Monday, April 28, 2008

Suspect Am Green Goddess

My husband just asked what I was going to blog about, and when I answered "salads," he rolled his eyes. And yet I persist. After all, I started a salad project a couple of months ago in an attempt to beckon spring and have tried to see it through. With the drop in temperature and return of gray days in this week's forecast, it seemed a good idea to remind Mother Nature that I've been doing my part. I promised salads in exchange for spring, and I want to get paid in more of the excellent weather we enjoyed last week.

So, here goes, an account of my salad adventures: one failure, one acceptable plus product, and two successes.

The Failure: Celery Seed Dressing
Source: America's Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget

I checked this cookbook out of the library a few weeks back and though I was not tempted by too many of the heirloom recipes (many just too involved for my skill and interest level), I did enjoy reading the history of each recipe. This celery seed dressing was apparently a favorite at a restaurant called the Coin Room in Rike's Department Store in Dayton, OH. I have fond memories of taking the bus to downtown Hamilton, OH and then eating chicken salad at the Elder-Beerman Tea Room with my grandma. It made me feel grown up and fancy. My grandma's sister moved to Dayton as a young woman because her uncle found her a job there, and I think I was charmed by the idea that perhaps my Great Aunt Dot had at some time or another enjoyed some of this celery seed dressing at the Coin Room.

My celery seed dressing was horrible, and I mean horrible. One ingredient the recipe calls for is 2 tablespoons of grated yellow onion. When I tasted my dressing, I felt that I was basically eating onion juice. It was completely terrible. I opened the cookbook back up to see if I had missed some test kitchen tips about grating onions, and it was then that I realized that one of the key ingredients of the dressing is celery seed. It is, after all, called "celery seed dressing." I am now convinced that the horror that was my dressing resulted not from the recipe itself but from my own inability to read. More specifically, my failure to understand that celery seed means celery seed and not celery salt. Basically, I made celery salt dressing and guess what, it sucked. However, if you are interested in the Coin Room Celery Seed Dressing and are confident of your own ability to read, email me for the recipe ( and I will be happy to send it your way.

The Acceptable Plus Product: Old-Fashioned Macaroni Salad
Source: What Can I Bring? Cookbook by Anne Byrne

I've previously mentioned that every member of my family except me has a fairly strong aversion to mayonnaise. Thus, I did not grow up eating macaroni salad and on the few occasions when I have had the opportunity to sample it, have seldom done so (out of some strange combination of habit/loyalty). Anyway, I know that many people enjoy macaroni salad, and I have a pantry teeming with macaroni so I thought I'd give it a try. The recipe I used called for more vegetables than I expected (green pepper, carrots, celery, red onion), and I was pleased with how colorful the final product was. I also thought it tasted good and enjoyed it more knowing that it had been served straight from my fridge instead of sitting out for who knows how long. I think the hubby enjoyed it as well, but at the end of the day, I am rating it only an acceptable plus product because even though I do not hate mayonnaise, I don't relish (relish is an ingredient too) the idea of a salad recipe that requires two cups of mayonnaise. Even if it's light mayonnaise, which it was in my kitchen, that's just too much mayo for me to feel good about making and eating macaroni salad too often.

Success #1: Orzo Salad
Source: Giadia De Laurentis

Okay, first of all, how stinking cute is Giada? I might be a little bit in love with her. So, I made her Orzo Salad, and I felt it was awesome. I would readily bring it to a summer cookout or serve it in a situation when I might normally serve pasta salad. I thought it tasted really fresh and that it looked just lovely too. My only warning is that the salad calls for fresh basil and fresh mint; both ingredients are essential to the dish so I wouldn't leave them out. However, these are items I had to purposely go out and buy and which, while perhaps not prohibitively priced, are not cheap ($2.99 per each at the Jewel, but I just realized today, only $1.99 at Trader Joe's). I don't think the hubby loved the orzo salad, but as he hates tomatoes, a key ingredient, I figure that is his problem not the salad's.

Success #2: Basil Green Goddess Dressing
Source: Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa

The comments section of this soup post clue you in to some of my previous thoughts about Ina, but I admit that lately I have been warming to her a bit (though there is still something about the Hamptons that just gets on my nerves, though I've never been). I saw Ina make this dressing on an episode where she was making a simple dinner for herself, a salad to eat while she worked away on one of her cookbooks. As I like basil, I wanted to give it a whirl. As with the orzo salad, you will have to make a special trip to the store unless you keep fresh basil and anchovy paste always in stock. The dressing involved many ingredients but could be made in the blender (I appreciate it when things do not require the food processor as I have to read the directions each time I use mine and live in fear of losing a digit). I served it to my in-laws and hubby with positive feedback from all (except hubby who, for reasons known only to himself, chose to dress his salad with some store-bought, though organic, red pepper thousand island dressing). My mother-in-law and I agreed that it is actually better the second day because the lemon flavor is a little more subdued then. I plan to make it again; after all, I have the anchovy paste now. NTB.

As a result of my successes I am now considering growing some basil right here in my own kitchen. If I do so, I will no longer suspect but actually know myself to be a green goddess. NTB.


Steph said...

Wow - a very impressive post! I think the two successes definitely have more weight than the others, and I'm giving you extra points for the fresh basil and mint.

I love Green Goddess dressing but have never made it. I also love reading cook books, but fairly make anything from them. Ha!

Tell T that he's letting down the family - how can he not like tomatoes? ;-)

Actchy said...

MEP, I am officially hungry after reading today's post. (Except for the celery seed bit, which does sound a little oniony.) I, too, am a huge Giadia fan, and it doesn't ever bother me to hear her say "spaghetti" the way I thought it might.

I totally suggest growing some basil in your kitchen. Last year I received a pretty window herb garden as a gift. It came with seeds for basil, oregano, and chive, and, inexplicably, grew basil, oregano, and basil. But I am NOT a gardener and live in a Manhattan apartment, to boot, and was still able to maintain the herbs from April through late-August. (This reminds me...I think I need to go out and buy some seeds to replant.) And, you can freeze pesto sauce with great success when the basil gets unwieldy -- and you can make pesto in the blender.

Anonymous said...

I am impressed with your energy to try new recipes. I love reading the recipes but there has been a drought here on actually cooking anything new and different. The celery seed dressing, if I recall, was very similiar to the celery seed dressing at the Golden Lamb in Lebanon and honestly the jars atBob Evans is not far off. m

cake said...

every now and then i feel compelled to make the macaroni salad from my childhood. my mom always made it for picnics, or, for some reason, road trips. it is not healthy, nor is it fancy or impressive. it has macaroni, tons of mayo, peas, sweet gerkin pickles, and maybe onions. it is my all time favorite summer comfort food. well, second to strawberries.

have i mentioned before that you totally crack me up? you do. thanks.

Anonymous said...

I love the Barefoot Contessa. She is a favorite of J-Dog (a new nickname for Joyce given by my brother). She has all of her cookbooks. I tried the orzo and green goddess. Thanks for sharing. J-Dog could hook you up with several herbs if you are interested in starting an herb garden!!

Thanks for sharing

MEP said...

First off, I love that your mom is now being referred to as J-Dog and am not at all surprised that she is a Barefoot Contessa fan! I'm not sure how the herbs would travel between Hamilton and here so I will attempt to grow my own (actually, to buy and then simply water some sort of starter plant) but if I need any advice, I will contact J-Dog.

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