Jeffrey’s Easy Peasy Tuna Melt

My brother Jeffrey’s 9th angel anniversary is coming up on the 6th and it’s got me thinking of him and remembering.

When Jeffrey and I were growing up on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, we were on our own a lot. Our parents and Uncle Steve worked long hours at Sebastian’s on the Waterfront so we would fend for ourselves.

One memory I have is when Jeffrey and I used to do the laundry. Every Saturday morning, Jeffrey and I had to take the laundry to the Westinghouse laundromat on the waterfront near Palm Passage. My friend and classmate Joan Barbel’s family owned the laundromat and they knew my parents, so we had to be on our best behavior when we were there.

We lived on Norre Gade, a few doors down from the Moravian Church.  Many people who knew our family would see us walking from our house on Norre Gade to Palm Passage along the waterfront.

Imagine if you will, you’re on an island paradise and everyone spoke with a Calypso accent. Now imagine people watching my brother and me walking with this huge sack on our backs (he’d be in front, and I’d be bringing up the rear), looking like Santa’s elves, and they would point and say; “Eh, Eh! There go de Black children with de laundry!”

Once we got the laundry started in the machines, we’d walk around Main Street and the waterfront, or stop at Sebastian’s to have something till it was done and then we’d head back home and hang up and put away the laundry.

Since Jeffrey was a vegetarian, tuna fish was one of the foods we ate with regularity. When we were home alone on Saturday, Jeffrey used to make us tuna melts. It’s not a fancy dish, and there are probably tons of ways to prepare it, but Jeff made it simply with English muffins, tuna and cheese.

Basically, he’d do the following:

  • Toast a couple of English muffins
  • mix tuna with mayo, onions and celery
  • place the tuna on top of the toasted muffins
  • Place a slice of American cheese on to of the tuna.
  • Pop it in the oven at 350° and bake it for about 3-5 minutes until the cheese was melted.

** You could also add tomato to it if you so desired.

It was so satisfying – comfort food.
I think I’ll go to the grocery store and pick up some English muffins and make this tomorrow in honor of my brother.

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EASY SAUSAGE BREAD

Sausage bread is totally different from Stromboli or Calzone. With Stromboli, you roll the pizza dough with the filling like a jellyroll, and calzone is basically a pizza folded in half.

Sausage bread can be done with a loaf of Italian bread cut lengthwise or it can be made using pizza dough rolled out lengthwise and folded over the sausage mixture… either way, it’s delizioso!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. mild or spicy Italian pork sausage (or a combination of both – remove from casings)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano or Italian seasonings
  • 2 tsp. basil
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I like a lot of cheese!)
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 loaf French or Italian bread

** OPTIONAL: you can add 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, mushrooms, diced pepper – whatever you wish.

PREPARATION:
1. Heat oven to 350°.

  1. In a large skillet, cook sausage chunks over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the chunks.
  2. Next, add onion and garlic, oregano, Italian herbs, salt, pepper, basil, and pepper flakes (if using) and continuing stirring until the sausage is no longer pink – about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in ¼ cup of sauce, and mix well and let cool.
  4. On a baking pan, layer a sheet aluminum foil
  5. If Using Bread: Cut the bread in half lengthwise; scoop out center of each bread half.
  6. Place bread halves on cookie sheet. Spread 1/2 cup of the ricotta cheese down center; top evenly with sausage mixture, mozzarella cheese and grated cheese.
  7. Next, fold one half of the bread on top of the other half
  8. Cover the foil around the bread tightly
  9. Bake 20-30 minutes or until the bread is thoroughly heated and cheese is melted.
  10. Let cool, then cut into slices.

Use remaining sauce for dipping

** USING PIZZA DOUGH: Roll out the pizza dough lengthwise. Add ricotta, the cooled sausage mixture and cheeses, and roll it like you would a burrito (that’s the best way I can describe it). Brush a little melted butter on it and sprinkle a little grated cheese or minced garlic (or both) on top.  Then bake it in the 350° oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool, then slice and enjoy!

sausagebread

Pignoli Cookies

Pignoli Cookies originated in Sicily and Southern Italy. They’re kind of like a macaroon.

They’re made with Almond Paste (never use marzipan) and Pine Nuts. Pine nuts are the edible seeds from pine trees. It takes a long time to grow and harvest them – which is why they are expensive.

I used to make these cookies every Christmas and they’re easy to make and oh, so delicious!

INGREDIENTS: 


  • ½ lb. (1 cup)  Almond Paste (not marzipan)

  • 2 egg whites

  • 1 cup granulated sugar


  • ¼ cup pignoli (pine nuts)

  • 1/4 cup of sifted flour


PREPARATION:

  • 
Preheat oven to 325°.


  • Break up almond paste in a food processor – or use a pastry chopper until the almond paste is granulated.

  • Mix flour and sugar together in a separate bowl

  • Transfer almond paste to a separate mixing bowl and gradually add the flour and sugar mixture. Mix gently and well.

  • Separate eggs and (save the yolks in a separate bowl for use in another recipe)

  • Whip the whites until stiff.

  • Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients and gently mix.

  • Grease and flour a cookie sheet and drop cookie mixture by spoonfuls.

  • Press pine nuts to cover the top of the cookies

  • Bake for 10-12 minutes until light brown

  • Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 2 dozen

ALTERNATIVE METHOD:
I’ve seen pignoli cookie recipes without flour. I’ve also seen recipes using powdered sugar. Here is another recipe below that omits the flour making it gluten-free:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb (2 cups) almond paste

  • 1cup granulated sugar

  • 3 egg whites

  • ¼ lb pignoli nuts

PREPARATION:

  • 
Preheat oven to 325°.


  • Break up almond paste in a food processor – or use a pastry chopper until the almond paste is granulated.

  • Mix sugar together into granulated almond paste

  • Separate eggs and (save the yolks in a separate bowl and save for use in another recipe)

  • Whip the whites until stiff.

  • Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients and gently mix.

  • Grease and flour a cookie sheet and drop cookie mixture by spoonfuls.

  • Press pine nuts to cover the top of the cookies

  • Bake for 10-12 minutes until light brown

  • Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 2 dozen

* You and also add lemon or orange zest to give it a little extra flavor

** You can also dust the cooled cookies with powdered sugar

Caprese Salad

Caprese salad is one of those simple Italian salads that is delicious and can be served with traditional antipasto. I usually make a meal out of it with warm Italian bread.

Its generally made with sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and sweet basil, seasoned with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

In case you were wondering, the green basil, white mozzarella and red tomatoes are representative of the Italian flag – just like pizza Margherita.

I’ve also made Caprese salad with Bocconcini (small mozzarella balls) and cherry tomatoes.

Here’s the recipe for the traditional way:

1. Slice the tomato in approximately 1/4″ thick slices.

2. Slice the mozzarella in 1/4″ this slices.

3. Alternate layers between the tomatoes and mozzarella by starting with a tomato slice, then a mozzarella till you’ve finished.

4. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar

5. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

6. Top with basil (you can either chop the leaves or leave them whole).

* You can also do a balsamic reduction:
In a small saucepan, pour in a cup of balsamic vinegar and cook over a low heat until the vinegar is reduced – don’t forget it keep stirring it. It’ll usually take about 15 minutes and you’ll notice the vinegar thickening. You’ll end up with 1/2 cup of reduced vinegar that is really intense in flavor!

  • You can also add a little honey to sweeten it up.

Baked Apples with Crunchy Oatmeal Topping

What do you do when you have too many apples? You make dessert, of course!

Yesterday, I was cleaning out the refrigerator and I had about 8 apples in the fruit bin. There were Gala, Honeycrisp, Jonagold and Granny Smith about ready to go over to the dark side. So, I decided to make dessert.

I wasn’t in the mood to make a pie crust. I didn’t have shortening anyway; but I did have oatmeal, so I decided to make baked apples with a crunchy oatmeal topping.

HERE WE GO!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

FOR THE APPLES
In a large bowl, mix together:
6-8 apples peeled and cored
1/2 cup sugar (I use sugar in the raw rather than white sugar)
2-3 tsp. ground cinnamon

Set Aside

FOR THE TOPPING
In a separate mixing bowl, mix together:
1 cup oatmeal (I use Quaker old fashioned)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup of butter melted

CONSTRUCTION
1.  Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.
2.  Place half of oatmeal mixture in the pan and press down.
3.  Spread the apples evenly over the oatmeal mixture.
4.  Top with the remaining oatmeal mixture.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
Enjoy!

 

Ambrosia Salad

Summertime is a great time for backyard barbecuing, and enjoying summer fruit and light salads.

During the summertime, my aunt Liz made ambrosia salad whenever they’d barbecue in the backyard. It was a hit, because it was sweet and refreshing – even Nana liked it!

Nana didn’t use condiments, no ketchup on her burger; no mustard or relish either. And, God-forbid you offered her mayonnaise! She didn’t like sour cream; and even though she’d not tasted any of those condiments, her attitude was that she wasn’t going to start because it was all junk. She may have had a very valid point!

One thing she did enjoy, was Valarie’s string-bean casserole. For the longest time, she ate  it until she overheard Val telling someone what was in it (sour cream)-then it was “no thank you” from that point on!

Nana did like Aunt Liz’ Ambrosia salad – she didn’t know that there was heavy cream and sour cream in it – I think she thought it was just milk.

Anyway, here’s a nice, refreshing Ambrosia salad for those nice, hot summer evenings.

Ingredients:

  • ½ – 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 3 cups mini marshmallows
  • 5-6 clementines (or mandarin oranges if clementines aren’t available)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple (or from the can if you can’t get fresh) (I reserved some of the juice and added it in)
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup grapes (red, white or a combination of the two)
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup drained and rinsed maraschino cherries

Construction:

  • Place the cream into a large mixing bowl and whip until you get still peaks (if you have a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, all the better)
  • Fold in the sour cream and combine until well mixed.
    • Add the marshmallows, orange, pineapple, pecans (or walnuts) and stir to combine.
    • Fold in the cherries and coconut – mix well.
    • Transfer to a glass or ceramic serving bowl, cover and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

    ambrosia

Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe

It’s that time again – Thanksgiving. Time to start shopping for all of the great food you’re going to over-eat. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce or relish, sweet potatoes, salad, cake, cookies, pastries; the list goes on and on.

In our family, Thanksgiving was an all-day affair. When we lived in Brooklyn and then in Brentwood, NY, we’d all gather at Nana’s at 12:00 in the afternoon; and we wouldn’t leave the table until nearly 8:00 that night. Usually, Uncle Tommy was the first to push himself away from the table to get himself, aunt Fran and my cousins ready to go back to his house.

Anyway, we’d sit at the table at 12:00 or 1:00 pm and start with the antipasti. That included all of the traditional Italian cold cuts, sausage with mushrooms, caponata, olives, bread, etc. Next came the pasta with sauce, meatballs, sausage, braccioli, bread, etc.

After the pasta, we’d take a 30 minute intermission so uncle Tommy could carve the turkey and all of the women could start dishing out the rest of the food for the table. This main course usually had turkey, baked white and sweet potatoes, 2 bowls of vegetables, stuffing, salad and anything else Nana made that day.

After the main course, Nana brought out the fruit and nuts. After the fruit and nuts, out came the dessert with regular coffee and espresso. And, let’s not forget the vino!

Sometimes it seemed like the feast was never going to end.

The entire day consisted of the entire family at the dinner table talking, laughing and eating.

Nana’s stuffing was the best stuffing I’d ever had. Unfortunately, I never got her recipe, but I do have a stuffing recipe that I’ve used that has never let me down.

Preheat oer to 350 degrees

INGREDIENTS
2 cups finely chopped celery
1 small finely chopped onion
4 cups herb-seasoned stuffing croutons
3 cups cubed cornbread (trust me-it’s good!)
2 tsp. sage
2 tsp poultry seasoning
3 eggs – beaten
1 large container (14-16 oz) chicken broth (I use low-sodium)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup melted butter (I use unsalted)

CONSTRUCTION:
Saute celery and onion in the butter until tender
In a large mixing bowl, combine herb-seasoned stuffing croutons, sage, onion and celery
Next, pour the beaten eggs and chicken broth (a little at a time) over the mixture.
Now, add the cornbread and gently fold it in, making sure all of it is moist (you may need to add more broth)

Pour mixture into a 9×13 greased pan (I usually do it with butter)
*NOTE: You can also use two 8×8 pans and bake them for 25-35 minutes
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes

Happy Thanksgiving!