Tuna Noodle Casserole (gluten free)

I somewhat recently read a blog post that was written by an organic vegetable farmer (or former farmer, to be accurate) who in detailing why she and her family had to close down their business/organic vegetable farm listed pretty chiefly among them the fact that she had been the subject of public ridicule, if not bullying, because one of their customers spotted her buying something like mac and cheese or ramen noodles from the local grocery store. This Portland, Oregon based customer couldn’t comprehend that although this farmer spent her days (and likely nights) laboring over these pristine organic vegetables that she might also either be too tired at the end of the day to cook for herself OR too business conscious to know the cost breakdown of that $0.50 noodle pack compared to eating the profits out of her field. This dissonance between the bucolic if not idyllic farm culinary life of unlimited food and labor resources that this customer dreamt up and the reality of the stressful, exhausting and financially draining day to day of farming led this gem of a human being to create a public smear campaign against this hard working farmer/parent. To the extent that the farmers closed what otherwise seemed like a salvageable business venture. CLOSED. In a world where even the USDA aims to create a 100,000 “new” farmers a year, where we have food deserts in every major city in America and food related health crisis in every state…. We also have folks with so little knowledge of the realities and hardships of farming that they’re putting farmers out of business over their failures to live up to some far fetched fantasy of what it means to produce food in our current economy.

It’s easy enough to think that instance was one jerk who didn’t know when to mind his business. Or to blame Portland which apparently is the kind of community where folks would sooner close your business than to make you a home cooked meal when you so clearly need it. but.

I have also had many experiences of that kind.

Karma isn’t just a b*tch. She’s also an east coast cafe owner who will write hate blogs about you if she’s unsatisfied with her CSA bounty.

It’s not just Portland.

and while I doubt this blog overall is doing wonders to combat those delusional albeit lovely visions of farmer chefs living the good life, I can also safely say that even a freezer full of world’s best meat still doesn’t cook itself at the end of the day. As a rancher I’ve eaten for months on end a diet so rich in nutrient dense foods and good fats and  grass fed protein that you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of ‘clean’ eating…  and I’ve also been tired, cold, homesick, and/or poor enough that sometimes I make this heavily processed, potato chip covered midwest comfort food once a week. An homage to my working class, rural, midwestern roots and a slap in the face to the kind of classist bullsh*t detailed above which, in my opinion, doesn’t even have a place at the Whole Foods cheese counter.

Sometimes called “Tuna Surprise” …I’m relatively confident the “surprise” is that it actually tastes good.

Not a single ingredient in this is coming out of the root cellar. Sometimes I add cauliflower to the pasta if I’m feeling ambitious. not today. Today I’m feeling like I could eat chocolate covered butter sticks for dinner and still have cold toes when I’m done. This version is gluten free. Several brands make a gluten free version of cream of mushroom soup that you should be able to find at your local chain grocery store. The original church casserole recipe actually calls for a can of cheese soup, which is indeed a real thing. It unfortunately does contain gluten which I can’t have so this version makes a nifty cheese sauce instead. Feel free to just use 1 can of cheese soup if you can find it.


 

Ingredients 

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1.5 cans (see above) Milk
~2.5 c shredded cheddar cheese
12oz uncooked Macaroni pasta (1 box)
2 cans tuna, oil or water packed
~2c Potato Chips, crushed. So if you’re like me you can eat the rest of the bag on the drive home.

Instructions

  1. Bring a large sauce pan full of water to boil- cook pasta according to instructions but preferably al dente or just slightly firm to avoid over cooking later on. Drain pasta and set aside.
  2. Add the can of mushroom soup and 1 can of milk to the warm sauce pan and set to med-low heat. You want to start warming up the soup but not to fast- you don’t want to burn the milk and you don’t want to soup to be too hot for this next step.
  3. When the soup starts to simmer add the other half can of milk and stir to mix.
  4. When the next round of milk is well integrated into the soup slowly begin adding cheese a handful at a time. If you add all the cheese at once you’ll end up with a semi-solid mass of cheese in the bottom center of the pan- and once that happens the chances of overcoming are slim to none. So. Once again. Begin adding the cheese a handful at a time, mixing as you go and waiting to add the next handful until what’s already in the pot has melted and is mixing into the soup. It usually takes about 2-3 handfuls or 1.5-2 cups of cheese to achieve a good cheese based sauce, if you keep adding cheese beyond that you’ll end up with what more closely resembles fondue. The goal here is to maintain a soup like consistency so that it easily coats the pasta without a lot of effort. If you get carried away and add too much cheese, try adding a splash more milk while stirring pretty enthusiastically.
  5. After draining the tuna, stir it into the cheese soup mixture.
  6. Add pasta to the sauce and stir. If all goes well the cheese/soup mixture should be pretty easy to mix in to your pasta which is hopefully not over cooked and will retain its shape and not turn to mush.
  7. Add the entire mixture to a lightly greased casserole dish- 13 x 9 is fine- personally I use an oven safe bowl because that’s how I grew up eating it.
  8. Top with the remaining 1/2c cheese followed by the crushed potato chips covering the entirety of the dish.
  9. Bake at 400 for abt 15-20 mins or until potato chips turn golden brown.
  10. Pull up your Netflix selection while the casserole settles post oven.
  11. Promise yourself that you won’t eat the entire thing in one sitting.
  12. Do it anyway.
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