Monthly Archives: August 2013

Grandma’s Secret Ingredient

My family takes potato salad very seriously.  It’s not unusual to find four or five bowls of the stuff at any family reunion or potluck.  And they are all roughly based on the same recipe.  My grandma’s potato salad.  A recipe that was probably never written down so we all remember it the same but each make it slightly different with our own little twists.  But we all use her “secret” ingredient, and even in all the differences, they taste very similar.

My version uses red potatoes and red onion, and a little dash of dill.  But the real secret to Grandma’s potato salad is pickle juice.  You can bet that in the depths of every family member’s fridge there lives a jar of dill pickles (and even if the pickles are gone the jar of juice is still there).

potatosalad3

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve never measured the ingredients for this salad.  The other secret to perfect potato salad is to taste as you go.  Start with small amounts of the saucy ingredients, then add and tweak until it’s juuuuust right.  Just like Grandma would do.  Mine might not be exactly the same as hers but I think I’ve hit the high points and I’d like to think she’d be proud of my efforts.  I’m sure she would tell me she was in any case (don’t tell my cousins but I’m pretty sure I was her favorite).  I’d give just about anything to share a bowl of this with her right now.

Potato salad my Grandma Garner would be proud of.

Potato salad my Grandma Garner would be proud of.

Grandma’s Potato Salad (the April version)

4-5 pounds red potatoes
1/2 -3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
4-5 boiled eggs, roughly chopped
3/4 cup chopped dill pickles (I like the crunchy baby dills)
3/4 cup black olives, halved (optional if you like olives)
1/2 cup+ mayonnaise (I strongly prefer the Best Foods/Helmann’s brand)
A big squirt of yellow mustard
1/4 cup+ dill pickle juice
A big pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. fresh or dried dill
Dash of paprika

Cut potatoes into thick slices (2-3 pieces per potato).  If you choose to use russet potatoes instead, cut them like this, boil, cool and THEN peel them.  Makes a big difference in the texture.

Slicing the potatoes instead of chopping makes a big difference in texture!  Chop after they are cooked, not before.

Slicing the potatoes instead of chopping makes a BIG difference in texture! Chop after they are cooked, not before.

Cover with water and cook until fork tender but not mushy.  Drain water and rinse to cool, drain again and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slice/chop potatoes into a large bowl (you can peel them if you want but I don’t).

I use a rough slice/chop method instead of your normal dice.  I like the variety of texture you get with some mashed bits and some bigger chunks.

I use a rough slice/chop method instead of your normal dice. I like the variety of texture you get with some mashed bits and some bigger chunks.

Add onion, celery, eggs, pickles and olives and stir to mix.  Add a couple of big spoonfuls of mayo, a big squirt of mustard and pour in the pickle juice.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, dill and paprika.  Swirl the sauce and seasonings together a bit and then mix into the potato mixture.  Mix well, kind off mixing/mashing together to really blend the saucy stuff into the potatoes.  Then taste.  Is it too dry?  Add mayo.  Too bland?  Add mustard.  Need a little more zing?  More pickle juice.  Make sure you have enough salt and pepper.

This is the look you're going for.  Not goopy, but not dry.  Use enough mayo to moisten all the ingredients but don't overdo it.  In the end you want the potato to be the star of the dish, not the mayo.

This is the look you’re going for. Not goopy, but not dry. Use enough mayo to moisten all the ingredients but don’t overdo it. In the end you want the potato to be the star of the dish, not the mayo.

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Red Curry Shrimp Dumplings with Cucumber Peanut Slaw

I could eat dumplings for every meal.  Just about every cuisine in the world includes some sort of dumpling, which means endless variety!  These were a little outside the norm.  The red curry filling adds a tiny bit of Thai, while the steamed exterior is more Japanese.  Wherever they hail from, they are absolutely genius.  These are cooked just like potstickers, seared for a crispy bottom and then steamed to finish.  We loved these and managed to devour the entire batch between the three of us.

To go with an unusual dumpling, why not make an unusual slaw?  This cucumber/napa slaw is light and fresh, with a zingy, barely-there dressing.  Perfectly cool in contrast to the spicy salty dumplings.  And good left over the next day too.

Red Curry Shrimp Dumplings

Red Curry Shrimp Dumplings

Red Curry Shrimp Dumplings
(adapted from theperfectpantry.com)

3/4 pound shrimp (21-25 or 26-30), defrosted if frozen, peeled and deveined
2 scallions, roughly chopped
2 tsp grated ginger root (I use a microplane)
4 tsp Thai red curry paste
1 tsp fish sauce
1 pkg. wonton wrappers
Canola oil for cooking
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp chile garlic sauce (optional if you want a little more kick)

In a food processor add the shrimp, scallions, ginger, curry paste and fish sauce. Pulse several times until the ingredients come together and form a finely-chopped paste.

Set out a small bowl of water.

Working with just a few wonton wrappers at a time, place 1 teaspoon of the shrimp mixture in the center of each.

Do not overfill or it will not seal well.

Do not overfill or it will not seal well.

Wet your finger and run it around the edge of the wonton wrapper. Then, pull all corners to the center, and pinch to seal the dumpling. Repeat with remaining wontons and filling.

Little yummy presents ready to cook!

Little yummy presents ready to cook!

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Place the dumplings flat side down in the pan, and cook for 1 minute until the bottoms are brown.

Pour in 1/2 cup water. Immediately cover the pan. Cook until the water is almost evaporated, approximately 3 minutes. Then, uncover, and cook until the remaining water evaporates.

Meanwhile, stir together the soy sauce, sesame oil, lime and chile sauce in a small bowl to make the dipping sauce.

Serve the dumplings hot, with dipping sauce.  The original recipe says it makes 24, but we ended up with 30-40.  Just depends on how generous you are with the filling I suppose.

Cucumber Peanut Slaw

Cucumber Peanut Slaw

Cucumber Peanut Slaw
(from healthyseasonalrecipes.com)

1 small head Napa Cabbage, finely sliced
3-4 small cucumbers (1 ½ pounds), julienne cut
1/2 cup chopped roasted, salted peanuts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/3 cup peanut oil or canola oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Dried red pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Combine cabbage, cucumber, peanuts and cilantro.  In a small bowl whisk together oil, lime juice, sugar, salt, garlic powder and red pepper flakes.  Pour over slaw and toss to combine.

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BLT Pasta Salad with Feta and Olives

In one of my many flashes of brilliance, I decided to turn one of my favorite sandwiches into a pasta salad.  And I just have to say, it was incredible!

The greens make for a lighter than usual pasta dish and the bottled dressing make it quick to throw together (and your waistline will thank you for skipping the mayo!).  I used a Champagne Vinaigrette I found at Trader Joe’s that is one of my current favorites, but feel free to use a different brand or even a different vinaigrette if there’s one you love.

BLT Pasta Salad with Feta & Olives

BLT Pasta Salad with Feta & Olives

BLT Pasta Salad with Feta and Olives

4-5 strips of bacon
12 ounces rotini pasta
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 big handfuls of mixed salad greens
1/2 cup black olives, halved
1/2 cup feta
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup Champagne Vinaigrette dressing
Salt & pepper

Heat water to boiling.  Boil pasta until it is tender.  Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking.  Drain well.

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp.  Remove from skillet and let drain and cool on paper towels while you assemble the salad.

In a large serving bowl combine tomatoes, greens, olives, green onions and feta.

Bright fresh veggies and cheese.

Bright fresh veggies and cheese.

Add pasta and bacon and toss to combine.  Add salad dressing, starting with 1/4 cup and adding more as needed to lightly dress the pasta.

I am in love with this dressing, but feel free to substitute one you like if you can't find this one.

I am in love with this dressing, but feel free to substitute one you like if you can’t find this one.

Taste and add salt & pepper or more dressing if needed.  Toss and serve immediately.

 

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Seared Tuna Tacos with Tropical Salsa

Sometimes I have an idea for a dish and I just can’t find a recipe for it.  So I make something up.  And when all the planets align and things go like they should, it turns out just how it was in my head.  This is one of those recipes.

I’ve been craving tacos.  But not just any tacos.  Fresh tuna tacos!  Nicely seared with spice and fruit and bright, tropical, summery flavors.  I imagined myself lying on a beach somewhere and eating tacos made from all sorts of island goodies.

Alas, I am not on an island, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t just an absolutely wonderful luau happening right in my mouth.  This is my favorite recipe I’ve made up this summer (so far!).  You can bet your flip flops we’ll be making them again soon!

Spicy Seared Tuna Tacos with Tropical Salsa.  So freaking good!

Spicy Seared Tuna Tacos with Tropical Salsa. So freaking good!

Spicy Seared Tuna Tacos with Tropical Salsa

2-3 tuna steaks
1 small red chile, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Drizzle of olive oil
2 limes
Salt & pepper
1 cup pineapple, diced
1 mango, diced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped (or less if you don’t like it spicy)
1/4 cup cilantro
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 cup chopped napa or savoy cabbage
2 tbsp. mayonnaise or sour cream

Place tuna steaks in a shallow dish.  Sprinkle with red chile, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, juice from 1/2 lime and some salt & pepper.  Rub all over both sides.  Side aside.  Don’t do this ahead of time since the acid in the lime will “cook” the fish if left more than a few minutes.

Just a quick, simple marinade for the tuna.

Just a quick, simple marinade for the tuna.

In a bowl combine pineapple, mango, jalapeno, onion, cilantro and the juice of one lime.  Stir to blend and set aside.

Spicy Tropical Salsa.  So good!

Spicy Tropical Salsa. So good!

In a small bowl combine mayo or sour cream with the juice of half a lime.

Heat skillet over medium high heat.  Drizzle with olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan.  When pan is hot add tuna.  Sear 1-2 minutes on each side, leaving it rare in the middle.  Remove from heat.  Slice against the grain into thin slices.

Warm tortillas in the oven or microwave.  Build your taco with a few slices of tuna, topped with salsa and cabbage.  Drizzle with a bit of sauce if desired.

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Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Heirloom tomatoes are pretty cool.  All sorts of varieties that you never see in the store.  Normally I only find them at farmer’s markets and they are just about irresistible.  But this time I spied some heirloom cherry tomatoes at Trader Joe’s and just had to snatch them up.  What didn’t go directly into my mouth ended up in this delicious pasta dish.

I make about a million versions of this particular dish depending on what’s in season and what’s in my fridge at any given moment.  This version included a double bump of basil since I had leftover pesto I had made a day or two before and then I also threw in some freshly picked pesto leaves from my garden as well.  The veggies are barely cooked, just warmed really to release the juices and get warm.  It’s absolutely bursting with summer flavors.

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Basil

2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes (or the regular ones will do), halved
1/2 cup black olives, halved
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup basil pesto (click here for my recipe or use your favorite)
2-3 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes or strips
Handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped or torn
1 pound pasta (I really like some sort of corkscrew shape for this to catch all the little yummy bits)

Get everything chopped before you start cooking, because this all comes together very quickly.

All ready to meet their destiny!  Love the pretty colors.

All ready to meet their destiny! Love the pretty colors.

Boil pasta until tender.  While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook about a minute until fragrant but not browned.  Add onion and saute a bit until slightly tender.  When the pasta is just about done, add tomatoes, olives and pesto.  Cook and stir just a couple of minutes to heat through.  I prefer the veggies barely cooked so they still have that garden fresh flavor.  Toss in some fresh basil, mozzarella and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Drain pasta and add to pan with veggies and cheese.  Toss to combine and serve immediately.  Top with a sprinkle of parmesan if desired.
heirloomtompasta2

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Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad

I’ve been eating this salad all summer.  It’s pretty, refreshing and really, really tasty!  Especially nice for large groups and potlucks, this recipe is easy to double, triple or more.  Everything can be made ahead; simply wait until serving time to toss with the dressing for an easy, crowd-pleasing dish.  And if you don’t have a crowd, no problem!  More for you.

 

Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad

Strawberry Poppy Seed Salad

Strawberry  Poppy Seed Salad

1 head romaine lettuce
1 head red leaf lettuce (or baby spinach)
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. raw sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. poppy seeds

In a small bowl mix onion, mayo, vinegar, sugar and milk.  Mix well and set aside.  You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate if you’d like. In a large bowl toss together lettuces and strawberries.  Toss with dressing right before serving.

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