Friday, September 5, 2008

I'll Stop The World and Melt With You -- Tuna Melts (Second Try At Posting!)

Ok, Folks. Let's try this again! The first time I posted, something bizzaro happened and not everyone could access my blog. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it works this time around!

Diner Food. What images do those two words conjure up for you? Diner + Food. Do you think of heaping stacks of pancakes dripping with maple syrup? Perhaps an open face roast turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes smothered in gravy comes to mind. Maybe you are thinking about an oversized parfait glass loaded with scoops of ice cream and hot fudge. Picture, if you will, a place buzzing with local patrons seated in past-their-prime colored booths with elbows resting on chrome trimmed tables. In my mind's eye, I also see a string of black backless bar stools lining the counter beckoning those souls who don't want to wait for a booth to open up. One definite must-have signifying a good diner is a couple of waitresses who can handle the Sunday morning crowd with ease and always manage to keep the orders straight. Beverage refills flow freely, and there's an air of welcome in the atmosphere.

I love diners. I'm talking about real diners, not dumpy dives, but real diners. You know the kind I'm talking about ... those quaint eateries that have been around for years and years, and have managed through good food and great service, to hold onto their clientele despite the influx of giant restaurant chains. Now don't get me wrong, those chains serve a purpose, too. Yet I have a soft spot for diners, especially family operated ones, and always enjoy the comfy feel when eating at one.

Recently while on vacation, my girls and I were far from the madding crowd, in the multitude of peninsulas and islands just southwest of Seattle. The small village we stayed in was absolutely darling, with lots of natural areas and state parks nearby where I took the girls on a little hike (Gasp! And I lived to tell the tale, too!) to the water front, where they thoroughly enjoyed throwing rocks in the water and just goofing around.

After our hike, there was a little diner that we ate at, and all three of us fell in love with it. It was small and cramped, yet the service and food were terrific. When our server came to the table, I inquired about some gluten free choices for my wee one, and the server immediately told my daughter that she would personally make something special just for her that's not on the menu. She ended up serving my babe this luscious peanut soup that was made with sauteed vegetables, peanut butter, and broth. Little miss slurped up every drop, and I mean every drop.

That's what I love about diners. That personal touch expounding friendly values. Here we were strangers to the server (who was actually one of the owners), and she took the time to do something kind for us. Have you ever had a server go the extra mile for you without even asking? I really value good servers, and show my appreciation via an appreciative tip.

One menu item that you'll find at most diners is a tuna melt. Have you ever had one? There's something magical about a grilled sandwich, and grilling transforms tuna salad into something comfy and satisfying. I've experimented with this particular sandwich the past couple of days, and I think I've found a winner. Here's the deal.

Paula's Diner Tuna Melts

2 slices your favorite bread (heartier the better)
1/2 cup of your favorite tuna salad (the dryer the salad, the better ... in other words, take it easy on the mayo)
1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used pepper jack)
2 slices bacon
1 sliced roma tomato (I sprinkled mine with garlic salt)
1-1/2 slices American Singles (or other sliced processed cheese)

First, slice your tomato and lightly sprinkle with garlic salt if desired. Prop the plate holding the tomato at a slight angle to drain the juice away. Next, butter one side of each slice of bread. Take one slice, butter side down, and layer with a) tuna salad, b) 1/2 the shredded cheese, c) tomato, d) remaining 1/2 shredded cheese, d) bacon, and e) American singles.

The layering technique is important -- as the cheese melts, it "binds" the sandwich together and keeps the ingredients from slipping out as you take bites.

It was a test of my inner strength to not pick that bacon off and nibble on it. :-)

I tested many types of cheeses, and to get just the right combo of melt and flavor, I found using a little shredded cheese as well as American singles fit the bill. Top with the remaining slice of bread, butter side out. Heat a skillet on med high, and carefully place sandwich in skillet. Keep a close watch, and flip the sandwich over when golden brown. Use a wide spatula because the sandwich is really full. Cook on the second side until golden brown. Remove pan from heat, and place a lid on top (or cover with foil). Let sit for 2-3 minutes to really melt the cheese. Serve immediately. This last step really melts the cheese perfectly while keeping the bread crunchy crisp. Otherwise, you'd risk having burnt bread because you'd have to have it in the skillet a looong time to perfectly heat the insides of the sandwich.

Ooooh, I can't wait for you to experience the unbelievable satisfying crunchiness of the bread, married with the melted cheese, smoky bacon, bright tomato-yness, and tasty tuna. This is a hearty sandwich, and could easily fit the bill for either lunch or dinner. I made one for lunch, and could only eat half of it ... even then I was stuffed. I had a tall refreshing glass of lemonade with mine, but I could see drinking a glass of milk with this too.

What diner food should I explore next? Now that the weather is starting to show signs of Fall, I think I'll try something warm and comforting. Any suggestions?


Lo said...

Mm. I think the world would stop (and I would melt) for these lovely sammiches!

Everything is better with bacon, my dear!

Deborah said...

Sadly, I think diners are becoming more and more rare. I can't think of many around here, except for one that is a local chain. But this sandwich sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...

What a gooey yummy sandwich! :) I just love those little diners that make a mealtime special.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

You are making me hungry - I worked in diner as a teenager, and made sammies similar to that. The only thing different was that we would butter both sides, then grill one side, flip the bread and add the grated cheese. We placed a pan lid over the sandwich at that time which was still in two halves. The lid made the cheese melt in a jiffy while the second side was toasting. To finish we sometimes added carmelized onions and peppers before putting the two halves together. Delish!

But, I'm hungry right now for your sandwich - off to the kitchen.

Pam said...

I love that song!!! I also love diner food. It's comforting, casual and reminds me of my Mom's cooking. There is nothing like a good tuna melt and yours looks fantastic. I've never put bacon on mine before but I'll be trying it next time.

When I think of diner food I always think of meatloaf or open faced sandwiches and of course milkshakes!

Linda said...

I love diners too! You are not only making me hungry but hurting my well intentioned diet.
How about a good pasta dish?

noble pig said...

Yes, it's working! Yesterday it was just a picture!

I love diners too and I adore Tuna Melts, and this one looks amazing.

Paula said...

Hi Everyone!

So glad you were able to access my post. Whew!

Lo: I agree, bacon ranks pretty high on my list of "gotta have" foods.

Deborah: Yeah, real diners are getting hard to find. That's why I like to stop at them if I can.

PGL: This really is a special meal time sandwich. Wholesome and satisfying ... what a deal!

Throwback at Trapper Creek: I bet you were a hoot to have around the diner! I wish I had a diner sized grill to cook my different sammie experiments on! Including trying variations with carmelized onions and peppers! Man, now I'm hungry!

Pam: Thanks for the heads up this morning! How about an open faced meatloaf sandwich with a malt or milkshake for dessert! I haven't had meatloaf in a while and it's been years since I had a malt or milkshake. Hmmm ... that gives me some ideas!

Linda: My oldest girl loves mac and cheese, another diner classic. Then there are all the fettucini recipes. Long ago there was a great Noodles Romanoff recipe that would fit the bill nicely. Hmmm ... more ideas rolling around in my head now!

Noble Pig: Thanks for checking in again! Perhaps there will be a sweet diner in your new Oregon hometown that dishes up some favorites!

Jan said...

There are still a number of family owned and operated diners in my part of rural Oklahoma. I'm so glad the chains haven't forced them out of business.

Our local one does a lovely Tuna Melt, but I think yours would knock the spots off it. I was just drooling reading about it.

Grace said...

i don't love tuna, but i love that song! hooray for modern english! :)
even though i detest tuna, this is a gorgeous sammich--nicely done.

Jan said...

Glad you got it sorted I kept trying yesterday to post a comment to say how yummy and delish those tuna melts look! I love your photos too.

SteamyKitchen said...

I'm ashamed to say that I've NEVER had a tuna melt before.

I better get my booty over to a diner and order one.

OhioMom said...

I have never had a tuna melt before either, but you can bet I will have one in the future :)


Pam said...

I love tuna melts. But why..oh why... have I never put bacon on a tuna melt???

PaniniKathy said...

Mmmm...I love tuna melts! And yours look so yummy! I made some just last week myself...really ought to do it more often :-)

Bridgett said...

Oh wow, it has been years since I had a tuna melt, but this one would keep me coming back. I looks fantastic! Sounds like you and your girls had a great vacation together.

Paula said...

Hi Everyone!

Jan: Glad to hear there are still some diners in your neck of the woods. Can't wait to try your tuna noodle bake!

Grace: My two older kids aren't tuna salad fans ... although they will eat grilled tuna steaks!

Jan: Thanks for trying again and coming back.! Hope the problem is long gone. My pictures still posted as HTML, but at least it worked!

Steamy: Oh, you've gotta try at least one!

Ohiomom: You'll be glad you tried one!

Pam: The bacon, as bacon does in all things, made the sammie taste sooo good!

Paninikathy: Thanks for visiting! I love panini's and this would be so good made that way! Wish I had a panini press!

Bridgett: The girls and I had a great time together. My son was actually at a camp about 45 minutes from where we were (the reason we headed up there in the first place), so we picked him up on the way home!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I haven't had a tuna melt in years! I have to say yours looks darn good!! I never realized how many awesome diners there where around the country till I saw Diners,Drive In's, and Dives on the Food Channel. Everytime I turn on FN lately all you ever see is Guy F. A little overkill I would say! :)

Jude said...

Cool song haha. I'm guessing we're probably around the same age :)
There's something about diners that is so charming to me. It must be the attitude from the waitstaff. It's just real.

Paula said...

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Proud Italian: I just saw that show! Talk about a sweet job ... being paid to travel around the country and sample regional food. Sign me up for that gig!

Jude: You pegged it perfectly! Diners do have charm and the waitstaff make all the difference!