Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Updating a Quick and Easy Old Recipe

I was born in 1950, and grew up with Mom's cooking in the '50s, a mix of foods of that era and also of her Slovak heritage. Dad added in his mix of his Mom's cooking from Yugoslavia (from what is now Serbia). I have no idea if this supper dish was something just of that era, or even if it was something anyone else made. I know it was a big "go-to" meal for Mom. Easy to make and quick was the name of the game, and we all know what it is to be rushed for something to put on the table. I am the oldest of the children, and others quickly followed. By the end of the '50s there were already 5 children in the family, and by 1963 there were 7. Mom spent a lot of time in the kitchen, but with that many kids around, it had to have been a challenge to manage meals every single day, but manage, she did!
Creamed Tuna with Peas

I am sure not all my siblings loved Creamed Tuna with Peas as much as I did. I know for sure my next sister, Barb, also loves that meal, and once a few years back while I was visiting, she asked if I liked that dish. On finding that I did, and that we were eating on our own that evening, she asked if it would be okay to make it. Of course I said yes, because I never get to make it when I am home. My husband will not eat fish, and tuna from a can has really bad associations for anyone who is not into fish. Tuna from a can is generally a little more aromatic, but these days I do not really find it so. 

Creamed Tuna with Peas was one of two creamed dishes served on toast; the other was Creamed Dried Beef with Potatoes. Both of these were particular favorites of mine while growing up. I don't make the Dried Beef dish, mainly because it is so salty, and causes swelling (for me). If this were not an issue, I would probably make it often, because that is one that my husband does love! I have heard it unlovingly called "S___ on a Shingle". Whatever it is called, it is good, quick and easy.
Toast Cups courtesy of www.graciousrain.com

The "shingle", in these cases is a slice of toast. When Mom got in the mood to "fancy up" a plain and simple meal, she took this concept to another level. The bread was just store-bought white bread, whether toasted or other, but sometimes she would cut off the crusts, then press the little white squares down into muffin tins, creating little cups. She often gave me the job of brushing these little bread cups with melted butter, and then they were set in a preheated oven to toast. Once toasted, they kept their little cup shape, and these were filled to overflowing with the Creamed Tuna with Peas. I found the steps to make these little cups available on this website, and the finished product is shown in the photo here, courtesy of http://www.graciousrain.com/?s=egg+toast+cups

Creamed Tuna with Peas

The other part of the recipe for Creamed Tuna with Peas is the peas themselves. Mom always used a can of peas. One can of peas to one can of tuna. I don't care to use cans of vegetables these days, and far prefer using frozen baby peas, as they are so tender, tasty and GREEN, plus not over-salted. When making this dish now, I will only use frozen peas and the best canned tuna possible. When thinking about this dish last evening, I made creamed hamburger with peas for my husband and creamed tuna with peas for myself. While in the process, I thought I would add in a half onion, finely chopped, as well as a little dill. In thinking back on the sauce (a Bechamel), I wonder if Mom also used the liquid from the canned peas. I know milk went into the dish, but she might have started the liquids with the liquid from the peas, then adding milk as needed for the sauce.  All I can say is, if you like tuna from a can at all, you've got to try this. Even without my updates (caramelized onion, dill and frozen peas), I would still love this dish, a real comfort-food memory. 
Creamed Tuna with Peas

Creamed Tuna with Peas

serves 2 - 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 (4-ounce) can light tuna, drained
1 cup frozen baby peas
1 teaspoon dried dillweed

In a medium skillet, over medium-low heat, add in the oil and then the chopped onion. Saute the onion for about 15 minutes, slowly, until golden and caramelized. Add in the butter to melt, and then the flour, stirring until all the flour is absorbed into the fats and onion in the pan. Begin adding the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly, until all the mixture is smooth in the milk. Continue to stir, cooking for about 10 to 15 minutes until thickened and bubbly. Add in the dillweed, tuna and peas and stir until heated through. Serve over toast, or toast cups as mentioned above.
flour added to onion  |  flour absorbed  |  milk added  |  Bechamel thickened  |  tuna added  |  dill, then peas (not shown)

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.