Tuna Noodle Casserole

Several weeks ago, it came to my attention that my children had never had a tuna-noodle casserole.  I don’t know that I’d ever made one, and I don’t remember that my mom did, but I had certainly eaten them at friends’ houses when I was little.  It seems as though they were even part of school menus in my early years of public education.

I remember that tuna noodle casseroles definitely made it on the menu of my babysitter, Jana.  I don’t know how old I was when she kept me–maybe three or four years of age–but I remember that she would sometimes begin her supper preparation before my mom came to pick me up.  I would watch her make a tuna noodle casserole for her family, even volunteering to help crunch up the potato chips for the topping.  She would set the casserole on the table to await its turn in the oven…and I would watch for my opportunity.  Potato chips were a rare treat in my house, so as soon as Jana’s back was turned, I pinched some of those salty crumbs clean off the top of that unbaked casserole!  Can you imagine my nerve?!  I never gave a single thought to how disappointed her daughter, Nikki, would be to not have crunchy potato chips on the top of her portion of tuna noodle casserole!

I was a sneaky kid.  (And I loved junk food.)

Anywho, when my younger two children expressed an interest in trying out this Midwestern comfort food, I searched out a recipe.  While I made some changes to suit our family’s preferences (and my on-hand ingredients), this recipe is based on one that I found in one of my favorite freezer cooking cookbooks, “You’ve Got it Made” by Diane Phillips.  It’s a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to stock their freezer without stocking up on the usual high-sodium, preservative-laden canned soups and convenience foods.   

The recipe received 5 thumbs up at my table, even from the thumb that belongs to the daughter who does not like tuna.  Hope you enjoy it as well!

Oh, and Jana, if you ever read this, please accept my sincere apology.

6 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
a stalk or two of celery, chopped
1/4 c. flour
1 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 c. milk
4 dashes hot sauce (you will not taste the spiciness, but it does add flavor)
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb. egg noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 6-oz. cans tuna, well-drained and flaked
2 c. frozen peas
1 c. crushed potato chips (or more, if you have a sneaky chip thief in your house)
3 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Melt 4 T. of the butter in large skillet over medium heat; add onion and celery, sauteeing until they begin to soften.

Sprinkle flour over veggies and stir until flour disappears.  Cook veggies 2 minutes, then gradually add broth and milk, scraping up any bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.  Add the hot sauce, salt & pepper.

Coat a 9″ baking pan with butter or cooking spray.  Spread thin layer of sauce over bottom of dish.  Combine noodles with 1 1/2 c. of sauce in large bowl, stirring until well-mixed.  Stir in tuna and peas until evenly distributed.

Transfer noodle mixture to prepared pan; cover with remaining sauce.  Combine crushed potato chips and Parmesan cheese and sprinkle over casserole.  Drizzle remaining 2 T. melted butter over top of chips.

Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to a month.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling and topping is golden brown.

NOTE:  If frozen, thaw completely before baking.

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Better-with-Bacon Summer Squash

Summer squash is often the gift that keeps on giving in our neck of the woods.  And, even though I have dozens of tried-and-true recipes on-hand, I find myself looking for new ways to prepare it.  This is especially true because one of my kiddos pretty much loathes the stuff.  She will eat it when it’s served, but only because she’s hungry.

Since so many things are better with bacon, we’ve added it to our summer squash this year in the hopes of finding another recipe that we can all get excited about.  Even if it doesn’t pass muster with her, I look forward to having this with some fresh corn on the cob and thick-sliced heirloom tomatoes.

You can use any type of summer squash in this recipe:  zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan or even 8-ball zucchini.  It really doesn’t matter.  This can even be served with rice or over pasta if you want to bulk it up a bit.

4-6 strips bacon, diced
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, if desired

In large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon and carefully drain grease, keeping 2-3 tablespoons in skillet.

In the bacon drippings, saute summer squash and onion for 6-8 minutes or until crisp-tender.  Add minced garlic and stir for 1-2 more minutes until garlic is cooked.

Sprinkle with cheese if you want (and why wouldn’t you?).

Zesty Chicken

This creamy recipe is a super easy freezer meal option.  When you find chicken breasts at  a good price, buy enough for three or four of these meals, along with the remaining ingredients and you can have supper ready to cook and spares for yourself and a friend in less than 20 minutes.

If you’re steering clear of canned cream soups, you can easily make your own version for not much more time.  There are lots of recipes available online.

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pkg. cream cheese, cubed
1 pkt. Italian seasoning/dressing mix

Added later:  1 bag frozen broccoli, cauliflower or California medley, if desired

Add all ingredients to slow cooker, stirring to coat.

Cook on low 5-6 hours.  (Add a bag of frozen veggies last hour, if desired.)

If preferred, you can bake this in the oven, covered, at 375 for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is done.

Serve over rice or noodles.

Lasagna

Always welcome around my table.  And, if I’m going to make one, I might as well make two and tuck one into the freezer for later or to share with a friend.  Two meals for one round of dishes!

1 lb. ground beef or pork sausage
½ c. chopped onion
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning mix
½ tsp. pepper
1 jar spaghetti sauce ( or 2 ½ c. sauce)
½  c. water
1 (16-oz.) container ricotta cheese (or cottage cheese
1 egg
¾ c. grated parmesan cheese
2 c. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 c. sour cream
1 box lasagna noodles

Brown meat with onion, garlic powder, basil and pepper.  Add spaghetti sauce once meat is cooked.

In medium bowl, combine all cheeses, sour cream and eggs.

Layer into 9×13″ pan in the following order:

1 c. meat sauce, 1 layer lasagna noodles, 1/3 cheese mixture.  Repeat twice, putting remaining meat sauce on top.  Cover tightly with foil and bake at 375 for 60 mins., or until sauce is bubbly.

Emily’s Tetrazzini

Though traditionally prepared with turkey, tetrazzini can also be prepared with chicken.  This is especially handy for my friend, Emily, because she and her husband grow both of them on their small farm–along with a lot of other tasty meal components.

Regardless of what kind of farming a body does, it’s hard work.  The hours are exhausting, and the to do list is pretty much never-ending.  On top of that, farmers have to often wrestle with the weather, outsmart a variety of pests and predators and contend with broken-down equipment.

Always broken-down equipment.

For a number of years now, I have watched Emily, and her husband, Kyle, take these struggles in stride while trying to make a living, to build a strong marriage and to raise their precious children.  I am impressed with their commitment to farming.  More importantly, I am impressed with their commitment to one another and to their children.  It’s easy to let the important things slide–date nights, family birthdays, small celebrations, even meal times around the table.  There’s the battle of the tyranny of the urgent raging inside every one of us, but I wonder if it rages more feverishly inside of a farmer.  It takes a good bit of wisdom, a little bit of maturity and even a touch of humility for most farmers to live according to their true priorities.

Anyway, I’m proud of my friends for who they are and what they’ve chosen.  Plus, I love this tetrazzini recipe that Emily shared with me a couple of weeks ago.  She and I are often swapping recipes and sharing what we’ve learned in the kitchen.  We both like to eat, and one of the ways we love on our loved ones is by feeding them foods we hope they will enjoy.

I share this recipe with you and encourage you to tune out the to do list and join your family around the table each evening.  If this is new to you, it might take a week or two for your crew to adapt to the new normal…but they will adapt.  And, it will be a worthwhile endeavor on your part–one you will not regret.

1 box (1 lb.) of uncooked pasta of your choice
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried parsley
3 c. chicken/turkey broth (homemade or store-bought)
2 c. milk
1 2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 c. cooked, chopped turkey or chicken
3/4 c. chopped mushrooms (Emily says these are optional, but I think they’re very NOT optional.)

Topping:
2 T. butter, melted
1 c. bread crumbs or crushed crackers
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese.

Mix together.

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease 9×13” baking dish.

Prepare pasta according to package directions but reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes.  Drain and place in prepared baking dish.

Add the cooked, cubed turkey/chicken (and mushrooms, if adding); gently mix in with the pasta.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low-medium heat.  Once melted, add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Add the flour and whisk together.  Cook for about 1 minute, or until bubbly.  Gradually stir in the turkey/chicken stock and milk. Increase heat to medium and heat/stir until the mixture begins to bubble.

Remove from heat and add in the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Add parsley.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (if using homemade, unsalted stock, you will probably need about 2 tsp. of salt).

Pour the sauce over the noodles and turkey/chicken.

Spread the crumb topping evenly over the noodle-meat-sauce mixture.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.

NOTE:  This can easily be made the day before, wrapped tightly and tucked into the fridge until serving time.  You will probably need to double the baking time if starting cold from the refrigerator.  Or, you can wrap it up tightly and stick into the freezer for another time.  Just be sure to thaw before baking.

Salsa Ranch Skillet Meal

This is one of those “dump” recipes where you can pretty much dump together a bunch of stuff and come up with supper.

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped

Brown together and drain; then stir in:

1 pkt. ranch salad dressing mix

Next, add:

1 c. water
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 16-oz. jar salsa
1 16-oz. can baked beans

Bring to a boil, then add:

8-oz. pkg. rotini pasta, uncooked

Reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes (until pasta is tender).

Remove from heat and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Let stand 5 minutes and serve.

Chicken Parmesan Casserole

chickenparmesanTalk about simple!  This a very easy twist on a relatively time-consuming favorite.  Feel free to make two so that you can put on in the freezer for a busy night.

6-7 c. shredded, cooked chicken
salt and pepper to taste
1 jar (28-oz.) marinara sauce
½ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1 c. bread crumbs
drizzle olive oil (as in 1-2 tsp.)

Preheat over to 350.

In lightly-greased 9×13 baking dish, spread out cooked chicken and season with salt and pepper.

Pour marinara sauce over the top of the chicken.

Top with cheeses until chicken is covered.

Sprinkle bread crumbs on top, then drizzle with olive oil.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden on top and bubbling at the sides.

Serve over cooked pasta.