Yummy food on a budget: Tuna casserole like your mom never made it

I decided to share what I had for dinner cuz what I ended up with was halfway decent.  Much of it was made with leftovers and I didn’t have to go out and buy any special ingredients.  If you’re making this at home, feel free to leave out anything you don’t have, or make substitutions based on common sense and economics.

Warning: I’m likely to ramble.

First of all, I had half a can of tuna lying around in the fridge, leftover from another meal, so I put that in a bowl.  The tuna comes from a food pantry.  They’ve been giving us Bumble Bee tuna lately, which, from what I’ve observed, is a decent kind.  Now the only reason I say this is that it “solid” means solid when it comes to Bumble Bee. This was tuna packed in water.  They say if you’re going to give tuna out of a can to your dog, give your dog tuna packed in oil so that your dog gets the fat he or she needs.  I read that in a dog nutrition book.

Okay, see how I got off topic?  But indeed, a lot of us go to food pantries and, whether we want to admit it or not, we keep our dogs in mind, that is, in the forefront or further back in our minds.

My next ingredient, if I recall correctly, was some leftover canned tomatoes.  These, too, came from a food pantry.  They are diced tomatoes.  It was a 15-oz can that I picked carefully the day I went to the food pantry because I didn’t want a lot of added ingredients.  I didn’t want too much added salt and I didn’t want lots of preservatives, chemicals, or sugar.  So these were pretty much diced tomatoes in tomato juice and minimum salt.

If you recall correctly, I deal with the residual effects of my eating disorder, so I have to be careful, very very careful, about added salt.  I don’t often eat canned food.  Using two types of canned food in one dish is rather unusual for me. So I didn’t add too much of the canned diced tomatoes.  Maybe a quarter cup.  Then I put the rest back in the fridge.  If I had any fresh tomatoes, then surely, I would have cut those up and used them.  I read in an Asian nutrition book that tomatoes are possibly just the thing I need for the chronic headaches I had…had….Yeah, they are plaguing me less and less these days.

Then I get out a yam.  This I acquired at another food pantry.  Yams, of course, come in so many wonderful shapes and a variety of sizes.  I cut off a portion and cut this portion into small pieces.  Tonight, I am honoring the GLBT community and cutting my yam pieces into triangles.

Why not do the same thing with carrots?  I have a bunch of these from a food pantry as well.  So I slice a portion of a very large carrot into coins, then halve the coins and pie them, so they are triangles as well.

Now, my casserole is decidedly as orange as a homeless tabby cat.  Probably a bit nutritionally unbalanced.  If this were a school district, and my food color represented skin color, and this were Boston in the 1960’s, eventually, they’d bring on the busing and the riots would start.  We have to keep the orange Welfare scum from drinking out of the water fountains, right?

Okay, okay, tell me to shut up.

Anyway, I’ve had this parsley sitting around.  Nothing’s wrong with it.  It’s for both Puzzle and me.  Parsley’s incredibly nutritious.  It’s both a green veggie and a seasoning. It adds green color.   So I got some out and cut off a fair amount and added that.

I decided to add seaweed.  Now let me say a few things about seaweed.  First of all, yes, it costs a pretty penny.  But I think it’s one of those foods that is a good investment.  I buy is at the Harvest Co-op, not an expensive health food store and not ritsy Whole Foods Market.  The Harvest Co-op is local to the Boston area, but many places all over the US and the world have food co-ops.  I think “Harvest” is a national name and refers to a group of co-ops, but I’m not certain of this.  Our co-op has storefronts in Jamaica Plain (called, lovingly, JP) and Cambridge.  Our Cambridge store just reopened to a location across the street.

Here’s how it works, in case you don’t know.  Joining is kind of a bitch cuz you have to pay a membership fee.   I mean, you don’t have to join, but you might want to.  It’s sort of a neighborly thing to do, and then you get some money back each year, and you also get a ten percent discount once a month.  Now, listen carefully:

You should definitely bite the bullet and become a member if you are on food stamps, if you are disabled, or if you are a senior.  There are a few other reasons why you might qualify….ask.  I say this because as a person with a disability (this I prove via my Medicare card) I get a five percent discount every single time I shop. All I have to do is present my membership card.  And on the monthly discount days, I get fifteen percent off.

Now, membership costs 25 dollars a year until 200 dollars is paid.  Then, you’re all paid up and nothing more needs to be  paid.  If you move out of town for good, you can get the entire 200, or whatever you paid into it, out of it.  As a member, you are partial owner.

But what’s that you say?  Disabled folks get free handouts?  Yeah, tell me about it.  If you are fond of this, I suggest you break a few bones yourself to get some free handouts.  You might enjoy your broken bones.

Okay, back to seaweed.  I’m adding seaweed because I have some in the house.  It’s green.  It’s good for my thyroid.  I have hypothyroidism.  Seaweed adds salt without adding salt.  Well, so I’d like to think.  I’m probably fooling myself on that one.  But here’s the real secret: I’ve discovered that if I add kelp flakes or dulse flakes to a casserole, it eliminates the need for eggs.  The seaweed is a binder.  It helps hold the casserole together and it won’t be all cake-like or crumbly.  I think the seaweed keeps it moist as well.  About a fistful, not too big a fistful of kelp flakes will do nicely.

I sure wish I had some fresh garlic.  But I don’t.  I do have garlic powder.  I bought some in London, a large bag of it, on sale.  Don’t ask me why I bought garlic powder.  Wow I was nuts then.  So I put some of this in, lots, actually.  I’ve been dumping this right out of the bag.  It’s good garlic powder, rather finely ground, but I want to use it up soon.

I’m also going to add bell pepper flakes.  These I bought at the co-op for Puzzle, but tonight I’m having a fistful for myself. I can’t even tell if they are red bell peppers, green bell peppers, or if they are mixed together and have been through the busing experience.

I’ve had a craving for horseradish lately.  I read about it in my newly-acquired Asian nutrition book.  My weird craving might be an old yearning for my Jewish heritage Passover tradition.  It could, couldn’t it?  I mean, doesn’t Passover mean  Freedom?  But horseradish is also an excellent Asian herbal cure for edema.  Yeah, that problem still plagues me. It’s one of those residual things my body will have to deal with for a long time to come, I’m guessing.  So to satisfy my horseradish craving, I’ve been buying dijon mustard when it’s on sale.  I have a thingy of it.  I put some dijon mustard into my casserole.  Oh, trust me, I make sure the dijon mustard I buy is very, very high in horseradish.  Maybe I should just buy the real thing, don’t you think?  Come Passover, it might be a good idea.  I’ll bet it’ll be on sale at some point.  I’ll bet I’ll find it fresh at the co-op. Then I can truly horse around.

Another thing I added to the casserole was a bit of whole grain.  Using my coffee grinder, I ground up a few spoonfuls of whole wheat hard winter wheatberries.  These are extremely cheap in bulk at the coop.  I also ground up a few spoonfuls of rolled oats that they gave me at a food pantry.  And I ground up some organic sesame seeds that I bought in bulk at the co-op.  These spoonfuls of grain altogether in the grinder until they were smooth…..and added them to the casserole. I sprinkled on some garlic-flavored olive oil.  I bought some a while back at the co-op.  This comes in a nice small bottle so it doesn’t go bad.  I also added a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  Everything was fairly well mixed together, moistened just enough, and in a small glass bowl.  I put a glass plate on top of the bowl and place all this into the microwave.

You have to be careful not to overcook.  I heated this one minute at a time on high until done.  I think three minutes did the trick, and then I let it sit a bit, covered, not too long.  My casserole was absolutely delicious.  I transferred it into a different dish.  Naw, this was no stereotype welfare macaroni and cheese.  This was the real deal.  And how much did it cost me?  I’d say Puzzle’s homemade food is more expensive.  But then again, I’m not going to touch that subject right now.  And pretend I didn’t talk about busing. Yeah, this is Boston, but it’s not the 60’s anymore.


Feedback and comments welcome!