June 07, 2021. Dear Kids– There’s nothing like a gift from your grandma- whether it’s a tee shirt or mug with “World’s Best Grandchild” on it, the $5 bill she secretly hands to you on the way out the door or the hand knitted blanket you still sleep with as an adult- but there’s no better grandma gift than one of her beloved recipes she hands down so you can make and share it with all your loved ones even if she’s not around or just too tired to make it herself. So today I give you not one, but two, of these wonderful gifts- a potato salad recipe from GM and a macaroni salad from Granny!
Many years ago, and at about the same time in separate upstate NY backyards (Mom’s backyard was younger than mine), there were two delicious salads wowing family and friends at cookouts. Sure, the dads back then thought they were cool and the stars of the show by making fire and burning meat in the backyard charcoal grill, with enough lighter fluid to ignite a city block, but the true heart and soul of the backyard cookout were the side dishes prepared by the moms. Some were good, like Grandma Brown’s baked beans with bacon and pineapple, and some not so good, like Jello Fruit Surprise (Surprise! No one liked it!)- but the dishes that were gobbled down without hesitation, frequently requested whether there was a cookout or not and stood the test of time were these two salads- GM’s Potato Salad and Granny’s Tuna Mac.
GM’s Potato Salad gets a punch of brightness from the sign of the times bottled Italian dressing, along with the pleasant, contrasting crunch and flavor from the finely minced vegetables, which never quite achieved the same status as bottled dressing back in the day. GM was way ahead of her time then, often trying to make many traditional recipes healthier and, while that works well here, I’m not sure I’ll be passing along her Chocolate Chip Oatmeal and Wheat Bran Cookie recipe any time soon! As for Granny, she was also an innovator with the addition of seafood to her macaroni salad- a much healthier option than the fatty, cured meats popular in pasta salads at the time. It may have only been canned tuna (your Great Aunt did a version with canned, tiny shrimp if you want to be fancy you can use this), but remember there was not even a whiff of fish at a cookout or usually not even at home, back then.
Prep Time: Tater: 25 minutes Mac: 15 minutes
Cook Time: Tater: 20 minutes Mac: 10 minutes
Servings: Tater: 6-8 Mac: 6-8
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
GM’s Potato Salad
- 2 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces.
- 2-4 tablespoons of bottled Italian dressing
- 1/2- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2-3 celery stalks, minced
- 1/2 cup minced bell pepper, red, yellow, orange, but never green
- 1/4 cup minced red onion
- pickle juice to taste, optional (not authentic GM)
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 hard boiled eggs, cut into rounds or wedges, for garnish
- fresh chopped herbs of your choice, for garnish- GM is a huge fan of the hard to find lovage (tastes like celery), but parsley, chives and/or basil all work too
Granny’s Tuna Mac
- 8 ounce elbow macaroni
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 8-12 ounces canned solid white tuna, drained and crumbled
- 2-3 celery stalks, minced- optional (not authentic Granny)
- 1/4 red onion, minced- optional (not authentic Granny)
- pickle juice, to taste- optional (not authentic Granny)
- 2 hard boiled eggs, cut into wedges, for garnish
- fresh chopped herbs of your choice, for garnish- parsley, chives and/or dill- optional (not authentic Granny)
Veganize It: Use vegan mayo, of course, and swap in two 14 ounce cans of drained, rinsed and slightly smashed and 1/2 cup of grated carrots for tuna. Definitely, not authentic Granny.
COOK AND PLAY
Play “The Grandmother Song, by Steve Martin, a stand up comic who was all the rage in my youth, and have a wild and crazy time at your cookout. Click here for the Official Dad’s Dinner Diary Cook and Playlist!
GM’s Potato Salad
- Tender Taters. Place potatoes in a big pot of salted water and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, adjust to a simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes. Drain water from potatoes, return drained potatoes to pot, gently toss with Italian dressing and allow to cool a bit.
- Delicious Dressing. In a large bowl, mix in most of the mayo, celery, bell pepper, red onion and pickle juice, if you want to be a rebel, and salt and pepper to taste- remember you have to taste the dressing in order to season it to taste! Add potatoes to dressing and gently stir dressing so it’s evenly mixed with potatoes. It’s OK if the potatoes break down a bit since it adds a natural “creaminess” to the salad. Stir in more mayo if you like. Garnish with eggs and fresh herbs.
- Mostly Tender Mac. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, add macaroni and cook according to package directions or your taste. Drain water from macaroni, return it to the pot and, if you still want to be a rebel, toss it with some pickle juice with macaroni. Allow to cool a bit.
- Delicious Dressing. In a large bowl, mix in most of the mayo, onion powder and salt and pepper to taste. If you want a some texture and some veg, stir in celery and red onion, then toss dressing with macaroni and add tuna. Stir in more mayo if you like. Garnish with eggs and fresh herbs.
Cookout, Barbecue or Picnic? The name used to described the gathering of family and friends in backyards across America for the quick grilling of food like hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salmon, etc varies by region. Our family would call it a cookout and/or a picnic, but many other families would call it a barbeque- I really don’t think many ever really called it a “picnic” to be honest. Of course, you can call it what you want, but having lived down south to see and taste what it calls “barbeque” and which is the culmination of hours and hours of dedication and a good bit of technique taken to prepare various and delicious slowly smoked meats, I will always, out of respect, call it a cookout.
The Magic of Pickle Juice. I’ve waxed poetic before about the magic of leftover pickle juice to liven up salads, vinaigrettes, marinades, etc and, although neither of your grandmothers used it in their salads, I, with all due respect, suggest you try it in their salads to see what you think. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you liked it- after all you are their grandchildren and I am their son/son-in-law.
Bonus “Granddad” Coleslaw Recipe. Maybe I’ll be a granddad someday (no pressure), but even if I’m not, I wanted to be sure to pass along one of my recipes that, may or may not, become a cheerished “Granddad” cookout “salad” recipe. For “Granddad” Coleslaw, make the dressing first by mixing up 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or to taste- we like it tangy, so maybe a bit more), 2-4 tablespoons brown sugar (taste it to see how much you would like to balance the vinegar), 1/4 cup grated sweet onion, 1 grated garlic clove, 2 teaspoons celery seed (optional, but worth it), kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste. Once the dressing is how you like it, toss most of it with a pound or so of thinly sliced green cabbage and 1-2 grated carrots- add more dressing just before serving if you think it needs it. Next time I make this, I’ll try to remember to take a picture and add it here.
Better Burger Buns. It’s more than likely you’ll be eating a burger of some sort with these salads, so I thought I’d offer you some “Stay Crisp Bun Technology” (patent pending) to get the crispiest burger buns in town. It’s another page out of my crusade to keep crispy food crispy. Your burger buns will be infinitely better if you toast them and, smearing them with a little cow or plant butter before toasting, will give you the best toasting for sure. Now, just as soon as most people go to all the trouble of toasting their buns, they take away all that nice crisp by dousing them with one or more anti-crisp condiments and burger toppings. Fortunately, I have a way to save the crisp on your burger buns by simply cutting the top part of your buns in half crosswise, putting it back together to toast the bottom of the bun and then putting the condiments and toppings in between the cut upper bun were they stay separate from the crispy, toasted part of the bun as depicted below.
Another way to save the crisp of a toasted bun, is by cutting off the top third or so of the bun (discard or feed it to your dog) and toasting the exposed top of the bun, which will stay on top of the burger and away from the anti-crisp condiments and toppings.
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