23 July 2007

Sarah's Potato Salad

Most great dishes have a story. I'm not necessarily talking about gourmet or foo-foo food. I'm talking about regular old Sunday dinner food. I grew up in a family that regularly had dinner together, but I've always loved the (seemingly) old school idea of a Sunday Dinner. And I guess, albeit informal, Seth and I have established that routine.

Because of our work schedules for the past six years, Sundays have always been the day we'd cook a big dinner. Often friends will join us after an impromptu invitation. We relish the summertime Sundays where we spend an evening in the backyard with friends.

We did this last night with the Hovdes. It was a blast. We ate (in my opinion) THE summer Sunday dinner -- oven friend chicken, potato salad, green bean salad, potato rolls with honey butter and fresh peach cobbler for dessert.

I had a ball playing with Luke in the garden. Dina was shocked he at peas and blueberries straight from the plant. Much like his dad, I couldn't get him to try the tomato or a fresh little squash. He did sniff herbs though and made funny faces at the smell of mint, sage and rosemary.

One of my favorite summer sides, the potato salad, has become well-known among my friends. It's quickly recognized and always enjoyed. And while friends will say, "Amy's Potato Salad," I often mention it's really Grandma Sarah's Potato Salad.

I don't have a Grandma Sarah.

Sarah was the grandmother of an ex-boyfriend. (The one whose house was blown away by a tornado, so he moved in with me, causing me to realize we weren't meant to be. I don't make shit like this up!)

Sarah was a thin woman with big hair and a chain-smoking-habit that put more wrinkles on her face than time would ever have allowed.

I believe she probably lived most of her life on the lower end of the middle class. And while she likely never cooked with truffle oil or creme fraiche, her food was good.

She made this potato salad for everything. Her daughters did the same.

I don't know if Sarah created this recipe, or whether she plucked it from a Southern Living or the Sunday paper. I do know that in my book she owned it. She taught me to make it. And although it's been years since I last saw her, I still think of it as her recipe. Something of an unspoken respect among home cooks -- those who aren't creating meals to impress or fall in line with the trend. These are cooks who put dinner on the table for their families, shop for groceries on a budget, and prepare the same casseroles their mothers did.

All the while, without intention, these cooks create memories for family, friends and, sometimes, a grandson's ex-girlfriend.

Sarah's Potato Salad
5 pounds of Russet potatoes
1 bunch of celery, chopped
1 medium red onion, diced
2 eggs, hard boiled and peeled
3 cups of mayonnaise (no Miracle Whip, please)
1 4oz jar of diced pimentos (find them in grocery aisle near pickled asparagus and such)
S & P to taste

Peel, rinse and dice potatoes. Boil until tender in a large, liberally salted pot of water. Drain. Lay potatoes out on a cookie sheet to cool. Speed up the process by placing freezer bags filled with ice on top of them.
Chop one bunch of celery, dice the onion and egg. Combine celery, onion, egg, pimentos (juice and all), mayo, salt, pepper and potatoes in a large bowl. Gently mix to combine, making sure not to mash potatoes.
Season to taste. Chill, serve cold.

Note: Obviously, one only needs five pounds if you're feeding the entire church congregation. Scale down as necessary. Also, you can leave out ingredients you don't like, but do keep in mind that potato salad is not only about taste, but texture, too. The onions and celery add a delicious crunch.

10 July 2007

Ice Cream Memories

Making homemade ice cream has long been a tradition in my family. I remember the buzz of the ice cream maker on the front porch of my grandpa's lake house. My mom always made a recipe with sweetened condensed milk. The small, red and white Eagle Brand can of the syrupy milk still reminds me of the ice cream.

We seldom let the ice cream set up to get hard, leaving me with the impression that all homemade ice cream was soft, to be eaten only out of a bowl and never a cone.
My mom often topped her vanilla ice cream with fresh sliced strawberries or sometimes chunks were blended into the mixture.

Sure, ice cream isn't hard to come by. There's an ice cream shop and a Dairy Queen within walking distance of my house, not to mention the coolers full of the cream at my neighborhood Safeway. While I do enjoy a scoop of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia, there's something magical about homemade ice cream.

Perhaps it's because the hum of the electric ice cream maker takes me back to my hot childhood summer evenings outside with my family at the lake. There's also a part of me who relishes the day I can pick up fresh berries at the farmer's market and turn them into the perfect summertime treat in a matter of hours. And every time I combine these five ingredients, I am transfixed by the simplicity of a recipe. Just a few humble ingredients, basic kitchen tools and the ice cream maker I bought for less than $20.

Sure, it takes some time to create, but frankly, what great memories don't?

1 1/3 cup milk
1 1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup honey
1 egg
2 pints fresh blueberries

In a blender or food processor, puree half of the berries. Pour through a fine sieve, if desired.
In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan combine cream, milk and honey. Gently warm, stirring to melt all honey. Remove from heat. Cool liquid mixture.
Seperate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. Beat the whites to soft peaks and set aside (about 2-3 minutes by hand). Beat the yolk until light yellow in color (about 45 seconds). Gently fold the yolk into the white. Set aside for a moment.
Fold the berry puree into the milk and cream mixture. Then fold the egg mixture in, being careful not to overmix. Add in the remaining whole berries.
Transfer the ice cream mixture into the ice cream maker and follow maker's instructions. Be sure to allow ice cream to set up for a few hours in the freezer once it is made.

Variation: Substitute any type of fresh berry or other fruits such as peaches (which would need the skins removed).