Holy Macaroni Salad!

With summer in view and the smell of burgers and hot dogs fresh off the grill in the air, it’s time to visit one of my favorite dishes to accompany those delectable savory summer treats: macaroni salad!

 

Yes–macaroni salad. You can load your protein with all the flavor in the world and the best part about a nice, cold & creamy macaroni salad is the way it instantly cools whatever you eat. Spicy food? Macaroni salad. Too much acid with ketchup or mustard? Macaroni salad. You haven’t let the meat cool down enough before you bit into it? Again, macaroni salad.

 

Now I have spent literal YEARS on trying to perfect the combo. Whether it be trying more of an Italian dressing style (regular and creamy, I have tried them both) or even cutting the mayo with other tasty ingredients, no two salads have been the same. I have varied up the ingredients with carrots, black olives, celery, various types of peppers and onions, even deli meat. What’s best about a decent macaroni salad is you get to experiment with whatever you have on hand to throw in–it’s hard to go wrong if you stick to the basics!

 

And last month as I was starting to experiment again with my tried and true summer side dish I finally had an epiphany….and got to work on what I would consider my ultimate macaroni salad. I have found that mayonnaise works best as a base in this, but it always needs a little kick. So while I have cut my mayonnaise with sour cream to provide an even creamier texture, I found that also adding some Dijon mustard is an easy way to punch up the flavor. And to make sure that the Dijon doesn’t overpower the mixture too much, also make sure to add in a pinch or two of sugar. A little bit of sweetness goes a long way and will bring out the savory and cut the bite.

 

Also super important–make sure to make more of your dressing mixture right before you serve! Pasta loves to soak up all the dressing when you first make it and set it to cool in the fridge, so you will always need to make sure you have more dressing to add right before you serve it. If you add enough that second time, you won’t need to add more later for leftovers. Also, if you’re like me, you’ll be snacking on a bowl of leftovers at some point during the week. And as always, enjoy!

 

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Jenn’s Awesome Macaroni Salad

One box macaroni, cooked “al dente” (I prefer elbows, pipette, or medium shells–something that your dressing can really cling to!)

1 bell pepper (preferably red, orange, or yellow), diced

1/2 red onion, diced

2-3 stalks of celery, cleaned and diced

For the dressing (for initial application):

1 – 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1/4 – 1/2 cup Dijon mustard (depending on how much you like it)

1/2 cup sour cream

1-2 liberal pinches of sugar 

1 tsp smoked paprika, plus extra for garnish

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp onion powder

  1. While pasta is cooking and all fresh ingredients are chopped, mix together all ingredients for the dressing and stir thoroughly. Dressing should be nice and smooth with a looseness to it so it can coat the pasta.
  2. When pasta is done, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water to stop cook.
  3. As pasta continues to drain, pour a little bit of dressing mixture into container, then add drained pasta and fresh ingredients to bowl, covering with remainder of mixture. Toss well and cover. Refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.
  4. When ready to serve, if more dressing is needed, create dressing with only mayonnaise, Dijon, sour cream, and sugar. Can make less than original application but try to keep ratio.
  5. Once ready to serve, garnish with some more paprika over top. Enjoy.

Makes 8-10 servings

Causing a flurry with Chimichurri!

As promised, gardening has become a part of our daily routine.

At about 5:30/6:00 am just about every morning, Matt slips on his sandals to go out and assess how our garden is faring. From his perspective: the romaine is thriving, cucumbers are starting to show progress, tomatoes and peppers are sprouting up taller and taller, and the herbs are growing like weeds!

In fact, in recent weeks Matt pruned some of the wilder herbs in our garden and brought his bounty into work at the end of the school year to give it away. We even had to give away some of our basil plants just to keep up with being able to utilize them in our cooking. It seems we may have created an herb monster.

But never fear, as Matt & I have made more conscious efforts to look up recipes where we could utilize the abundance and indulge in healthy eats. Our first culprit: parsley.

Now most of us know parsley as that herb that garnishes a semi-fancy dinner plate we receive at the diner. And if you have ever tried it (like I have), you know that it has a little bit of a bitter flavor on its own. I never understood why such a bitter herb was placed as garnish on a plate. Was it supposed to be a palette cleanser after the meal? Was it supposed to be something to just pretty up a plate? (Seriously, you don’t need fancy garnishes–they better be there to serve a purpose.)

For years I questioned what parsley as the main stair was good for. (I would later find out that during the Roman Empire parsley was not considered a garnish but more of a breath freshener….I still don’t quite understand how a bitter herb freshens breath. Not like they have parsley-flavored toothpaste selling like crazy!) And when we had an overabundance of it in our garden, Matt took to trusty old YouTube to find good uses for our generous supply.

Entering as our first contender: Chimichurri Sauce.

Yes, chimichurri has variations, mainly where you can add cilantro and/or oregano. But for all intents and purposes, Matt & I utilized our parsley with some garlic, red pepper flake (VERY little, I might add), apple cider vinegar, lemon zest, and olive oil to provide some liquid to the mixture. We also got to utilize our Cuisinart Food Processor, which I consider one of the best brands in all things food processor. (If you’re looking, check out their selection here: Cuisinart – Food Processors.)

While chimichurri can be used on an abundance of meats and vegetables for some brightness and flavor, this sauce shines on steak (even leaner ones like sirloin). Cover your favorite cut of meat with some of this flavorful mixture, add in some mini roasted potatoes and holy yum….you have one incredible meal!

As you fire up your grills this summer, get bold and try some bright flavors to change up those tried and true warm-weather dishes.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

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Chimichurri

1/2 cup parsley (aka a generous handful)

1-2 cloves finely chopped garlic

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Lemon Zest (one lemon)

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Olive Oil 

Salt & Pepper

1) Add all ingredients except olive oil, salt & pepper into food processor or blender. Pulse until well incorporated and transfer to small bowl.

2) Add in olive oil to wet mixture, then salt & pepper to taste.

Makes 2-4 Servings

 

 

 

A Garden of Love….and possibly some fresh mint

Before Matt & I became serious about being parents, we had talked about our hopes and dreams for things we wanted in our first home. Jokingly (but not really a joke) we needed at least 1.5 bathrooms. We wanted room to expand our family, a place we could express our own sense of style and flair. No pool (even though since we now have one we have come around on the idea of swimtime during the summer) and a space to throw summer barbecues whenever we could.

But more than anything else, Matt wanted us to have an herb & vegetable garden that we could use to our advantage. When we needed that little bit of basil or possibly a fresh tomato, what better place than to grab the necessities from our own backyard? Prior to our house-hunting whirlwind we had attempted a bucket garden at our year-round rental. We used big buckets with potting soil and wrapped chicken wire with stakes around it to keep rabbits and squirrels from tampering with our project.

While our attempt at vegetables yielded only one little measly yellow squash plant with fungus on it, we found that the herbs were a lot more abundant! (And you know, no fungus.) Thyme, rosemary, and dill grew like wildfire from just a few seeds, so we found ways to incorporate those herbs into more of our dishes. Chicken dishes, tuna fish, homemade tomato sauce….we found ways to use as much as of it as possible. Eventually we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with pruning and drying out our abundance, so the garden fell to the wayside.

Fast forward to now….where Matt & I finally have the home, space, and enough time to work on such a large project. And so since this idea was Matt’s brain child, he set out to bring this garden to life.

If you had looked at the list of our YouTube searches, you may have chuckled a bit at seeing “How to Build a Keyhole Garden” in between “Little Baby Bum” and “Baby Shark”. We discussed what herbs and vegetables would work best with the way we cook, as well as looking up articles and videos on the best options for growth.

With a goal in mind, Matt set to work on creating on our garden project. First came a handful of Home Depot trips to select the correct lumber, chicken wire, topsoil, and potting soil all while scoping out potential plants. Next, Matt started skillfully building a keyhole garden, making sure that the ground was even before setting down the cardboard for the bed of the garden and loading it with the proper soil mixture.

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Starting our garden

And finally came the best (but most important part): selecting what we should grow in our garden. We wanted to have vegetables and herbs that we normally use in our cooking, as well as a few fun ones to try out in new recipes.

Of course the herbal basics (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley) were automatic shoe-ins for the main part of the garden bed. As a bonus, we added lavender, lemon balm, and sweet mint to round out the lineup. That holy trinity will be beneficial come iced tea/lemonade recipe time. And for that savory factor, lavender is one of the key ingredients in Herbs de Provence.

For vegetables, that became a little trickier but not impossible.

One of the best basics for a garden are tomatoes (even if it is considered a fruit). We decided on Roma tomatoes because they’re smaller than Beefsteak or Jersey, but are considered a good tomato for making homemade sauce. And usually smaller tomatoes are easier to grow, which means if this goes well maybe next year we’ll add cherry tomatoes to the mix.

Next came cucumbers, as my husband is half-Greek and I made pretty good homemade pickles using my great-grandmother’s recipe. There would need to be two types of cucumbers in our garden as the seedless are better for salads and tzatziki while Boston Pickling cucumbers are better for just that: pickling. And so we added those to our list.

With peppers we realized that while red bell are perfect for me as I am minimal on the heat and more on the sweet, Matt could get more into harvesting hot peppers for potential chili and just spicing up a few of our favorite dishes. By accident instead of grabbing four Tabasco pepper plants, we grabbed two Tabasco, one red chili, and one Santa Fe Grande plant. If all goes well, there will be very little need to replenish hot sauce.

For our final plant we had initially talked about spinach as Max has shown an interest in finally eating a green vegetable. (He ate spinach in Francaise sauce, which was a small victory in our house.) But since Matt could not locate a spinach plant anywhere, another great option was to attempt fresh romaine. With a handful of plants, we could pluck ripe leaves from the plant and have a salad without completely uprooting the whole plant. Sounded like a great compromise. Also, spinach is almost always on sale near us so that’s never a problem.

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Ta-da….we have a garden!

The lineup was complete and with some configuring (and eventually re-planting of some of our crops), Matt & I worked together in bringing our garden creation to fruition.

We’re waiting with bated breath to make sure that crops start growing so we can harvest our end product and I can’t wait to share what we make when/if we do!

Stay tuned for potential recipe adventures and stories of our gardening experience.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V