Monday, February 25, 2008

Presto Pasta Night: One Year of Pasta and Counting

It has been one year since my good blogging friend Ruth of Once Upon a Feast offered the opportunity for food bloggers to submit their favourite pasta recipes to her for a once a week event called Presto Pasta Night!

Happy Birthday Ruth and PPN!

I admit, I keep a few boxes of quick meal starters in my pantry. I like to have them on hand for those days and nights I just don't feel like cooking everything from scratch. I also always add to them to create a more healthy and tasty meal. I keep a box of Suddenly Salad Classic Pasta Salad, Hamburger Helper Beef Stroganoff, and a box of Stove Top Stuffing. There is also one other box that has nothing to do with starting a meal and everything to do with comfort food, a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

When I'm not feeling well or I just want to feel like a care free college student again without the weight of an adult life on my shoulders, I will fix myself some Kraft Mac and Cheese. There is something about that bright orange cheese covered noodles that just makes me feel better.

I was stricken most of last week with that same insidious flu that has struck Sher and Mimi along with countless other food bloggers, so there wasn't a lot of good cooking going on in my house last week. To add insult to injury, I threw my back out and hurt my wrist on Saturday morning, the first day I was even beginning to feel like eating real food, when I failed to perfectly land a double triple lutz jump in the ice skating rink that doubles as a parking lot of the Stop and Shop. Needless to say, after a trip to the emergency room that informed me I had not broken anything and then laying flat on my back most of Saturday with muscle relaxants my only friend, I felt like cooking even less over the weekend.

Thankfully, this is where pasta and presto come together to form the perfect marriage of hearty comfort food that is easy on the tummy and the back, in the form of my pantry staple tuna casserole.

I invented this dish my first year out of college. I was subletting a condo located on the shores of Lake Michigan in a small town outside of Traverse City, MI for the winter. I had my first real job and like most first jobs, it didn't pay much. So, while I was out of college, I was still having to shop like I was in college. One snowy winter night, when all I could see out the back door was snow flying horizontally across the yard and hear the clanging of the rope on the flagpole down near the lake, I opened my cabinet in the kitchen to discover a can of tuna, three pieces of bread, and a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. In my fridge was three cans of beer, a pint of milk, some shredded cheddar cheese, and half a tomato.

Wanting to make myself a hearty and warm meal to sit and watch the snow with, I decided to follow the directions on the back of the box to add tuna to the mac and cheese. I also decided to add some of the shredded cheese to make it cheesier and top it with some breadcrumbs and tomato and put it under the broiler until the breadcrumbs were golden brown and the tomatoes warm and toasty. It came out warm and bubbly and it was perfect with a side of sweet pickles and a beer.

To this day, whenever I want to feel better, I think about this meal because I made it on one of my first nights in my first real adult home with my groceries bought with money I earned from my first job and it was one of the most satisfying meals I ever made.

Breadchick's Pantry Staple Tuna Casserole

1 box stove top mac and cheese dinner
1 can tuna in spring water
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small tomato or 6 cherry tomatoes
3 slices bread
1 Tbsp softened unsalted butter

Prepare the mac and cheese dinner per the box instructions. Drain the tuna and add to the mac and cheese along with the shredded cheese. Put into a prepared 2 Qt casserole dish. Butter the bread and tear up into little pieces and top the casserole. Slice the tomato(es) and put on top of the buttered bread pieces. Place under a broiler for 5 - 7 minutes until bread pieces toasted and tomatoes are warm.

Serve with a salad.