It Ain’t My Mamma’s Potato Salad

Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities.  That means it’s picnic food time!

This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill.  According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!

What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?  Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.

Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST!  It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT.  That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it.  She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!

Why am I telling you this?  Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there.  She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art).  I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs.  Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!

But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt.  I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original.  So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).

I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class.  Here’s what I did:

The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:

  • smoked the potatoes
  • crisped and the bacon
  • hard-boiled the eggs
  • mixed the dressing

Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes.  If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).

The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit.  When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker –  the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine.  The smoker consists of four parts:

  1. Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors) 2
  2. Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
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  3. Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
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  4. Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
    5

Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked.  What foods can you smoke?  The sky is the limit!  I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.

Back to the potato salad.  I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze.  I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.

First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.

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I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.

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I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.

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I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.

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And I minced the sweet onion.

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I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it is my last resort).

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I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green.  I stop where the green begins to get dry.

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And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.

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Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed.  I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.

To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!

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It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!

 

Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)

 

Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Smoke salad summer

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

Note: To smoke potatoes

Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.

Insert the drip tray.

Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Place rack in smoker.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.

Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.

Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).

Assembling the potato salad

Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.

Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.

Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.

In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!

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Recipe Review: Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts on CounterOur family is growing – a new baby and new or newish significant others for my nieces, including an impending wedding – and that means readjusting holiday schedules.  I’m sure you’ve been through it in your family and hope that you make it as easy as possible on those being pulled in multiple directions. Trying to make everyone happy can be exhausting and is difficult at best.

This year, our family Thanksgiving celebration was rescheduled for Black Friday, and then again for Sunday, 11/30. Rather than stress about it, I looked at it as a way to have an extremely low-key Thanksgiving day (which we sure did) and as extra time to decide what to make for our celebration!

My assignment was to bring a vegetable. And that is where the quandary began. First, the age-old question….”Does corn count as a vegetable?” Second, “Not even if it’s a holiday?”  Then the question of tradition presented itself….”Can we really have Thanksgiving dinner without Corn Pie?” And…”If not corn pie, then can we live another year without Diane Phillips’ Gulliver’s Corn?”  I’m not sure why there are dishes we only make on the holidays, but I know my family is not alone in this.  Finally…”If not a traditional dish, then what?”

The answer presented itself in the form of a cooking show.  I turned on a recent episode of Giada DiLaurentiis’ ‘giada at home‘ and the first thing she mentioned was Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts.  Not only did the recipe sound fantastic, I knew Jeff had harvested a boat-load of Brussels sprouts just a few days earlier.  With the decision made, we purchased the bourbon (ok, technically we used Whiskey because Jack Daniel’s isn’t made in Kentucky, but you get the idea) and the slab bacon and waited for the 30th to arrive!

After church on Sunday morning, we set about following Giada’s recipe.  Jeff worked making the glaze while I worked on preparing the bacon and the Brussels sprouts to skewer.

Making the glaze:

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I cut the slab bacon into 3/4″ cubes and slid them into a 375 degree F oven for about 8 minutes so the fat would begin to render.  I blanched the Brussels sprouts for about 4 minutes, submerged them in an ice bath to stop the cooking, dried them with a kitchen towel, and tossed them with olive oil and kosher salt.

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I cut all the Brussels sprouts in half so that the glaze could seep in between the many layers of the veggies.  I’m pretty sure Giada did this on the show; although the recipe says to cut the Brussels sprouts in half ‘if needed.’

While I assembled the skewers, Jeff preheated the Big Green Egg (BGE).  Because we don’t have a stove top grill pan, we decided to use the BGE – and we weren’t even a bit sorry….not only did the Brussels sprouts end up with great smokey flavor; Jeff and I spent the rest of the day smelling of a camp fire, which is a scent I’m never sorry to inhale!

Skewered But Not Grilled

On the BGE

Hot Off the BGE

I’d give this recipe 4 1/2 M’s out of 5.  The flavor was wonderful, the ingredients were easy to obtain (particularly because I had a fridge full of Brussels sprouts), the instructions were straightforward (but I’m glad I had seen the episode of ‘giada at home’ because I knew to cut the Brussels sprouts in half), and there weren’t too many steps.  But I wonder if skewering is necessary.  Yes, the skewers looked nice; but they did take quite a bit of time to assemble.  This dish would certainly have been just as delicious if grilled in a grill basket and served in a plain, white bowl. And there’d be no flying Brussels sprouts at the table while trying to gracefully remove the veggies from the skewers!

4 and one half ms for bacon bourbon brussels sprouts

Overall, this recipe is a winner.  Judging by the reaction of everyone around the Thanksgiving table, I believe the Bacon Bourbon Brussels Sprouts will be a new traditional Thanksgiving dish!

What are the dishes your family only makes on Thanksgiving?

Wow Bacon!

Recently I had the opportunity to try a new microwave tool – the WowBacon.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Just a few days before I received the WowBacon I cooked a few slices of bacon in the microwave on a plate lined with paper towels with iffy results.

Wow Bacon! in Package (800x385)

It’s only fair that I tell you that I RARELY use my microwave for anything other than heating my coffee in the morning.  In fact, for about 14 years Jeff and I didn’t own a microwave. And we probably wouldn’t own one now except it was already in the house.  We don’t have anything against microwaves, we just got so used to not having one that we learned it was something we could live without.

During the “No Microwave Years” we did crazy things like heat leftovers in the oven or on the stove, cook bacon in a pan on the stove top or a sheet tray in the oven, and boil water in a pot.

But – as often happens – I digress!

Anyway, back to the WowBacon.  It is REALLY easy to use.  The instructions on the package are very easy to follow and accurately written.

Package Instructions (800x434)

You simply remove the lid and the cooking vanes or cooking rack, slide the bacon onto the vanes, reattach the lid to the vanes, place the vanes into the container and clip the WowBacon shut.  Then you put it in the microwave and depending on the wattage of your microwave you cook the bacon according to the time on the package.  I found that to get my bacon crisp I needed to cook the bacon one minute longer than the recommended time.  I have a 1000W microwave and the bacon was done in about 5 minutes.

WowBacon Out of Package (800x530)

WowBacon Open (800x530)

Cooking Rack (800x434)

Bacon Slices on Cooking Rack (434x800)

Bacon After Cooking with over a quarter cup of grease (800x485)

The bacon was easy to remove from the vanes and the WowBacon cleaned up VERY easily in warm, soapy water.  FYI, it is dishwasher safe.  The thing that amazed me most about the WowBacon was the amount of grease that cooked out of 6 slices of bacon.  After I removed the bacon from the vanes, I poured the grease into a measuring cup and was surprised to find that over 1/4 cup of fat cooked out of the bacon.  That’s amazing!

Cooked Bacon (800x530)

Bacon After Cooking with over a quarter cup of grease (800x485)

Although I appreciate the ease of use, the quick cooking time and the amount of fat I was able to remove from my meal; there are two downsides. First, I found the taste of the bacon wasn’t nearly as good as when I cook it in the oven or on the stove top.  I don’t know if it’s because so much fat came out of the bacon, if it’s microwave cooking in general or if it’s a product of using the WowBacon.  I much prefer the taste or traditionally cooked bacon, but if you need bacon cooked quickly or if you are crumbling the bacon into a recipe (rather than eating just a slice of bacon with eggs) the WowBacon is definitely a great tool. The second downside is that you can only cook 6 slices of bacon at a time.  If you have a family of four and want to cook bacon for breakfast, you’d have to do two rounds of cooking with the WowBacon and in that time you could just about cook it on the stove top or in the oven.  Of course, you’d have more mess than with the WowBacon.

Overall, I’d give the WowBacon 3 M’s out of 5.

I was able to make a bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with pesto in just the time it took to cook bacon.  Because I didn’t have to watch the bacon on the stove top, I was able to multi-task and cook the bacon and egg and toast the bagel all at once.  The pesto was already made and I just put a slice of cheese from the fridge on the sandwich.

Bacon, Egg and Cheese Sammie with Peso (800x530)

The WowBacon lead to WowBreakfast!!!

Have you tried the WowBacon?  What are your thoughts?

Love Your Leftovers: Savory Veggie Waffles

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I often go on a bender, cleaning out my fridge and making dinner from the dribs and drabs in small containers.  It’s both a culinary challenge and a great way to avoid wasting food and money!

Last night Jeff gave my dad a ride to pick up his car.  Finally – and just in the nick of time – the air conditioning is fixed!  Woooohooooo!  While they went to pick up the car, my mom and I turned leftovers into a delicious meal.  Savory veggie waffles and a refreshing summer salad.

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Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

No “Gradzilla” Moments

I had the pleasure of catering a party for my friends’ daugher who recently graduated from nursing school.  The experience was great from start to finish.  I realize this is a rarity, but there were no “gradzilla” moments, no last minute menu changes, no hard to find ingredients, no delays or snags of any kind.  I am still thanking God for this amazing grace!

The process started with the invitations.  The grad had a favorite color scheme and wanted something unique.  Unable to find just the right thing, I decided to make a sample invite and see if she liked it – and boy did she – so I went quickly into production mode and got them out on time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu was set and I began work, with the help of a very experienced and dedicated sous chef, my mom!  I couldn’t have done it without her help – she kept the sink free of dishes and reminded me to take an occasional break!

We worked for the entire week before the party making what we could ahead of time and constantly reworking the timeline to ensure that everything went off without a hitch the day of the party.  The party was on a Saturday; so I created a daily calendar (beginning the Monday before) of all the tasks that had to be accomplished – not just making food, but ensuring we had selected the proper serving platters, purchasing flowers/herbs for the buffet, making the iced teas, ironing tablecloths (a quick rant – please, please iron the tablecloth and napkins if you are using linens – don’t set a table that looks like someone slept on it overnight!!!), etc.

The day of the party we had a few last-minute details to attend to in the morning.  We had a hearty breakfast and then went to set up.  Below are a few photos of the buffet and a list of what was on the menu  – those of you with a keen eye will notice that the menu item cards on the buffet match the invitations.  Please visit my Photo Gallery for all the beautiful photos of the event, which were taken by the grad, Brianna Wilbur.  In addition to being a new nurse, Bri is also a wonderfully talented photographer.  Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crudite Platter (Served with Caramelied Onion Dip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almond Joy Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full menu included:

  • Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea
  • Crudite Platter w/ Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Marinated Cheese w/ Crackers
  • Spinach Balls
  • Meatball Duo – Chicken Wing Meatballs & Spicy Sesame Meatballs
  • Sundried Tomato & Smoked Cheddar in Phyllo
  • Artichoke, Bacon & Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fruit Skewers w/ Brown Sugar Sour Cream Dip
  • Amond Joy Cupcakes & Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cinnamon Icing

What a pleasure it was for me to cater this party.  It allowed me to share my love of cooking and entertaining with others and to spend time – lots of time – in the kitchen with my mom. What could be better than that?