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?