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do-it-yourself diner food
by Amy Nicholson
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tuna melt with fruit and nuts
Another roommate and I started this tuna melt tradition while in the throes of deepest poverty. A local grocery was offering three cans for 99 cents, so naturally, we were eating tuna every day and were desperate for variety. With that first reckless addition of raisins, my favorite sandwich was born.

For the tuna salad
1 can tuna
spoon of plain yogurt
chopped nuts (walnuts best, sunflower seeds good, almonds and pecans okay)
chopped dried fruit (apples, mangos, raisins -- go wild. Choose a few or mix them all)
pinch of sugar, pinch of curry if you like
larger pinch of salt
touch of fresh pepper

For the cheeses, I'm all about muenster. Think mellow, mild and creamy -- nothing too distracting, but nothing as tasteless as swiss.

Take that favorite hearty bread of yours and toast it. Cheese and tuna inside, natch, a leaf or two of lettuce, if you like, then grill both sides on medium low in a bit of butter until the cheese is melted to warm satisfaction. And play around with this formula. Add green onions one time around, a touch of shredded coconut the next. But if you swap the yogurt for mayo, use less sugar or none at all.

mediterranean BLT
grilled cheese
More effortless than they sound, marinated vegetables add a potent edge to these two sandwiches at the small cost of 90 seconds of cutting board time and a bit of foresight.

Thinly slice a small handful of ripe tomatoes, peeled cucumbers and maybe a slice or two of red onion if you like, and marinate in the fridge (at least two hours, though overnight rocks) in olive oil, salt and pepper, and red wine vinegar or lemon juice . Soften feta cheese into until spreadable with a drizzle of olive oil or touch of plain yogurt. Put a healthy smear on your favorite bread or inside a warm, grilled pita, then stuff in your patted dry tomatoes and cucumbers and add bacon, or pancetta or prosciutto if you're in an extra-gourmand state of hunger.

Those same tomatoes and onions are killer in a grilled cheese sandwich. Just pair a tart cheese with a rich, melting one, and layer in either the marinated vegetables, mushrooms sautéed in butter or wine, or even a dash of the always-rocking cranberry jelly left over from your adventures in red meat. Think cheddar paired with muenster, gorgonzola with asadera or queso fresco, and fresh mozzarella with a tangy goat cheese.

the sides
sweet potato fries
These are great for any meal: a picnic, a romantic roasted game hen evening, even paired with an omelette for breakfast. They also keep well overnight and are great cold, rejuvenated with a squeeze of lemon or splash of balsamic vinegar.

Heat the oven to 450. Chunk up a washed and unpeeled sweet potato into rough, one-inch pieces. Put in a plastic bag with olive oil, rosemary, sumac (a purple Mediterranean spice) if you have it, and shake until coated. Line a baking pan with foil, spread potatoes in a single layer, salt and pepper them and roast for 25 minutes. Serve with a small dish of chilled balsamic vinegar, olive oil and minced garlic. Regular potatoes are also quite good, but sweet potatoes are just so colorful, delicious and criminally under-appreciated.

skedaddle on this way: still more diner goodness!

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