Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

The greatest honey love of all….

A while ago I had posted about curry powder, which leads me right back to the recipe that required it first: honey chicken.

A few well-known facts about my honey chicken recipe:

It’s super easy to make. (I mean it. If you can master that curry powder recipe, then this will be a breeze, especially since the curry powder is a key ingredient in this dish. And if you need a refresher on the curry powder, then just click here.)

You need to be attentive to this dish. (Once you see the picture, you’ll understand why. You want that golden color with just a hint of browning when you bake it, so a lot of love and care goes into this meal. But again, it is easy so no worries. And when I mean easy, I mean super easy.)

My husband goes crazy for this dish every time I make it. (It’s one of the few leftovers he’ll eat over and over again….and if you know Matt, he’s not a big leftovers kind of person.)

And the sauce that is created while baking? Yummy is an understatement. It’s gooey and buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Trust me on this, if made right the outside looks sticky and sweet, but that salty savory bite is worth it. Also, the yummy factor applies when you add a side of mashed potatoes or possibly egg noodles too. (You need a carb or starchy side because honey chicken is a great “stick to your bones” type of dish.)

I love the way sweet ingredients can lend themselves to savory dishes….be adventurous and give them a try!

And yes, enjoy!

~Jenny V


  

   
Jenn’s Honey Chicken

1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in, fat slightly trimmed (if you’d prefer)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon curry powder (refer to my Curry Powder recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In large baking dish, place chicken thighs, skin side up.

3) In large measuring cup or small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until mixed, then pour mixture over chicken evenly. Make sure to coat each piece.

4) Bake for 75-90 minutes, basting thighs in mixture every 15 minutes. When skin looks golden and starts to take on a deep brown color on most of the pieces, remove and serve.

 

Spicy Tips: Turkey Leftovers….a delicious aftermath

Ah, Thanksgiving has come and gone. For the week following, we stuff our faces with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the cranberry sauce that we can eat. (Except Matt….cranberry sauce is just not his thing….unless I can find a good use for it with our leftovers.)

A week later….that once decadent plate of turkey goodness starts to become mundane. And there are only so many times that one can make a leftover plate or turkey sandwiches. This is when Matt and I start to get creative with ways that we can move the leftovers, and it becomes like a game to see how many new recipes we can think up.

Yes, turkey stock may be the prime suspect of leftover transformation (and some of the best soup you’ll ever have), but we have gotten into dishes like fried turkey wings (flour them first before you fry….you’ll thank me later), turkey pot pie (a revelation in itself…and a recipe I will share soon), and our newest creation….Thanksgiving leftover Spring Rolls!

Now, I’m aware there are videos about doing this with egg rolls, and I had that pointed out several times over to me when I initially posted the picture of our dish….but I’m telling you that if you want a lighter, potentially crispier outside, go for the spring roll.

They’re quite simple to make. Just make sure that if you cook the rolls in batches, that you move the rolls to make sure they won’t stick to one another. Not for long, mind you, because eventually when they’re close to done, they stop sticking to one another.

Also, you can make these as thick (or thin) as you like! Sometimes a thinner roll will cook quicker than you even realize, so definitely watch when you make them.

And as always….enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

 Jenn’s Thanksgiving Leftover Spring Rolls

1 package spring roll wrappers (about 16 to a package)

1/2 to 1 lb. turkey, finely chopped

1 box of stuffing, prepared

1) Turn on fryer to 350-375 degrees or heat oil in a pot on the stove until that temperature.

2) In a round cake pan, fill halfway with water. Take one spring roll wrapper and soak for 15-20 seconds. Remove and lay flat on paper towel.

3) Spoon one tablespoon of turkey and 1-2 tablespoons of stuffing towards one end of the wrapper. Fold in sides and roll. Place in a pan. Repeat this process until all wrappers are used.

4) Place 3-4 pre-made rolls into fryer, watching to make sure they don’t stick. Cook 2-4 minutes or until rolls stop wanting to stick to one another. Remove and place onto plate with paper towel to remove excess oil. Repeat process until all rolls are cooked. Serve with turkey gravy or non-jellied cranberry sauce for dipping.

 

Something “doesn’t” smell fishy around here….

When it comes to tuna fish, I kinda have this awesome recipe in my arsenal.

It took years to perfect, years of trying various flavor combinations and different ingredients to try and counteract the fishy smell….but I have it….and it is glorious (and simple)….because tuna fish is glorious (and simply delicious). Or at least Matt seems to think so. I mean, he is the tuna fish connoisseur.

It started when we started dating.

I consider this one of the first meals I remember having with Matt. (He’ll, of course, regale you with the steak sandwich and roasted potatoes story….or the homemade roasted garlic mashed potatoes and how I scarfed them down like I was going to the electric chair….but this one resonates with me still.) With whatever ingredients were available to make it, we would make tuna fish sandwiches accompanied by either fries or potato chips. The simplest of meals do tend to make for some of the best dishes, in my opinion.

Eventually, instead of adding vinegar to the tuna and mayo, lemon juice made an appearance and not only counteracted the smell and provided that acidity that I so desperately crave with creamy mayonnaise, but removed the fishy flavor as well. (Also, tuna and lemon? They really pair well, hot or cold.) Salt and pepper replaced by copious amounts of dill….which is a revelation in itself. I’m serious here, dill is the answer. I can’t begin to explain why, but you’ll understand when you add it. And instead of plain bread crumbs (if you’re gluten free, these can be omitted), lemon pepper panko bread crumbs. (No joke, the flavor that they add? Not to sound basic, but I can’t even. And if you want salt and pepper, you’ll find it in those bread crumbs.) Also, I find that chilling the tuna fish cans in the refrigerator before use is a beautiful thing.

The one bugaboo that most might find an issue with is that I use tuna fish packed in oil. Yes, oil. Tuna in water is fine, but I feel it dilutes the flavor a little and breaks the tuna down way too much. Canned tuna in oil, in my opinion, lends that little extra bit of fat (even with mayo, it’s needed, because Tuna is rather lean for me). We actually had heard about chefs on the Food Network who prefer oil to water, and once we tried tuna in oil, we have (tried) to never buy tuna in water. (Although, if there is a sweet sale, compromises can be made.)

And to add a little Italian flair, switch out the bacon with some fried prosciutto. (As Alex Guarnaschelli would say: growllllllll)

And as always….enjoy!

~Jenny V


 

Jenn’s Ultimate Tuna Fish

3-4 cans Albacore Tuna Fish, chilled and packed in vegetable oil – strained and flaked

1 lemon, juiced (if you don’t have fresh lemon, add about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice)

1/4 cup lemon pepper panko bread crumbs (can add more if tuna mixture is too runny)

1/4 cup mayonnaise (to start, add more if needed)

2 heaping teaspoons dill (I use dried because it’s easier to handle, but you can use fresh if you’d like)

Your favorite sliced bread (or wrap-just make it something you love)

Directions:

1) In a small mixing bowl, add strained tuna and using a fork, flake the fish. Add dill, lemon juice, and bread crumbs into bowl. Mix thoroughly.

2) Add mayonnaise and mix until incorporated. If too much mayo, add more bread crumb. If too dry, add more mayo. Serve on your favorite bread or wrap. Makes about 4-6 sandwiches.

 

Zuppa di Pesce: the gift that keeps on being delicious

As a rule in our house, Matt and I decided that instead of spending money on each other’s birthdays on fancy presents, that our cooking skills be put to the test and we cook for one another. While both of us will end up in the kitchen, I love the idea that the other has to help bring this meal to fruition. It has made celebrating our birthday a much more delicious venture and a great gift idea!

In fact, we try to adhere to this rule for most holidays/special occasions. (Although I am fairly certain Matt will not always adhere to that rule and has gotten me something a little extra to go with my nice meal. He’s sweet like that.)

Last year for my 31st, I requested a steak (any cut as long as it was nicely marbled upon purchase), homemade macaroni and cheese, and oven-roasted brussel sprouts. I don’t think I need to say that my loving husband delivered a fantastic meal! For his 34th, he asked me for a seafood dish, to which I came up with Zuppa di Pesce. (And to those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s seafood in a nice tomato broth….any seafood you choose to put in there. Or, you know, that fish soup.) Add in homemade pasta and a nice loaf of crusty French bread, Matt was in seafood heaven.

(And after this past weekend, where Matt’s mom also got to experience the awesomeness of our Zuppa di Pesce, I’d say it’s time this recipe was shared!)

Since then, the need to continue perfecting our Zuppa di Pesce became a bit of a game. We tried different combinations of seafood. Sometimes there would be clams, other times bay scallops, maybe even a couple nice pieces of cod would make it in there, complete with the staple of shrimp at the ready. To be honest, I don’t think we have made this dish the same way twice, but that’s the beauty of a giant mixed seafood dish–you can always play with the combination depending on what’s on sale!

Also, remembering how I have talked about stock…why not a seafood stock? Trust me, it’s super easy to make and you can do it with the one thing that most of us dislike when we have to peel shrimp….the shells! Since Matt and I always buy raw frozen shrimp, when it comes time to defrost and peel for the meal we’re using it in, I save the shells in a Ziploc bag and once I accumulate a HUGE bag of them, in they go to a pot of boiling water for 20-30 minutes, allow it to cool, then strain into a Tupperware container and voila–stock!

If you don’t have stock, use clam juice or even fresh clams and mussels in the recipe; adding something with those briny, salty juices of the sea will make the dish, I promise!

Also, cooking with wine is key! If you don’t have a lot of stock or clam juice available, add a little extra white wine instead.

For this version of the recipe, I figured adding the whole gambit of seafood would help. You can always add or take away with the seafood. Just be sure to have some fun with it. (i.e., calamari, sea scallops, prawns, flounder, etc.–get creative!)

When cooking is your gift, it’s always nice to share it with those dear to you. Because instead of trinkets throughout the years, you get these wonderful memories of delicious dishes and the moments that accompany the meal.

Enjoy (with love).

~ Jenny V


Matt and Jenn’s Zuppa di Pesce

1 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 lb. mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 dozen clams, cleaned

1 lb. bay scallops, rinsed

1 28 oz. can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes

 2 cups white wine

2-3 cups seafood stock (or clam juice)

1 medium onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1-2 teaspoons Salt

1-2 teaspoons Pepper

1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning

1/2 teaspoon of Crushed Red Pepper

Directions:

1) In large cast-iron pot or large stock pot on medium-high heat, add olive oil to lightly coat bottom, then add diced onion. Once onion starts to soften, add in minced garlic. Cook both until softened and aromatics are released, probably about 5 minutes at most.

2) Add in cooking wine and bring pot up to medium-high heat to allow alcohol to cook out, roughly 10 minutes. Next, add in almost all of the seafood stock, can of tomato sauce, and seasonings. (To get the residual tomato sauce out of the can, use the reserved stock by pouring it in and swishing it around in the can, then pour into the pot.) Allow mixture time to meld and cook, about 15-20 minutes. (Note: if you’re making pasta, start the water around this step, probably about mid-way.)

3) Put in clams and mussels first as they will need the most time to cook and open up. When clams and mussels look like they’re starting to open up, add in shrimp and scallops to cook the last few minutes. Once shrimp is cooked through, serve with pasta, really good crusty bread, or both.

A Taste of New Jersey

While I don’t fit the stereotype, I am proud to admit that I was born and raised in New Jersey. To me, that meant access to all different types of cuisine, all within 20-30 minutes of where I lived. Italian, Chinese, French, Spanish, Mexican, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Portuguese, etc. – you name it, I’ve probably tried it! And with Manhattan only a half hour away from where I grew up, I was one lucky girl!

But I’m a simple girl when it comes to food. And one of my favorites that one could get in my neighborhood? Italian Hot Dogs.

Yup, you heard me. Access to any ethnic or exotic cuisine and I gravitate back towards hot dogs….which I can thank my Pop-Pop for. When I was little and he was visiting from Ohio, my Pop-Pop would always take me and my brother to Galloping Hill Inn (better known as ‘Five Points’ because of the way the intersection was structured) and I would order what I considered one of the best hot dogs I have ever had.

Within that first bite, the skin would snap, the juices from within would dribble down my chin, and the condiments that I carefully selected each time I had one would complement all the flavors that my taste buds experienced. Of course, it was almost always ketchup or cheese that went on mine. My brother would blow out his taste buds with the aptly dubbed “hot works.” (Yeah, hot peppers and spicy mustard? Not my thing.)

While I still remember the feeling of taking that first bite a of a Five Points hot dog and spending time with my Pop-Pop, it wasn’t until Charlie’s Hot Dogs in my hometown that I got my first taste of an Italian Hot Dog.

And if you haven’t tried, you’re missing out!

It’s a crazy meal on a bun, with peppers, onions, potatoes, mustard (if you’re into that sort of thing), and the star of the dish: the perfectly cooked hot dog.

Also, NO sauce or cheese! Seriously, I don’t know where people got the notion that something Italian always needs sauce or cheese. Simple ingredients, people! (Ok, cheese can stay, but not too much!)

Although….our version of this delicious dish took a bit of a different turn one night. Matt is used to my food cravings, and I think he secretly enjoys cooking all of them! And when I had the craving for that Italian Hot Dog, my husband made it his mission to make sure that we made that dish and knocked it out of the park. (He had also never tried one before and after trying his first Italian Hot Dog, I think he had a better understanding of how delectable this dish can be–especially when he finished his before me!)

So on one particular night, when we went to grab the hot dog buns in our kitchen, they had already met the fate of every bread’s arch-nemesis: mold. Luckily, we had some beautiful flour tortillas on hand and turned this bread-y snafu into a delicious venture! And frankly, I think the tortillas allow you to treat this dish more like a wrap and cram more meat and veggies and potatoes in! Easier to hold and manage? Yeah, that’s the stuff.

**Cheese also seems to work better on this version. Doesn’t need it, but a little doesn’t hurt!**

**If you don’t have a fresh pepper on hand, a jar of roasted red peppers works quite nice on this dish as well! The sweetness will play nicely with the savory and salt of the hot dog.**

Also, for the potatoes, you can always have those partially cooked before you start this dish. In fact, I urge you to do so. That way, when you go to fry them up, they’re quicker to cook. Potatoes take longer than we realize, so prep this item hours (or even days) in advance if you’d like. But for the sake of the dish, I’ll share how you make them with the dish.

To recap: easy dish, simple ingredients, helps clean out your pantry, and fun to make! And as always….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Italian Hot Dog Wrap

1 package of hot dogs (any kind you like!)

8 large flour tortillas, slightly warmed (you want those pliable to fold and for celiacs, use corn tortillas)

4 small to medium potatoes, cubed and partially cooked

1 onion, sliced thinly

1 jar roasted red pepper, diced (or grill one pepper, then cut into strips)

Shredded Pizza Blend Cheese (not a traditional item, but trust me on this, the Pizza Blend is kinda perfect)

Mustard (I prefer yellow, but brown mustard is pretty damn good too)

Ketchup (this goes well too)

Directions:

1) In deep-fryer pre-heated to 350-375 degrees, put in cubed potatoes. Partially cook 2-3 minutes, then remove and allow to sit, letting oil drain. (If you don’t have a fryer, a pan with a considerable amount of oil to allow potatoes to fry in it.)

2) In sauté pan on medium-low heat, put in 2 tablespoons butter, then add onions. Cook until onions start softening, then add in roasted red pepper. Cook until onions starts to look translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Drop potatoes back in fryer. Cook until crispy & dark brown on the outside. Remove and set aside.

4) Turn grill on high heat. When ready, place hot dogs on grill and cook to desired look.

5) While hot dogs are cooking, throw tortillas on a plate and cook in microwave 15-20 seconds to warm. Remove and set aside.

6) As hot dogs come off grill, prepare wrap by placing tortilla down on plate, sprinkle small handful of cheese, then potatoes, onion & pepper mixture, top with hot dog, close ends and roll like burrito. Serve with ketchup or mustard.

Spicy Tips: Save Your Fat!

As a fun addition to the recipes I share, I thought it was also imperative that I share simple tips!

Why? Because when I cook, these simple tips and tricks will save you a ton of aggravation (and make the food taste even better!)

So as my first tip to you, if you want to get the most out of food, you must utilize every part! Bacon is a prime example.

After cooking bacon, we’re always left over with the remnants of the fat/grease. And what is one to do with that grease?

Save it!

(I promise you, this has a delicious point.)

Bacon fat (along with duck fat) has this great flavor profile that lends itself to cooking leaner meats (i.e., ground turkey). Leaner meats have less fat and tend to dry out if you’re not careful, so adding a fatty quality to them is important. (And while I know there are health nuts who would say that this is a bad idea….using rendered fat is rather ingenious, no? It beats the hell out of the alternative of dry meat and you are utilizing something that we all normally throw away.)

So my advice to you is this: next time you cook bacon, save the fat and pour into a small glass (yes, glass, because plastic may melt if you pour hot fat into it), then cover and refrigerate. The fat will be easier to control when cold, especially when you can scoop a spoonful into a pan to help cook that ground turkey!

When you a get a chance, try it out!

Enjoy!

~Jenny V