Sunday, July 24, 2011

An All American Classic: Tuna Casserole

My love of tuna came early on.  It might be attributed to the fact that my grandpa worked at the Starkist headquarters and therefore I had a lot of it when we were visiting him.  In fact, when I was a little girl with pigtails in my hair and small enough to still sit in the chair on the shopping carts, my mom would push me around the grocery store, checking off her list, while I would be singing, "My Grandma makes the tuna, my grandpa makes the tuna.  If you love tuna then YOU LOVE MY GRANDPA!"  (This was during my phase when I did not yet realize that the world was not a musical like "Annie".  This singing was not limited to just tuna.  My poor mother.)

Later, after years of tuna sandwiches for lunch (alternately switched with PB&J... no turkey and cheese for me, no sirree!), I hit a vegetarian streak in my life.  I gave up chicken and hamburgers without that much of a problem.  But I sure did miss those tuna sandwiches!  Luckily for me, there was Tuno.  Yes, Tun-O.  Looks kind of like tuna, smells kind of like tuna, comes in a can like tuna.  Except that can doesn't just say, "Dolphin friendly" on it.  Oh no, it says, "Tuna and dolphin friendly".  I don't think it was soybean friendly, though...  Apparently I liked it enough because I ate so much of it that for Christmas I got a shipping box full of cans of Tuno.

I kid you not.

I snapped out of this fake-meat mode when I moved for a bit to the beautiful islands of Micronesia to teach school.  You don't eat fake meat in Micronesia, you eat fresh-from-the-sea meat or chicken-snatched-from-the-bushes meat.  That, and canned meat.  Spam, people LOVE spam over there.  Me?  Spam?  Nah.  But the love of canned tuna came back along with the experience of eating fish straight off the bone.  Both were delicious, but only one made a killer sandwich.  Tuna sandwiches, tuna dip, grilled tuna Reuben's... I was the Bubba Gump of tuna.

(Enjoying some of that fresh fish in Ebeye)

This being said, I guess there should be no surprise that we eat a lot of tuna casserole in our home.  The great thing is that even though this is a simple food, the Brazilian half of our extended family thinks that it is a gourmet dish simply because it is not common in Brazil.  Imagine my relief when I have the pressure of making something fabulous to feed my mother/father/sister/aunts/uncles/cousins-in-law and they ask, "Ooohhh, do you think you can make tuna casserole?"  And then they turn and smile at each other, sending the same message back and forth: Tonight we are going to be eating GOOD!

The great thing about this dish is there is no-one-way to do it.  Basically, if you have the main ingredients of Cream of Something (mushroom or celery) Soup, Tuna, and noodles, you can change it up however you want.  Below is the Tiffany version of Tuna Casserole.  I make it without a recipe and sometimes add more or less, but this is what I did today and it was great.

  • 1 pack egg noodles
  • 2 cans tuna
  • 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 heaping Tablespoon of mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 1 half bag of frozen peas
  • Mrs. Dash or other seasoning
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 425.  Bring water to boil in large pot and add egg noodles.  Cook for 7-8 min.
  2. Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl add the rest of the ingredients except the bread crumbs.  Stir in egg noodles after they are cooked and drained.
  3. In large casserole dish, dump contents in and sprinkle bread crumbs on top.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.  (Remove the tin foil for the last 5-7 minutes to give it a golden crispiness on the top.)
COST = $6.70        PER SERVING (4) = $1.68
Plus bread w/ butter and sliced tomatoes = $1.93 per serving

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Inpsiration: In Katrina's Kitchen


That is the best word I can say to describe what I am feeling after finding this amazing blog. 


The food is fun food, not practical food.  I have not found a single recipe where I stop and think, "This is what I want for dinner tonight," which is what I usually look for.  The truth is, if I ate all these recipes I would have to spend a LOT more time in the gym.  Instead, I have found a bunch that give me ideas of things to do on rainy days or with my students.  I may not be the best at the creative cooking thing, but I will take this as inspiration to get better with it.

She can make her own Cheez-its, for crying out loud!

Not to mention T.H.E. B.E.S.T. food photography I have seen.  Gee whiz.

Take a moment and check her out.  Click on any picture to be taken to the respective blog post. 

Katrina, I salute you!

Monday, July 18, 2011

(Almost) FAIL: Give a Hoot Cupakes

I have been studying.  A LOT.  Taking a quarter's worth of work in a summer means long days of sitting in class and long nights of reading, writing, and working.  Now, I will be the first to admit that I am mini-nerd.  Yes, I like to learn and go to school.  But sometimes so much at one time kind of drains the brain.  So while I was sitting there one day last week, attempting to make it through 60 pages of the best practices of teaching children with dyslexia while also attempting to stay awake and not go crazy in the process, I decided it was time for a study break.

I found this fun book in my friend's kitchen.  We all know that baking and I do not have the best relationship, but I decided to try my hand at it once again.  Afterall, the last time turned out to be a success.  And (this being the real reason) the recipe called for "cupcakes of your choice". 

Cupcakes of my choice?  Easy.  The kind that come from a Betty Crocker box!

Then came the new part: making something fun out of these little pieces of cake.  The recipe made it look so easy: get the ingredients and make it happen.

Once again, baking reared its ugly head in my life.  Getting the right ingredients should have been so simple.  When you can't find exactly what you are looking for (Runts candies, replaced by pieces of apricot jelly rings), or the name brand is twice the price of the store brand (Oreo's vs. Safeway... I should have gone with the Oreo's, the eyes would have turned out cleaner), or you accidentally pull sugar free frosting off of the shelf instead of regular, well... you wind up with something slightly different.  And really, how was I supposed to know you needed paper cupcake liners???  Well, I did need them and I bought foil liners.  This last problem was solved by rummaging around in Erica's cupboards.  Thank goodness she had some left over from her last baking experience!  (And now she has a package of brand new foil liners waiting for her to use, for whatever you use them for.) 

Did I mention that I also hate with a passion dislike anything that requires repetitive movements requiring fine motor skills?  Let's just say that the last time I played pick-up sticks I was beat by a Kindergartner. 

I kid you not.

I probably should have thought about that before I began this task.

THEIR VERSION:  Cute, clean, perfect.

MY VERSION: Sloppy and awkward.  Looks like that kindergartner could have beat me at this, too.
But I persevered!  I decided that I did not get that far to just throw it all away.  I did only actually wind up making six before I decided that chocolate cupcakes were just fine, but I made six.  And you know what the reaction was when I brought them to share with my class the next day?  Oohs! and ahhs! filled the room and phones were pulled out to take pictures.  Nobody complained about the sugar free frosting.  In fact, some seem relieved to have a little less sugar in their lives.  Really, what did I expect from a bunch of school teachers?  We are trained to see the beauty in messiness; it is our special gift.

  • Cupcakes of your choice
  • 1 can of chocolate frosting
  • Oreo's
  • 2-3 boxes Junior Mints
  • Bananas out of the Runts box, or (as I used) cut of Apricot Gummies
  1. Make the cupcakes and frost.
  2. Split the Oreo's in half, keeping the cream side whole (microwaving a few cookies at a time for several seconds helps to keep the cream side solid).  Place the cookies, cream side up, on the cupcakes for eyes.  Cut the remaining cookie pieces into thirds; discard the center third and set the remaining aside.
  3. Place the Junior mints on the Oreo's for the pupils.
  4. Place reserved cookie pieces above the eyes for ears.  Pipe chocolate frosting on ears and around eyes.
  5. Press the yellow candies in between the eyes as the beak.
(Recipe from Taste of Home -- Fun Food)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pura Vida Comida

For the past few weeks I have been MIA, I know, but I have a really good reason.  I promise.

Instead of living the usual rat race, working and cleaning, cooking and shopping for toilet paper and other things I hate spending money on, we enjoyed the tropical breeze and beautiful sunsets of Costa Rica.

Ahhh... that is the sweet life.

Of course, my days weren't only filled with zip-lining and surfing.  We needed to eat, too, right?  Not that we minded.  The food was delicious, the fruit was fresh, and Paulo received his necessary rice and beans (or casados in Costa Rica -- actually meaning "married couple", a great way to describe those two).

I wouldn't want you to feel left out, so I have some recipes to share with you.  You may not have the chance this summer to hop on a plane to Central America, but it doesn't mean you need to live without a little Pura Vida in your life.  Go ahead, put down that To-Do list and close your calendar on your computer screen.  Sometimes the simple things are the tastiest.

Pura Vida.
1 whole chicken
1 chopped onion.
1 chopped red sweet pepper.
2 big carrots or the equivalent, chopped very tiny.
1 chopped cilantro roll divide in 2 portions.
4 big chicken bullion cubes"Maggi". (Not Knor, apparently it tastes terrible.)
2 teaspoons of anato (find in the Mexican section of the grocery store)
2 cups of Jasmine rice


1)  Cut the chicken in big pieces ( if you don't know how, buy it from the store already in pieces, no worries).  Place the chicken in a big pot and cover with water.  Add about 3/4 of the chopped onions, the 4 chicken bouillon cubes, 1/2 chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon of anato, 1 chopped sweet pepper. Cook this for about 1 hour or until chicken is completely cooked. Taste the broth to see if it needs a little bit of salt.  When you are happy with the flavor set aside.
2)  Take another pot, and add the rice, the carrots, 1/4 of the onions, and using a strainer add the broth from the chicken that you just cooked, (about 2 cups and a half). Put the stove on high  and stir a couple times. Once the broth is simmering cover with a lid, lower the heat to very low heat for about 10 minutes more. Taste it to see if the rice is soft.
3)  Take the chicken in a bowl or in a cutting board ( you may have to wait until the chicken is cold enough to work with it), make it in a little pieces with 2 forks.
 4)  In a another pot, add olive oil ( about 2 tablespoons) in medium heat, add 1/4 teaspoon of anato, add the chicken in tiny pieces, add the rice, and start to mix everything together with a spoon.  Add the other 1/2 of chopped cilantro.

  • 1 whole pineapple, peeled, cored and cut in medium size chunks
  • 6 cups of water
  • ¼ cup to ½ cup sugar, adjust based on preference and sweetness of the pineapple
  • Juice from 1 lime
Working in batches place the pineapple chunks with the water, sugar and lime juice in the blender, and blend well.  Strain the juice and serve with ice.
Typical Costa Rican breakfast --
  • 1 lb black beans
  • 8-10 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 small or medium onion
  • ½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
  • 3 cups chicken broth or water
  • 2 cups white rice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1-3 Tablespoon oil to fry the Gallo Pinto
1)  If beans are dried, cover with water and soak overnight, if they are fresh, just rise them off. Drain the beans and add fresh water to an inch (2.5-cm) above the top of the beans, salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft (~3 hours).

2)  Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine.

3)  Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and saute the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and saute another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes). This is also the recipe for Tico rice used in other favorites like tamales.

4)  Once the rice and beans are cooked you can refrigerate or freeze them. Keep a significant amount of the “black water” with the beans (½-1 cup 120-240 ml). This is what gives the rice its color and some of its flavor. Saute the rice, beans reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving.

Once the rice and beans are cooked you can also refrigerate or freeze them. Make up small batches of Gallo Pinto when you want it by simply sauteing them together.
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