A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

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.

 

Even chicken can get a little “sloppy”

When it comes to new recipes, I always find simpler is better. When I first started cooking with Matt, he taught me that food doesn’t need to have a million different ingredients in it to be good. But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be absolutely delicious!

Lately, I have been gravitating more towards ground chicken. Why? Because it’s on sale and there is nothing better than a great deal on a delicious meat product, especially chicken! (And because the price of boneless chicken breast makes me want to cry sometimes….how can it be almost $20 for one package of chicken?!?)

But ground chicken is a great alternative! And at first, like the turkey burgers, Matt and I made chicken burgers….which are delicious and require plenty of cook time (because hello, salmonella is just not something we want to deal with.) Yet ground meat in a patty form can get kinda boring if you keep doing the same thing over and over, so I sought a new way to treat the ground chicken and came up with…..sloppy joes!

The recipe I located was easy, minimal ingredients, and the prep time was relatively fast. (I forget where I found it, but rest assured that this recipe will have you feeling less pressure at dinnertime and result in happy bellies.) Now it does contain onion and green pepper,(Matt’s least favorite pepper of all – seriously, for a man who loves the hot peppers, it took a little bit of convincing, not much, to get him into the idea of trying the recipe to the letter); fortunately, this dish was such a hit that Matt even told me the days of chicken burgers are over….he wants this dish again, green peppers and all!

Maybe next time Matt and I will put our homemade barbecue sauce and fresh rolls to the test on this recipe and truly make it all homemade….until then, I suggest trying this one out and adding a side dish of coleslaw! (As you will see by the picture below, I can assure you, my dear reader, this meal lasted less than 10 minutes. It’s that good!)

The best lesson: never be afraid to try other ground meats. Really, beef is great and all, but poultry can be just as delicious and (for those who are super aware of their health) much leaner.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Chicken Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper (small-medium), chopped

3/4 cup barbecue sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Hamburger rolls

Directions:

1) In a medium saute pan on medium-high heat, pour a little oil on the bottom to cover. Once heated, throw in chopped peppers first to soften, stirring frequently.

2) After a few minutes of allowing the peppers to cook, throw in the onion and cook for 2 minutes, allowing time for it to soften.

3) After another few minutes, add ground chicken and stir mixture frequently until chicken is cooked through. (Depending on how thick you want the sauce, if you prefer a thinner sauce mixture do not drain the juices in the pan, as they will help you thin out the sauce.)

4) Turn heat to low, add barbecue sauce and stir until mixture is well coated. Turn off heat and serve on rolls. Should make about 4-6 sandwiches.