Saturday, November 21, 2009

I need comfort.

This semester has been ROUGH! Of course, there has been all the exciting but stressful house stuff to deal with, but everything has been so much more overwhelming and exhausting because it seems like I have been sick since the beginning of school. My traditional fall allergies began early this year (in August) and by September, had morphed into an ugly chest cold that took me until mid-October to completely overcome. Then I was well for three weeks at most before the dastardly swine flu struck me down!

I had been telling my students all along that my twenty year college reunion was coming up in early November, and if any of them gave me the H1N1 virus that was running rampant, I would KILL them (if the flu didn't)! A couple of days before I left town, I had a bad headache and a bit of a runny nose, but I didn't think much of it. In fact, I naively believed I had manage to outrun the swine flu up until I boarded the plane for the reunion. The first part of my flight was fine, but when I connected from Detroit to Salt Lake City, it hit me out of nowhere! I became horribly congested, I had terrible chills, body aches, nausea, and I was very dizzy. It was the longest flight of my life, and managing to get off the plane, to baggage claim, to the car rental counter, and finally to the farthest corner of the earth where the car was parked, was enough to make me burst into frantic tears once I got behind the wheel. I don't know how I did it, but I drove from the airport to the closest area west of downtown where there are many modest hotels. I checked into one of them, took a hot shower because I was still so cold, collapsed into bed, and called my SLC friends from my cell phone to tell them that I might be dying and could, therefore, not meet them at the brew pub that night. WAAA!

I slept from 8pm to about 5am, then I got up and drove to the nearest fast food joint for a ginormous orange juice. I came back and slept for a few more hours, and when I got up again, I felt a little more human, so I decided to drive to Nampa, ID as planned to attend my reunion. The fun of seeing old friends and reliving college memories (that along with LOTS and LOTS of drugs!) sustained me through the next couple of days. After the reunion, I drove back to Salt Lake, and continued to rally long enough to attend the premiere of my best friend's Kurt's play (he wrote it!) and to celebrate with some of my dearest friends afterward. I got about two hours of sleep that night, and hopped an early plane back to New York the next morning. I went right back to work the following day, and of course, had to play catch up all week from the time I was away. And even the weekend held no respite, as the dreaded packing awaited me at home. BOO HISS!

Exhausted and still very ill, I was in desperate need of some TLC. And the form that it was to take would turn out to be....wait for it....TUNA CASSEROLE! I know, I know! But don't be hatin', as this was definitely NOT yo mama's tuna noodle casserole! This was damn near elegant, and so incredibly tasty. It completely hit the spot, and I am convinced that it sped the healing. So if you have also been plagued with the flu, this is your panacea, friends.

Of course, I am still playing my little game where I challenge myself to make interesting dishes with ingredients that I already have on hand (so that I have to move less stuff!). Thus, the inspiration for this casserole came from the following items that I found in the pantry and freezer: two cans of imported tuna in olive oil, one can each of cream of mushroom/celery/chicken soup, a bag of Reame's egg noodles, a half bag of panko, and the remains of a box of pretzel crackers.

I started with a couple of tablespoons of both butter and olive oil and sauteed two or three stalks of chopped celery, a large onion, and a pound of fresh mushrooms. Then I added a tablespoon of minced garlic and deglazed the pan with half a cup of white wine. My seasonings of choice were salt and pepper (to taste), a teaspoon each of paprika and thyme, a tablespoon of Old Bay, and a good pinch of cayenne. To this, I added the two cans of tuna (drained), the admittedly low-rent cream o' soups, and probably a cup and a half of half-and-half (up to a pint) until the sauce was the desired consistency.

While that simmered, I cooked a package of Reame's frozen egg noodles (this is the key ingredient, mind you!) in boiling vegetable stock for about 35-40 minutes, then added the drained noodles to the other mixture. Once combined, I dumped it all into a large casserole dish, topped it with a a couple of cups of panko and crumbled pretzel crackers mixed with half a stick of melted butter and a pinch of salt, and baked it at 400 for 10-15 minutes until the top was crispy. was DEE-licious and soul-satisfying! The only thing it may have been missing was some frozen peas tossed in just before baking. Oh time (that I make this casserole, I mean---please Lord, no more respiratory ailments this season!).

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