Friday, March 18, 2016

"The Whole Foods Market Cookbook" - Tuna Noodle Casserole

Date I made this recipe:  March 13, 2016

The Whole Foods Market Cookbook – A Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes by Steve Petusevsky and Whole Foods Market Team Members
Published by:  Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN:  0-609-80644-0; copyright 2002
Recipe:  Tuna Noodle Casserole – p. 274-275

Et tu, Whole Foods?  Et tu? 

In last week's blog (Smith Island Cake), I told the tale of my frustration with a key ingredient being left out of the instructions for the cake's frosting.

This week, when I reviewed the list of ingredients for today's Tuna Noodle Casserole, I failed to see the key ingredient – noodle.  Well huh.

So I read the recipe's narrative and it said "Our recipe is made with pappardelle noodles."  Okay then.  But how much?

Turns out the answer is "1 pound."  Turns out it actually said that but I missed it until after I started writing this recap.  So when making the recipe, I guessed.  Guessed correctly, but guessed.

In my defense, here's why I was tripped up:  all ingredients except the pasta were listed under one of three headings, all of them in bold:  "The Béchamel Sauce;" "The Tuna Casserole Filling" and "The Crumb Topping."  The pasta was on its own, sans a heading, sans bold.  The average person's eyes are drawn to the bold heading and so I completely missed the pasta all eight or so times I looked at the recipe while I was in the midst of making it!

The recipe's narrative might have provided a clue but of course it didn't, stating only to make the pappardelle "per directions on the box."  So...would that be box or boxes?  (For the record, I got my pasta at Trader Joe's and it came in 8 oz. bags, not boxes.  But details, details.)  Again, having guessed correctly, I cooked a pound of pasta so all should have been right with the world.

Except it wasn't.  Turns out one pound of pasta was more than my very large casserole pan could handle and so I couldn't use all of it.  Further, the béchamel sauce did not stretch that far and so the recipe was off balance.  I hate it when that happens.

Anyway, as to the pasta problem, if I was editing this recipe I would have put a header, in bold, above the pound of pasta that said "The Pasta," in the same way the other ingredients got headers ("The Béchamel Sauce;" "The Tuna Casserole Filling;" and "The Crumb Topping") so that the reader could have seen clearly how much pasta was required. 

This is not clean recipe writing.  I was peeved.  You will likely not be peeved since I am pointing out the inconsistency but I'm telling you right now, if you use the entire pound of pasta, you're going to "need a bigger boat" (I reference the movie, Jaws) i.e. casserole pan/cooking vessel!

So let's talk about why I selected this cookbook:  on Wednesday, March 16th, the St. Paul Whole Foods store is moving out of its tiny store on Fairview Ave to a much larger footprint at the intersection of Selby Ave and Snelling (Ave).  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, I can't wait.  I can't. 

Because folks, despite the nickname, "Whole Paycheck," I love Whole Foods.  I go there all the time for my meat, it being the only place in town where I can buy just what I need of, for example, ground meats (chicken, turkey, beef and pork), as well as cheese and olives and other condiments.  I also like their fruit and vegetable selections – again, often purchasing only the amount needed, their bulk foods and sometimes, their hot food selections.  So I'm excited about the larger store because I'll be able to shop an even wider selection of the items I love.

What I don't love about Whole Foods though, is that their prices for every day items such as Kleenex or toilet paper are too high and the selection not to my liking.  In other words, it is not a one-stop shop for me although it often comes close.

As to the cookbook (published in 2002), I found it an interesting study in how I think Whole Foods has tweaked its brand and image over time.  The subtitle of this cookbook, "A Guide to Natural Foods...," reflects their roots when they were indeed a Mecca for "whole," organic food, and very similar to a co-op.  Co-ops have also changed but I remember well the days when you couldn't walk in and buy something so basic as chocolate chips because at that time, chocolate chips weren't "organic;" it was carob chips (Ew!) or nothing at all.  Now organic chocolate is all the rage and of course Whole Foods carries 57 kinds* (*Slight exaggeration.).

Today's Whole Foods shoppers present an interesting mix:  hipsters, young families, against hippies, soccer moms – you name it, we shop there.  And I don't think we shop there as much for those "natural" foods as we do because we like the store, are into a "farm-to-table" approach and generally like what they have to offer because it's good quality.  To be sure, the store is not for everybody.  Lower income people will have a harder time sticking to budget at Whole Foods/"Whole Paycheck," not everyone is into paying through the nose for "organic" food – a definition that is constantly changing - and the product mix is not as broad as a "regular" grocery store. 

Now that my local Whole Foods is expanding though, I am excited that their deli offerings will equal that of their other larger stores in the area and with that will come a broader selection of the recipes featured in their cookbook.  That said, there were certain sections of recipes in this cookbook that didn't appeal, mostly because they were too natural!  If you like tofu for instance, there are plenty of recipes.  If you like quinoa and wheat berries and barley, well then, knock yourself out with the variety of recipes presented.  I was not so inclined.

Since I'm more of an entree gal, I checked out that section and found plenty of potential recipes such as Pomegranate Glazed Chicken (p. 238), Cubano-Style Pork Loin (p. 252) and Chicken Pot Pie with Whole Wheat Crust (p. 270).  My choice though, was for the Tuna Noodle Casserole on p. 274 and why?  Because the ingredient list included peas.  A tuna noodle casserole is not a tuna noodle casserole without peas.  Period.  I am still on the fence about any topping – crumb or otherwise – but that's a personal preference.  But if it doesn't have peas, then fugghedaboudit.

Okay, so:  this recipe came close to satisfying my (sudden) craving for Tuna Noodle Casserole but missed the mark because of the following:
1)     The noodle problem.  I think a half a pound of noodles is about right.  I crammed every noodle I could into my casserole pan but doing so left no room for the sauce and the resulting dish was a little on the dry side. 
2)     Unless you like crunchy onions, celery and pepper in your tuna casserole (I did not), sauté them a lot longer than stated.  A lot longer.  I wish I would have kept them on the stove until they were almost mushy!
3)     Let's discuss béchamel sauce a/k/a "white sauce."  In theory, this is an easy thing to make but in practice, I am always challenged by adding the flour to the melted butter so that it doesn't end up resembling a crumbly pie dough!  The directive to let this mixture "bubble" had me howling with laughter because mine didn't even come close to bubbling.  My roux base of flour and butter ended up almost forming into a ball and I'm pretty sure that this was not correct.  All was well in the end but I had to ditch the first batch in order to get (almost) the right consistency.  First last week's frosting and now this—what is going on here?!
4)     This casserole is supposed to cook at 350F for 20-25 minutes until the sides are bubbling.  No bubbles were harmed in the making of this recipe as the noodle to tuna mixture ratio was too high.  Instead, I got baked noodles, san sauce and this irked.

Despite all that, my husband thought it was good and gave it a thumb's up.  I wanted to tweak it and if you make it, I think you should too.  And if making this with Cream of Mushroom soup is more to your liking, then go ahead and use that.  Even Whole Foods gives you the okay:  "Some cooks use prepared mushroom soup mix for the sauce."  And I tell you what, it sure would be easier than dealing with the béchamel sauce!

By the way, I was tempted to make this on Friday for Lent (not that I really observe but...) but a friend called and invited me to Happy Hour instead so there went that idea.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I'm planning a mid-day "raid" on the Whole Foods at their new location so as to avoid the crowds that they and I are anticipating.  I cannot wait.

Tuna Noodle Casserole – serves 6
The Pasta (Heading assigned by Ann, not Whole Foods)
1 pound dried pappardelle pasta

The Béchamel Sauce
2 cups milk
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

The Tuna Casserole Filling
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup chopped onions
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped red pepper
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 ½ cups sliced white button mushrooms
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
2 (6 ounce) cans tongol tuna, drained (Ann's Note:  or any tuna, drained and by the way, tuna comes in 12 ounce cans as well.)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot sauce

The Crumb Topping
1 ¼ cups dried bread crumbs
½ teaspoon paprika
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon lemon pepper (Ann's Note:  I didn't have this on hand so I mixed regular pepper with dried lemon peel.)
1/8 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon butter

To Prepare the Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the pappardelle for 6 to 8 minutes, until it is al dente, or follow the directions on the box.  Rinse the pasta in cold water, and drain.  Ann's Note:  I think I'd make a half a pound to three-quarters of a pound and see how that works first.  It's pretty easy to boil up the rest if you need it.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

To Prepare the Béchamel Sauce
Heat the milk, white pepper, nutmeg, and salt together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat just until it beings to boil.  Lower the heat, and keep the milk warm.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Using a wire whisk, blend in the flour (Ann's Note:  do this as slowly and as incrementally as possible or you'll have a mess on your hands and have to start over.)  Cook slowly for 2 minutes, stirring constantly and keeping the mixture at a medium simmer.  Do not allow the mixture to color or brown.  Remove the pan from the heat.

As soon as the mixture has stopped bubbling (Ann's Note:  mine never bubbled.  Not once.), pour in all of the hot milk at once.  Use vigorous strokes with the wire whisk to blend the milk and flour together, making sure to scrape up all bits of the flour from the inside edges of the pan.  Set the saucepan over medium-high heat, and stir with the wire whisk until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove the sauce from the heat.

To Prepare the Tuna Casserole Filling
Heat the canola oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery, and peppers, and saute for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms, and cook for 1 additional minute.  Ann's Note:  Unless you like really crunchy vegetables, plan on sautéing this mixture for several more minutes.  I didn't and wish I had.

Transfer the filling to a large mixing bowl.  (Ann's Note:  when they say "large" they mean large; use the biggest bowl or pot you have.) Add the cooked pasta.  Add the bechamel sauce, peas, tuna, lemon juice, and hot sauce to the mixing bowl with the cooked vegetables and pasta; toss lightly to incorporate all ingredients well.  Pour into a 2 ½ - to 3-quart greased ovenproof casserole.   Ann's Note:  Unless you cut back on the pasta, you will find it hard to squeeze all this into even a 3-quart casserole.  And if you can't fit it all in with room for it to actually heat, you may be faced with a casserole that is a tad dry.  You've been warned!)

To Prepare the Crumb Topping
In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs and the paprika, salt, lemon pepper, and parsley.  Sprinkle the topping over the casserole and dot with butter.

Place casserole in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges of the casserole are bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.  Ann's Note:  the bread crumbs were brown but the casserole was not bubbling.  Sigh.

For those who are interested, here's the nutritional information for this dish per serving:

Calories 560; Calories from Fat 110; Calories from Saturated Fat 45; Protein 30 G; Carbohydrate 80 G; Total Fat 13 G; Saturated Fat 5 G; Cholesterol 40 MG; Sodium 560 MG; 20% Calories From Fat

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