Monday, March 31, 2014

Mom's Potato Salad

Is it even possible to take a flattering picture of potato salad? I'm leaning towards, "no". lol ;) It sure is tasty, though! This isn't my mom's actual recipe, but it's as close as I've been able to come to recreating what I remember from my childhood, so I'll go ahead and give her credit ;)

This potato salad is really easy to put together, and the flavor is so good--so much better than anything you can buy pre-packaged or from your grocery store's deli counter (and you have the added bonus of knowing exactly what's in it). You can add other things like sliced black olives, diced hard-cooked eggs, even green peas to this recipe. It's all yum.

If you can make it ahead enough to let it chill for a few hours that's great, but I've also served it warm-ish because I was running behind, and it was also fantastic. Also, I recommend only using russet potatoes because they are more starchy, and some of the cooked potato mixes with the dressing and helps gives the salad it's gorgeous texture.

Mom's Potato Salad
printable recipe

5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 ribs celery, minced
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoons dill relish
1 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
3/4 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
fresh ground black pepper as desired
paprika for garnish, if desired

1. Cook diced potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water until they are almost tender, about 15 minutes. (If you cook them too long you'll end up with potato mush when you stir in the dressing.)

2. While the potatoes are cooking, mix together the remaining ingredients, except the paprika, in a large bowl.

3. Drain the potatoes really well, but do not rinse them. Let cool for 5-10 minutes. Add the warm potatoes to the dressing and mix gently until the potatoes are evenly coated. Transfer to your serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika if desired. Chill for a few hours and serve cold, or serve warm.

Makes enough salad to serve 8-10.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Crispy Caramel Popcorn

Caramel popcorn is amazing. I don't really like the sticky kind, but I love this crispy kind--like Cracker Jacks, only so much better. I got this recipe years ago from a friend, and the times I've made it it has worked out perfectly. I even made it once without a candy thermometer because I lost it in our recent move, and it still worked (I recommend a thermometer, though).

You can make it like this and leave it simple, or you can add nuts while mixing the hot caramel into the popcorn, or drizzle it all with melted chocolate after it's been baked and cooled--or both. If you can think of a mix-in, it will probably work. So delicious.

A great way to get plain popcorn for this recipe is to use the Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn method. It's easy with almost zero mess, and it's naked and ready for the caramel.

Crispy Caramel Popcorn (from the amazing Stephanie G.)

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 quarts plain popped corn

1. Heat your oven to 200 deg. Spray 2 baking sheets with non-stick spray.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, butter, salt, corn syrup, and cream of tartar until melted. Attach a candy thermometer and bring to a low boil, stirring often. Stirring constantly (but not vigorously), bring the temperature up to the hard ball stage (about 5 minutes), then remove from the heat. Immediately stir in the baking soda.

3. Immediately pour the hot caramel over the popcorn (PLEASE, PLEASE be careful here. The melted caramel is like lava and is 250deg. If it gets on you it will stick and burn) and stir it until the popcorn is evenly coated. (I use two silicon spatulas, one in each hand, to get the popcorn coated quickly, otherwise the caramel cools too fast and it has a harder time getting distributed.)

4. Divide the caramel-coated popcorn between the two prepared baking sheets and spread it out in an even layer. Bake for 60 minutes, stirring after each 20 minutes. Transfer to waxed paper to cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 3 1/2 quarts caramel popcorn. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Brown Bag Microwave Popcorn

I first saw this idea for popping naked popcorn in your microwave on Pinterest about a year ago. At first I was skeptical, but then I remembered something in a fun science book my daughter has called "Why does popcorn pop?" Popcorn doesn't pop because of the oil or butter it's popped in, but because heating up the kernels causes the water inside each kernel to turn to steam, expand, and eventually burst the outer layer, called the pericarp.

Popping popcorn in a brown bag in your microwave is amazing because it is a lot cheaper than commercial microwave popcorn--even if you buy the expensive brand of popcorn, there is less to throw away than commercial microwave popcorn, you completely avoid all of the trashy ingredients and chemicals that are in the "butter" in commercial microwave popcorn, and you can put whatever you want on it. My favorites are plain, melted butter with salt, melted butter with salt and pepper, and melted butter with cinnamon and sugar. All huge wins. This is also how I make popcorn to use for Caramel Popcorn (recipe coming soon!).

The method I tried first said to put the popcorn in a brown bag and cook it on high for 2 minutes. Ever smell burned popcorn? Yeah. 2 minutes on high was a bit much. So, being the food geek that I am, I made 6 more bags of popcorn to figure out what was the right temperature and the right time to pop the most kernels without burning what was already popped. For my microwave, which is a 1200w unit, it ended up being 2 minutes on 70% power. You may need to experiment a bit with your microwave to find the right combination of time and power, since microwaves are all a bit different.

I also experimented with different amounts of kernels to see how far I could push it without the popcorn starting to burn and without having a ton of unpopped kernels:

Totally Unscientific Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn Experiment

1/4 cup kernels, 2 mins, 70% power = 8 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels, 3:15 mins, 60% power = 10 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels, 4:30 mins, 50% power = 11 cups popped
1/2 cup kernels 4:45 mins, 50% power = 12 cups popped, almost burned

End the end I decided that it doesn't really save you anything to pop more kernels in the bag because you have more kernels that don't pop, and an increased chance of the popcorn burning while you try to pop as many kernels as you can. So If I want lots of popcorn, I do two (or more) batches of 1/4 cup kernels.

Of course, then I had to take it further and test brands of popcorn. Is the more expensive brands worth buying? I bought Orville, Pop Secret, Jolly Time, and Great Value (Wal-Mart). I popped 1/4 cup kernels of each brand for 2 minutes at 70% power. I found that Orville and Pop Secret popped up the biggest and tasted the best, Jolly Time popped up surprisingly small and tasted fine, and the Great Value label from Wal-Mart not only popped up small, but also tasted stale and and was super disappointing. My conclusion is buying the more expensive brand is better--it will still be less than buying commercial microwave popcorn, and you'll also get all of the benefits I listed above.

Brown-Bag Microwave Popcorn

1 brown lunch sack
1/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
toppings of your choice

Put the popcorn kernels in the brown back and fold down the top several times. Put the bag in your microwave with the back standing up. Cook for 2 minutes on 70% power. **There is a lot of steam in the bag once the popping is done, so be super careful when you open it up. Top with melted butter and salt, or other toppings of your choice and enjoy!

(Remember you may need to experiment with your microwave for time and power.)

Makes about 8 cups popped corn.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pies for Pi Day!

Today is 3/14, which means it's Pi Day! In honor of such a great day, here are some pies from my archive. Also, a friend over at Baking Banquet makes a ton of pies, especially frozen pies, so head over there for some more Pi Day love! Enjoy, and eat some pie!

Don's Apple Pie
This was one of my very first posts (and the pictures show I can't find the picture files on my computer, but click on over and you'll see how tasty it is :)

Cranberry-Apple Pie
This pie is so delicious.

This is one of our family favorites. So easy and delicious!

A tart is just a flat pie, right? It's hard to mess up a crostata, you should totally try this, even if you think you're pie-challenged.

Another flat pie. And perfect for an appetizer.

Again. A pie-ish thing ;) And another great appetizer.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Unstuffed Cabbage with Quinoa


This is a recipe from a friend. She told me it was part of an effort to try to find healthier versions of recipes she loved as a kid in the 70's. It's taken me longer than is reasonable to finally try it, but I'm so glad I did! It is really, really good. I made a couple changes from her recipe: I chickened out on using the whole can of tomato paste (I used half), I didn't simmer it as long as she indicated because my cabbage was done sooner, and instead of serving it with rice we ate it over quinoa because it's easier on my husband's blood sugar than rice.

Even if you think you don't like cabbage this might be a really good recipe for your to try. After all the simmering the flavor of the cabbage mellows a lot and just blends with all the other flavors in the dish. I've decided that next time I make it I will double the recipe and freeze a bunch in portions for easy lunches and quick dinners. I love recipes I can make into my own frozen meals--so much better tasting, better for you, and cheaper than buying frozen meals at the store.

I didn't mention that this is very, very easy to make. Enjoy!

Unstuffed Cabbage with Quinoa (adapted from Women's Day or Family Circle, date unknown)

1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups shredded green cabbage, about 1/2 head
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 teaspoons salt
thinly sliced green onions for serving, optional

1. In a 12-in non-stick skillet over medium heat, brown and crumble the ground beef until no longer pink; drain fat, if necessary. Add the onion and garlic, and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, and sugar. Mix welll to fully incorporate the tomato paste. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.

2. Stir in half of the shredded cabbage, and cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining cabbage, and cover and cook an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the cabbage is tender. 

3. While the cabbage mixture simmers, in a medium pot, bring the quinoa, salt, and 1 1/3 cups water to boil. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes.

4. Serve the cabbage mixture on top of the cooked quinoa or mix them both together before serving. Serve with the thinly sliced green onions, if desired.

Makes about 6 servings (1 cup cabbage mixture to 1/2 cup quinoa)
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