Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Where No Dish Has Gone Before...

Good evening everyone! Welcome to the great snowpocalypse of 2011! If you live anywhere from Texas to North Carolina, you're feeling (or about to feel) the effect of one of the largest winter storm systems to hit the United States. We're getting hit hard here in the metro, a blizzard warning is in place until tomorrow afternoon - that entails exactly what you'd expect. Blowing snow, no visibility, all around nasty weather. Maggie and I were fortunate enough to get out of work slightly early this evening - allowing us to make a slow crawl home before the weather got too terrible. As I type this now, the snow is blowing and falling down so heavily that buildings a mere 50 to 75 feet away are invisible - lost to the blowing snow.

Nights like these make good cooking nights (after all, what else are you going to do?) Tonight, I was feeling a little adventurous and wanted to make a dish I had never had before. Something that my old self would avoid simply because of the dish's name or ingredients. Tonight's menu dish, tuna noodle casserole, is one item that I've never had in my life. Warm tuna scared me away, peas scared me away, peas plus tuna made sure I'd never try such a dish - such an affront to cooking! I would NEVER eat something like that...until tonight.

The Recipe: Skillet Tuna Noodle Casserole
Original Recipe From: Eatingwell.com

What You'll Need:

8 Ounces Egg Noodles
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion (Chopped)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
4 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Nonfat Milk
1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
12 Ounces Canned Chunk Tuna (Drained)
1 Cup Peas (If frozen - thaw first)
1 Cup Finely Grated Parmesan Cheese (Divided into 1/2 cup sections)
1/2 Cup Coarse Breadcrumbs (Panko works amazingly well)

Begin by brining a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the egg noodles for 6 to 8 minutes (varies by package instructions). Once tender, drain and rinse the noodles. Set aside.

I ended up making a lot of little tweaks to the original recipe. I lowered the milk, omitted mushrooms, lowered the flour and changed the original approach to adding breadcrumbs for this dish. The original recipe called for breadcrumbs to be added at the very end, and then placed under a broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes. From past experience, I've found that Panko breadcrumbs can give an amazing crunch that is full of flavor - and they can be prepared in about 3 minutes.

To brown the Panko breadcrumbs, all you'll need is 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the breadcrumbs and stir, until all of the crumbs have a nice, light coating of butter. Cook on medium heat for roughly 3 minutes, stirring every 30 to 45 seconds. Once the crumbs are golden brown, simply remove the skillet from heat and set aside for later. That's the easiest way I've found of making perfect, golden and delicious breadcrumbs in the shortest amount of time. Easy and tastes great? That's a recipe you can't beat!

Next, add the olive oil to a large nonstick skillet (the biggest one you have - it's going to get full by the end of the dish) and heat (medium high) until shimmering. Add the onions and cook until softened, but not browned (about 5 minutes). Next, add the white wine and allow to cook for another 5 minutes (this cooks off the alcohol but leaves the flavor - all of the taste without the booze!) Stir in the flour, making sure to work all of the onion/wine mixture into the flour.

Add your milk to the skillet (stir if the mixture seems extra sticky) and bring the mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, add the peas, tuna, 1/2 cup of cheese, salt, pepper and stir until everything is incorporated. I found that the peas could use a few minutes to cook away here (to enhance their flavor) - so allow the mixture to simmer (stirring every minute or so) for 5 minutes. Finally, add the egg noodles and stir until everything is evenly blended. Allow this mixture to simmer for one minute before moving on to the last steps.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the skillet. Allow the cheese to melt slightly before sprinkling the bread crumbs over everything. Once the entire dish has an even coating of breadcrumbs - you're ready to serve and enjoy!

The Results:

I was pleasantly surprised with how this dish turned out. If you're a fan of tuna melts, you are sure to enjoy the flavors of this simple little recipe. The cheese, peas and tuna all blend together - each canceling out the strong flavor of another ingredient - resulting in a 'melting pot' like flavor that is reminiscent of a tuna salad sandwich, with a lower ratio of 'tuna taste'. (Anyone who has had tuna before knows exactly what I mean when I say 'tuna taste' - that distinctly fishy flavor that can sometimes overpower a dish). The best addition to this recipe, however, was the bread crumbs. Not only do they add a nice crunch, but their slightly nutty flavor completely changes this dish from 'tuna salad-lite' to tuna casserole. This may have been my first foray into tuna casserole - but I can safely say, with this recipe in my arsenal, it won't be my last.

At 30 minutes start to finish and just a few (fairly common) ingredients - this dish is family friendly and a great way to sneak veggies and a healthier meal into the kid's diets.  For those sans kids (like Maggie and I) it makes a great diversion from chicken and beef dishes that seem to make up our menu every night. If you like tuna at all - be sure to give this recipe a shot. You may end up pleasantly surprised by what you've been missing for all of this time.

That's all we have for you tonight. I'm back in the kitchen tomorrow night with an original recipe that I hope will work as well in practice as it does in my head! I'm basing it off of old family recipes and a little bit of a hunch - so it could be an interesting night! Be sure to stop back tomorrow evening to see what we've got cooking. (If this weather keeps up, it's not like you'll have anything better to do anyway!) Until then,


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