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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Toying with tuna

I’m an addict. I admit it. My vice is tuna fish. My youngest daughter used to say my house could run on white wine, cottage cheese, tuna fish, and Paul Newman’s vinaigrette. I use tuna lots of ways—several versions of salad, casseroles, individual dishes with rice or tiny pasta. I have a recipe for crab/asparagus/cheese on toast (asparagus on toast is a very British thing—my mom used to do it for my dad) but I’m thinking of substituting tuna for the crab.

My current favorite tuna salad is a 7 oz. can albacore in water, drained and chunks broken up, plus juice of one lemon (use one of those good juicers so you get it all), 1 scallion chopped, 1 stalk celery, chopped, a bit of Dijon mustard, and enough mayonnaise to bind—not too soupy, please.

Another way I make it is to flake the tuna in a small food processor, then add the lemon, scallion, a healthy squirt of anchovy paste, and enough mayo to bind. Sometimes I make it with hard-boiled egg, or pickle relish, or cilantro and canned chillies. Tuna offers unlimited possibilities.

I don’t buy tuna at the grocery (I’ll get to an exception in a minute). I order it, by the case, from the Pisces cannery in Coos Bay, Oregon. They don’t fish with nets, so dolphins swim alongside their boats. Their albacore is canned and then cooked, which means it is only cooked once, instead of twice like most brands that are cooked, canned, and cooked again. You can tell the difference in taste and texture both. Pisces makes plain tuna, smoked tuna, salmon and smoked salmon, though the salmon is seasonal and often hard to get. It has more to do with large canneries and politics than supply and demand, but I love to get salmon when I can. Salmon cakes are high on my list. Pisces fish is more expensive—I readily admit that—but to me it’s so worth it.

I also order tuna salad a lot and I can tell you my favorites—right now they’re Swiss Pastry Shop and McKinley’s. I had a tuna sandwich recently somewhere else that was so juicy, it soaked through the bread and made it hard to pick up. Usually I prefer a tuna salad plate to a sandwich—get the taste of the tuna and avoid the bread.

Recently, I’ve discovered another tuna that I love. (Forgive the blurry picture, please.)I don’t’ usually use this blog to tout a product but here goes: I saw Tonino’s Tuna advertised in one of the food magazines I take and then found it on the shelves at Central Market. It’s in a smallish jar—I doubt it’s seven oz.—packed in olive oil and available in several flavors. I like it with oregano or garlic. Don’t want to try the red pepper and can’t see much advantage in the water packed. The texture is solid—great chunks of tuna—and the flavor delicious. Because I’m a cottage cheese freak, I mix it with that but you could drain and toss in a salad for a healthy and delicious meal. Or eat it plain. Save it for occasions--it's not cheap. Today I'm going to a birthday party for a neighbor--he's getting a jar of Tonino Tuna with oregano for a gift. I consider it an introduction.

Remembers tuna casseroles? Did your mom make them and now you can’t bear to think of them? Try this—the neat thing is you can determine your own veggie, carb, and seasonings.

1 cup white wine
Assorted herbs
1 can mushroom soup
1 7 oz. can albacore tuna, drained and broken into chunks
Cooked or canned vegetable of your choice (I like green peas)
Cooked rice, noodles, whatever you want (I usually use egg noodles)
Season to taste
French’s French-fried onion rings or other crumbly topping—shredded sharp cheddar mixed with crumbled potato chips would be good
Throw a bunch of herbs in white wine—parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, whatever comes to mind; I’d avoid Mexican flavors unless you deliberately want that taste. Boil wine hard until herbs are black.
Stir in remaining ingredients except topping. Season with salt, pepper, a dash of Worcestershire if you wish, perhaps a big pinch of dry mustard. Use your imagination.
Add topping and bake at 350o until casserole is bubbly and topping browned. Should serve four.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Straightening out pasta

The other night a friend wanted to go out to dinner, and I wanted to stay home so I prowled through my cabinet and fridge and then my appalling collection of recipes for something I could fix without a trip to the store. Came up with a recipe called Pasta Carbonara with Anchovies. My friend looked over my shoulder and said she guessed I was fixing pasta carbonara, to which I replied, "Not really. Anchovies, not bacon." But the recipe called for an egg sauce, which I though was more typical of aveglemono than carbonara. So I did some research.
It turns out what I made didn't really fit either category, but it sure was good. Aveglemono traditionally has a lemon taste and is not so much a pasta sauce as one for vegetables or leftover ground meat (I swear I've made it for pasta with veggies, but who is a Scot to quarrel with the Italians?). Typically it uses two or three eggs, separated, and you use the beaten whites as well as the yolks, along with broth (warm).
Carbonara is a pork pasta sauce in which pancetta or guanciale (made from pork jowls or cheeks) is cooked in olive oil (or lard) and combined with raw eggs, pecorino or parmagiano and cream, away from the heat so that you don't curdle the eggs.
What I made was neither carbonara nor aveglemono but a cross, and it was delicious.

Judy's Spaghettti with Anchovies

12 oz. spaghetti (I used linguine and less than 12 oz. because some spilled on the floor, and I had to grab fast to keep the dog from eating it--I had visions of dry spaghetti exploding in her stomach)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic coves, mashed
2 oz. can anchovies, drained and chopped
1/2 tsp. lemon zest (I hate shaving zest but the dish could have used a whole tsp if I'd felt ambitious)
1 Tbsp. oregano
1/4 cup chopped parsley (I used chives because they grow on my porch)
2 large egg yolks
salt and pepper

Cook pasta al dente and drain, being sure to catch a half cup cooking water.
In large, deep skillet, heat olive oil, garlic and anchovies. The original recipe called for thin-sliced anchovies, but I prefer mashed--when I get a bite of straight garlic, it's almost overwhelming to me. Cook over medium heat until the anchovies sort of melt in. Add oregano and chives, and then dump in the rinsed pasta. Stir and heat briefly.
Meanwhile in a deep bowl, whisk the reserved pasta water into the egg yolks (I didn't use a deep bowl and splashed it everywhere). At this point, I thought it looked hopeless. I had this dry pasta and watery eggs, but I persevered. I added thee watery egg  yolks to the pasta and in no time at all a wonderful silky creamy sauce appeared. I left salt and pepper up to the individual diner, but found I wanted more of each on my pasta.
We agreed it was rich and earthy but we didn't taste much anchovy--a whole can is a hefty dose of that particular fish. When I did dishes, I discovered a lot of anchovy in the bottom of the skillet so my advice is to stir well.
This was good the next day as lunch but is much better eaten immediately after fixing it.

Original recipe is said to serve four. We had only one serving left over.

Serve with a geen salad. I had some marinated veggies left from another dinner and dumped them over some greens, using the marinade as dressing. Proud of myself for pulling supper out of the cupboard and the fridge. Just wait till I have veggies in the back yard.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cincinnati Chili

Chili is a Texas dish, right? Texans made the first chili of record as well as the first pre-mixed spice for the dish. The most famous canned chili—Wolf Brand—was born on a Texas ranch and made here for years. For goodness sake, it’s our state food. So what can possibly be good about Cincinnati chili? Author Jim Jackson—er, Seamus McCree of fictional fame--sets us straight, provides a recipe, and even suggests dessert.
Cincinnati Chili
My name is Seamus McCree. My creator, James M Jackson, signed me up for this gig. Geez, he puts the words, “The quintessential Cincinnati eating experience is Skyline Chili and Graeter’s Ice Cream,” into my mouth, and now he tells me I have to provide details for those who aren’t familiar with the cuisine.
Haute it is not. We’re talking fast food, and in Cincinnati the perfect place to experience it is on Ludlow Avenue in the Clifton area just north of the University of Cincinnati. That happens to be only a few blocks from where I “live.”
First the basics: Cincinnati chili is not your ordinary Tex-Mex. This chili is usually served over spaghetti (see below for details) and comes in three variations: three-way, four-way and five-way. Three way adds finely shredded Colby cheese on top (feel free to substitute Cheddar; I do that all the time). Four-way adds either diced onions or red kidney beans. A five-way includes everything. While you wait for your fast food, the staff will serve you oyster crackers (which some people—not I—will add to the top of their chili).
You can buy the sauce in cans or the whole thing frozen, but it’s not hard to prepare and the recipe is below. Here’s the Skyline website I should mention that there are other brands of Cincinnati Chili – but for a Cliftonite like me, only Skyline counts.
And when you have finished your repast, a block and a half down Ludlow is Graeter’s Ice Cream ( ) for dessert. I figure the exercise of walking that distance justifies the calories of the ice cream. My favorite flavor is black raspberry chocolate chip. They drip the chocolate into the vats while they are making the ice cream, so sometimes you end up with chunks the size of a small candy bar with your ice cream. I haven’t found any flavor I don’t like. For those near Kroger food stores, I’m told even those in Savannah carry Graeter's.
Here’s the recipe for the Cincinnati chili sauce, which is better if you make it ahead of time.

2 lbs. ground beef
1 qt. water
4 small onions
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
5 whole cloves
1 tsp crushed red pepper
4 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
2 large bay leaves
2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 8-oz. cans tomato sauce
½ oz. bitter chocolate
1 generous tsp allspice
4 Tbsp chili powder (optional if you like it hot – I leave it out)

In blender, puree garlic and onions with a small amount of water. Add raw beef to 1 qt. COLD water. Crumble FINE as water comes to a boil. Add pureed mixture and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer for 3 hours. Refrigerate overnight. Skim fat and reheat to serve.
Let each person add cheese, onions and red kidney beans to preference. The cheese should be finely grated. Onions minced. Beans (canned) drained and rinsed.

Caution: Do not wear your finest clothes eating Cincinnati Chili. Unless your napkin does a better job than mine, some of the sauce may end up on your front.
Caution II: Savor the Graeter’s Ice Cream. Eating it too fast can cause brain freeze.

Thanks for having me,

~ Seamus

 Cabin Fever Cover

James M. Jackson writes the Seamus McCree mysteries, Bad Policy (March 2013) and Cabin Fever (coming April 2014), published by Barking Rain Press. Bad Policy won the Evan Marshall Fiction Makeover Contest whose criteria were the freshness and commerciality of the story and quality of the writing. Known as James Montgomery Jackson on his tax return and to his mother whenever she was really mad at him, he splits his time between the Upper Peninsula of Michigan woods and Georgia’s low country. Jim has also published an acclaimed book on contract bridge, One Trick at a Time: How to start winning at bridge (Master Point Press 2012).


He regularly blogs at Writers Who Kill (


Sunday, March 2, 2014

The magic of avocadoes

I've been eating--and entertaining--high on the hog lately. The quail of last weekend,  a wonderful lamb meatloaf last night with oven-crisped asparagus, and tonight a beef cutlet with anchovy butter. All good, rich, and fun to fix. Except the asparagus. By the time I got it dipped in egg white and then a mix of parmesan, flour and panko, I swore I will never again cook anything that is dipped into egg and then crumbs or flour. I get the egg on my fingers and it creates great clumps of the breading--a mess. The asparagus, however, was delicious--even Jordan who doesn't really like asparagus--liked this, and Christian said he'd do it next time.
But for me the hit of the evening was an avocado salad dressing I got from Facebook. Avocadoes are good for you, they're obviously delicious, and I was growing weary of traditional salad dressings, though I know we should all eat our dark, leafy greens. So here it is:

1 lg. avocado, ready to use; peeled and cut into chunks
2 tsp.. lemon juice
1/2 c. Greek yogurt (I forgot to buy Greek and used regular--not as good for you, but you can't tell)
1 tsp. hot sauce--way to much; I sprinkle a few drops
1/4 c. olive oil
2 garlic cloves
3/4 tsp. salt

Throw it all in the blender. The avocado is hard to blend--chunks keep reappearing. You have to scrape down the sides and continue to blend until you don't see chunks. But this is really good and healthy.
I discovered too that it makes a terrific appetizer dip. I've served it with veggies and crackers, and it's a hit. Unlike guacamole, it's still good the next day, though I wouldn't trust it beyond that.

In my continuing effort to avoid prepared foods, I have run into a problem--the other night I fried bacon so Jacob and I could have bacon and eggs--breakfast for supper. But I had no empty can and nothing to put the bacon in. Anybody have a good solution? So many things that used to come in cans--like coffee--come in plastic these days! A dilemma.