Caesar Potato Salad

July 20, 2017

This past week, after a sweaty walk with the Mozz-man, I came inside, poured a large glass of iced tea and flopped in front of the television for half an hour. It’s something I don’t allow myself to do very often; loafing in the afternoon is something my mother frowned heavily upon, and it’s stuck with me. This is too bad, since afternoon loafing feels pretty damn good sometimes.

I was flicking through channels and paused on the Food Network long enough to hear Ree Drummond (aka: the Pioneer Woman) say, “I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but potluck food is my absolute favorite.”

Immediately, I thought: That woman is nuts.

Never, in a million years, would I say that I enjoy potluck food, let alone choose it above all other cuisines. To me, potluck food means casseroles containing cream of mushroom soup and Jell-o salads. It means sweaty deviled eggs and Spam dip. It means mayonnaise and Cool Whip. No thanks.

I was repaid for this snobbery a few days later, when my husband announced that we’d been invited to…you guessed it…a potluck. Even worse? It was an outdoor potluck, which means potluck food and dive-bombing insects. I wasn’t thrilled about this but it also wasn’t something I could gracefully get out of, so I decided to grit my teeth and make the best of it. Hey, at least there’d be beer there!

It was one of those potluck parties where you’re assigned what to bring, so I learned I’d be making potato salad and guacamole. Guacamole was no problem (well, except for the ridiculous price tag on avocados right now). I love guacamole so much that I’ll never be priced out of making it, and I can make it in my sleep, but I was less thrilled about the potato salad part of the equation. I feel a little guilty saying this but in all honesty? I don’t really even like it. Is that un-American? I think it is. Potato salad also is a pain the ass to make, and you’re always faced with the mayonnaise vs olive oil dilemma, and there’s this pressure to make something a little more interesting than standard, run-of-the-mill picnic fare. For something as “simple” as potato salad, that’s a lot of complications.

One thing was certain: bringing Mama’s infamous Orange Potato Salad was out of the question, because I didn’t know the guests very well and didn’t think they’d necessarily be receptive to that little monstrosity.

What to do?

Most people do prefer potato salad with mayonnaise, and unless I’m attending a potluck outside in the heat of the day, I usually feel duty-bound to go that route. As luck would have it, the festivities were in the evening, so I felt fairly safe there. I did decide to change it up a little and go with a sort of Caesar salad-Potato salad hybrid. I figured that it might be just familiar enough that people would eat it, and just different enough that they might come back for seconds.

For the dressing, I combined a traditional olive oil/lemon/caper/Parmesan dressing with a little mayonnaise/cracked pepper/parsley. Potato salad mashup, if you will. I was pleased with the result; it wasn’t as heavy as traditional versions, and had an extra little punch of flavor and salt from the Parmesan and garlic. And *ahem* it wasn’t orange.

This is probably not a potato salad for traditionalists and it’s probably not for kids, but most of the adults at the party scarfed it down, happily.

You know what madeĀ me really happy? I walked into the party–the party where I hardly knew a soul–and there were dogs there! Lots of them! Happy, sweet, tail-wagging, drooly, non-judgemental dogs. Nothing pleases me more than a chance to grab a plate of food, a cold beverage, and hang out with dogs for a couple of hours. Which I did.

Who says I’m no good at parties?

 

Caesar Potato Salad

serves 6-8

2 pounds small new potatoes, halved

8 ounces haricot verts, ends trimmed and halved

4 stalks chopped celery

1/3 cup chopped scallion or shallot

1/3 cup chopped parsley

2 tablespoons capers, drained

 

Dressing:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2-3 teaspoons anchovy paste

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 garlic cloves, grated

zest of 1 lemon

1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise, depending on your preference

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

*a little milk or buttermilk to thin things out, if the dressing seems thick

 

Garnish (optional):

Parmesan cheese

Chopped hard-cooked egg

 

Place the potatoes in a large Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring it to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes. Add the green beans and cook another 2-3 minutes or until potatoes are tender enough to piece with a fork and beans are crisp-tender. Drain.

Combine potatoes and green beans with celery, scallion, capers and parsley.

For dressing: Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper, anchovy paste, salt, garlic and lemon zest together. Whisk in mayonnaise and Parmesan cheese. Test for consistency and if it seems overly thick, thin it with a little milk or buttermilk.

Toss dressing with potatoes. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled, with optional garnishes.

{ 5 comments }

 

In the late 1970’s, my mother became obsessed with health food. It might have had just a little to do with surviving that whole, “You have lung cancer and are most assuredly going to die” business she’d been through the year before.

Maybe. We didn’t really talk about it.

For whatever reason, my mother began trolling the health food store in a neighboring town, stocking up on items I’d never seen or heard of before. Shelves in our house that had once contained Frosted Flakes and Ritz crackers were now stuffed with dried wheat berries, brown rice, garbanzo beans and [dreadfully] carob and banana chips. I’d open the refrigerator and see sacks of grassy-looking sprouts, avocados, seeded bread, vats of plain yogurt and jars of nut butters that you had to stir and stir to make palatable.

It was a dark time, in more ways than one.

For breakfast, Mama got addicted to bowls of granola–the kind that came in the bulk bins at the health food store. It was studded with every kind of dried fruit, seed and nut and, in my opinion, looked suspiciously like squirrel chow.

For two years straight, she greeted every morning with a bowl of her granola. I stuck to my cinnamon toast and my buttered English muffin. I wasn’t touching anything I couldn’t clearly identify or pronounce. My gradeschool ass was staying grounded in the familiar, thank you very much.

Once the 1980’s dawned, boxes of granola began appearing in our regular grocery store. Mama no longer had to make the 40-minute pilgrimage to “Hippie Heaven,” as Daddy called it, for her preferred breakfast. I was relieved. Somehow, granola that came in a regular-looking cereal box seemed less threatening. I kind of hoped she’d abandon the health food store altogether. It wasn’t that I didn’t want Mama to be healthy–I did–but I also preferred peanut butter that I didn’t have to beat into submission.

As luck would have it, she did ditch the health food store, but the granola (boxed) remained, at least for a while. Then one winter morning, as I was clearing my dishes from the table, I heard my mother gasp and mutter in disbelief.

“Whaaaa?” I heard. Then a rustle, rustle, of a box. “Jesus.” Rustle, shake. “You have to be kidding me.”

I turned the corner and found my mother standing in the pantry, scrutinizing the cereal box.

“This cereal,” she choked out. “This granola.”

I gave her a quizzical shrug.

“THIS DAMN CEREAL,” she said. “This healthy damn cereal that’s supposed to be good for you.” She glared at the picture of the Quaker Oatmeal Man on the front. “This cereal. Is fattening. As Hell.” And she promptly walked over to the garbage can, opened the lid, and tossed the nearly-full box right in.

Poor Mama.

Duped by false promises and faulty advertising and the blind belief that things you find in the health food aisleĀ are good for you. It’s a product in the health food aisle! It should be healthy! Heck, it’s a product that you used to only be able to get at a health food store, 40 minutes away.

My mother was positively bitter. Betrayed by a man in a Pilgrim hat! Hoodwinked by the cereal industry!

“Healthy breakfast, my fat fanny,” my mother hissed, pawing through the pantry and scrutinizing every label she came into contact with, hucking items left and right. She’d learned her lesson and wasn’t about to be blindsided again.

That afternoon, I came home to a pantry stocked with plain old Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies. To peanut butter that didn’t require muscle. The affair was over.

 

While I look back on that incident fondly and with a smile, I can completely understand Mama’s fury. She’d had no idea that something billed as “health food” was loaded with sugar and trans fat. When she was dutifully dishing her granola out of the bin at the store, toting it home to store in a Tupperware, she was oblivious. Even when granola became available in a box, why would she distrust it enough to read the small information available on the package?

Mama learned the hard way that food can be sneaky.

Even now, in a time when we should know better, most of us rarely take the time to heed calories and serving sizes on boxes and packages. How many times have we scarfed down a snack, only to look at the packaging afterwards and find that that bag/bar/bottle contained two servings, not one? I know I have. And I consider myself careful.

I can’t really pinpoint where the blame lies, and it’s really not my business to preach on any level, but I will tell you that I don’t ever eat granola from the grocery store, for several reasons:

a) Even now, it’s still fattening as hell and many versions still are made with trans fat

b) Commercial granola is way to sweet for my taste

c) Store-bought granola seems criminally expensive

d) I can do far, far better making it at home and it’s ridiculously easy

 

I’m not going to lie to you and say that homemade granola is low-calorie. It’s not. The serving size is still pretty dang small (1/4-1/3 cup). You’re never going to eat a serving of granola and think, “Boy, I’m full.” You’re not. Which frankly, is why I don’t eat it that often because I’m a girl who likes to feel somewhat satisfied after a meal.

But.

Sometimes I do crave granola, because it’s delicious and crave-able. I particularly crave it in the summertime, when I can sprinkle a few tablespoons over a pretty bowl of seasonal fruit, a swirl of yogurt and call it dessert (or breakfast). I can mix it into berries that are so naturally sweet that I know I can make my granola with a lot less sugar than the grocery store variety and it will still be plenty delicious. I can make it with less fat, the right kind of fat, the exact kind of nuts and ingredients I prefer. I can add any kind of weirdo exotic spice or ingredient I want.

I am the boss of my own granola when I make it from scratch, and I like that.

This kind is my current favorite, but you can tinker with whatever fruits, nuts, spices, quantities of sweetener that pleases you. I even reduce the sugar than is called for in this recipe sometimes, depending on how I plan to serve it. I like my granola just barely sweet and aggressively spiced, but that’s me. I love, love, love the addition of unsweetened coconut chips in this recipe and wouldn’t omit them but if you hate coconut, I get it. Unsweetened coconut chips can be hard to find–I get mine at Whole Foods but sometimes they’re out and I have to go through Amazon. I think they’re worth the trouble. I like tart dried cherries but if you are a cranberry or raisin person, go for it.

You get the idea.

Don’t mess too much with the fat content of the recipe; it calls for really the bare minimum I think you can use and get an end product that’s tasty. Use less and you’ll be sorry. Super low-fat granolas are disappointing and not worth eating. But if you use a little perspective, 1/2 a cup of a good fat for a recipe that yields 11 cups of granola is not bad at all. And yes, you can use coconut oil, which is all the rage right now. I tend not to use it because it’s a little more saturated than grapeseed or olive oil, but I think it’s fine.

You can even go a little renegade and add some hunks of dark chocolate for a real treat. Hey, life’s made for living. My Mama definitely taught me that.

 

 

Overnight Dried Cherry and Coconut Granola

makes about 11 cups

 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 1/2 cups slivered almonds

1 cup shelled unsalted pistachios (or walnuts or hazelnuts), roughly chopped

1 cup unsweetened coconut chips or unsweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 cup olive oil or grapeseed oil

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup dried cherries, preferably unsweetened

optional for the sweet-toothed: 1/2 cup roughly chopped dark chocolate

 

The night before:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350.

Line a large heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat liner.

Combine oats, almonds, pistachios, coconut, cinnamon, salt, and cardamom in a large bowl. Add the maple syrup, oil, and brown sugar and stir well.

Spread mixture out onto prepared baking sheet and bake until just starting to turn golden, about 15 minutes.

Turn off the oven, stir the granola mixture on baking sheet, then close the door. Let granola sit in oven overnight or for at least 6 hours.

In the morning:

Transfer the granola to a large bowl, breaking up any large chunks. Stir in the dried cherries and serve.

{ 2 comments }

 

There are many things I’m loathe to admit about myself, because frankly, they’re somewhat shameful: I’m lazy, a chronic over-thinker, a homebody almost to the point of cloistered, a gum-smacker, a reluctant exerciser. I refuse to iron clothing, keep weeds out of the garden, tidy up the laundry room. I need a staggering amount of sleep, wear the same socks for days and worry so much that I fear I’m like one of those nervous, high-strung small dogs.

Also, I’m a glutton.

Gaaa, it’s embarrassing but it’s true. When it comes to things I love to eat, I cannot leave well enough alone. Put me in a room with a bowl of pasta carbonara, a box of Triscuits or a sackful of gummi bears and it’s nothing but trouble.

You’d think, at the ripe age of…quite over 40…I’d have more self-control.

I’m also prone to eating jags, which makes me not only piggish but also boring, because I’ll become obsessed with a food and eat it ad inifinitum, over and over, day after day, until I absolutely cannot look at it anymore and feel sick just thinking about it.

Who does that?

Well, actually, my Mama did but she’s no longer around to give me a run for my money, so I’m feeling rather lonely in my quirky eating habits of late.

Summertime is one of my most challenging seasons for jag eating, because there’s so much delicious, fresh, fleetingly-seasonal stuff that I barely have time to eat myself silly. But I’m giving it the old college try.

I’ve already burned out on strawberries and I’m nearly there with plump, juicy cherries. I’m not quite there with watermelon but give it a couple of weeks. Not tired of tomatoes yet and no way, not even close to pulling the curtains on the sweet corn.

I’m still in the honeymoon phase with sweet corn, where I’m so entranced that I’ll knock down two glasses of Fume Blanc, scarf two ears of liberally buttered and salted sweet corn, add an heirloom tomato and call it the best. damn. dinner.

This is too bad, because I have a sneaking suspicion that my husband is tiring of my sweet corn habit.

My razor-sharp senses picked this up last weekend when his eyes rolled around in his head when he saw the yellow ears sitting on the dinner table.

Sorry, honey.

He’s particularly aggrieved because of late, I’ve been eating my corn Mexican-style, which is an utterly deee-licious way to consume sweet corn (unless you are a freak who hates sour cream. Which he is.)

I was introduced to this method of eating corn a few years ago, when we had some lovely young women from Mexico staying with us for the summer. They introduced us to quite a few South-of-the-Border delights: agua fresca, chilaquales, mango with lime and chile…but this Mexican Street Corn was my ultimate favorite.

It’s funny, because at first I didn’t see how it could work. Slather perfectly good sweet corn with a blend of sour cream and mayonnaise? Add in puckery lime, salty cheese and a generous dusting of cayenne pepper? Wouldn’t that muddy the sweet, buttery flavor of the corn?

Turns out, it didn’t muddy the flavor at all. It just turned it into something different and utterly delightful. I’m a sucker for all of the flavors involved here, but I go extra heavy on the lime juice and the cayenne, because they bring so much joy and interest to the party. Feel free to play with the ratios here, according to your preference. But I do encourage you to try eating corn this way. Try it once, and I think you’ll be a convert.

Alas, I think my husband still has at least a month’s worth of suffering left before I’m done with corn. Unlike most of my vices, I refuse to apologize for this one.

 

 

Grilled Corn, Mexico Style
serves 8

8 ears corn, husked
1 cup sour cream (you could use a mix of full-fat and low-fat in a half/half ratio if you must)
1/2 cup good quality mayo (do not use low fat here and go for good quality mayo, like Hellman’s–aka: Best Foods in Colorado–or Duke’s)
1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 limes
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
1 cup queso fresca or cotija cheese, crumbled (Mexican white cheese)
Cayenne pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon but you can tinker with it

Extra lime wedges, for serving

 

 

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the corn, turn off the heat, and let the corn bathe in the water for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the sour cream, the mayonnaise, and the salt/pepper together. Squeeze in the juice of one lime. Taste for seasoning and add up to one more juiced lime, if desired.

When the corn is warmed through, remove from the water and shake excess water off. Slather corn with the mayo mixture.

Top the corn with cilantro and queso fresca. Shake cayenne over the corn and serve with the extra wedges of lime.

{ 4 comments }