from scratch

Veggie Tuna Noodle Cassrole after our family of 5 finished our weeknight dinner

Weekday Dinner: Veggie Tuna Noodle Casserole

In our family, this is not only a back-to-school time of year but also a sports-and-activities-taking-over-our-calendar time of year 🙂  I’m sure a lot of you can relate.  Between flag football practices for all three boys, PREP classes at our church, chess club at the library and afterschool activities, our weekday evenings are usually pretty full.  And none of these activities seem to allow time for a family dinner.  Sigh.  But…we do what we’ve got to do to make this work.  And that means planning ahead for our weekly meals and making use of the slow cooker as much as possible.  I also try to choose meals that can be fully or partially prepped ahead of time so that there’s not much left to do at dinner time to get a meal on the table. 


This is a kid-friendly, healthy and delicious meal that I made yesterday while the kids were at school and then popped it in the oven a half hour before dinner time so that we could still enjoy a warm, nutritious meal even when we were running around all afternoon.  As we were eating dinner, Joe shared his fond memories of tuna noodle casserole night when he was growing up – complete with crumbled potato chips on top.  There were definitely some benefits to growing up in the late 80s and early 90s!  When convenience foods and packaged foods were at their height and we hadn’t yet figured out that there might be a downside to all those additives and preservatives.  Ah, the good ol’ days!


The idea of a tuna noodle casserole has withstood the test of time because it is a crowd pleaser that can be prepared without too much trouble.  And while I’m sure that the potato chips were a big hit (and would be with my kids, too), this homemade version of the timeless classic does not include any cream of mushroom soup from a can or potato chips from a bag.  And it still tastes good like comfort food should!  In fact, it was such a big hit that some of us had three servings and we almost finished the entire 9×13″ dish in one sitting!  


You could personalize this recipe or make it seasonal by using any veggies that you have on hand.  I added the tomatoes because they were sitting on my counter (from our CSA) and the peas because it’s one of the kids’ favorite vegetables.  Make it your own by trying out a new veggie combination!



Veggie Tuna Noodle Casserole
  1. 1 lb noodles or your choice (elbow macaroni, bow-tie pasta, etc)
  2. ½ cup bread crumbs
  3. 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  4. 2 cups celery, chopped
  5. ½ cup onion, chopped
  6. 4 tablespoons butter
  7. ½ cup wheat flour
  8. 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  9. 2 cups milk
  10. 2 cups chicken broth
  11. 4 6-oz cans tuna, drained and broken into chunks
  12. 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  13. 2 cups frozen peas
  1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse (to avoid sticking), and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, combine bread crumbs and 2 tablespoons melted butter; set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F (if cooking right away).
  4. For sauce, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan (at least 3 quart-size) over medium heat. Sauté celery and onion until tender. Sprinkle flour and dry mustard on top of veggies, let sit for 30 seconds, and then stir into mixture. Increase heat to medium-high and slowly add milk and chicken broth while stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir constantly until mixture is slightly thickened and bubbly.
  5. Grease a 9x13” casserole dish with butter. Combine noodles, tuna, fresh or frozen veggies, and sauce in the casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumb mixture.
  6. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until bubbly and just starting to brown on top.
  1. I made this recipe gluten-free by substituting rice pasta for the noodles, oat flour for the flour, and using bread crumbs made with corn meal (although next time I would probably use the rice-based GF bread crumbs to stay consistent).
  2. Serves: 8 (normally!)
Life From Scratch


Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake

When we have a family dinner or get-together, we all like to contribute something to the menu.  My grandmother often volunteers to make or bring a dessert (she’s got quite a sweet tooth!).  At one family dinner, she showed up with these Mexican Hot Chocolate Mini Brownies from the bakery section of our local grocery store.  They were delicious!  So of course, I looked at the ingredient list (which was about a mile long and contained things that I couldn’t pronounce, let alone identify) and decided that I wanted to find a way to make a homemade version on my own!


After some online research and a few test batches, I’m excited to share a version that is just as delicious as the ones that we tried at our family dinner but uses whole wheat flour and maple syrup (you could also substitute honey) in place of refined flours and sugars and does not contain any added flavors or preservatives.  Win!


The idea behind a Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake is that you take the flavors from a Mexican hot chocolate (which is traditionally made with cinnamon and some sort of hot pepper to kick it up a notch) and bake it into a very moist chocolate cake.  My version also contains coffee so I guess it’s sort of a Mexican Mocha Cake. 


During my online research, I happened upon the idea of baking cake batter in pint-sized Mason jars so that you can serve them as individual servings.  I thought it was such a fun idea, especially when serving kids!  One night, when we had an extra kid sleeping over at our house, we made a batch of these cakes and all enjoyed them on the sofa while having a movie night.  Fun! 


[You could also make this recipe in a traditional cake pan but, to be honest, I didn’t try that out during my recipe testing so you’ll have to let me know what time and temperature you use if anyone tries it at home.  I would recommend keeping a lower temperature than most cake baking so that it stays moist.]


UPDATE: We made this recipe in a 9×13″ pan for family vacation earlier this month and it turned out great!  We baked it at 325°F for 40 minutes.  Still nice and moist! 


Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake in a Jar
  1. 1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
  2. ½ cup cocoa powder
  3. 2 teaspoons baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  5. 1 teaspoon salt
  6. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  7. ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  8. 2 eggs
  9. 1 ½ cups maple syrup
  10. 1 cup buttermilk
  11. 1 cup coffee, at room temperature
  12. ½ cup coconut oil, melted
  13. 1 ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, maple syrup, buttermilk, coffee, coconut oil, and vanilla.
  4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, a third at a time, whisking to incorporate in between each addition.
  5. Arrange ten 8-ounce or pint-sized Mason jars on a baking sheet and carefully pour ½ cup of the batter into each jar. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool slightly so that you can safely handle the jars. Hand out the jars and some spoons and enjoy!
  1. Makes 10 individual cakes.
  2. (*TIP: put 1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup and add milk to the 1 cup line and let sit for 5 minutes to make your own buttermilk from scratch!)
  3. (If desired, this recipe can also be made in a 9x13" pan. Follow recipe as described and pour batter into greased 9x13" pan. Bake at 325°F for 40 minutes. Enjoy!)
Life From Scratch