t salt.  But canned soups to me are just salt, salt and more salt.  When you add the idea of a “cream of”, well, ick.  So I make my own- which isn’t that hard, really- and that makes my casseroles taste fresher, more savory and just generally less gross.

So, I give you my basic noodle casserole recipe- you can pick and choose what veggies/proteins you want to use- it doesn’t have to be tuna. (I must say that casseroles were not something made in my childhood. My Grandmother never used condensed anything, really.  But I have a strange affinity for them anyway.  I’m not sure why….)

Noodle Casserole

Rather than writing this the way I usually do, I’m going to describe what I did- one of the best things my grandmother ever did for me, was to explain and demonstrate how she thought about cooking rather than just handing me a cookbook.  Cooking is pretty basic- once you have an idea of how things work, you can improvise and experiment.)

All casseroles have three basic parts, the noodle, the protein, the condensed soup part.

Noodles

One bag (or half bag depending on how big a casserole you’re making) wide egg noodles

The noodles are easy:  boil a bag of egg noodles.  Well, don’t boil the bag, boil a pot of water (remember to salt it so that it adds flavor to the noodles) and add the noodles.  Cook until al dente- about a minute less than suggested on the bag.  Drain and set aside.

Protein

Tuna, chicken thighs or breasts (boneless skinless) or another protein of your choice.  I don’t know that beef would be the best- maybe a pork loin or boneless chop?  I bet fresh tuna would be good or another kind of fresh fish.

If you’re using tuna, you don’t have to do anything, just open the can and drain it.  If you’re using chicken, season it with salt and pepper (this time around I also threw on some minced dried onion and seasoning salt), throw on some olive oil and roast in the oven until cooked through but not too dry. 

I used boneless, skinless breasts that had been sliced thin so it only took about ten minutes to cook them at 375.  Set them aside to cool and then slice into chunks.

“Soup”

1 medium onion, chopped

10 oz mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (I used one pint of white mushrooms)

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/4 cup sherry

1/4 cup flour

1-2 cups milk

1/2-1 cup of broth (chicken or veggie)

1 cup frozen peas

Ok, so lots of steps but not too difficult.

Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a pot over medium heat and then add the mushrooms and onions. When the onions have softened and the mushrooms have started to cook down, add the soy sauce and sherry.  Let them all cook together over medium high heat, until the liquid has mostly evaporated. 

Add the flour and stir around to let it cook for about one minute. 

Add about a half a cup of the milk and whisk it around so that the lumps break up.  Add the rest, slowly, and let it cook for a few minutes.  It will thicken up.  If it gets too thick (you’re going for a cream soup consistency, not paste), add some broth to thin it out. 

Add the peas and let them cook for a few minutes.  Taste and season accordingly.

Topping

1 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 cup shredded cheese- I used cheddar and parmesan

1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Mix all ingredients together with your fingers.  Set aside.

To put it together:

Put the drained noodles into the pot with the “soup” mixture.  Stir.  Add the protein (fish or chicken or whatever) and stir.  Pour the mixture into a casserole dish.  Top with the breadcrumb mixture.   Bake at 350 degrees until the top is browned and it’s bubbly.

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2 thoughts on “Comfort Food, Take II

  1. That’s approximately the same thing I do for this type of casserole.

    A couple of vatiations: use brown rice instead of noodles. (I have even made it without cooking the rice first – with white rice, BTW, because brown doesn’t cook quite as quickly – after making the sauce and adding the protein, I stir in the raw rice, pop in oven and cook until rice is tender.) It takes a bit longer the raw-rice way, but the rice gets very flavorful. Usually I make the broth a litttle thinner to start as the rice absorbs most of the moisture. I try to insure that there is at least twice the amount of liquid as raw rice. That’s the rule of thumb for that variation. For cooked rice, I use the same ratio as for cooked noodles. Which reminds me, you can do the same thing with raw noodles!

    Another thing I do is ad cheese to the sauce as well as on the top. Crushed Ritz crackers or croutons work well as a topping too, insrtead of bread crumbs.

    Your instructions are great, Stella, particularly for the uninitiated or beginner cooks. Always great to read – even if you know how, and I love the stories that accompany them. Great post, and have a great week!

    ~Paula

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