Browsing Tag

Tuna

Coming home to Tuna Casserole

February 8, 2011

Early Monday morning, Ben and I arrived home from our month-long travels around South East Asia. We had such a fabulous time, we were very sad to be coming home. Our travels included Vietnam (from South to North), Thailand (in the Kanchanaburi province), Hong Kong (visiting family) and one night in Kuala Lumpur. We especially wished we could have stayed longer at Baan Dada in Thailand. Our visits there never seem to last long enough.

During our travels we had some incredible eats – oodles of noodles, buckets of herbs, countless coconuts, banana each and every way and pork for days. There was rice and soup and buns, not to mention an endless supply of beautiful, fresh, tropical fruit. Visiting Vietnam for the first time allowed us to really got to know the cuisine on a more authentic level. I have many posts planned detailing our delicious culinary adventures throughout Asia! Yet my first post back home is not about Asian cuisine or travel. It is about comfort food.

Coming down from the travel high, one thing that I always look forward to is tucking into the food I have missed whilst abroad. Monday for me was all about oats, muesli, yoghurt, berries and vegemite. Ben had to go to work early on Monday after very little sleep, so I wanted to make him a special, comforting dinner to welcome him home before putting him to bed at a decidedly early hour. He had requested a dish that epitomises comfort food to me. Ben has only eaten this a handful of times at my parent’s house in Red Hill, yet he instantly fell in love with it and came to think of it in the same way as my family. The dish I am speaking of is Tuna Casserole. Technically I think it is more of a Mornay, and we do interchange the name amongst our family, yet I prefer the name ‘Tuna Casserole’ (‘Mornay’ just sounds irksome to me for some reason).

I grew up eating this dish, which would appear on the table after long days or when we had little time to prepare dinner. It is by no means a gourmet feat, rather it was mum’s easy dish, and is both nutritious and comforting (you get a decent serve of calcium and protein). It fills your belly with warmth and love and instantly makes you feel nourished. A serving of this dish equates to one big long hug from a loved one. I was not at all surprised when Ben requested it.

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients

1 ½ tablespoons Butter
½ cup plain flour (I would like to try this with wholemeal flour, for extra fibre)
2 ½ cups milk
1 or 2 x 125g tinned capsicum (depending on how much vinegary capsicum flavour you like. This is a secret ingredient, and completely makes the dish. Fresh capsicum just wouldn’t have the same effect. It is the only time I ever use tinned capsicum, as frankly, it is a little weird. But it totally works in this dish)
1 x 420g tin sweet corn kernels (or less if you don’t enjoy a lot of corn) ½ cup frozen peas (or more if you wish)
1 x 425g tin Sirena tuna in oil (drain the oil)
1 cup grated tasty cheese
A handful of Parsley

Method

In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat. Turn the heat down to low then add in the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon briskly for ~1 minute. Be sure to not catch the flour on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat back up to medium and slowly add in the milk, ~1/4 cup at a time, briskly stirring to allow it to combine with the flour. The mixture will be a little lumpy but don’t be discouraged. Keep stirring continuously and allow the sauce to gradually thicken. This process of stirring in the milk slowly will take ~3-5 minutes. If you like a thinner sauce, add in more milk. Once at the desired level of thickness add in the capsicum, corn and peas. Stir them into the sauce then add the tuna. Once the mixture is hot again, add in the cheese and allow it to melt. Serve immediately and garnish with parsley. Serves 4.

One whole month without my beloved Sirena tuna…oh how I have missed thee…

Growing up, my family and I would always eat tuna casserole with some bread and maybe a salad. Oven chips also go well. I like to make my own potato wedges by roasting potatoes in a little spray oil, and serving them alongside the tuna casserole.It is also delicious, hot or cold, on toast for breakfast the next morning (which is exactly what I did today).

I made this earlier in the day, then re-heated it when Ben came home and served it with oven potatoes and bread. He was very pleased. And comforted. And nourished.

Heidi xo

Twirl Freely (carbohydrates are not the devil)

December 20, 2010

Pasta has always been one of my most loved foods. I find it dreamy and delicious, and at the same time nourishing and comforting. My all-time favourite meal would be ultra al dente linguini or spaghetti, with fresh mussels, clams and maybe some prawns cooked in olive oil, white wine and some garlic, and finished off with fresh parsley. On my most recent trip to Italy, I delighted in this dish whenever I got the chance. So simple, so fresh – practically perfect in every way.

I know that I am not alone in my linguini love. Many of you are passionate about paparadelle and squeal for spaghetti. Please, sir, may I have some more penne? Yet while fusilli fills many a belly with joy, it seems that lots of people engage in a love-hate relationship with pasta. Twirling delectable strands with a fork evokes feelings of both happiness and guilt.

Pasta gets such a bad wrap these days, what with carbohydrates being the root of all evil… It is so silly, really. It is unseemingly common for people to banish carbohydrates from their diet, in the hope of losing weight. This is quite troubling, in more ways than one.

Firstly, cutting out any food group is not advisable. You miss out on important nutrients and this restrictive behaviour encourages cravings and binge eating.

Secondly, the key to a healthy weight is everything in moderation. No gimmicks, no magic pill, no quick fix. And certainly no extreme, ridiculous diets whereby you eliminate entire food groups, develop foul breath and horrible mood swings, and then end up putting on all the weight you lost and then some.

Instead, aim to eat a wide variety of nutritious food, with the occasional indulgence, in appropriate portions. What is an appropriate portion? Well, that depends on many factors, including your activity level. However as a general guide, stick with 1-2 cups of cooked pasta, as opposed to 3-4. Opt for nutritious carbohydrates (such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and dairy) as opposed to overly processed, refined carbohydrates (such as lollies, soft drink and pre-packaged biscuits). It is quite simple, really…

Carbohydrates are not the devil.

Pasta is not ‘fattening’.

And eating a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise will not make you put on 5kg.

Rather, I find a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise to be incredibly delicious and ultra satisfying. Paired with a simple tomato based sauce, pasta can be a really easy, quick and nutritious weeknight meal.

If I wish to up the nutritional content of my dinner, I opt for wholegrain pasta. Granted, some wholegrain pasta tastes like cardboard. However there are some good brands out there. I like la Molisana wholewheat linguini for everyday wholemeal pasta – this is a brand that Ben will eat too. There are also a growing number of gourmet pasta makers, who make really lovely wholegrain pasta.

Below is a recipe for my Tomato and Tuna Pasta, which I whip up very quickly when a craving strikes. It is also delicious sans tuna. If I’m really lucky I will have some fresh basil on hand, which adds a beautiful fragrance and flavour – I am a fresh basil addict, I just adore it. If my vegetable intake has been a little low that day, I may add in some spinach leaves or peas, to green the dish up a little. However most of the time I stick to the recipe below.

If I want to mix things up further, I will swap the brown onion for red onion, cut into longer, thicker slices, which I sauté in some olive oil along with a good glug of balsamic vinegar. It gives the sauce a lovely depth of flavour and tang. I leave out the tuna and instead focus on letting the sauce simmer away, developing a rich tomato flavour. Roasted eggplant and red capsicum are lovely additions to this balsamic-infused sauce, as is a little rosemary.

Tomato and Tuna Pasta (a.k.a my easy, nourishing weeknight meal)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 brown onion
3 cloves of garlic
(I love my garlic, add more or less as you wish)
1 x 400g tin diced tomatoes (I use laGina tinned tomatoes – you could substitue with freshly diced tomatoes too)
1 x 700g bottle passata – TIP: I swear by Bertolli Provvista Sugo Classica. It is divine – rich and fresh. The quality of the passata you use completely makes or breaks this dish. Yes, this brand is more expensive, but I see it as a very worthy investment)
1 x 425g tin Sirena Tuna in Oil (I only use Sirena tuna, for the same reason as I mentioned with the passata)
¼ cup red wine – or perhaps a little more if I’m feeling a bit cheeky (at the moment I’m using a cask of Stanley Wines Shiraz Cabernet in my cooking)
A handful of Fresh Basil Leaves
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Good quality Parmesan
500g pasta
(I use Barilla when not using wholemeal pasta) – this allows for leftovers. Normally I prefer spaghettoni or a similar, equally fun pasta – I love to twirl my pasta. However with this dish, I enjoy tortiglioni or rigatoni – tubes are such fun.

* This sauce makes enough for at least 5-6 serves, however I always make this quantity so that Ben has leftovers for work lunches.

Method

Dice the onion. In a heavy-based saucepan heat the olive oil over low-medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until soft and coloured slightly. Crush the garlic into the pan and cook until fragrant. Add in the tuna (drain off most of the oil however leave a little), diced tomatoes, passata, wine and fresh basil, season to taste with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, and let the sauce simmer for as long as possible (I always end up simmering for ~30mins).

Cook your pasta in boiling salted water according to packet instructions, until al dente.

Serve the pasta into bowls. Top with sauce, and freshly grated parmesan.

I always serve pasta with a big salad. It ensure you fill up on this instead of a second helping of pasta 😉 I love a simple salad, made of mesclun greens, cucumber and tomato, with a dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, seeded mustard, a squeeze of lemon juice, sea salt & pepper.

So there you have it. Carbohydrates are not the devil. Rigatoni tubes are not the spawn of Satan. If you’re struggling with your weight a little, look at your whole diet – everything that you’re eating (i.e. you total kilojoule intake), and how active you are (or may not be). Don’t blame that conservative bowl of pasta. It is simply striving to be incredibly delicious, whilst at the same time, nurturing. How could you hate on that?

Heidi xo

Epic Salads

September 22, 2010

I love salads, I truly do. They are my ideal lunch, and even if they weren’t good for me I would eat them every day. I should point out that I am referring to ‘Epic Salads’. Yes, there is a difference (and yes, capital letters are necessary).

A good, Epic Salad is like a colourful Broadway show. What is playing, and the star of the show, changes with each performance. One show may feature Liza and Mr Jackman (read: lentils and pecans) while the next may feature Carol Woods, Nathan Lane and Chita Rivera (read: spinach leaves, goats cheese and asparagus). If ‘The Boy From Oz’ were on then naturally beetroot would feature, it would be all about rice noodles with ‘Miss Saigon’, and fresh coconut would be sprinkled over ‘South Pacific’. After an Epic Show (read: Salad) you always leave the theatre (read: table) feeling invigorated, energised and full of song and dance.

I am known amongst my family for my Epic Salads. I really pride myself on being able to make a salad a fulfilling meal. There are so many incredible flavour combinations to choose from, so a salad should never be plain or lack-luster. It should be vibrant and inspired! It should be Epic – each fresh mouthful a scrumptious surprise, with different ingredients working together to present new (high)kicks of exciting flavours.

Unfortunately, many individuals remain unaware of the beauty and power of the Epic Salad. With good intentions, many will try to like salads. They will pack them in a snap-lock container and take to work for lunch. This is often done in an honest yet futile attempt to be healthy, which is foiled immediately after begrudgingly choking down plain lettuce leafs, with lifeless tomato and other predictable ingredients that encourage as much excitement as watching Cats (and by that I mean watching actual cats…sleeping).

The problem is, generic and empty salads leave you feeling unsatisfied, unfulfilled and lusting after something yummy and interesting. More often than not, this manifests as a ‘junk food’ craving, and some chocolate or a greasy spring roll is inhaled to literally and psychologically fill the hole in your stomach. Fail. Epic fail.

We need to shake off the ‘boring’, ‘healthy’ and ‘rabbit food’ labels that so often plague this wonderful meal. ‘Open Your Eyes to the Epic Salad’ should be plastered on streets in Neon lights, to allow people to realise the possibilities of brilliant flavour combinations and delicious ingredients. To show them how fabulous, filling, exciting and down-right yummy salads can be. There would be no more resentful groans when “what did you bring for lunch today?” is asked by a colleague. Rather, this question will invite a Glee-ful song and dance response, and summon envy from those around with monotonous lunches or boring, decidedly non-Epic salads.

I should note, that whilst I encourage everyone to free their salads from the shameful shackles of ‘boring health food’, I do not see much point in loosing the ‘health‘ aspect. Why douse a perfectly nutritious meal in creamy dressings, oily croutons and greasy bacon? You are suffocating all those delightful nutrients in a heavy blanket of saturated fat. I am all about lean meats, fresh and seasonal vegetables, lighter dressings and exercising appropriate portion control with those more indulgent ingredients such as cheese, extra virgin olive oil and nuts. A tablespoon of olive oil, a small handful of nuts, ¼ an avocado, ~30g of cheese – include some of these ingredients and you are on your way to Epic-ville.

For a salad to truly deserve the title of ‘Epic’, it should not only be delicious, but also keep you from reaching for a sugary pick-me up mid afternoon. To do this, make sure you include some good quality, complex carbohydrates either within or alongside your salad. I’m thinking brown rice, some pasta, quinoa or other grain, or perhaps some wholegrain crackers on the side. You should also include some protein, which could be in the form of lentils or chickpeas (or other legumes), boiled eggs, lean meats, seafood or nuts.

Are you inspired yet? If your salads are not already ‘All That Jazz’y, I hope you try and Epic them up a little. Give them a real chance to sing. They have so much potential 🙂

Here is an example of one of my Epic Salads. It consisted of my beloved sirena tuna in oil (added note when revising this post: Safcol is a more sustainable brand of tinned fish), avocado, legumes, quinoa, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, spring onions, spinach leaves, lots of freshly cracked pepper and a lemon juice/extra virgin olive oil dressing. How pretty is it?! Can you hear the chorus?

Take a bow…

Heidi xo

Tuna, Chilli and Lemon Pasta. My Comfort Food.

September 16, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working interstate this week. For the past five days, I have been hanging out in a fairly remote town, north of Canberra. While it is really pleasant, and oozes that typical country town charm, I do miss home. I long for my own bed. I do not enjoy layering heavy blankets and enclosing myself in a woollen jumper cocoon to stay warm at night. And I pine for internet access that doesn’t demand you jump from corner to corner to gain a signal.

I also miss my food…

I like to think that I am fairly flexible, and can make the most out of whatever situation I’m in – from all perspectives, not just in a culinary sense. However, it is getting a little frustrating not being able to make myself a nice bowl of hot porridge in the morning, or take my pick of toast topping from my ever expanding nut butter line-up, or mix up a smoothie in the afternoon.

On my first night here, some take-out noodle soup was fun. But it is now day five, and the novelty has officially worn off. I miss my kitchen. I miss my food. I’m itching to exercise my culinary skills. I want to slice and dice. I need to simmer and stir. I simply must season, sip and slurp.

Now I may seem a little dramatic, and it wouldn’t be the first time 😉 Yet I have only just been asked to return to this friendly little town next week, and so this yearning for home comforts is magnified – especially since it is my birthday next week. I don’t particularly fancy turning 25 whilst having a party for one, singing “happy birthday to me” and blowing out my candles all on my lonesome (aha! my dramatic streak resurfaces…)

This weekend, my aim is to soak up a bit of TLC at home before returning interstate. In all honestly, it is nice working with the people in this town and spending time with some gorgeous elderly lovelies.

The first thing I want to do upon my return tomorrow night, is enter my kitchen and cook. I want to make some hardcore comfort food. I am craving food that makes me feel warm and loved, that leaves me glowing from the inside out. Food that will soothe my soul after a hectic week. Each slice of onion will cut through my concerns. Any worries I may have will be washed away with those obligatory, cutting onion induced tears.

And I know exactly what I want to cook…

I have fond memories of this meal. I created it shortly before Ben and I moved in together. During those 18months living in our first apartment, we would make this dish at least every fortnight. It involves so many of our most beloved ingredients. These days Ben or I will get a craving around once a month, and out it comes again. The sweetness of the onions, combined with the kick of chilli and lemon, along with the meaty tuna chunks and freshness of the spinach. Yum!

Cooking and eating this dish always leaves us feeling contented and cozy. This is our comfort food. I can’t wait for it to work it’s magic on me tomorrow night…

tuna chilli lemon pasta

Tuna, Chilli and Lemon Pasta

Serves two.

220g dried Spaghetti*
185g tin Sirena** Tuna in Oil, drained of half of it’s oil
1 brown onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoons dried chilli flakes***
2 big handfuls spinach, rocket or other easily wilted dark leafy green
2 juicy unwaxed Lemons
1 handful fresh flatleaf Parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper

* I feel like long, thin strands work best in this dish. it’s to do with the twirling.
** As a rule, I try to use safcol, a more sustainably favourable brand than Sirena, but gosh darnit when I make this dish I treat myself to my favourite (flavour and texture wise) Sirena tuna in oil.
*** Or as much/little as you can tolerate.
**** Meyer lemons are incomparable, grab them if you can.

Method

1. Bring a pot of water to the boil, then salt it generously. Cook your pasta according to packet instructions. Now, depending on how long your pasta takes (some brands take 8 minutes, others 10-15!), time your cooking accordingly. I like to start cooking my onions before the water reaches a boil and ideally have them cooked and resting before adding the pasta.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat a non-stick pan over low-medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion and a generous sprinkle of sea salt and stir (adding the salt will help ensure the onions don’t burn). Cook slowly and gently (turn own the heat as required) until they begin to soften and caramelise (~12 minutes). It can takes a while, but the longer you cook, the better the taste. This is why I like to start this way before adding the pasta, so you don’t rush the onion cooking process. If the pan gets a bit dry, add some of the oil from the tin of tuna or a dash of water.
3. When the onions are cooked, add the pasta to the pot of salted boiling water and cook for the required time until al dente (I always cook mine for a minute or two less than instructed as I like more bite and we cook it further in the pan later on). Be sure to reserve a cup of starchy pasta cooking water before draining.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the garlic and chilli flakes to the pan and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tuna (with half of the oil) and turn the heat up to medium, letting it to brown in the oniony, oily mixture for a minute or so. Add the greens and the juice of one lemon (add some lemon zest too, if you’re super into lemon! I am, so I do) and cover with a big lid for a minute or so until the leaves are wilted.
5. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan, along with the parsley and a little drizzle of the starchy cooking water (work in 1/4 cups when adding the pasta cooking water to the pan so you don’t add too much and make it soupy). Turn the heat up and use tongs to incorporate everything together, the pasta and the sauce, for about 30 seconds. Taste a pasta strand to ensure it’s not undercooked (but also don’t over cook it!) and add more lemon juice if you wish and season as desired. Serve up from the pan into bowls and enjoy! Add extra chilli flakes, lemon juice and a drizzle of etxra virgin olive oil if you wish.

 

Heidi xo