Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What to Cook When You Don't Have Time to Cook: Chicken (or Tuna) Noodle Casserole

I have been totally covered up with work lately. For the past couple of weeks I have been brainstorming, cooking, testing and retesting recipes non-stop for the next Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Since I have already been twice, I only have one more run at it, which means that this particular contest is very serious business for me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not whining. I love creating recipes and new dishes, but between this endeavor, my blog, and just everyday cooking, my imagination is sometimes stretched to the max.

I find that when my creative well runs dry, I often turn to old cookbooks or food memories to give me inspiration for a quick dinner that I can feed my family. Even though my boys are very kind and patient, sometimes I just don't feel like I can serve them anymore poppin' fresh anything no matter how nice they are about it.

Since the deadline for the first two categories is just a few hours away, I will probably be up to my ears in pre-made pie crust and brown sugar today, which is fine until evening rolls around. To head off a dinnertime disaster I'm going to throw together my version of a simple 1970's classic this morning for supper tonight.

My mother used to make this casserole with tuna which I loved, but my own kids always preferred their tuna cold in a salad and never could quite embrace hot tuna, so I made some changes. I started with my mom's base recipe and replaced the tuna with some leftover rotisserie chicken.

Like most casseroles, this is meant to use what you have on hand and to stretch your dollar, so if you want to use canned chicken or tuna, feel free. If you don't have as much chicken as I call for here, don't worry it will still be good. Whatever you do, don't go all 1970s and use canned mushroom soup for your sauce. It is just too darned easy to make your own. If you miss that mushroom flavor, just chop and saute some with the other vegetables when making the sauce.

Chicken (or Tuna) Noodle Casserole

If I would have been really smart, I would have cooked my noodles last night to give me a head start this morning, but hey, I'm too busy being creative to be organized.

4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 - 1/2 to 2 cups milk*
5 ounces American cheese (approximately 5 slices thick deluxe style cheese) or the same amount of cheddar
Salt and pepper to taste
8 ounces wide egg noodles, cooked al dente
1 - 1-1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup frozen green peas
1 cup shredded American or cheddar cheese
Buttery breadcrumbs (recipe follows) to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" square baking dish or the equivalent with non-stick cooking spray; set aside until ready to use.

Place butter in a large non-stick sauce pan set over medium high heat. Once butter is melted and starts to sizzle, add the onion, celery and carrot. Saute the vegetables in the butter until they are tender crisp, approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute longer. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables in the pan. Stir well to coat the vegetables and absorb the butter.

Combine the stock and the milk in a microwave safe container; warm in the microwave for 1 - 2 minutes (this will help your sauce from lumping). Once the mixture is warm, slowly pour it into the pan with the vegetables, stirring constantly as you pour. Continue to stir until the mixture starts to boil. Cook for 1 minute longer. Add the cheese, stirring until it melts. Remove from the heat.

Add the noodles, chicken (or tuna) and peas to the sauce. Pour the contents into the prepared baking dish. Place into the preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove casserole from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese. Return to the oven and bake for 10 additional minutes or until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Mixture will thicken a bit as it cools. I serve my breadcrumbs on the side so if it is going to be awhile before I serve it or if I have leftovers they don't get soggy in the refrigerator.

*If you plan on making this and serving it right away, use the lesser amount of milk so your recipe won't be soupy. If you plan on making this early in the day and serving it later on, use the greater amount to avoid a dry casserole.

Serves 4 - 6

Buttery Breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon butter
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter like me
2 slices of sandwich bread crumbled

Melt butter in a medium size non-stick skillet set over medium high heat, swirling it around to cover the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top of the butter. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, cook until they are golden brown and crunchy, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer the breadcrumbs to a cool bowl to stop the cooking process. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container and use within a couple of days.

Makes a little over 1/2 of a cup

No comments: