Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

We’re not exactly sure what qualifies this potato salad as “old-fashioned.”  Perhaps it merits this distinction because it tastes like a family recipe that has been handed down through the ages — complicated and difficult to make, with well-kept secret ingredients?  Or maybe it’s because, as recipe author Ina Garten points out in her book, “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” during the 18 years that she owned her namesake specialty food store, they “must have made millions of pounds of this classic potato salad.”  No matter the reason, we’ve added this salad into our permanent side dish rotation, especially for the upcoming Spring/Summer grilling season.  With complex, yet complimentary flavors from 2 types of mustard, fresh dill, red onion, celery and potato, the recipe is surprisingly simple to make, especially given how good it tastes.  It can be made ahead (and should be, in order to give the flavors time to combine), making it even more ideal for the  BBQ-friendly months of the year.  We predict at least tens of pounds of this salad in our foreseeable side dish future.

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Taco Mac (w/ leftover taco meat)

We have a crispy beef taco recipe that we absolutely adore, so much so that we purposely make the full recipe — even though it yields way more than enough for a two-person Taco Night — just so that we will have leftovers.  The question is what to do with the extra taco meat.  More tacos are good, easy and convenient.  Nachos are a delicious and fun dinnertime alternative.  And of course, there is the casserole — a layered, catch-all medium for transforming leftover protein into a one-dish wonder complete with pasta (or some other starch) and melted cheesy goodness.  Channeling the (literal) king of all casseroles, king ranch chicken, and taking a nod from its East Coast casserole cousin, Johnny Marzetti — we adapted this recipe that uses tortilla chips for crunch and refried beans for a creamy layer and added enchilada sauce for extra Tex-Mex flavor and pasta to help bind it all together.  We love the end-result casserole as much as (if not more than!) the original beef tacos and can pretty much guarantee that a “Taco Mac Night” will follow most of our Taco Nights from here on out.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:


Spicy Dumplings

Last weekend we stopped in to P.F. Changs for a late lunch break from shopping, courtesy of a thoughtful Christmas gift card from friends (thank you, Rollins Family!)  We hadn’t been there in quite a while and were excited to see a lot of new items on their menu, in addition to all the old favorites.  Their menu has always had a lot of variety, but now it is huge and we look forward to going back soon to try more of the new items.  If you like spicy food, the “flaming red wontons” are a must-try.  “Flaming” is an accurate description of their spicy-ness.

Turkey Pastrami

Dan recently decided to dust off his charcuterie skills and attempt to make homemade turkey pastrami.  Success!  Turns out that he actually did learn a few things from our participation in Charcutepalooza a couple of years ago (although I apparently did not learn how to spell “charcuterie” and have to verify the spelling every time.)  The pastrami was pretty easy to make using 2 boneless turkey breasts, some spices and pink salt for curing, and the smoker to finish it off.  Dan also got to use his mesh elastic netting (which he purchased last year for salami making) — MacGyver-ing the turkey into it using an empty tomato can since he didn’t have an elastic netting stuffer.  We now have several weeks’ worth of homemade lunch meat in our freezer, and Dan has a satisfying feeling of cured-meat accomplishment.

Smoked Chicken

Since we were already using the smoker for the pastrami, we picked up a small chicken to cook when the pastrami was done (the smoker stays hot for a long time.)  The chicken was juicy and delicious, with a slight smoky flavor (we used apple and cherry wood chunks in the smoker), especially when paired with black pepper vinegar sauce, which should pretty much always accompany any basic chicken dish, in our opinion.

Food 4 Kids

We spent a few rewarding hours volunteering at the North Texas Food Bank this week.  It was our first time (but not our last!), so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  What we didn’t expect was to be very nearly moved to tears, not just by the (enormous) need for this amazing organization, but also by what it does (and can do with even more volunteer and financial help) for so many.  We worked on the “Food 4 Kids” program, which provides backpacks filled with 2 days worth of nutritious snacks and drinks to kids who qualify.  It was explained to us that the food would be going to kids who might not otherwise have anything to eat over the weekend, while not in school.  It was simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming to think that the juices, fruit cups, trail mixes and other snacks we moved along the line collecting into bags could be the sole sustenance keeping a child from being hungry for 2 full days.  There were only 6 of us volunteering that day, and we were vastly outnumbered by the bins and boxes of food.  We managed to fill 875 bags in about 2 hours, while the program feeds over 11,000 kids every weekend.  The bags can’t fill themselves, and the program relies heavily on volunteer support.  It’s easy to sign up (they offer morning and afternoon shifts, 6 days per week, and the greatest need is Mon-Thur) and it’s a wonderful opportunity for a group service project.  The food bank does so much, but there is always more to be done.  We heard that this time last year, they had to call some of the schools and tell them there would be no weekend backpacks because there hadn’t been enough volunteers to fill the bags.  If you’re in the area and thinking about giving some time to your community, we highly recommend the NTFB.

Edamame Salad

If you frequent sushi restaurants, you’ve probably eaten a fair amount of edamame, where it is often served as an appetizer:  still in the pod, steaming hot and sprinkled with kosher salt.  Sushi places must keep giant vats of edamame ready for service each day because it almost always comes to your table about 2 minutes after you order it (my favorite kind of appetizer.)  If you’ve never had it, edamame refers to green (as in not yet ripe) soybeans that have a mild, slightly nutty flavor that belies their high nutritional value.  These little beans are packed with fiber, protein, iron and vitamins A and C.  Any food this good for you ought to be consumed more often than the occasional sushi outing.  So we found and adapted this recipe, for a fresh and tangy side dish that pairs especially well with most Asian main courses.

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Turkey Burgers

We’ve always been interested in finding more healthy versions of favorite foods, but when it comes to burgers, we seldom encounter any better-for-you substitute that packs the same satisfying flavor and texture punch as the real thing.  Shrimp burgers were interesting and tasty, but lacked any beefy flavor.  Our one and only homemade veggie burger experiment was an epic fail that ended as garbage with a side order of pizza delivery.  Enter the turkey burger.  We adapted this recipe by adding a little ricotta cheese (to help keep the turkey from drying out) and omitting the egg and breadcrumbs (to keep the burgers from tasting like meatloaf patties.)  The combination of Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper gave the burgers a nice, meaty flavor that makes you forget you’re eating healthy turkey.  While there can be no true replacement for the genuinely beefy, red-meat variety of burger, this turkey version has a lot less calories and fat (and therefore, less guilt), and we’re happy to make and eat them instead of beef burgers now and then.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Birthday Benedict

It’s been quite the celebratory week for us, with Dan’s birthday, Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day all occurring within a few days of each other.  And you know if we are celebrating, there is good food involved.  We started with an amazing birthday-eve dinner at our favorite Dallas restaurant, Lucia (where it’s too dark this time of year to take any decent flash-free photos, sorry.)  Although everything we’ve ever had at Lucia has been really good, we have to insist that if you ever go there and the veal “breast” is on the menu, you have to get it.  Best. Veal. Ever.  The next day, we had a proper birthday brunch sitting on a patio with mimosas, eggs benedict for me and a burger topped with a fried egg for the birthday boy.

Birthday Cholesterol

It’s a good thing that birthdays only happen once per year, since fried game hen (and/or chicken) has become the go-to birthday dinner favorite for both of us.  Its un-healthiness only makes it that much more of a special treat.


Fat Tuesday had us thinking about New Orleans and wishing for a trip there, so we settled for the next best thing and put on a big pot of New Orleans-style shrimp and sausage gumbo.  It’s not a quick recipe (and we learned a few things this time around and updated the original post accordingly), but it satisfied our craving (at least until we can get to the Big Easy for the real thing.)

Lobster Fra Diavolo

We celebrated Valentine’s Day this year with many of our great loves:  each other; lobster & pasta in a silky, spicy tomato sauce; an episode of Downton Abbey and two episodes of Homeland.  Pretty much a perfect evening.


Slow-Cooker Chicken Provencal

On a recent cold day, we consulted what has become our crock-pot “bible” — America’s Test Kitchen’s “Slow Cooker Revolution” — for yet another delicious, set-it-and-forget-it, slow-cooked dish.  We’re slowly (pun intended) working our way through the book, and pretty much everything we’ve tried has been good, if not great.  The pork and ramen soup is a definite keeper, as is the recipe for smothered pork chops.  And we can’t forget (or stop craving) the chicken and dirty rice.  Now we can add the chicken provençal recipe to our list of favorites from this book.  It doesn’t get much more flavorful than bone-in chicken thighs, cooked all day over low heat in a braise made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano, white wine and bay leaves, then finished with freshly chopped olives, parsley and a drizzle of really good olive oil.  Tastes like something you would enjoy after a long day of touring the French countryside.

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