Organized Chaos in Our Kitchen: Making the Most of a Small Space

I walked in to our kitchen on Sunday morning and noticed how beautiful the light looked streaming through the window. I followed the sun’s early morning rays along the wall until the stream was no more and all of a sudden realized how well-equipped our kitchen is. I mean, we hardly have any counter space and are really short on cabinets, but we’ve found a way to make it work.

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Over the last two years, this kitchen has seen several shelving units come in and out, but the two that remain are actually a gardening/potting shelf from World Market and a bookshelf from Ikea. We’ve tried, on occasion to reduce the collection of culinary tools we own. I have tons of mixing bowls, electric gadgets, both multi-taskers and uni-taskers (Alton Brown would be soooo disappointed), strainers, ramekins, baking dishes, enameled cast iron pots, skillets, and other assorted doohickies and thingamabobbers.

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As you can see, every inch of space is used. Thanks to World Market’s clever design of this shelf, not meant for the kitchen, of course, we even have space to hang our measuring spoons, measuring cups, and mini strainers. And there’s even a secret compartment for me to hide about a million more pinch bowls and tiny assorted vessels. I love my little containers; I really do.

Cue the magical Ikea Pandora’s box. It holds our crock pots, ice cream maker, popcorn popper, sandwich press, baking dishes, glass nesting bowls, juicer, spice grinder, electric can opener, emulsion blender, coffee maker, etc. And the top is our bar. We got hanging wine glass racks, also from Ikea, to make use of the empty wall space.

Sometimes, I wish our kitchen had a more minimalist appearance and had less “stuff” on display. But you know, I was watching the Frugal Gourmet one day and he talked about how seeing all of his “stuff” inspired him to get creative in the kitchen. I think that if all of my doohickeys and thingamabobbers were put away, I’d be less inclined to dig through a cabinet to get them out. So, maybe it’s just as well.

Organic and Gluten-Free Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry with Rice Noodles

When all else fails, stir fry is a crowd pleaser. My dearest gluten-free friend makes a lot of stir fries because there are not many gluten-free things that her whole family will eat. So, as I’d posted about before, we made her gluten-free stir fry sauce and then prepped all of the other ingredients for the meal. And, on a side note, one of the best things about stir fry is the open-ended ingredient list. Pick what veggies you like, choose a protein, and boom, stir fry is right around the corner.

So, here are all the organic veggies we purchased from the Dekalb Farmer’s Market.

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We cut them into relatively even pieces, and began to stir fry them in small batches. Her wok is small, so we had to take our time to avoid the dreaded mushy veggie issue. The only thing we par cooked before frying is the broccoli. I steamed it for about three minutes because it takes the longest to cook.

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Then I made sure I dumped the water, dried out the wok, and added about a teaspoon of oil to the bottom of the wok. Crank up the heat to high. Add your veggies small batches to the wok. This is the order we chose, but you can do it it any order you choose. Just make sure to add some oil (we used canola, but she often uses coconut oil) before each batch to get a good sizzle and fry. Definitely use high heat.

Zucchini and onions:

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Snow peas:

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Bell peppers:

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Button mushrooms:

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Baby bok choi:

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Broccoli florets:

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We set each thing as it finished frying in a very large bowl. We wanted the veggies to have room to spread out so they didn’t soak in their own liquids. You can use a very large platter if you have one.

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Next I cut up 1 pound of chicken breast into 1 inch cubes so it’ll cook evenly.

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I seasoned it with a little bit of salt and pepper and dredged it in a little bit of cornstarch. The cornstarch helps the stir fry sauce adhere to the chicken breast without being feeling slimy. I think that’s the one step of making stir fry that a lot of people don’t know to do. Honestly, I learned that by watching a cooking show and was like, “THAT’S HOW THEY DO THAT!?!?!” Quite the epiphany…

Add a little more oil to the wok and stir fry until the chicken is golden brown. Remove and set aside.

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Now take about 6 cloves of minced garlic and a bit more oil and add to the hot wok. Throw all the cooked veggies and chicken in and add the gluten-free stir fry sauce. Zest some organic lime peel over the top at the very end.

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Heat through for about two minutes over high heat turning constantly. Shut off the heat.
Serve this over rice or rice noodles. We used rice noodles and cooked them according to package directions. We drained and tossed them with a tiny bit of sesame oil and Bragg’s Amino Acids.
To serve, just mound up some noodles, put some stir fry over the top, and garnish with scallions, cilantro, lime, and toasted sesame seeds.

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Look, I never said this was a quick recipe. It’s definitely worth it, though. Happy eating!

BBQ Chicken Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Peppers and Jalapeños

Pizza is a staple around here. We just love it. It’s tactile, it’s delicious, and it smells amazing. Last night, there was a bit of a dinner discrepancy. I wanted BBQ, and he wanted pizza. BBQ Chicken Pizza made us both winners!

We began with the same basic pizza crust that we usually make, but added a bit of granulated garlic to the mix. For our sauce, we used a blueberry BBQ sauce that we had leftover from July 4th. Normally, I’d suggest a cheddar or jack cheese for the top, but we had a surplus of mozzarella and needed to use it up. Our garden is producing a ton of beautiful peppers and the farmers market had lovely Vidalia onions, so we also included those. And, because we like spice, we added some of our favorite pickled jalapeños.

Pizza is one of the magical foods that you can explore flavors and textures. You can use up leftovers or clean out your veggie drawer. Crust is a fantastic canvas. I suggest playing and going beyond what you think a pizza should be.

But, if you want to make this pizza, you’ll need…

1 lb ball of pizza dough
1/2 to 3/4 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce
8 ounces of freshly shredded mozzarella, cheddar, or a mixture of what you like
4-6 ounce cooked chicken breast (we seared ours in canola oil just for this and rubbed it with mesquite seasoning, granulated garlic, salt, and pepper)
1 sliced and sautéed bell pepper
1 small onion, thinly sliced and caramelized
Handful of pickled, sliced jalapeños

We recommend using a pizza stone for baking the pizza. A scorching hot pizza stone gets you a crispy, flawless crust. We got ours for ten bucks at Home Goods.

Anyhow, preheat the stone, if you have one, in a 400 degree oven or use a baking sheet (don’t preheat the baking sheet). Roll out the dough.

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Take the stone out of the oven. We sprinkle corn meal on the top to precent sticking, but its not necessary if your stone is well worn like ours.

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Carefully place the rolled dough on top and brush it with the BBQ sauce.

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Next add the cheese. Go nuts!

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Cook your pie in the 400 degree oven until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown. This will take around 8-10 minutes. Remove from the oven, pizza stone and all.

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Resist the urge to eat it. Scatter the sliced chicken, sautéed veggies, and pickled jalapeños on top.

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Put back in the oven for 5 more minutes until everything is bubbling. Remove carefully, let cool for a minute, cut, and eat.

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Peppered Smoked Salmon Over Organic Romaine with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

I’m hungry. After a long day at work and Yoga, I’m ready to eat…NOW. I have some smoked peppered, and sustainably harvested salmon, crisp romaine, cukes from my favorite local farm, Vidalia onion, and capers. I also have the makings for a great honey and stone ground mustard vinaigrette. So let’s cook, or it’s gonna get ugly around here.

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If you need to wash your veggies, do that now. But here’s a time-saving tip: when you come home from the farmers market or grocery store, wash and cut up your veggies right then. That way they’ll be ready for you when you’re ready for them. Having a healthy salad becomes a pleasure rather than extra work when you’re starving and, if you’re anything like me, impatient.

Create a bed of lettuce and scatter your sliced cukes, capers, and thinly sliced onion around the plate. Gently peel the salmon from the skin,flake it with a fork or your fingers, and place on top. Crack some fresh pepper on top, and set the entire salad, plate and all, in the fridge. I like to do this because. I like salads chilled. It’ll be the perfect temperature by the time you make the dressing.

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For the dressing, you’ll need:

3 tablespoons Dijon or stone-ground mustard
1-2 tablespoons honey (use local honey to help with seasonal allergies)
1/3 cup canola oil or other mild-tasting variety
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
Cracked pepper to taste

Shake all ingredients vigorously in a mason jar, cruet, or other tightly lidded vessel. I used this nifty emulsifier/cruet gadget that I found at Target. You could use a blender if you’re so inclined, but it’s really not worth the clean-up or time expenditure when you WANT TO EAT.

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Drizzle the desired amount over your salad, pour a nice glass of Chardonnay, and chow down. Happy eating!

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Sweet, Sour, and Perfectly Spicy Gluten-Free Asian Stir Fry Sauce

My dearest friend is a gluten-free gal. That means I was also a gluten-free gal during the week I was visiting her in Georgia. We cooked, shared recipes, drank margaritas, and laughed until my sides hurt. This crazy good stir fry sauce is one she makes rather frequently. The method is wicked easy.

Ingredients:

6 tablespoons Bragg’s Amino Acids OR soy sauce OR tamari
6 tablespoons plain rice vinegar
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2-3 tablespoons coconut sugar
6 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1-2 teaspoons Srirachi…I like it hot, so I add more.
2 teaspoons corn starch (for the slurry)
2 teaspoons water (for the slurry)

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Put all of the ingredients below in a sauce pan except for the cornstarch/water slurry, and heat until boiling. While that’s coming to temperature, make the slurry. Combine the corn starch and water in a small bowl and whisk together with a cute little whisk or fork.

Gently whisk for about 30 seconds to a minute for it to thicken and look glossy gorgeous and turn off the heat.

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Bam. Done. That’s it. Easy, right?

We served it with a veggie-heavy stir fry that was gluten-free and ridiculously good. I’ll post that recipe later. But for now, commence to drooling…

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Happy Sunday, everyone!

Fresh Florida Littleneck Clams with Garlic, Chardonnay and Angel Hair Pasta

I love seafood. I love pasta. I love wine. Together, that’s a perfect gastronomic trifecta. And, living in coastal Florida, I’m fortunate to get amazing fresh seafood. This pasta dish contains Florida littleneck clams, garlic, Chardonnay, and little else.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

2 pounds fresh littleneck clams
1/2 cup good Chardonnay wine
1/2 cup water
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2 minced sweet onion
1 garden fresh tomato, diced
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (I use organic)
Good quality Parmesan or Romano cheese for grating
Fresh parsley for garnish

Method:

Rinse the clams well and scrub any dirt from the shells. Discard any broken or open clams.

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Put three tablespoons of oil in a large skillet and put in about half of the garlic. Simmer on low medium heat until the garlic starts to turn golden brown. Then add about 3/4 of your clams to the skillet and put in the wine and water.

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Cover your skillet with tightly fitting lid and let simmer on low for about 10 minutes until all of the clams are open.

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Remove the cooked clams from the skillet and set them aside to cool.

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Add the diced tomato and, with the lid off, reduce the sauce by about half.

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Put the sauce in a heat safe container and rinse and dry the skillet. Add the remaining olive oil to the skillet and add the rest of the garlic, minced sweet onion, and red pepper flakes.

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While the garlic and onion is beginning to simmer, remove the cooled clam meat from the shells. Discard the shelves and set the clam meat aside.

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Add the remaining uncooked clams to the skillet along with the reduced sauce you already set aside. Cover tightly. The clams should again take about ten minutes. Once the clams are open, add back the clam meat you set aside, the unsalted butter, and fresh parsley. (I forgot parsley, and I sorely regret it.)

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Once everything is heated through, which should only take about a minute, put the entire thing over a steaming pile of angel hair pasta in a family sized bowl. (By the way, go easy on the salt in the pasta water, as clams and cheese are plenty salty enough.)

Grate a bit of fresh cheese at the very end and enjoy!

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Building a Backyard Compost Pile for the Best Organic Gardening Dirt

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Let’s talk about compost.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she wanted to learn how to compost because she was getting into organic gardening. At first I was like, “it’s just throwing kitchen and yard waste into a hole in the ground,” and then I realized that there really are best practices for composting that ensure great, rich, useable dirt. So, today I’m taking a break from writing about yummy foods in order to talk about this amazing, wallet-friendly, eco-friendly practice.

Imagine ditching the high-priced bags of soil and making your own the nutrient-rich soil right in your own backyard! It’s easier than you think. Please trust me. I never thought I’d “make dirt” at home, but I gave it a try and would never go back. Making organic compost at home is really nothing more than combining “browns,” “greens,” and water in one of many types of vessels.

For ours, we chose a shady spot by the side of our house and dug a hole about five feet long, three feet wide, and three feet deep. We then lined it with landscape plastic to prevent all the good nutrients, moisture, and earthworms from getting out. And, because we live by the beach and our soil is mostly sand, we wanted to avoid mixing that in with our good stuff.

For our raw materials, we throw in all fruit and vegetable scraps from our kitchen. Those are “green” things. We tend to stay away from large pits or seeds from things like peaches, nectarines, or mangos because they take so long to break down, but all else is fair game. A lot of people say to chop up things finely before throwing them in the pile, but if you don’t, it’s not going to ruin your compost. The larger pieces will just take a bit longer to break down. Take the time if you want. It’s up to you. We also put in most of our cut grass (“green”) and leaves from the yard (“brown”). We also put in healthy and disease-free veggie plants at the end of the growing season. Don’t put in anything questionable.

The EPA has fantastic information on home composting.

We turn our compost pile once a week with a pitchfork. It’s funny to even say that we own one of those. But, such is the life of a gardener. OK, so turn your pile frequently. Oxygen helps things break down, and aeration is good for the whole decomposition process. And don’t let the pile get too dry. Add water until it’s just moist and work it through.

We keep our pile covered with landscape plastic. Like I said, though, ours is just a hole we dug. There are plenty of fancy compost tumblers and containers, but we went the most economical route. We’ve gotten to use a few cubic yards since we started composting last year. This is what our pile looks like after we add fresh scraps to it.

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You can see the more decomposed stuff beneath. If we had room, we’d have more than one pile to house the different stages of decomp, but we don’t, so we just wait until we have a ton to use, use it, and then start over. This is what it looks like after more time has passed.

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Please have patience with the process. Trust me. This pile was about one month from being perfect dirt. I never thought I’d be as excited for dirt as say a pair of new Valentino heels, but alas…

Look, composting may not be glamorous or smell like roses, but it’s more than worth it. When all is said and done and after microbes and earthworms (if you’re so fortunate) have done their jobs, you’ll have rich, beautiful, organic garden soil that you’re plants will love. And Mother Nature will reward you handsomely for your efforts with wonderful volunteer plants that may sprout from your garden after you’ve added your compost. All of the photos below of are of volunteer plants we had just this Spring.

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It may take up to six months for a pile of our size to completely break down, but be patient. It’s worth the wait. Happy gardening, everyone!

Tomato Basil Pizza Dough from a Bread Machine

Perhaps my favorite kitchen helper is the bread maker. It’s a modern marvel. And, critics and naysayers, please refrain from saying it doesn’t make “real bread.” It’s not cheating! It’s helping.
And it also prevents us from eating preservative-laden grocery store breads because we now have the time to make something more nutritious.

Our Zojirushi bread machine is our best friend. It takes a bunch of ingredients and makes them into something edible while we’re off being busy people with jobs, school, and obligations. Life gets in the way of crafting artisan bread…unfortunately.

And you know what else? This machine mixes and kneads the best pizza dough! And we eat a gratuitous amount of pizza around here. Why? It’s freaking delicious, and it makes perfect leftovers (or “pre-cooked meals,” as my grandmother would say).

Last night we made a tomato basil dough for our pie, and it was spectacular. We topped it with olive oil, mozzarella, and sautéed mushrooms…but that’s not the point. We’re talking dough.

If you have a bread machine, follow along:

1 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3 3/4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (we usually use kosher)
2 teaspoons rapid rise bread machine yeast
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic salt-free seasoning blend
1 teaspoon red chili flakes

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Put ingredients in the bread maker according to manufacturers directions, put on the quick dough setting, and press start. In about 45 minutes, you’ll have dough! We oil a bowl, remove dough from the bread maker pan, put it in the bowl, and cover it with a clean towel. Let it rise for 30 minutes in a low-humidity area, and then it’s done!

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This recipe makes two large thin crust pizzas. To start, split the dough in half, lightly flour a clean work surface, and roll it out. It’s the easiest dough I’ve ever worked with. See how pretty it looks? You can see the seasonings all through the dough.

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Add whatever you like for cheeses, sauces, flavored oils, veggies, meats, etc. Dough is the perfect blank canvas for experimentation. Food is fun, and pizza is very forgiving.

Oh, and by the way, consider investing in a pizza stone for perfect crispy crust.

Nothing Beats Local, Farm-Raised, Low Carbon Footprint, Free-Range Eggs

There’s something about real eggs. Eggs can be truly glorious. And when I say eggs, I’m not talking about the slimy junk in containers or the thin-shelled, vitamin-deficient yellow blobs that come from conventional chicken farms hundreds of miles away. I mean EGGS…the kind that still have a bit of dirt on their shells, the ones that don’t look like they’ve been photoshopped to shiny white perfection, and the kind that come from a person you might even know. I got these yesterday at my farmers market.

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Local eggs are becoming more en vogue, and it’s a great time to start appreciating their many benefits. They taste better, are better quality, they carry a much lower carbon footprint, and they’ve got more of the good stuff we want (vitamins E and A, Omega 3, beta carotene) and less of the bad stuff we don’t (cholesterol and saturated fat). Many people are hesitant to purchase local eggs because of the higher price tag these eggs carry. But buying better quality food, like local eggs, will save money in the long run because they’re better for you. If that’s not enough for you, then think about the higher quality of life the chickens have. I swear I can taste the happy! Look at the orangey color of these yolks!

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I know the run-of-the-mill stuff from your grocery store might cost a bit less, but don’t let fifty cents make your decision. And, please don’t tell me you can’t get them. If I can get them in Daytona Beach, then I’m confident that you can find them in your town. And if you can’t, I’ll be glad to help. I’m serious.

Furthermore, local food, eggs, veggies, etc. is better for our Earth. Here’s the carbon footprint comparison between a dozen local and a dozen store-bought eggs (you can go to CleanMetrics to do this on your own, too):

Eggs from 25 miles away: 0.02 Kg of CO2e
Eggs from 1,164 miles away: 0.12 Kg of CO2e

Essentially, there’s a 600% increase in carbon emissions from transport. No bueno.

Quality food is an investment in yourself. Not only does it make better tasting dishes, but it makes you feel better, too. Local food is an investment in your local community, literally. It puts a human face on where your food comes from and keeps your dollars where they will do the most good for you, in the places of your daily life.

I strongly encourage you to seek out the growers and farmers in your neighborhood while making a meaningful investment in your future self.

Quick-Fix Dinner: Tuna with Olive Oil, Garlic, Sundried Tomatoes, and Capers

If there’s anything I love, it’s a dinner that I can make from ingredients I keep in the house. It’s very forgiving, and so very tasty. And I owe its creation to my friend Joe. We have shared many a bottle of wine over this meal. Yes, I’ve added to it over the years, but the spirit is still the same. It’s a fantastic Mediterranean dish with bright favors and good memories.

To make it exactly as I have, you’ll need:

– 2 cans of solid albacore tuna in olive oil (joe always used Tonno brand, but I deviated and used one can of the new Bumble Bee Olive oil and Sundried Tomato and one plain in olive oil)
– 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
– 4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
– 2 tablespoons of capers
– palmful of julienned sundried tomatoes (in oil or without)
– lemon zest and juice of half the lemon
– Pinch of sea salt
– red chili flakes, to taste
– one box of angel hair pasta, cooked al dente

This is the most painfully easy recipe you may ever make, and it takes only one pot and one skillet.
Ready? Get the pasta water boiling, and salt the water until it tastes like the ocean. In your skillet, add the olive oil and the sliced garlic. Put that on medium-low until it just starts bubbling…don’t burn the garlic!

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(When your water comes to a rolling boil, drop in the angel hair.)

Next drop in the two cans of tuna, oil and all. Resist the urge to break up the tuna as this will happen on its own. If you mush it up, it’ll resemble cat food, and there’s nothing appealing about that! Joe was a stickler about this. See how lovely it can look if you leave it alone?

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Next zest the whole lemon right into the skillet.

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Then drop in the capers and sundried tomatoes. Finally, add the pinch of sea salt and the chili flakes. Gently work with a spoon to blend all the flavors. Let simmer lightly for about a minute.

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By the time you’re done with this step, you should check the pasta. It only needs about 4 minutes to be flawlessly al dente.

Turn off the skillet with the tuna and drain the pasta. You’re done. That’s it. Serve yourself as much as you’d like. By the way, some consider this a faux pas, but I absolutely love to grate fresh Parmesan cheese over the top. Do it or don’t, although I totally recommend it.

Happy eating, everyone, and thanks, Joe!

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