Punchy Potato Salad

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With potato salad, like most salads, you can wing it more often than not and it turns out great.  It does help, however, to have a general idea of what sort of flavour theme you want to have ahead of time.  For this one I wanted something creamy but also with enough greenery and fresh things in it I didn’t feel like it was coming straight from a plastic grocery store container.

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I started off by washing and chopping 13 medium sized potatoes.  I like to leave the skins on.

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I then boiled them until they were quite soft.

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Then I hard-boiled 6 large eggs by putting them in a pot of water with a dash of vinegar (the vinegar makes the shells easier to remove) and bringing it to a boil; then I turned the water off and left them for 20 minutes.

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I drained the potatoes and chucked them in a large bowl together with about 3 stalks minced celery.  Then I grabbed a handful of herbs from the garden and minced those as well: dill, chives, parsley, green basil, and purple basil.

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Into the bowl.

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Some chopped baby dill pickles too.

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And of course the eggs, which I peeled and chopped coarsely.

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The dressing was simple: Dijon mustard, Wafu’s sesame dressing, and some aioli I picked up at the grocery store (instead of standard mayonnaise).

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A little black pepper never hurt.

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Mix that all together.

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Oh the creamy, dill-y goodness!

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Made-up Macaroni Salad

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Pasta salads are ideal for summer parties.  You can make them ahead of time and you don’t have to worry about heating up the house.  This one came together on the fly, as most of them tend to do.  I stuck with a reddish theme and it worked out.

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Start with a bowl of cooked pasta.  I used cavatappi, or Scoobi-do pasta.

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Chucked in a diced onion, tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, and green olives.

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Then some fresh oregano, chives, and some cubed feta.

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Then I decided to throw in a few bocconcini as well.  I also tossed in some tandoori spice and some Hungarian paprika for kick.

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When you make a pasta salad, make a lot of dressing to go with it, because the pasta will absorb so much extra liquid.  The base of this one was olive oil, maple syrup, Tabasco, and rice vinegar.

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As I said, make a lot.

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Put half in now and then the other half right before you serve it.

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TADA.

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There was enough left over that I added some pasta sauce to it, topped it with cheese, and baked it into a casserole afterwards.  Waste not!

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Spider-Man Spice Cake

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A couple of weeks ago my sister-in-law Ryder winged a banana coffee cake that had me drooling — alas, Rusty refused to share.  So when the Pie requested a spice cake for his birthday I figured I’d wing something similar of my own devising (it’s actually his birthday today, but we celebrated on Saturday).  For the basic cake, I used this one from Dinner with Julie, and it’s excellent.  As for the rest … well, you’ll see.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F and butter two 8″ round cake pans.

Spider-Man Spice Cake 1

In a bowl (or a measuring cup, as I prefer), stir together 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter with 1 1/4 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy.

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Add in 3 large eggs, one at a time, and keep beating.

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Stir together 1 cup buttermilk and 1 tablespoon vanilla.

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Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the eggs and sugar, beating on low speed. If you don’t beat on low speed you will get flour in your face. Consider yourself warned.

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Add in half the buttermilk, followed by another third of the flour, then the rest of the buttermilk, and then the rest of the flour.

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In a separate bowl, mash 2 large ripe bananas.  In another, mix 2 tablespoons instant coffee in with 1/2 cup water (or cold coffee as I used here) and 1/3 cup Nutella (or hazelnut spread).

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Divide your batter in half and mix one with the bananas and the other half with the coffee.

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Pour into your prepared pans in bits, and give it a bit of a swirl with a fork to combine but not fully mix.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes until solid on top and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Set those aside to cool completely.

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While that’s on the go you can make this truly amazing icing.  It might be my new favourite. I doubled it from the original to enable me to do what I had to do and only had a little bit left, but I’ll give you the real proportions here.

In a small saucepan melt 1/4 cup butter over medium heat.

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Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, until it gets all nice and foamy, and when you look beneath the foam the butter has turned the colour of caramel (this is, of course where the colour in caramel comes from).

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Pour that into the bowl of an electric mixer together with another 1/4 cup butter and set that aside for now.

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In the same saucepan, still over medium, combine 1/4 cup half and half cream with 1/2 cup brown sugar.

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Dissolve the sugar in the cream and keep stirring.

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Remove the mixture from the heat when it gets smooth and foamy, like this:

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Pour that in the mixer bowl too, and let the whole thing cool a bit.

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Slowly mix in 2 cups icing sugar, give or take, until you achieve a consistency that you like.  Now, if you’re a normal person, you can go ahead and just ice your cake to your specifications and enjoy it for what it is.  Me? Nope.  I had to go and make a Spider-Man themed cake for my husband, because I like him a bunch.

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So I divided up the icing into four batches.  One was my control, and would go in the centre between the two halves of cake.  The others were getting dyed with gel paste food colouring.

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I like to do this in glass containers because then I can look through the bottom to see what I’ve missed.  Glass is also way less likely to stain on you.

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The finished concoctions.  Euch.

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Here’s a trick I learned on the internet somewhere for when you need to pipe different colours of icing and don’t want a huge mess.  Not that I’m capable of doing anything neatly.  But anyway.  Plop your icing onto a sheet of plastic wrap.

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Roll the ends of the plastic wrap together, making a tight seal.

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Keep rolling until you run out of wrap to roll.

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Grab the ends of the wrap and swing them around so the icing twists further into a tight little sausage.  Because it was hot as Hades’ hoo-ha in my kitchen I chucked these little sausages in the fridge while I put the cake together.

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Icing in the middle …

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Now you take your sausage of icing and tie a knot in one end of your wrap.

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Then you shove the other one into your icing bag and cut off the end.  Screw on your tip and ice as usual.

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At the end you just pull out this wizened piece of plastic and you are good to switch!  No fuss no muss!

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I think I put too much icing sugar into my icing, so I ended up pressing the top part on with my fingers.

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Then I piped on the best approximation of the Spider-Man logo that I could do with my unsteady hand.  Not bad!

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Almost Not There Lemon Squares

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I made these from Amy Approved yesterday for another round of meetings at work.  They’re gluten-free, dairy-free, and paleo, so if you have any sensitivities to food you’re probably safe eating these (unless you’re allergic to nuts, coconut, or eggs, in which case you might die – don’t eat these).  In addition, unlike traditional lemon squares, where you bake the crust and then bake the filling, this filling is a stove-top deal, so it’s ideal if you need your oven for something else.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a 8″ x 12″ baking dish with parchment paper.

Paleo Lemon Squares 1

Grab about 2 cups raw almonds (I used blanched ones) and pulse them in a food processor until they’re in small chunks — don’t go too far, though: you don’t want almond meal.

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Mix the almonds together with 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 cup melted coconut oil, 2 tablespoons coconut flour, and 2 large eggs.

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It looks like vomit. Gross.  Don’t let that deter you.

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Press that sticky gooeyness into the bottom of the dish and bake that for 15 minutes, until the edges are slightly brown.  Let that cool completely.

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For the lemon filling, crack 6 large eggs into a saucepan and add as well 1 cup fresh lemon juice (I used the juice of 4 large lemons), 1/2 cup honey, and a dash of sea salt.

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I don’t feel lemon bars are complete without some lemon zest as well, but I leave that up to you.

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Whisk that all up and heat over medium.  Stir in 1/2 cup coconut oil until it’s completely melted.

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Keep whisking.

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And whisking.

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The mixture will eventually start to thicken, so you want to keep gently heating and whisking until you’ve got something resembling a thick pudding.

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When you get there, give it a few more whisks and then you can remove it from the heat and let it cool completely.

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Once the lemon goo is cool, you can smooth it over your crust.

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Feel free to garnish the tops with shredded coconut as well.

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Shove that in the freezer for about 30 minutes so everything will set and harden, then cut into bars. I just chucked mine in the fridge overnight.

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Keep these babies in the fridge to prevent them from going gooey.  If they last that long. They’re not as satisfying as a lemon square made with butter and sugar and flour but they’re still pretty tasty!

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Wondrous Wallpaper Wednesday

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I want this wallpaper.

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The Pie’s grandparents put it up in their front entryway when they built their home in the early 1950s.  I only  noticed it after we moved everything out and displaced the bookshelf that had been in front of it for as long as I’ve been around.

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Now the house is sold and the Pie’s grandmother doesn’t remember where it’s from.

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So today marks the beginning of my quest to find, if not a replica of this stuff, then something remarkably similar.  If you guys have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Wondrous Wallpaper 1

Creamy Mint Guacamole

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I pulled this gem out of the Ottawa Citizen a few weeks back and it makes a fantastic dip all on its own or as a replacement for the traditional sour cream and guacamole side on a plate of nachos.

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I cut everything up by hand but if you don’t have the patience for that you can always pulse the ingredients together in a food processor until combined but still chunky.

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Start by opening up and de-pitting 4 large avocados.  You can tell that they’re ripe because of the bright avocado colour under the stem.

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Slice them into little cubes and scoop them into a large bowl.

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Next, mince up a few cloves garlic.  Chuck that in the bowl too.

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Then grab a bunch of fresh mint (this was about 8 stems) and pull the leaves off, discarding the stems.  Mince the leaves and chuck them into the bowl.

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Now, slice a fresh lime in half and juice it.  Drizzle the juice all over the avocados in your bowl.

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Add a few dashes Tabasco sauce, to taste.

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And a drizzle of honey, your favourite kind.

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Plop in 1 cup sour cream or greek yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

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Give it a vigorous stirring to mix it thoroughly and break up the avocado a bit more — not too much, though, because you want it nice and chunky.

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Serve with fresh warm tortilla chips (these are chipotle flavour from Farm Boy).

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Double-dipping totally acceptable.

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Watermelon and Feta Salad

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Mrs. Nice made this delightful dish for us when we were over for lunch last week and it really hit the spot during that blasted heat wave. She learned it from a man at the grocery store who had been setting out samples and she was immediately hooked.  After tasting it, so was I, and so I made it for a further lunch (on my family’s side) the following weekend.

A note in advance: keep all your ingredients chilled and separate until just before serving or everything will go mushy.

Start with a decently-sized seedless watermelon (or mostly seedless, as was the case here).

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Crack that puppy open by cutting off the ends and paring off the rest of the rind.

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Cut it into slices and then chop those up into cubes and chuck them in a large bowl.

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Chop up as well a large red onion.  That can be pitched into the bowl as well.  You might want to start tossing the ingredients together with your hands so you don’t destroy the watermelon.

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Grab yourself a bunch of fresh mint.

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Pull off the leaves and chop those up finely as well.

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Sprinkle those over your watermelon.

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Finally, haul over a good-sized hunk of firm feta cheese and cut that up as finely or as coarsely as you like.

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Dump that in the salad as well and toss to mix it all up.

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Juice a lime and pour the juice into a bowl.

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Add in about 1 tablespoon (a glop) olive oil and whisk to emulsify.

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Drizzle that over your salad and eat it all up!
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adventures in grown-up living

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