Marie’s Pasta Salad Recipe

So I have a weird confession to make: Although I’m not a picky eater by ANY means, I’ve always hated pasta salad. Early on, the pasta salads I’d been exposed to were gross – way too sweet, or salty, or the pasta was too firm, or the sauce was too bland. Up until very recently, I’ve completely avoided pasta salad since I was probably about 12 years old or so.

Recently our friend Trevor (Who you may know as “Mr J” – and if you don’t, you probably should!) brought a tub of deli macaroni salad to one of our potluck parties. My first – completely internal, as I was NOT raised by wolves! – instinct was “blech.. macaroni salad!” (Sorry, Trevor!)… until I noticed that it had cubed cheese in it. I’d never seen that before. Curiosity piqued, I tried a bite.. and it was actually pretty good!

Flash forward a few weeks, to earlier this week. My “stress cooking” reflex was triggered, and I was right in the mood for more of that pasta salad. I decided to make pasta salad for the first time in my life… loosely based on that deli one, but tweaked to be a bit more to my tastes.

First off, I ditched the macaroni for Rotini, simply because it’s more fun to eat it. I couldn’t remember what all was in the salad, so I went with celery for crunch, red pepper for colour, and green onion because I love it.

I based the dressing off of my awesome coleslaw, making sure to not let it get too sweet. Oh, it was GOOD. We went through the whole batch embarrassingly quickly.

A few notes:

1. For the best pasta salad, you want the pasta to actually cook to soft, not just al dente – this allows the pasta to better absorb the flavours from the dressing.

2. Aside from the pasta, this recipe is gluten free. To make a gluten free pasta salad, I recommend using brown rice pasta, and carefully watching it as it cooks – don’t let it get to the point of falling apart!

3. My husband thinks it would be even better with peas added to it. I think that triggers my “macaroni salad is gross” instinct, but who knows… I’m not exactly a connoisseur of pasta salad! If it sounds good to you, go for it!

Enjoy!

Marie’s Pasta Salad Recipe

1 lb uncooked Rotini pasta*
3 stalks celery, chopped
5 green onions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
8 oz mild cheddar cheese, cubed
1 1/2 cups mayo
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery seed
3/4+ tsp pepper (to taste)

Cook pasta according to package directions, but adding a few minutes to the boil time. Drain, and rinse well with cold water until cool. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine celery, green onion, pepper, and cheese, tossing to mix well and break up any cheese cubes that are stuck to each other. Add cooled pasta, gently toss to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except pepper. Pour over pasta salad, gently toss to completely coat. Season with pepper to taste.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

* This amount of dressing is perfect for Rotini, which has a lot more surface area than most pastas. If you’d like to use a different pasta, you’ll likely need less dressing. Start with about 2/3 of the dressing this makes, and add more if you like!

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

DIY Tutorial: Recycled Wood Slice Garden Pathway

Adapting a “new” home (built in 1928, but new to us!) to suit your own style is usually a big ordeal… but that went doubly for us, when we were hit by the tornado right after moving in!

After the debris had settled, most of the cleanup was done, and we had a new roof over our heads, it was time to do some finer cleanup, repair, rebuild, and redo. The side yard was a PROJECT – it was where most of the debris had landed, the small amount of planting we’d done pre-tornado was trampled by the roofers… just a huge mess. Add to that the fact that neither of us had done any sort of landscaping design before? We were sort of floundering!

We started working on the side yard last summer, one year after the tornado. It was around this time that we were also trying to figure out what we would do with the remnant logs from our downed black walnut. We’d taken the biggest logs to a mill, and had some smaller (too small for the mill) logs milled in our yard. After all of that, we still had some more logs that were either too small in diameter, too short, or too irregular for the portable wood mill. It had been such a gorgeous tree, and the wood was WAY too beautiful to let any of it go to waste.


After the tornado

With the bulk of the wood being processed and spoken for already – mostly for rebuilding the kitchen – these few leftover logs were something we could play around with a bit.

I had the idea of slicing them all up into disks and using them to redesign the side yard. We’d already decided that we wanted it to be lush with edibles, but hadn’t really come up with a solid design, or even really tossed around ideas yet. I thought it would be a pretty, rustic looking walkway to separate gardens on both sides of it… and the idea looked fabulous in my head!

Porter was a bit hesitant, and needed to be talked into it. He wasn’t sure we’d have enough wood, and wasn’t able to picture the outcome like I did.

So, I did the math – I measured out the ideal pathway, and figured out how many square inches we were talking. Then, we figured out the average diameters of the logs we had left, and worked out how many square inches of coverage we would have, when slicing them into 3″ disks. There would be enough, so my husband agreed to go ahead with it.

While this looks like a huge project, it took about a day and a half of work, with the two of us doing it ourselves. We love the results, and here’s how we did it:

This is what we started with at the beginning of the weekend. The bulk of the tornado debris had been cleared, but we still had some construction debris in there. We had already planted 3 or 4 raspberry bushes along the side of the house, and had covered the soil in that area with cedar mulch.

As a first step, we completely cleared the area of any debris, garbage, and any large pieces of broken glass.

Next, we pulled up the sod from the entire area, aside from the section with the raspberry bushes.

Once all of the sod was removed, we raked and trampled the ground to ensure a level base for what we were doing.

With a flat work surface to start laying everything out on, I started laying out the various garden sections, creating a wavy path with cement edging pavers.

Once the main pathway was established, I filled in the outer sections with fresh topsoil, and planted the gardens. I planted strawberry plants across from the raspberries, and basil and mint just beyond that in the next “wave” on that side.

The strawberry section

We planted two types of hops – 1 type each, on either side of our air conditioner – and ran twine up to our second level deck for them to grow up. Beyond the hops, we planted blueberry bushes (which ended up failing 🙁 )

As I was building the pathway and gardens, Porter was busy in the backyard, cutting the logs into 3″ disks (larger ones), and 2″ disks (the smaller diameter ones, as filler). What a badass!

(As a note: He says it would have been nicer to use a large band saw for this, as some of the cuts – smaller logs – got kind of dangerous)

AS he finished batches of log slices, he would cart them out to me, and I would place them. I started by placing the largest disks evenly throughout the space, to create the main stepping stones. I’d work my way down the sizes of logs, finally filling everything in with the smallest disks.

This is what it looked like when I’d finished placing all of the wood slices.

Another view.

Once all of the wood slices were placed, we had to carefully fill it all in with dirt. We shoveled on clean dirt, and swept it into all of the voids between the logs.

The filled-in pathway.

A year later, this is what it looks like. Gorgeous! The wood has weathered a bit, and those 3-4 small raspberry bushes filled in like CRAZY, providing us with a ton of insanely delicious berries.

The strawberries have also filled in, and we’ve been transplanting the runners to the next garden wave (took out the basil and mint), for even more berries.

The hops have ALSO grown like crazy, and are threatening to take over our upper deck! Love it!

Not only do we love the look of pathway, but it has the added benefit of making our whole side yard a NO MOWING area!

Because we used a high quality hard wood, this path will look great for many years to come. Even as it degrades, it will only gain character!

So there you have it. Not a TON of work, with such great results!

On the afternoon of May 22, 2011, North Minneapolis was devastated by a tornado. Twisted recounts the Porters’ first 11 months, post disaster. Rebuilding their house, working around the challenges presented by inadequate insurance coverage. Frustration at repeated bouts of incompetence and greed from their city officials. Dealing with issues such as loss of control, logistics, change, and over-stimulation, as an Aspergian woman.

Subjects covered include: Opportunistic “Vultures”, gawkers, new friendships, a bizarre gingerbread house, unique decisions made with the rebuild – including an internet-famous kitchen backsplash, “Tornado Claus”, contractor drama, water balloons, DIY design and work, music, sensory overload, and details on how to cook jambalaya for almost 300 people, in the parking lot of a funeral home… should you ever find yourself in the position to do so. Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

How to Make Compound Butters – Easy & Versatile!

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking/working on my upcoming corn cookbook. It still feels weird to be on contract with a publisher (or, as I call it.. “Minnesota Historical Society Press owns my ass til December”), but I’m having fun with it. My corn freak husband is, as well – any excuse to move more corn through our kitchen is GREAT, by him!

In preparing foods to photograph for this cookbook, I had to make a bunch of compound butters. Oh, I love compound butters – they’re a great thing to have on hand, and SO versatile. Truth be told, I went a bit crazy with it… so here’s a blog entry to share!

Compound butter is an extremely simple thing – you take a soft stick of butter, and mix STUFF into it. Spices, fresh herbs, zest, finely chopped vegetables… whatever.

Literally – WHATEVER… if you can think of some sort of flavorful aromatic, odds are you can make a compound butter with it. This post isn’t so much a recipe, as it is a springboard for your own ideas and recipes.

The casual nature of that description doesn’t really do justice to compound butter’s place in cuisine – it’s a very basic part of fine French cooking. Compound butters were made ahead of time to add flavor to almost any dish. Melted compound butter would serve as a substitute for a sauce, while room temperature butters would be served alongside steak, vegetables, seafood. Anchovy butter was (is?) quite popular, along with flavors such as truffle, tarragon, garlic… even wine.

Beyond historical use, compound butters are great in any modern kitchen. Given that compound butters can be made either sweet or savory, the possibilities are endless.

– Melt some as a sauce. I recently crated a rice/bean based gluten free flatbread type… thing. (I know, the name REALLY sells it…). Fresh off the griddle, ripped up and dipped into a melted, curry flavored compound butter? Amazing.

– Use compound butter on hot ears of fresh corn.

– Spread on bread, alone or as part of a sandwich.

– Melt over popcorn! Seriously… probably our favorite use for it. You’ll never want to use powdered popcorn seasonings ever again!

How do you make it? Simple!

Take a stick or two of butter, allow it to come to room temperature – you’ll want it nice and soft. Stir in whatever flavoring agents you like (see below), mixing and matching as desired. I like to go 2-3 Tbsp of solids (fresh herbs, zest, whatever) or around ~1- 1.5 Tbsp of powders per stick of butter, as a rough guide… but there’s a lot of room to play. Make sure to pack a lot of flavor into it (1/2 tsp of, say, curry powder will NOT cut it!). Also, I try to vary colors to make it look pretty – for instance, mint and cilantro in with the curry powder!

Whip it until everything is well distributed. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or just long enough for it to firm up slightly – but still be workable. Dump it out onto a section of plastic wrap and roll it into a log. (Alternatively, mush it into an appropriately sized ramekin or other vessel.) Chill until firmly set.

Try to use the butter within one week, if stored in the fridge. If you’d like to hang on to it for longer than that, it can be stored in the freezer for about a month.


Pesto compound butter on popcorn

Now, as far as what to put in it…

For a sweet compound butter (Awesome on French toast, hot cinnamon buns, grilled fruit, etc…), I like to use berries, along with either honey or maple syrup. You can mix cinnamon and brown sugar.. maple and brown sugar.. pureed fruit (mangoes!), citrus zest, etc. Try finely chopping dried fruits, soaking them for a day or so in some booze, and using that. (Whiskey raisins, amaretto and dried apricots, grand marnier and dried cranberries, etc). Yum!

For savory, you can really run wild. Basically, any fresh or dried herb or spice is fair game, as well as other items: crumbled bacon, dried mushrooms, anchovies, mustard, pesto, crushed peppercorns, etc.

Some other ideas:

– Dijon mustard compound butter is particularly amazing on roasted corn on the cob.

– Caramelized onion.. with or without dried mushrooms.

– Finely chopped canned chipotle peppers, along with some of the adobo sauce they came in.

– Curry powder with mint and cilantro is amazing.

Oh, and be sure to consider sharing the love – logs or little ceramic pots of compound butter make great hostess gifts!

Logs: Peel the plastic wrap off your well chilled – FIRM – log of compound butter. Wrap tightly with a clean pieces of plastic wrap, before rolling it up in a piece of something more decorative – parchment paper, cellophane, craft paper, etc. Tie off either end with some twine or ribbon, and label it with a flavor if you want. Done!

Pots: press your still-soft compound butter into a ceramic ramekin, right after mixing it up. Use the back side of a spoon to create a pretty swirl on top of the butter, chill till firm. Place chilled ramekin in the middle of a large piece of cellophane, draw all of the sides and corners up, and secure on top of the ramekin with a bow – ribbon or twine.


From left: Mushroom & Rosemary, Jalepeno, Cilantro, Lime (with a splash of tequila!), Chipotle-cilantro, orange zest & tarragon, basil pesto, curry with cilantro and mint.

If you’re already a fan of compound butter, what are your favorite flavors? If you’re new to this, what do you think you’d like to try out?

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Rum Runners – Cocktail Recipe

I’ve been meaning to post today’s recipe for a long time … ah, procrastination!

Anyway, as I’d mentioned in last year’s Rum Runner Trifle post, this cocktail is one of my all time favorites. I’m a fan of rum, I’m a fan of really sweet “girlie drinks”… in my eyes, there’s nothing NOT to love in this cocktail!

Here’s the thing: It’s called “rum runner” for a reason – There’s a lot of booze, and it sneaks up on you. Much like the ‘rum runners” from back in the prohibition days, this drink does a really good job of concealing the alcohol! If you’re up for it, you can also pour another oz of rum over top – dark rum, ideally! Personally, I like it without the optional dark rum float.

This is a really great drink to make larger volumes of, for parties. By the pitcher, by the cooler… just be sure to have some designated drivers on hand!

Rum Runner Cocktail Recipe

1 oz Amber rum
1 oz light rum
1 oz creme de banane
1 oz blackberry brandy
1-2 oz orange juice
1-2 oz pineapple juice
Splash of grenadine
Splash of Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice

Fill a cocktail glass* with ice – ice should come just above the edge of the glass.

Measure ingredients into a shaker. Shake, then pour contents into the cocktail glass. Garnish with a pineapple wedge, orange and/or lime slices, and/or a maraschino cherry.

(That’s how you’re supposed to do it. Honestly, I skip the shaker and just pour the ingredients straight into the glass!)

To make this for large groups, forget the “oz” measures, go for “parts”. 1 cup of each ingredient will yield about 8 servings… and I recommend using 2 parts of each of the juices, unless you want a really quick drunkfest!

* I like to use fancier tall glasses for this, usually some variation on a hurricane glass.

Interested in boozy culinary experiments? You’ll LOVE my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker!

Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.

To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Homemade Watermelon Wine

Apparently today is “National Watermelon Day”. I had today’s recipe all ready to publish, but I have the *perfect* recipe for watermelon day, so…

You know, one of these days, I’m gonna make a calendar of all of these “days”, and keep them in mind ahead of time. Sounds like a much better plan than ending up distracted at the last minute!

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a homemade wine recipe. Watermelon wine is not only tasty, it’s easy to make and a unique choice for summer imbibing. Also, we’re a little overdue on putting on this summer’s batch. What can I say, the tornado screwed with our summer brewing schedule when it turned our lives upside down!

If you haven’t attempted making wine before, don’t be intimidated! Check out our primer to home brewing, it starts here, with parts 2 and 3 here and here. Just a small handful of entries, and you’ll be good to go!

This recipe uses few ingredients, but it’s important to make them the right ones. Most importantly: (more…)

Beer Battered Corn on the Cob… on a Stick

My husband LOVES corn… I mean in a fanatical, almost absurd way. On one of his birthdays, we went so far as to craft a “day of corn”, where every main dish, side, snack, and even DESSERT (ice cream) was made with corn. He could survive on the stuff.

So of course, when the state fair rolls around.. he looks forward to going for the roasted corn, etc. I just think of all the crazy amounts of people, the heat, and the nasty smell of grease (which he loves)… and the urge to hermit wells up.

This year I was particularly not in the mood to brave the crowds, so I made him a deal. I will come up with a recipe to batter corn on the cob IN a corn based batter and deep fry it.. if we don’t go to the Fair. Hell, I’d even do it “on a stick” to give him a bit more of the State Fair experience… but at home.

I lived up to my end of it, and we were both *very* pleasantly surprised by the results. Here’s how you can make the same at home!

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