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30th October
2009
written by Steph

This dish may not look all that pretty, but I promise it tastes good!

This dish may not look all that pretty, but I promise it tastes good!

When the weather starts getting cold, I start craving comfort food – generally one pot dishes that you can fling together and let the magic happen without doing all that much to them.  The funny thing is that most of the traditional comfort foods (like mac & cheese, meatloaf, or yes, tuna noodle casserole), I never got to eat growing up!  My mom made meatloaf maybe once or twice, but the only mac and cheese I ever got was Kraft Dinner.  It was good – don’t get me wrong – but it was straight out of a box.  Don’t go thinking my mom didn’t like to cook or anything like that.  Far from it.  My mom’s a wonderful cook, but those kinds of foods just aren’t on her radar.  Growing up in Trinidad, her idea of comfort foods are things like cookup, curries, and maybe even blood sausage (but we won’t talk about that last one, that’s for sure.).  So for me, casseroles and the like are still kind of a novelty dish, as they didn’t make up the bulk of my childhood eating. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a picky eater, but one thing I really don’t like is tuna from a can.  It just really grosses me out; just thinking about its flaky texture makes me want to lie down.  I don’t think Tony’s aversion is quite as strong as mine, but he’s no fan either (isn’t it nice when your food likes and dislikes so neatly coincide with your significant other’s?), so while I can get behind the general notion of the tuna noodle casserole, I had to swap out that first ingredient with chicken breast (in theory I could have probably used that canned chicken you can buy, but when possible, I choose to not use canned meats… 😉 ).  But other than that, I stuck pretty closely to this recipe, which allowed me to circumvent using a can of condensed soup.  Don’t worry if you choose to make things easier on yourself and use this one as your basis instead – I promise not to judge! Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided --> I don’t think I used nearly this much; just 1 tbsp for sautéing the veggies, and 4 tbsp for the basis of the roue, and a smidge for greasing the dish (which is probably not even necessary)
  • 1 (8 ounce) package uncooked medium egg noodles --> we baked our casserole in a square 8” (?) baking dish, and I had way too much casserole for that and wound up needing an overflow loaf pan to cook the rest; in the future, I’ll probably only use 5 or 6 ounces of noodles (or use a bigger dish, I suppose…)
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped --> I had a bunch of celery and upped this to 3 stalks, but we’re celery fans here
  • 1 clove garlic, minced --> I think I upped this to 2 cloves
  • 8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced --> At Trader Joe’s, crimini mushrooms were the same price as button mushrooms, so I bought those instead.  You wouldn’t think this makes a huge difference, but it did!  So much more flavor!
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard --> this was may one major addition to the dish; I added this to the cream sauce for an added kick of flavor
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 (6 ounce) cans tuna, drained and flaked --> I replaced this with one rather large chicken breast, that probably weight 0.5 lb
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed --> increased to 1.5 cup
  • · 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted --> I used crumbled plain potato chips as my topping, rather than the breadcrumb/butter combo… way more exciting!
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Method 1) Preheat oven to 375°.  Grease your baking dish. 2) Over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp butter in a frying pan and add in your garlic, onions, and celery.  While they are cooking, get a pot of salted water boiling and cook egg noodles according to direction and then drain.  If using chicken breast instead of tuna, get a second pan hot (medium-high heat), drizzle chicken breast with some olive oil, and then cook. (I actually used our indoor griddle to cook the chicken breast, and cooked the chicken at 400° on each side for about 5 minutes… but my chicken breast was rather plump. With thinner chicken, you would want to cook it less so that it is just cooked, as you will not want to dry the chicken out.) 3) Once veggies have cooked for about 5 minutes, add in the mushrooms and increase heat.  Cook for another 3 minutes or so and then, remove from heat.  Once chicken is cooked, remove from heat, and when cool enough, cut into cubes. 4) In a large pot, melt 4 tbsp of butter over low-medium heat, and then slowly whisk in flour until the mixture has formed a nice golden color.  Then slowly whisk in your milk, stirring constantly and thoroughly to avoid any lumps, and the Dijon mustard. Increase heat just a bit (to just below medium) and cook sauce for another 5 minutes until it has thickened slightly (believe me, it will thicken!  At first I thought it wouldn’t, but I was patient and kept occasionally stirring the sauce and suddenly it definitely felt thicker!). 5) Once sauce has thickened, add in your veggies mixture, peas, noodles, and cubed chicken breast, and stir to combine everything.  Then dump the mixture into your greased dish, crumble chips over the top, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese. 6) Bake for about 20 minutes (or until topping browns and cheese is melted), then remove from oven and serve immediately.
    Why yes, those are potato chips on top!

    Why yes, those are potato chips on top!

    I’ve only made this dish once before, but we were really pleased with the results this time.  The sauce had a wonderful flavor, and despite being creamy, it wasn’t too thick or heavy.  The balance between the milk and flour was just right so that the sauce wasn’t dragging the rest of the casserole down.  Even though making the sauce from scratch constituted some extra effort on my part, I think it was well worth it, as I had better control over the consistency and the flavor of the final product.  I’ll also point out that even though this isn’t the quickest meal to bang together (in part because I made the sauce from scratch and had to cook a piece of chicken), I made this after a trip to the gym, and I would say it probably only took about 40 minutes from start to finish (I admit I cranked up the heat to 400° and only baked the dish for about 15 minutes).  While I think this dish is more in line with what some people might cook on the weekend when time is more plentiful, it can be done during the week, with minimal stress. The other thing I love about this dish is that it’s a great way to use up the veggies you have on hand or really like.  The last time I made this, I skipped the peas, and put in green peppers instead (sautéing them along with the onion and garlic in step 2).  I could see including, corn, broccoli, peppers, or even zucchini, squash, or sautéed spinach.  It’s a great way to get veggies in rather than having them go bad in your crisper. All in all, I’d say this is a great dish to have in your repertoire.  It’s not fancy (though you could gussy it up, potentially by adding white wine to the sautee, and using a fancier cheese, and maybe subbing in fennel instead of celery...), but it is really satisfying and is easy to modify for even the pickiest of eaters.  And even if the 40 minute prep/cooktime seems daunting, I promise you get a great meal with many portions that will make meals later in the week a cinch.  It's actually a relief that I made this on Monday because I have since been under the weather with a nasty bug that has left me bedridden.  I'm in no state to cook, but at least having meals ready for Tony is one less thing I have to worry about!

    7 Comments

    1. 10/30/2009

      I also grew up without casseroles and most traditional comfort food, because my mom just doesn’t care for them. But I love, love, love me some casserole now! I found a pretty fun cookbook for them recently (http://casserolecrazy.com/) which I haven’t tried out too much because I was waiting for it to be a bit less summery, but I’ll definitely be testing out a bunch of the recipes soon. My favorite part is that you can really just slap together anything you want, bake it for 20 minutes or so, and it will be delish. Especially if there is cheese and breadcrumbs on top!

    2. 10/30/2009

      Love the potato chips, and I love the blue plates!!!

    3. 10/31/2009

      @ Nicole: I really love that with casseroles you can get a complete meal in one dish – they’re generally not that labor intensive, they don’t cost all that much, they’re filling, and don’t leave you with too many dishes to clean up! And really, anything with cheese sprinkled over the top is good by me!
       
      @ rhapsody: I figure any main course with potato chips sprinkled on the top would have to be a winner. I was right! 😉

    4. 11/02/2009

      You know, I loved tuna casserole growing up, and my mom made it a lot, but my husband and kids really, really hate tuna fish (much like you guys) so I have never made it for them. I am so, so excited to see this recipe, and see that it uses chicken breast, which is a favorite around here. I am printing out this recipe, and making as soon as I can. I know my family will love this, and it’s as close to tuna casserole as I am going to get in this house! Thanks so much for posting this, it looks great. I think that the crumbled potato chips on top will be a winner as well. I will let you know what happens!

    5. 11/02/2009

      @ zibilee: I hope this works out for you! As I said, it ain’t pretty but it’s REALLY good. I think the chicken breast is a good substitution for tuna, so hopefully this meal will please your family – you’ll ge some of the flavors you’ve been missing, and your husband and kids avoid the tuna! Let me know how it goes!

    6. Sim
      11/06/2009

      This is good!!

      I too did not grow up with casseroles, so they’re a novelty for me. But you have to love such a simple meal that combines everything good.

      Love the potato chip addition!

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