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What to eat with meat? Potato Salad and Cornbread!

July 10, 2007

Picnic Salads

It took me weeks to decide what to serve alongside all that meat at our cookout party on Saturday. I pored over all my cooking magazines and did numerous epicurious searches. There are so many picnic options I was having a hard time committing–I knew I wanted to make some kind of pasta salad, but I wanted it to be different. And potato salad is one of my favorites, but it’s usually so predictable and boring. What to do, what to do? My option paralysis was setting in and I almost threw in the towel and told everyone else to bring something, but at the last minute, inspiration struck.

Inspiriation was inside an old issue of Bon Appetit, where I glimpsed a recipe for Potato Caesar Salad. I had been thinking about making caesar salad anyway, but this sounded almost like divine intervention. I love potato salad, I love caesar salad, and I felt pretty sure this was not a picnic table standard. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, because I wanted to try a very traditional caesar dressing (and yes, I know raw eggs are generally bad news bears at a picnic, but we were very conscientious about keeping it refrigerated.) And it was a knockout–even people who said they usually hate potato salad luurved it. And I love it when that happens.

I bastardized another Bon Appetit recipe for the pasta salad– I basically just left out the jicama and added pasta. The bean and pasta combination is one of my favorites, and I was intrigued by the cumin and citrus dressing. This one was also a big, big hit, and at least three people asked me for the recipe. I also love it when that happens.

We threw in Mr. X’s favorite macaroni salad from the Roche Bros., a totally classic macaroni salad with a bit of a sweet relish tang and plenty of mayonnaise, and set out a bowl of crunchy dill pickles, too. Because everyone loves pickles. A big plate of spicy cornbread and some grilled red peppers rounded out the birthday dinner, and amazingly, there was almost nothing left over. I really love it when that happens.

Pasta Salad

Black Bean, Corn, and Pasta Salad

  • 3 ears of corn, husked
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 lb. penne pasta
  • 2 large carrots, roughly sliced
  • 1/3 c. chopped green onions
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice from 3 limes
  • juice from 1 orange
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • about 5 T. olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and boil the corn for about three minutes. Remove it from the water and set it out to cool off. Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta.

While that’s cooking, chop up the carrots, beans, cilantro, basil, and green onions, and toss them all together in a large mixing bowl. When the corn is cool enough to touch, cut off the kernels and add them to the carrot and and bean mixture.

Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and rinse it under cold water until it’s stopped steaming and is cool enough to touch. Toss it in with the corn, carrot, and bean mixture.

In a small bowl, mix the lime juice, orange juice, and cumin together. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking so it emulsifies, then add it into the pasta and mix it all together. Add a bit of salt and pepper, cover the bowl, and set it in the refrigerator to cool off completely.

You might consider using less than a full pound of pasta, as I thought it overpowered the other ingredients a little bit, but it is supposed to be a pasta salad, so perhaps it’s ok if it dominates? I’m pretty sure you can do whatever you like. That’s why kitchens are fun.

Potato Caesar Salad

  • about 2 lb. small, red-skinned potatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced in half
  • 3/4 c. olive oil
  • 8 anchovy fillets, packed in oil (I used the kind that come wrapped around capers with a bit of salt)
  • 1 large egg
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1/3 c. parmesan
  • salt and pepper

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil, and add the potatoes, uncut and unpeeled. Let them cook in the boiling water for about twenty minutes. If they are very small potatoes they will probably need less time. You want them to still be firm and not fall apart when you slice them. Once they’re finished, remove them from the water and set them aside to cool off almost completely.

Meanwhile, heat 3/4 c. of olive oil in a skillet with the halved garlic. If you want to, before you cook the garlic you can rub it around the insides of the bowl you’ll be serving the salad in. I did it, but I’m not sure it really made much of a difference. After the garlic has cooked for a few minutes and is starting to turn slightly golden, remove the oil from the heat and discard the garlic.

Put the anchovies, lemon juice, and the egg into the bowl of a food processor or a blender. Slowly add the garlicky olive oil while processing until it’s smooth.

Slice the cooled potatoes and put them into the serving bowl. Toss them with the dressing, the parmesan cheese, and plenty of salt and pepper until they’re well coated, and keep the salad refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. Don’t leave it out for more than half an hour. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem because chances are people will eat it right quickly.

Skillet cornbread

Guajillo Chili and Oregano Skillet Cornbread

Yes, this is a variation on another Bon Appetit recipe, and it might be the best cornbread I’ve ever had. It’s really moist, thanks to the sour cream, and the chilis add flavor without adding too much spice. Of course, it’s not the exact recipe. I couldn’t find poblano chilis at the market, so I had to buy some dried Guajillos and reconstitute them in boiling water, but it was excellent, nonetheless.

  • 1 dried guajillo chili
  • 2 c. yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • some black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1/4 c. sour cream
  • 2 T. minced fresh oregano
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter (half a stick)

First, reconstitute the dried pepper: Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add the chili. Remove it from the heat and let the chili sit for about twenty minutes, or until it’s soft. Let the water drain off and out of the dried chili, then do your best to seed it and chop it up very finely. I left some seeds in because it was really hard to get them all out, and it was fine.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix together the corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl, using a whisk to make sure it’s well mixed.

In a separate bowl whisk together the milk, sour cream, and the eggs. Whisk them them, then add the chili and the oregano. Stir it all in well, and then add the wet into the dry ingredients. Stir it together as well as you can, but don’t overmix it.

Melt the butter in a heavy cast-iron skillet, and pour in the cornbread mixture. Don’t worry if it seems like too much butter, the butter makes it better, and prevents the cornbread from sticking terribly to the skillet. Spread the batter out evenly, and then put it into the oven for about 30 minutes. The top should be golden brown, the edges should have pulled away from the skillet a bit, and a knife inserted into the center should come out clean. When it’s ready, remove it from the oven and let it cool off for at least 15 minutes. You can serve it right in the skillet, and it should come out pretty easily. At least mine did, happily, which is something I find I often have problems with.

The night was well rounded off with a beautious ice cream cake my friend Jax made for me: peanut butter chip ice cream and chocolate with a crazy rich ganache layer between the two ice cream layers. It was astoundingly good: Thanks, Jax!

Ice Cream

An excellent night with great food and even better people, tons of beer and margaritas–could you ask for a better birthday? I think not.


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