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

Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

Spicy Tips: Do It Yourself Taco Seasoning

If there is one dish that Matt loves to make (way more than I do), it would be tacos. So for the first time on my blog, here is a shared recipe from our cooking adventures that Matt has used for many years.

Normally it’s a dish that comes about when we are down to frozen meat or leftover chicken breast. Because it’s quick, easy, and utilizes ingredients we always tend to have on hand. On taco night, Matt also tends to eat about 7-10 tacos in one sitting…not even exaggerating.

When taco night arrives, Matt has crunchy tortilla shells on the ready, a fresh bottle of taco sauce in the fridge, and diced onion. And of course, if we don’t have shredded cheese, it’s not officially taco night. (For me, give me some soft tortillas, diced tomatoes, and sour cream and I am set! Maybe even some avocado if it’s in season.)

But the one thing you will find absent from our pantry? Pre-made taco seasoning. Because while yes, it may be easy to obtain pre-mixed seasoning in the store, you can absolutely make it yourself! The spices are fairly simple: cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (just a smidge), and a dash of paprika. You can also add a little salt and black pepper if you like, but there are so many other things going on with the dish, a little bit goes a long way.

This recipe is a rough guestimate of how much we use in the overall dish, but you can adjust to your liking. Naturally, measuring out spices in our home is not a common occurrence, instead opting for my Great-Grandmother’s method of adding until satisfied. More important though, even if eye-balling it, for the amount of cumin you add, put about half the amount of chili powder in it. You can always add more, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

But I promise you this: you will find this so easy that purchasing pre-mixed will be a thing of the past. It’s cheaper to keep those ingredients in your home and do it yourself. (Also, those spices can also go into other delicious dishes!)

There’s a satisfaction when you do it yourself. The reward is a dish you created more from scratch than anything else. Not every dish can be like that, but incorporating it anywhere you can? Healthy and delicious.

Enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

Jenn & Matt’s “Taco Night” Seasoning

2 tablespoons cumin 

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

A dash (or two) of paprika

Directions:

1) Combine all ingredients and use on 1 – 1  1/2 pounds cooked ground beef, shredded chicken, or any meat you prefer.

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.

 

Now that’s a tasty meatball!

Coming from an Italian family (my maiden name being Corcione), I have witnessed several of my family members create their own recipes to make meatballs with their “Sunday Sauce”.

Yes, recipes. Because depending on the home I was eating at, whether it be my Pop-Pop & Grandma Gloria, my Aunt Annie & Uncle Mike, my cousins Fran & Rusty, my mom Michele, my Uncle Mark, etc.–the recipe would be different every time (and the results absolutely delicious!) I feel meatballs are a craft that one develops their own way, their own flair to it. Like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.

Maybe one likes more egg, maybe it depends on the type of meat used, maybe parmesan is introduced, maybe a particular type of bread crumbs (or substitute if you’re gluten-free), maybe the seasonings vary, and depending on the region, even pignoli nuts or even possibly raisins. (Yes, raisins, this was a recipe I was raised on….it’s actually pretty damn good if you know how to incorporate them. And if you don’t believe me, Google it and see just how many recipes exist with this combination.) And just like my family, over time, I created my own meatball recipe based on the cooking knowledge that my family imparted through years of meals.

Matt, who spent several years in Italian catering, swears by these meatballs….which means a lot to me. Initially, when the both of us started to make macaroni & gravy (yes, gravy….and if you need reminding, I do have a post dedicated to this as well), this recipe was still in the works. We had tried ground beef so many times, trying to add the right ratio of eggs to bread crumbs & seasonings & parmesan, and then one night while making the gravy, I decided to try meatloaf mix….with a surprising result!

You will notice that I treat meatballs in a similar fashion to my meatloaf recipe, because I know that those ingredients flavor the meat in exactly the way I want. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure out this recipe as I consider making mixtures using chop meat a more “by feel” process, but just know that you want to have your mixture slightly sticky, but doesn’t stick to your fingers. That meatball mixture has to be moist enough to roll into balls and retain their structure.

Being able to keep with family traditions are important (especially if you have them). But even with traditions, making your own with your spouse, family, friends, etc.–that’s truly what life is about. I can’t wait until Matt and I have our own family and we can share recipes just like this one with them. And maybe, just maybe, they learn how to make their own traditions with their families.

Enjoy!

~Jenny V


Jenn’s “That’s a Tasty” Meatball Recipe

2-3 pounds meatloaf mix

1 packet Onion Soup mix

2 eggs (you can add 3, but just be mindful of the moisture, as you want these meatballs to retain structure while cooking)

Bread Crumbs (this is difficult to measure out, I’d say start with 1/4 cup and add as needed)

Italian Seasoning (if you use plain bread crumbs, add 2 tablespoons of this to the mix)

Worcestershire Sauce (again, something I don’t normally measure, but I’d say give that bottle about 8-10 shakes into the bowl….you can add 12 shakes if you’d like)

Parmesan Cheese (optional, but a great addition–add only up to 1/4 cup, if any)

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly until mixture is slightly sticky but does not stick to fingers too much. (Make sure not to overmix as that will warm the meat too much and make it super sticky.)

2) Roll meatballs into golf-ball sized pieces (or if you prefer a little smaller, you can do that too….go with what size you like, as long as you adhere close to the size of a golf ball). Place on sheet tray (or two) until all meat is used.

3) Bake in oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes, turning them at least once halfway through. Serve with spaghetti and sauce (and devour every last bite!)

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.