December 12, 2011

Cheesy Mac and Tuna Skillet - pics soon!

Nothing says comfort food quite like tuna casserole. It is one of my go-to dishes for a lazy night of cooking and is often used as a holy-crap-I-have-nothing-to-cook-and-I-forgot-to-go-to-the-store dinner. We've all been there. It is also makes a 3 ingredient handy camping dish (tuna fish, cream of mushroom and macaroni mixed in a pot over the camp stove). Last nights dinner though was not your ordinary tuna casserole...


One of the best things about a basic dish like tuna casserole is how versatile it can be. I often add peas, bell pepper, bacon, or corn to the dish to mix it up once in a while. Last week I decided to put a little effort into overhauling the dish completely.

I start with the basics: a couple cans of tuna, a can of cream of mushroom and a 1 1/2 of macaroni. Next I start looking for options to spice up my dish. I often use Worcestershire sauce when I make mushroom sauce for steak or chicken, so I pull that out of the fridge. Next I grab some cheddar cheese to shred because who doesn't like a cheesy layer on top of a casserole? On to the veggies... I have some fresh bell peppers so I grab a yellow and green one to chop up. I do have peas, but I think the peppers will give it a lighter taste to balance out the cheese. I also grab the last of my Anaheim peppers for some kick.

Here comes the tricky part. I don't have a second can of cream of mushroom and no sour cream in the fridge to bulk out the one can I have. I could use milk, but that would make the entire dish too runny in the end and I really want some cereal in the morning. I know I don't want to use my last can of cream of chicken because I will need that tomorrow for dinner. I climb up on the counter (yes I'm short) to check they way back for an extra can of cream of mushroom. No luck, but I did find a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup. I was planning on using cheese, but this might be better and make it less oily in the end.

Lastly I pull out garlic, an onion, chili powder, salt and pepper.


I am not going to get fancy in the process of making it. My main goal is to see how the flavors turn out and how well it cooks in the cast iron skillet - both on the stove and in the oven. I boil the macaroni while I saute the onion, peppers and garlic in a little bit of oil. I don't cook the veggies to total softness because I want them to retain their crisp, fresh taste in the end product.

I next add most of the each can of soup, I'd say about 3/4 of each can, because I don't want it to be really saucy - just enough to hold everything together. At this point I splash some Worcestershire sauce (about 1 1/2 tablespoons), a dash of salt and pepper and a generous helping of chili powder in the mix. As I am stirring I realize that I will have to add some milk to thin out the sauce, the cheese soup is way thicker then I had initially thought! Crisis adverted. While my sauce simmers I drain the pasta and add it to the skillet along with a handful of cheese (maybe 1/2 a cup, I have small hands) and the 2 cans of tuna and stir everything together.

Now I have a choice to make, do I leave it to simmer on the stove top or do I put it in the oven to bake all the flavors together? I opt for the oven. It will really meld all the flavors and give that nice crisp layer on top. It will also keep the pasta from getting mushy while simmering.

After about 10 min in the oven, I pull the cast iron out and add the remaining cheese (1/2 cup) on top of the macaroni and sprinkle some more pepper on top for good measure. Back in the oven on broil until the top is lightly browned and bubbling.


Dinner turned out perfect. I served it with a basic salad with homemade croutons and ranch dressing. It had just the right amount of spice to make it interesting and the cheese was definitely balanced by the light vegetables. The consistency was right on and the sauce flavoring was on the money. The only thing I would change would be to add some fresh mushrooms to the sauce when I add the tuna. Next time.

Clean up was simple since I only used a cutting board, a knife, one stirring spoon and a cast iron pan. Well and the macaroni pan. I had the kitchen cleaned up before dinner was done and that is always a plus. All that was left to do was wash up the plates that dinner was served on.

Simple cooking + Easy clean up = A relaxing Sunday night.

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