Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hello, Summer! (Keep it Simple Potato Salad)

How can you not like potato salad? It screams “Summer!” and picnics and tailgates and, for me, the simple and delicious meals my mother used to make when we were growing up in Whittier, California.

I was fortunate to be raised by parents who enforced what we now know as “family dinners,” without knowing it.  We ate dinner together every night, and 9 out of 10 times those meals were at home. Lots of veggies, grilled meats and fish, pasta dishes and simple yet yummy casseroles – I’d kill for her seven-layer casserole or stuffed bell peppers right now!

My mom also made excellent potato and macaroni salads that were so fresh and good.  I think it was the lemons and celery seed -- and the fact that she didn’t muck things up with extra ingredients that simply are not necessary.  

So in honor of Mom and Memorial Day I whipped up a batch of potato salad this morning. I’m working on a big project and was on my way to my home office when inspiration hit.  I ran back down stairs and within 15 minutes, the salad was cooling and ready for the ‘fridge.

I can’t wait for Will to get home from work tonight so we can dig in.

Keep it Simple Potato Salad

  •  1 mesh bag of new red or white potatoes (the little ones are best)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
  • ¾ cup celery, ¼ inch dice
  • ¼ cup green onions, ¼ inch dice or smaller (whites and greens)
  • 1 red bell pepper, ¼ inch dice
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ¾ cup Best Foods or Hellman’s Mayo
  • 2 tsp celery seeds
  • 2 large pinches Kosher salt
  • Lots of fresh ground pepper

  • Place the uncut and unpeeled potatoes and the clove of garlic in a large pot and cover with cold water.  Add a healthy dose of Kosher salt (about 2 Tbs) put the pot on high heat and bring to a boil. 
  • Once the potatoes are boiling, lower to medium high and cook for 10 minutes, or until a knife can pierce the potato and come out fairly easily.  I will admit, I cut one in half to check at the 7-minute mark. You don’t want mushy potatoes!
  • While the potatoes are cooking, chop the celery, onions and bell pepper. Place in a large bowl. 
  • Add the mayo, celery seeds lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stir to combine
  • Once the potatoes are done, drain them well and cut into quarters while they are still hot.  Use a sharp paring knife and you can make short work of this.  Leave the skins intact as much as possible.
  • At this time, also mash up the clove of garlic that boiled with the potatoes.  Add it to the mixture in the bowl and stir to combine.
  • Now add the still warm potatoes to the bowl.  Stir to combine.
  • Allow to cool and then cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  Chill for at least 2 hours.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Farmers Market Cooking Class (Cumin Scented Spinach Couscous with Spring Vegetables)

Whew. What a week. A big project came to fruition, just as we hit the home stretch for a big event that is being planned for the first week of June. Late nights, early mornings, voice scritchy from talking on the phone.  Frankly, I had a blast.

Those who know me well, know that the harder I push at work, the more I need to chop, sauté and plate-up new dishes. So the timing of my first cooking class at A Southern Season this morning was perfecto!

A Southern Season is a Chapel Hill institution.  Amazing cooking store, meets outrageous specialty food store and invites a wine shop and florist over for a party. Toss in a great restaurant, phenomenal candy store and a cooking store, plus a healthy dose of Southern cuisine favorites and you’ve got A Southern Season.  Oh yeah, forgot the cheese section.  And the paper goods.  You get the point.

The class I took revolved around the Farmers Market that takes place outside the store every Saturday morning.  After donning  our aprons we headed out to the market to meet the farmers and gather up supplies for lunch.

Everything we cooked with was from the local area – farm fresh eggs (from pasture-raised chickens) and local cream for a stove-top crème brulee (watch for future posts as I make this one my own); strawberries, dried figs, local cheese, bacon, greens and garlic for a sweet & savory salad; multi-colored carrots and radishes that we tossed in olive oil and roasted; plus  tomatoes, spring garlic and cucumbers that found their way into a delightful couscous salad that I re-created tonight and will share with you here.

The best part, I spent two hours cooking and enjoying lunch with the most wonderful group of people. We chopped, chatted and learned. Then we enjoyed the fruits of our labors. If you’ve never done anything like this, I highly recommend it. 

Here is how I remembered the couscous.  I don't think we put parsley in, but I did tonight and it was tasty.  Cilantro would be good too. I also added some spring onions from last week's market. 

Cumin Scented Spinach Couscous with Spring Vegetables

  • 1 cup spinach couscous (if you can’t find spinach couscous, plain couscous will do.)
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 large or 2 small tomatoes, cut into ½ inch dice
  • ½ cup diced English cucumber (the kind that comes wrapped in plastic when you buy them at the grocery store) 
  • ½ cup spring onion, cut into ½ inch dice (They look like a cross between a leek and a green onion and are VERY mild.  This is a staple in our farmers markets here, but if you can’t find them, I’d use chopped green onions or even red onion that you cut into ¼ inch dice and soak in ice water to remove the bitterness)
  • ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground (or if you are in a pinch like I was tonight, around 2 ½  tsp ground cumin)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2 Tbs good olive oil
  • 2 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


  • Combine the couscous, boiling water and 1 tsp Kosher salt in a medium sized glass bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to set until the liquid is completely absorbed.  This takes about 10 – 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine all of the other ingredients, except for the final dose of salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  • When the couscous is absorbed and tender, fluff it with a fork.
  • Then add the couscous to the vegetable mixture. 
  • Stir well.
  • Season to taste.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  (Note, we didn’t really have time to get it cold during class or tonight when I made this, and it was perfectly fine.)

This was a great side dish with some grilled local sausages tonight.  Tomorrow it will make a comeback with burgers when my brother’s family comes over for dinner. (Shhhhhh don’t tell them, but they are getting leftovers!)  (And thanks, again, Ed for giving me this class for Christmas. You know your sister well.)