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.

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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.

 

Spicy Tips: As seasons change, your seasonal recipes can too!

Matt’s all-time favorite dish that I make is meatloaf….and I’m sure if you have been keeping up with reading my posts, you know that I posted said meatloaf recipe (with permission from the husband, of course) for all of you.

(Some of you even told me that you tried to make it and offered me some tips–thank you, it makes me feel great that you tried out something I shared with you.)

Unfortunately, what I have found in our house that only has window AC units….using our oven during the summer seems almost impractical if we would like to keep the house nice and cool. Sure, out of necessity to partially cook items like chicken thighs, we need to use the oven before tossing those babies on the grill to achieve crispy skin (because bone-in thighs would take forever to cook on solely the grill)–but not without closing our partition between the kitchen and living room and running the fans like it’s our life line. It’s just simply too hot to use our kitchen the way we’d like.

Which brings me back to the meatloaf. On my way home from work, I always call my husband to let him know I am on my way (so we can start discussing dinner if we hadn’t already during our lunchtime conversation.) Matt had had a day that warranted a great dinner, and after having my own stressful moments at work, since he’s always cooking for me on his days off, I decided that my husband needed his favorite meal….which now required making meatloaf without melting in the kitchen while it was cooking.

And that’s when it hit me: meatloaf burgers….which has now become his second favorite meal that I make.

I proposed the idea to Matt and after a few minutes of thought, we agreed to test out my meatloaf recipe on the grill. This required hamburger buns, a good cheese, and some adjustments to make the meat workable in grilling form. (And yes, the shredded cheese still goes in the burger, as well as any cheese you pick on top. Might I suggest Provolone?)

There are no words for how delicious this meal turned out, paired with a fresh salad and some grilled corn….let’s just say those burgers did not make it through Jeopardy….possibly before Double Jeopardy was done.

So if you have time, go to my meatloaf recipe and make these adjustments for burger form:

1) Add a little bit more ground beef. You want about 1.25 pounds of meatloaf mix and .25 pounds of additional ground beef, as 1.5 pounds makes eight decent-sized burgers. The beef will also help keep the burger together a little more.

2) One egg only! I mean it, keep the amount of egg to a minimum to enhance the flavor, but not make a mushy consistency.

3) A little less shredded cheese. A handful will do it (a small handful, as I’m using my own hand as measurement), and make sure it is well incorporated in. That cheese will help keep the burger juicy while cooking.

4) Like meatloaf (and unlike most burgers)–cook this baby all the way through! With meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal), you’re going to want that well done. You don’t want to get sick.

5) Use brown gravy as dipping sauce/condiment in place of ketchup. Matt confided in me last night (while inhaling three of these burgers) that he was getting sick of ketchup on a burger and has started using hot sauce as an alternative. Well, I think beef gravy fit that bill nicely! I also think if you want, adding some sautéed mushrooms on the burger with the cheese and gravy yields the same tasty result.

6) Once those patties are made and pressed, let them chill! Probably one of the more important tips….and it is necessary! Those burgers need to hold their structure and after working the meat to incorporate the ingredients, letting them cool and firm back up will ensure that they’re not falling apart on the grill. I’d say give them at least 30 minutes to an hour to hang out in your fridge. (So yes, prep them ahead of time if you’re anticipating being super hungry!)

And if you’re still not sure about making these burgers….well….I think this might help:

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V