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

 

 

 

Toddler Tips: Literally Lateral

While Maxwell is not what I would call a picky eater, his aversion to certain textures has limited some of the foods we can immediately introduce that he will eat.

If he doesn’t enjoy the food that he is eating, we get the immediate finger scrape of the tongue. Foods that have joined that phenomenon are mashed potatoes, meatloaf, homemade meatballs, fish sticks, and most recently: slushed ices & teriyaki chicken.

In the initial stages of teaching Max how to eat, we would mainly rely on the reports from his daycare. If he was eyeing another kid’s pancakes, then we made sure to get him pancakes at home and test them out there. (The Kellogg’s® Eggo® Minis Buttermilk Pancakes have now remained a staple for breakfast all week long….with butter and syrup added on weekends for an extra treat.)

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Maxwell and his pancakes!

When he didn’t want to eat his puffs for snack time anymore, we introduced Gerber Lil’ Crunchies® – Mild Cheddar with yogurt. (I also highly recommend Stonyfield® Organic YoBaby® Yogurt as it provides that daily dose of probiotics for your little one.)

And when lunchtime got especially boring in texture with Gerber® Plastic Tubs mixed with Earth’s Best Organic® Infant Oatmeal Cereal, we introduced more table food to satisfy the palette.

Eventually Max started to come around on food in general, but this took a little finagling and some observation on how Max preferred to try new things. He would try something, not like it, then we would have to take a side-step in our process and get him to like another item related to that initial food to get him to take that next step. Once he got accustomed to the taste of that other item, we then gave him the initial food again with slight modification. Funnily enough: it worked!

The conclusion became clear: in order to introduce new foods that may not be the biggest hit, Matt & I would have to make lateral moves.

For example, Max initially HATED scrambled eggs. I am not exaggerating that we attempted at least a dozen times before changing our tactics to convince Max that scrambled eggs were delicious. When scrambled didn’t initially work we decided to try a different style of egg: fried with a little cheese on top.

The fried egg with cheese became such a hit! At our local deli there was a fall special for football season: $1.99 breakfast sandwiches on Saturdays & Sundays. We would buy three bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches and offer Max the egg on one while we each ate one sandwich and picked the bacon off the third one. Once Max showed he was comfortable with eggs, the next move would be to then try making scrambled eggs with cheese. Those dozen failed attempts are now a thing of the past as Max can now devour about 2 scrambled eggs on his own.

When it came time to start trying to convince Max that vegetables were delicious, we applied the same concept. First, we took notice that Max would gravitate toward eating fruit & vegetable pouches that contained spinach in them. That made trying spinach our task. Next, we decided that to introduce the real thing, we would need a vehicle like a favorite sauce or flavor to get Max to try it. With Chicken Francaise as one of Max’s favorite foods, Matt & I agreed that incorporating spinach into the francaise sauce was the best move. The end result: Max inhaled his entire serving of spinach with gusto.

And when ground beef was a tough sell, the move became to try another sandwich, like grilled cheese. When the grilled cheese was well accepted, we then made Max a burger patty and his first cheeseburger was quickly scarfed down. Well, he only ate about half of it in the first go, with the other half broken up for him to bring to daycare for lunch the following day. (He ate that too.)

The method worked for Max as he didn’t feel pressured to like a new food right away. We instead found clever ways to come back to once detested foods and make them some of his favorites!

So for those picky eaters, I suggest trying the lateral move:

  1. Have a goal for what you want your child to ultimately eat
  2. Take a side-step by observing what they do like, or formulate a different approach
  3. Once comfortable in that step, incorporate that goal

When children don’t like food that you have worked so hard on for just them, the feeling one gets from watching them spit out that food can be slightly soul-crushing. You just want what’s best, I know. But once you figure out what tactic entices your child to eat and experiment, go with it.

Not every child will be comfortable with the continual offering approach and some will try anything once and like it. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a parent who wants their son to open up to the possibility of expanding their culinary palette. If this tactic works for you, then kudos. If not, don’t get discouraged. You will find out what inspires your child to enjoy food.

Or you may just have a picky eater.

Kids can be funny like that.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V