Friday, August 23, 2013

Tuna Melt O' My Heart!

What is it about tuna melts?  They are so comforting and delicious, but I rarely make them. Maybe I just sort of forget about them, until I need something for dinner when I haven't planned anything else.  Tuna melts to the rescue! And please don't get on me about the dry mini-carrots. I told you, I didn't have much else, so we had to do with what we had. Deal, people.  My life is not picture perfect.  :-)

I don't usually have English muffins on hand, so that was really the only thing I had to buy specifically for this recipe. If you don't have actual English muffins, you could do this just on regular bread, too.  Same technique will work for both.

Surprisingly, even my picky eater ate two of these, so you might want to try it with your kids (they even at those dry carrots).  Make sure they wait a little for the cheese to cool, otherwise they might burn the tops of their mouths.  Happens to me almost every time!  :-)

For a non-dairy variation, I broiled one without cheese, then added sliced avocado after I took them out of the oven.  It was delicious, and I didn't miss the cheese (much) at all!

And, in case you don't have either of these tools, you really need to get them if you like to eat tuna salad.  The Pampered Chef can opener and can strainer are fabulous!!

Tuna Melts, My Way

2 cans white albacore tuna, packed in water, drained
two big spoonfuls of mayonnaise (approx. 1/3 cup)
1 stalk celery, small (1/4 inch) dice
2 green onions, chopped fine
1 heaping Tbsp sweet relish, or about 5-6 sweet midget gherkins, diced small
a squirt of fresh lemon juice
Salt, pepper (to taste)
3 English muffins, split
6 slices of cheese (I use American because it melts smoother)

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a bowl (or you can just use your own favorite tuna salad recipe). Stir together to completely incorporate (you might have to smash through some of the larger chunks of tuna).

Turn on broiler.  Place English muffins on a rimmed baking sheet.  Butter lightly (you can skip this part and just toast them dry if you want).  Toast muffins under broiler (pan should be about 4-6 inches away from the heat), about 1-2 minutes.  You just want a little color on them so the middle doesn't get too soggy when you put the tuna on it.  Pull the muffins out of the oven.

Top the muffins with the tuna salad, then top with slices of cheese. I cut the squares down a little smaller, because I don't like having the cheese melt over the sides, dripping down and then burning on my pan, but that's just my Type-A quirkiness shining through.

Put the tuna melts back under the broiler for about 2 minutes, but keep an eye on them. You don't want the cheese to burn, just melt (hence the name of the dish).  :-) When the cheese starts to brown and bubble, pull the tuna melts out and serve.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Fall Wreath Craft

Don't hate me. I don't control the hands of time, but the inevitable march towards Fall is upon us, so I thought I'd share a wreath I made last year.  Of course, I didn't actually make it until October, so it was kind of late to post back then, so here it is, almost Fall again and my timing is now better for those of you who are actually thinking of decorating for the next season already.  I am not usually one of them.  ;-)

This was pretty easy to make, considering I usually am a crafting failure.  How can you tell I'm not a crafter? Instead of going to the store with a plan, I re-used a couple of fake leaf "bouquets" that I was tired of, paints that I inherited from someone else ("Sure, I guess I'll figure out a use for them...") and ribbon that I bought a long time ago (like 6 years) only because it was on sale and, "You never know when you'll need some ribbon." Luckily all the colors matched fairly well, otherwise this would have been a disaster...Confession: I actually had to go out and buy the letter and the styrofoam.

 You will need:

a styrofoam form for the wreath
cardboard for the back 
a wooden letter
a length of wide ribbon
a shitload of fake Fall leaves
tacky spray (to adhere the cardboard to the wreath form
staple gun 

First, paint the letter in the color you desire. I can't tell you exactly what colors I used, because they were from a bunch of paints someone gave me a while ago.  I kind of did a double coat, blending two different paint colors.  Turned out that it almost exactly matched that ribbon I bought a while back.

While the letter dries, prep the styrofoam form.  Attach cardboard to the back of the styrofoam using the tacky spray.  Mine looks a little trashy because I used parts of some cardboard decorations (cowboy boots, to be exact) that had been hanging up on the back porch for a couple of years. It was time to "repurpose" them, don't you think?  ;-)

Not a big deal, because you really don't see that part.  I used masking tape to hold the cardboard down until the tacky spray had dried.

Turn the form over and start attaching leaves. I had to experiment at first to get the leaves to stay on. The tacky spray didn't work, so I ended up putting glue on the ends of the leaf stems (first trimming the stems to a pointy end if necessary), then sticking the stems into the styrofoam.  I started at the bottom, using a miniature pumpkin to camouflage the point where the first leaves overlapped, then worked my way around each side until the wreath was completely covered.

 Next, take your painted wooden letter (make sure it's completely dry) and the wide ribbon.  The length of the ribbon you use will depend on how low you want the letter to hang in the middle and how long you want the ribbon hanging from the top. I used about 18 inches for the long piece, then 6 inches for the shorter piece.  Take the longer piece of ribbon and staple one end to the back of the letter.  Lay the letter in the middle of the wreath to place it where you want it to hang.  Then make a big loop so that the other end of the ribbon goes over the top of the wreath, then back down underneath the wreath. The ribbon should be laying flat.  Staple the other end of the ribbon to the back of the styrofoam and cardboard backing.  To make the loop on top from which to hang the wreath, take your second, shorter piece of ribbon and tie it around the longer piece of ribbon, just above the top of the wreath, to form the closed loop. You will have to tuck the front part of the ribbon underneath the leaves to they hide it.

Sorry I don't have any pictures of the ribbon-attaching process.  I was in full crafter mode and forgot to take any more until the thing was done.  Here's the finished product:

Happy Fall, y'all!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My Favorite Summertime Dinner


I don't know when I started to love mussels, but it's my favorite meal in the summer. Some might be intimidated to make them, but mussels are a super easy, quick dinner to make.  The most labor-intensive part is the cleaning process, but it's not hard.

The key to preparing mussels (as with all seafood, really) is to make sure they're fresh. Now, I don't know how fresh they can be, getting PEI mussels in northern Virginia, but I've had pretty good luck at our local Wegman's.  In a 2-lb. bag of mussels, nearly all are good (I think I had to throw out 6 or 7).

Plus, this dinner doesn't require a whole lot of ingredients, most of which I usually have on hand (why, yes, of COURSE I have an open bottle of white wine...).

Here's what you need:

2 lbs mussels (for 4 people)
one shallot, chopped fine (you can add or substitute 2 cloves of garlic if you want)
approx 1/4 cup white wine (two good glugs)
1/4 cup water
a handful of fresh thyme
approx. 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf or curly, whatever you've got)
Salt and pepper (optional)
a squeeze of fresh lemon (optional)

This picture doesn't show the thyme, because I hadn't run outside to get some, yet, so...Sorry.

Anyway, while my pan heated up, I cleaned the mussels.  The ones I buy are actually pretty clean. All you really need to do is pull out the beard, if they have them, but you might also want to scrub the outside with a soft brush to get any sand/dirt that might be stuck on the shell.  Also, sometimes I'll use the flat part of a paring knife to help me leverage the beard out (trapping the beard between my right thumb and knife blade), because they can be really tough to pull out. This is what the beard will look like:

If any of your mussels are open when you clean them, and they don't shut if you gently squeeze them, then throw them out.  You do NOT want to eat that.  On the other hand, you also don't want to eat any mussels that don't open once you've steamed them. Food for thought, that.

Anyway, here's an example of what you need to throw out during the cleaning process.

Sorry for the picture quality. My little point-and-shoot can be a little ornery sometimes, and it wouldn't focus on the stupid shell I had in my hand...but I digress.

Once you've cleaned your mussels, set them aside for the moment and turn your attention to the pan heating on the stove.  Add 2 Tbsp of butter and your chopped up shallots.  Let those cook a bit until the shallots are soft (about 3 minutes).  Add water, wine, and thyme and let that bubble up, then turn down to a simmer (surface of the liquid should ripple but not have lots of bubbles).

Dump all the mussels into the pan, then cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Let the mussels steam for approximately 8 minutes.

You might want to stir them around about 4 minutes in, just to get the mussels that were on top down to the bottom and into the cooking liquid for a couple of minutes).  After 8 minutes, check to see if the mussels have opened up.  If most of them are open (remember, don't eat mussels that haven't opened after they've been steamed), take the mussels off the heat.  Sprinkle with parsley, add salt and pepper to taste, if you like (I think the mussels add their own sea-saltiness, so we didn't add any) and a squirt of lemon if you can't have seafood without lemon.  We forgot to add it and I prefer that hit of acid, but my husband said he thought it tasted great without it. :-)

Be sure to serve the mussels with plenty of bread (I prefer a baguette) to sop up the tasty cooking liquid.  That's my favorite part.  I also served them with a side of a simple chopped vegetable salad (green pepper, tomato, cucumber, parsley drizzled with olive oil and a little salt and pepper), but traditionally, mussels are served with french fries (moules-frites).