03 May 2016

Midwest is Best: How to Salad Correctly

A colleague who grew up in New Mexico once told me about the time she spent teaching in Iowa. At the end of her first year, she had a potluck party for her college students, most of whom had grown up within 75 miles or so of their humble state U. She decided it would be fun to cook up a big batch of green chili, just like she had grown up eating in New Mexico, to share something from her culture with her students. They didn't like it.  It was way too spicy for all of them (although, being from Iowa, they were extremely polite in their rejections).  The students all brought typical Midwestern potluck fare, and my colleague was absolutely aghast.  Snickers salad, various mismatched foods frozen in aspic, and hotdish all made the list, and they were all totally foreign and bizarre ideas to her. I loved that story when she told it to me years ago, because at the time I was new to the Rocky Mountain region and was therefore just learning what about my Midwestern upbringing was not universal.  Now here I am, ten years on, and I do the same thing with my (almost always) non-Midwestern students.  When I make some of these typical flyover-country "salads" for my students, I am a traditionalist, like a faithful Civil War battle recreationist.  I do also update some of these for more healthy consumption when I'm trying not to embarrass myself with my peers. But for the record, everyone usually loves the unhealthy, Grandma Riner version...

"Oriental" Cole Slaw: this one was so awesome to me as a kid, because it had uncooked ramen noodles in it!  How radical is that?!  My mom would never make it, I realize now because she had some standards.

Serves 12
1 16 - ounce package shredded cabbage with carrot (coleslaw mix)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 3-ounce package chicken-flavored ramen noodles, broken up
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup salad oil
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine coleslaw mix, green onions, ramen noodles (set aside seasoning packet for the dressing), almonds, and sunflower seeds in a salad bowl. Chill, covered, until serving time, up to 1 hour.

For dressing: In a screw-top jar, combine oil, vinegar, sugar, pepper and seasoning from the package of noodles. Cover and shake. Chill until serving time.

Before serving, shake dressing; pour over salad and toss to coat.

Take out some cabbage and replace with finely chopped broccoli or sliced sugar snap peas
Ditch the sunflower seeds and almonds for cashews (or not)
Replace the uncooked ramen noodles with 3-4 oz. cooked angel hair spaghetti, soba noodles, etc.
Replace dressing with this ginger-sesame viniagrette

Broccoli and Raisin Salad: The combination of sweet, bitter, and salty actually makes this much better than you're probably expecting. Honestly, though, it does look like baby diaper on a plate. 

Serves 6
cups fresh broccoli florets (1 medium bunch)
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 small red onion, chopped
1/2 cup Miracle Whip
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
3 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, raisins and onion. In a small bowl, combine the Miracle Whip, vinegar and sugar. Pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with bacon. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Blanch the broccoli
Add 1 cup boiled new potatoes + 2 chopped hard-boiled eggs
Omit the raisins (you substitute halved grapes): seriously, the sugar in the dressing is enough
Sub vegan mayo (Just Mayo is great) for the Miracle Whip

Apple Salad: My grandma made this one a lot, and I never liked it.  Somehow the mayo always ruined the apples for me (also, I hated bananas, because I was difficult). She never put mini-marshmallows in this, but I've seen it done at many a picnic. But it's still a salad, because MIDWEST.

Serves 12
4 large apples, diced
1 cup chopped celery
1 sliced banana
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup mayonnaise

In a large bowl, combine the apples, celery, banana and walnuts. Add mayonnaise; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

I'm just going to go ahead and make this the dessert it is trying to be. Add a cut up orange in there, too--what the hell. Get rid of the celery, and replace the mayo with honey-flavored Greek yogurt thinned out with a teaspoon or two of lime juice. Now you can put it on your waffles at brunch. 

Snickers Salad: No one in my family made this, and I was always bummed.  But Julie Hanson's mom made it, and I thought she was awesome (until I found out she was an alcoholic). 

Serves who cares you're going to die anyway
6 SNICKERS® bars, diced
12 oz. Cool Whip
5-6 green Granny Smith apples with peelings on, diced

Mix diced SNICKERS® bars with Cool Whip. Refrigerate overnight. This step is important. The next day, mix in diced apples. Chill at least 1 hour. 

Are you kidding?  I just wanted you all to know that this exists. Don't make this if you are over 10 years old. However, if you are trying to suck up to a 10-year-old, you should definitely bring this to the party.  And then drink a lot, because your life must be very sad to have to curry favor with a fickle 10-year-old. 

30 April 2016

Gardening links!

OK, it's not technically drink, food, or travel, but gardening is certainly related to two of the three (especially if you keep a mint patch in your yard for mojitos).  If you are lucky enough to have the yard space, you can grow enough to keep away from the grocery store all summer, but even a tiny patio or balcony yields enough space for some container gardening. Try it.  Everything really does taste better when you make it yourself.

These tips/links are based on zone 4 people obvs.

Veggies & fruits that taste the most amazing when grown in your yard, IMO:
sugar snap peas

Veggies & fruits that are super easy/low maintenance in a larger space:
sugar snap peas
green beans
various greens: Swiss chard, kale, spinach, lettuce (keep in partial shade to avoid bolting)
summer squash (beware: a little goes a long way)

Good for containers:
tomatoes (yes, really--get a very big pot and grow smaller varieties, like grapette, cherry, and roma)
all peppers, hot and mild
strawberries (give them some height for trailing)
any herbs

Herbs that will over winter (in the Denver area and lower elevations):
Siberian tarragon

Favorite blogs:

You Grown Girl
Kitchen Gardeners International
Chiot's Run
Mr. Brown Thumb Urban Gardening Blog
Tiny Farm Blog
my alma mater, University of Illinois, also has a great extentsion

Some old-school books:

Carrots Love Tomatoes (the classic bible of companion planting)
McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container (I used this back in the early 00s when I lived in an apartment in Indianapolis)

27 April 2016

What I ate on the Gulf last week

I went to University of Southern Mississippi last week to teach and perform in my role as an Altus Performing Artist, so of course, I ate my way from the airport in New Orleans all the way to Hattiesburg.  It was a short trip, but I'm pretty sure I still managed to gain a few pounds, mainly in butter.

In Hattiesburg

Crescent City: Cute family restaurant down the street from USM. I had crawfish Monica and a sad glass of water because I had to play that night.  The food was super good.

Branch: Chi-chi small plates and cocktail place.  I ate smoked wings, fried broccoli (no breading, just a bit seared and black on the ends) with lemon-yogurt sauce, mussels and fries, and deviled eggs with Sriracha, bacon, crab and avocado. The cocktails looked lovely, but I stuck to a glass of Chardonnay as I considered my 6:30am departure time for the airport the next morning.

In New Orleans

Jacques-Imo's: I think this is officially in the East Carrollton neighborhood, spitting distance from Tulane University. This place was utter chaos--I had to scream like I was at a Prince (who died the day of my recital, which is what I'm blaming the poor attendance on) concert. We split an app of friend calamari, then I had the daily special of blackened snapper on top of a bed of spicy mussels, crawfish, and shrimp with my choice of sides, a red cabbage with sausage braised in butter and perfectly seasoned red beans.  I think there might have also been a salad, but I blacked out at one point. Oh yes, the house white wine was delish and cheap.

Rue De La Course: Right down the street from Jacques-Imo's. It's in a big old bank building, playing classical music, of all things, and catering to the hipster Tulane set (I say this with affection). I ate Almond cream cake and had a smooth, smooth latte.

22 April 2016

Rhymes with avocado

Avocados don't seem to be going away, even though I actually think they're kind of slimy and tasteless.  It's funny how no one ever asks my opinion on these food trends (for the record, I totally approve of the bacon one).  I don't buy into the "healthy fat" claim, either, if it's just your excuse for binging on fat. But, these funny-looking little fellows can be pleasant if used correctly.  If you want to do something besides smash unseasoned avocado into a piece of toast, try some of these:

Tasty things with avocado

Swap egg for avocado in a tangy bearnaise sauce!

In a recipe combining all of the douchiest trends of the last five years (but I love them), you can make this tasty kale, avocado, and quinoa salad from OMG food.

Make a creamy sauce for your pasta salad.

Try Cooking Classy's ranch dressing recipe, which uses avo & yogurt as the base.

I still love this guacamole recipe with bleu cheese and bacon in it.

This is stupid.  No one likes you
when you eat this.