Too, Too, Too, Tuna

I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but after enjoying this recent festive holiday season, I am feeling both penniless and puffy.

So, what’s a girl to do?

I cut back, both in calories and costs.  But protein is really important health wise (the ancestors of humans came down out of the trees and started making shoes and reading Mad magazine once they began eating protein). 

One of my life-long favorite foods is also a cheap protein that’s really good for you.

It’s canned tuna.

But first, I am Italian, and as a descendant of the boot, I have very strict notions about food.  And one of those beliefs is that cheese and fish do not belong together; except in a filet o’ fish, which is technically neither.  So, don’t come at me about tuna melt.  It’s an abomination.


But back to the fish.

You can eat tuna on just about anything that will hold it—from a fork, to a freshly baked fancy French croissant (Petey’s choice).

A few ideas:When I’m feeling especially off track, and in need of nutrition but very limited calories, I opt for a roll-up.  You can use zucchini, cucumber, carrot, sliced into thin strips, but I just love Boston bib lettuce.  I’m not actually fond of the lettuce with anything but tuna, somehow the astringent flavor of the lettuce works well with the rich, fecund tuna and its additions.When I’ve made a special trip to Whole Foods or La Farm Bakery Cafe for some of Chef Lionel’s Vatinet’s fresh, delicious, bracing sourdough miche, I have a sandwich on it.  There are few breads that even come close to Chef Lionel’s.  Frankly, it’s tough to find anything that comes close to the flavor and quality of the product they make and serve at La Farm.

And, when I was a child the stable we belonged to Lazy R, had a snack bar, and they served it on a buttered, toasted bun.  I still love it that way.And, when I’m feeling a little more laissez-faire health-wise, a special treat for the entire Matthews family is to eat tuna with a big old stack of scoop-shaped corn chips.  Fritos sells scoops, but the dollar store usually sells a generic brand that’s just as good as the name brand, and about two or three dollars cheaper.

Avocado can be a delicious partner for tuna.  Put it in the hole of a halved, seeded veg.  You can dice it up and mix it in the tuna, along with a splash of citrus juice to reduce oxidation, which causes browning.  Or, and stay with me now, mash up the avocado, and use in the place of mayo. Just try it.

Mix-ins.  I have a confession.  It doesn’t matter how puffy I’m feeling, I love mayonnaise on my tuna most of all.  But, I don’t drown it (unlike a Petey and a Kid that shall go nameless).  I leave the meat in chunks, and toss it with enough mayo to barely coat it.

Then I add interesting, tasty, and nutritious ingredients that ups the flavor and the healthy.Not always, but occasionally I add hard-cooked egg.  It’s great for stretching both egg and tuna.  It also changes the flavor completely, but in a really good way.  It’s like a disguise.

I always start with a big shake of toasted sesame seed.  It’s fiber, vitamins, and minerals in an almost unnoticeable way.  White onion, for me is non-negotiable, I love the crunch and that pop of onion funk. Image result for sesame sunflower seedsThen lately, I’ve started using sunflower seeds.  The texture it adds is addictive.  I’d miss it if I left it out. Petey’s not a fan, but The Kid’s a true convert.

What this new addition tells me is that to keep riffing on tuna.  That it’s never too late to teach an old tuna eater some new mix-ins. Thanks for your time.


My version of AAA is of absolutely no help if, as my mother warns, “You’re out late at night, in the middle of nowhere and your car breaks down.”

But, I don’t think I’ve ever been out, late at night, in the middle of nowhere.  Because isn’t everywhere somewhere?

My AAA is three of my very favorite vegetables (in alphabetical order):

Artichoke.  I never ate an artichoke until I was in my twenties, at a business dinner.  The wife of the owner ordered one, and gave me a tutorial, and a taste—I loved it at first bite.

The artichoke is a member of the thistle family and has been cultivated and eaten since the time of Homer.  It has some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable.  It’s high in fiber, vitamin C, folates, and iron.Italy is the largest producer, and consumer in the world.  They also have tons of recipes for them.  But my favorite way to eat them is the first way I had them, and the most classic, simple prep.  I cut off the sharp tips of the leaves, trim the stem, and steam them for 30-40 minutes, or until tender.After it cools I serve each on a platter with a spoon and a small bowl of mayonnaise.  Working from the outside, peel off a leaf, dip in mayo, and scrape the tender meat off with your bottom teeth.  Larger areas of the leaves become edible as you go.

You will eventually uncover the heart.  Using the spoon, scrape off all the inedible hairs, until it is clean.  This is the best part.  Dip it into mayo and enjoy.The second veg is asparagus, another food chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The heart-breaking thing is that the thinking of many people, even food professionals is utterly backward.  Just like Rubens’ models and bank accounts, with asparagus, bigger is much better.An asparagus farmer once confided to me that he’s thrilled that the trend is for pencil-thin, or “baby” asparagus.  Because it gives the inferior product a market.  They taste like grass and almost impossible to prepare without over-cooking.  The desirable stalks are the ones as thick as your thumb. There are undeniably, people out there who don’t like asparagus.  But there’s a chance they’ve only had the tiny straw-like version.  They deserve to know what good asparagus tastes like.  So serve them in the most simple, basic way.

Rinse, then trim the veg by bending each, and letting it show you where to break the end off.  Steam them for 5-7 minutes until they’re still more crisp than tender.  Drizzle melted butter over and salt generously.  Serve immediately.I first encountered my last favorite veg as a child in Puerto Rico where avocado trees are ubiquitous.  The matriarch of life-long family friends the Murphy clan, Momma Cat was about to tuck into one.  I asked for a bite, and she gave me one, but warned, “they’re an acquired taste.”It was the most disgusting thing I’d ever put in my mouth.  It was like a mean-spirited practical joke.  Why, I wondered would anybody eat avocados on purpose?

But wise Momma Cat was right, and I eventually acquired a taste, and then a love for this unlovely platypus of the vegetable world.

Guacamole is wonderful, and I eat it every chance I get.  But I just adore avocados simply peeled, sliced, and salted, or what I call Momma Cat-style.

So, my AAA will not change your tire, or give you a tow in the middle of nowhere.  But as far as I’m concerned, they’re some of the best eating, anywhere.

Thanks for your time.

The big chill

Cryostasis. According to the Oxford dictionary, it’s “A frozen state of a person…induced in order to preserve it for long periods; cryosuspension.”

Well, it’s not just for deep space travel and Walt Disney anymore.

The Kid and I adore avocados.  It wasn’t always this way.  We developed our love for them through their most famous gateway drug; guacamole.  But we now love them on toast, sliced and salted; just about any way.

Avocados can be a giant pain in the keester, though.  If you’re buying and eating on the same day, good luck.  Stores get them in as hard as a baseball; they ripen on the grocer’s shelf as they wait to be picked to go to a new home.

So choose them according to when you need them.  4 or 5 days out?  Buy rocks.  For a couple days from preparation, pick ones that give just a little to gentle pressure.

At Costco there’s plenty of choices.  Take your time, and pick out a bag of boulders.

I buy a bag of six from Costco, and try to get the hardest ones they’ve got.  This gives me a few days grace to get my ducks in row, and be prepared for when they’re ripe.

But what to do when the avocado is ready and you’re not?  Because everybody knows that when a good avocado goes bad, it joins a gang, gets a face tattoo, and starts bullying onions and tomatillos for their lunch money.  And they only possess perfect, delicious ripeness for twenty minutes or so.

This is where the cryostasis comes in.  If you have a mess of fully ripened avocados (they’ll give to the light pressure and be slightly softened all over,) lying around the kitchen, set them, unwrapped, in the fridge.

I refrigerated ripe ones with the idea of using them in a few days.  But I figured what would happen is that I’d cut into one and discover something so bruised it would be as appetizing as a cigarette put out in a piece of birthday cake.  Last Tuesday, 2 days after stashing them in the chill chest, I took out a perfect avocado; no strings, no bumps, no bruises.

And then I made my new favorite avocado dish.

Avocado and spinach pesto

avocado pest ingredients

12 ounces short pasta

3 ½ cups raw baby spinach

2 avocados

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Juice of 2 lemons (bout ¼ cup)

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup chives or scallions

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1 cup reserved pasta cooking water

Cook pasta according to directions in heavily salted water.  Microwave spinach for about 1 minute 45 seconds or completely wilted.  Place into food processor.

When the pasta has five more minutes, make sauce. 

Add the avocado meat, cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Process, adding enough hot pasta water until it’s sauce consistency.

Drain pasta and return to pot.  Pour sauce over and gently stir to coat.  Garnish with chives.

Serves 2-4.


The pesto would also make a good dressing or dipping sauce. 

This stasis trick is even more amazing.  Last Tuesday, 2 full weeks after entering stasis, The Kid cut into a refrigerated avocado.  It was perfect and delicious.  I think we’ve cracked the code.  No more waste.  With all the scary avocados I’ve tossed in my life, I could probably finance a week’s vacation to Kill Devil Hills, and bring along Petey, The Kid, and the dog too.

Best of all, avocado’s pernicious stranglehold over me has been broken.  They’ll be eaten and used at my pleasure.  I will never again be a slave to botany.

Thanks for your time.