Food Memories – Alice’s Tuna Casserole

Have I mentioned how much I admire Alice Currah?  Not only is she a wife and mother of three, but she also maintains two blogs (Savory Sweet Life and Everyday Alice) and is now a contributor to PBS’s Kitchen Explorers.  How she finds the time to do all these things, I will never know.  As impressive as those time management feats are, they aren’t why I admire Alice.

I admire Alice for speaking difficult truths, for honoring her own convictions, for owning her opinions, for encouraging others to follow their passions, for being both a vocal critic and an ardent cheerleader, for reminding us to be authentic, and for being one of the warmest, most welcoming people I have ever met. I truly feel lucky to have met her in person and seen the passion she has for what she does and for this community of food bloggers.

When I read her Tuna Casserole post on PBS Kitchen Explorers, I ached to have it as part of the Food Memories project.  She eloquently conveyed how her food memories played a huge role in her life.  I connected with this story in a lot of ways and I really loved how she honored her early experiences with food.  I am honored that Alice is allowing me to share it with you here.

Alice’s Tuna Casserole

Cooking and baking has always been a part of who I am.  My mother and father had to work twelve hour days to put food on the table.  Having six kids was challenging and they did their best to make sure we were clothed, fed, and had a roof over our heads.  The food wasn’t glamorous but it sustained and nourished our bodies.  My mother would often prepare a big one pot dish before leaving for work, which would be waiting for us on the stove top for dinner.  Most of the time these dishes were very basic and accompanied by warmed rice made in a rice cooker.

Although our family certainly qualified for public assistance, the prideful part of my father seemed to always override the need for more food in our cupboards.  Nevertheless we managed, partly because of my resourceful grandmother who would occasionally bring us bags of groceries she received from the local food bank; bags of canned and boxed goods in white labels with black letters.  These canned and boxed government issued foods would become my pantry, which started my love affair with cooking and baking.

I had to be resourceful, creative, and flexible – a philosophy which would apply to every aspect of my life including working in the kitchen.  My mother was not home to teach me to cook, but watching cooking shows on PBS planted seeds in my heart.  Although we never had any of the ingredients on hand to make anything I watched on television, I would experiment with what we did have on hand.  I developed my first recipe at eight years old.  I opened up a few cans of tuna, cooked some packaged pasta, stirred in some frozen peas, and mixed everything in a bath of shredded cheese, milk, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.  To top this casserole off, I crumbled Shredded Wheat cereal over a 9×13 baking dish and dinner was served.  My siblings and I devoured my no recipe-recipe and soon I was known as the cook of the family.

I learned to bake from my neighbor, Alice (I was actually named after her).  She was an elderly lady who never married and we considered her our American grandmother.  Her yard was covered in fruit trees and a vegetable garden we looked forward to eating from every time we visited. Every year she would take us kids to the local strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry farms to pick fresh seasonal fruit.  She then would bake the best pies and pastries in the world for us to enjoy.  Her love of baking and teaching was passed on to me as if I were her granddaughter, for which I will always be indebted.

Today my three beautiful children – Abbi (9), Mimi (7), and Eli (2) – and I cook and bake together all the time.  From the moment each of them was able to hold a spoon I’ve tried to teach them the basics of cooking and baking, and encouraged them to discover their own way.  They’re developing their own creative flare with what they make.  My husband Rob and I love watching them explore their potential in the kitchen, burnt cookies and all.

I’m an avid home cook and baker.  The advice, recipes, and stories I’ll be sharing with you are from everyday moments and experiences – not from culinary training or professional expertise.  I believe in being creative, resourceful, and flexible.  This is the approach I will share with you here and on my personal food blog: Savory Sweet Life.

I’m thrilled to be a weekly food contributor as part of the PBS Parents team along with my partner, Aviva Goldfarb.  I’m most looking forward to hearing your stories, recipes, tips, and ideas of food you love and how you incorporate it into your daily routine.  My hope is that we can become friends- learning and growing from each other.  I don’t have all the answers but I’m more than happy to share with you what I do know.  I also plan on reaching out to the PBS Parents Kitchen Explorers community for your ideas and perhaps even showcase them on one of my weekly posts.  I invite you to become an active participant in our newly launched community.  Together we will laugh, commiserate, and share family-friendly food our families will love and enjoy!

Reminiscent of my childhood, here’s is an updated version of my tuna noodle casserole recipe.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Reprinted with permission of Alice Currah

BAH Note:   I am a sucker for tuna noodle casserole.  It is one of my most comforting  guilty pleasures.  There, I feel much better getting that out in the open.

  • 6 oz dried curly egg noodles
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 oz package sliced mushrooms
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 8 oz package shredded medium Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas
  • 2 (5-oz) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup potato chips, gently crushed into smaller pieces

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cook noodles in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions until al dente.  Drain noodles and set aside.

Sauté onion in butter in a 12″ heavy skillet over medium heat for five minutes.  Add mushrooms, celery, and salt and cook for five minutes longer.  Stir in water and bouillon cubes.

In a small bowl, whisk milk and cornstarch until completely dissolved.  Add the milk mixture and 3/4 cup of cheese to the skillet and stir everything until well incorporated and sauce is nice and thick.

Add noodles, peas and tuna and gently fold them in. Season with pepper and additional salt to taste.  Sprinkle remaining cheese and crushed potato chips evenly on top.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top.

{printable recipe}

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This Charming Candy – The Giveaway Goes To

According to random.org, commenter #15 was selected as the winner of the This Charming Candy giveaway.  Congratulations Jenna.  I’ll be emailing you with more details.

Thanks to everyone who entered.   I’ve got another give away coming up before the end of the year…stay tuned.

Flashback Friday – Time Warp

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 8/6/08 at Exit 51

Flashback Friday – Time Warp

Despite my decision to outsource most of the cooking for last Friday’s dinner party, I did manage my time well enough to put a few homemade dishes on the table.  I think a dinner party should be about enjoying time with your guests, not slaving over a hot stove.  So if time doesn’t permit me to get dishes done ahead of time, I have no qualms about letting someone else do the work for me.  I also have no shame about letting my guests know that, no, I did not fry up all that chicken; it came out of a red and white bucket.  My time is at least worth an order of 16 piece extra crispy to go. Continue reading “Flashback Friday – Time Warp”

UnTurkey Recipes

On this day before Thanksgiving the Internets are sure to be chock full of swoon worthy recipes perfect for your Turkey Day table.  For those of us who choose to give thanks with something other than Meleagris gallopavo, here are a few UnTurkey ideas.

Is pork more your flavor?  Then perhaps you should invite David Lebovitz’s Carnitas to dinner.

Looking for a vegetarian option?  How about a nice big bowl of Lentil Soup with Vegetables from Delicieux?  Metric conversions aside, this is a quick and easy soup you will be thankful for.

And if you want to jazz up some sweet potatoes, how about a Warm Lentil and Sweet Potato Salad with Maple Vinaigrette from The Washington Post?

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.  May your table, and your day, be full.

Pumpkin Tart

I am a planner.  Perhaps I’ve mentioned that before? I like to know where I’m going and how I’m getting there before I embark on a journey…whether it be out in the world or in my kitchen.  So I hate it when I have a plan all nicely laid out and someone comes along and tells me that I should do something different.  Change, especially last minute change,  and I don’t see eye to eye.  So it is grudgingly that I let it into my world.

Now that we’ve established that I’m the kind of person that would rather eat glass than do something like change my menu at the last minute, I’m going to put on my hypocrite hat and say that while I’m sure you have a lovely dessert planned for Thanksgiving this week, you need to forget about that.  Because you absolutely need to make this pumpkin tart. I know that might sound like nails on a chalkboard to you (it would to me), but I would not suggest such a thing if it weren’t imperative that you become acquainted with this tart.

I’m not going to pretend that this tart is any less of a calorie bomb than its cousin, pumpkin pie.  It’s got butter, sugar, chocolate, creme fraiche, and egg; there’s nothing light about it.  The chocolate spice crust is a perfect complement to the custard filling that is silky and rich but avoids being heavy or overly sweet.

So why should you make a change this late in the game?  Because in addition to being a welcome change from pumpkin pie and being an outstanding dessert on its own merits, pumpkin tart is unexpected.  You can get a pumpkin pie anywhere.  Walk into any grocery store or kwikimart and you’ll  be bombarded with mass produced, industrial, pumpkin pies for sale.  As tasty as they are, they’re a dime a dozen.  While not any more complicated than a pumpkin pie, pumpkin tart just looks fancy.  And that little bit of fancy makes you feel special.

So this Thanksgiving, go for special.  Curse me all you want now as long as you are prepared to take every word back when you experience pumpkin tart.

Chocolate Tart Crust

Adapted from Martha Stewart

BAH Note: I have Sweet Mary to thank for introducing me to Pumpkin Tart.  She brought it to our Inspired Supper and I was so impressed by the tart that I finally pulled out the tart pan that has been sitting in the cabinet for over a year and made it myself.  Despite having the dough as cold as possible, I still found that it warmed up quickly resulting in sticking and tearing.  If that happens, put the dough back in the fridge for ten or fifteen minutes to firm back up before continuing.  A big hunk of dough ripped off as I was placing it in the pan so I just used my fingers to work the pieces back together.  After it’s filled, you can’t tell whether you rolled your dough perfectly or whether it fought you like a rebellious teenager.  So don’t sweat it.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, frozen
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and spices in the work bowl of your mixer. Using a box grater, quickly grate the butter into the flour mixture.  Using your hands, gently fold the butter into the flour mixture.  Place the bowl, along with the paddle attachment from your mixer, into the refrigerator (or freezer if you have the room) for 20 to 30 minutes.  Then mix on low for a few minutes until the mixtures resembles coarse meal and the butter is pea-sized. Add the egg and mix until everything just comes together to form a dough.  Shape the into a disk, cover it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to a day, before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Brush off the excess flour. Transfer the dough to your 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan and trim the edges. Use a fork to lightly prick all over the bottom of the dough. Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake the shell until it is firm, about 15 minutes. Immediately sprinkle the bottom of the shell with the chopped chocolate and smooth with a spatula.

{printable recipe}

Pumpkin Tart Filling

Adapted from Martha Stewart

  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 8 oz creme fraiche
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate

In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, creme fraiche, and spices.  Taste for seasoning and add more spice as desired.  Add the eggs and whisk until smooth. Pass the mix through a fine sieve set over a clean bowl, discarding any solids. Pour the filing into the prepared chocolate crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the filling is set.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals until melted. Use a fork or piping bag with a very narrow tip to drizzle the chocolate over the tart forming decorative stripes. Chill for at least an hour before serving.

{printable recipe}

Flashback Friday – Sticker Shock

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 8/5/09 at Exit 51

Sticker Shock

Last Saturday, the day after our carbolicous dinner party, we stocked up on supplies for the first week of our South Beach journey.  Good thing there were leftovers to fill me up before this trip to the store.  Looking at the grocery list as I navigated the grocery aisles, the hungries definitely could have tempted me to toss verboten items into the cart.  But I came prepared. Continue reading “Flashback Friday – Sticker Shock”

This Charming Candy – A Giveaway

 

image courtesy of this charming candy

When was the last time you had a lollipop?  Think about it.  When you’re a kid, people hand you lollipops left and right. You get them at the bank and the doctor’s office.  I even ran across something online recently where a dentist was giving out lollies to the kids.  I guess that’s one way to ensure job security.  But after you’re no longer cute by virtue of being young and precocious, the supply of lollies coming your way dries up.

My last real encounter with lollipops was in high school when the cheerleaders struck upon the idea of selling blowpops for a fundraiser.  It was genius really.  Those girls walked the halls with the bulk boxes of blowpops and we all flocked to them for the chance to exchange two quarters for a chunk of gum wrapped in a lollie shell.  I think they had the entire student body of Elkton High School hooked on their sugary stash.  But after that, lollipops and I pretty much went our separate ways.  I would occasionally score a DumDum on my way out of the vet but they were never as good as I remembered them being from my days as a young, precocious thing.  And then this summer the Universe took me to Seattle, home of This Charming Candy, and I rediscovered the joy of lollipops.

Run by Susan and Kate, This Charming Candy produces handmade lollipops.  Can you believe that?  Small batch, artisan lollipops.  Here’s what it says on their Etsy Profile Page, “Susan made her first lollipops as part of a science project, believe it or not. She loved watching the syrup boil, learning how to handle it, playing around with pretty food coloring and coming up with new ways to combine familiar flavors. She started bringing lollipops to gatherings with friends around New Years 2009. Soon she was totally hooked on making lollipops. All the positive reinforcement from her sugar-loving friends sure didn’t hurt either.

I am all for doing what you love.  I’m also all for things that taste good.  So having been tipped off about This Charming Candy before my trip to Seattle, I pestered Susan via email into meeting me and selling me some of her Salted Caramel lollie love.  She could not have been more gracious or generous with her time during my visit.  And  let me tell you, she totally delivered a sophisticated, adult lollipop that made me sing with delight.

The future may look back and dub Salted Caramel the sundried tomato of 2010 but I insist that it is timeless perfection.  Imagine salty and sweet happiness on a stick.  Despite such intriguing flavors as Birthday Cake, Teaberry, Nutmeg Creme, Maple Sugar, Blueberry Muffin, and a Twilight themed collection of Blood Sucker, Sweetheart, and Lickanthrope, I am steadfastly loyal to the Salted Caramel.

As we move into the gift giving season, I know some people for whom artisan lollipops would make the perfect holiday gift.  Maybe you do too?  And I imagine Santa wouldn’t mind finding a lollipop instead of cookies at your house as he burns the midnight oil on Christmas Eve.  Or maybe you want to treat yourself to a small indulgence.  Whatever the reason, This Charming Candy makes it easy for you to rediscover the love of lollipops.

I love the lollies that This Charming Candy produces and I believe in supporting people taking a chance on doing what they love, so I’m giving one Bon Appetit Hon reader the chance to discover This Charming Candy for free. No strings attached.  All you have to do is check out  This Charming Candy’s blog or Etsy shop for all the fantastic flavors Susan and Kate are offering up and leave me a comment saying which flavor you find most interesting.

Want an extra chance to win?  Then head on over to Twitter  and/or Facebook and post  the following:

Enter to win @charmingcandy handmade lollipops from @bonappetithon http://wp.me/pAING-Sh

Leave me a separate comment saying where you posted for each additional entry (one entry each for Twitter and Facebook for a maximum of two additional entries).

All comments must be received by midnight on Thursday, November 26th and the giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only.

The commenter randomly selected as the winner will receive $20 worth of shopping plus shipping in This Charming Candy’s Etsy shop.  You will be contacted by email if you are the winner so be sure to include your email address in the comment form (will not be published with your comments).

Now for the disclaimers:

This Charming Candy is a licensed food handler and processor in the state of Washington, and they make their candy in a licensed commercial catering kitchen. This kitchen processes foods to which some customers may be allergic, including milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans.

This giveaway is being sponsored by me personally.  I have not received anything in consideration for this post. I just wanted to thank you with some lollie love for following my adventures here at BAH.

***Overlooked Disclaimer #1: I usually respond to every comment here at BAH but in order to keep things nice and tidy for the giveaway, I won’t be posting any responses. Feel free to chat with me about your lollie love on Twitter @bonappetithon  ****