Saturday, September 8, 2012

Recipe--World's Best Potato Salad

Well, I see it's been more than 6 months since I posted on this here blog, so I guess it is safe to say that I've been ignoring it!  Sorry, blog.  I'll try not to do that again.

My daughter (who is in college and comes home on the weekends) asked me if I would make a batch of potato salad.  She loves my potato salad and has been craving it lately.  I told her I would make it if she would help, and she did!  (Well, she left when it was time to clean up, but she had a dinner date.)

I've been making potato salad so long, that I can make it without a written recipe.  I've refined the recipe through years of trial and error.  While it was fresh on my mind after just making a batch, I thought I would write it all down and share it with you.

As soon as it was done, my daughter ate a few bites and waxed rhapsodic about it (yes, rhapsodic is a word--look it up).  Then she said, "I may be biased because I'm your offspring, but I think you make the best potato salad in the world."  So that is what I named this recipe--World's Best Potato Salad.  Your mileage may vary, but let me know what you think.

World’s Best Potato Salad
This is a southern potato salad.  It’s chunky and not very mustard-y.  It is served cold or at room temperature. I grew up eating potato salad and learned to make it from both my mom and my dad.  Their potato salads were great, but I think mine is the best!  I’ve refined my recipe over the years, and there is a little flexibility in the recipe, too, if you want to vary the taste a little. 

When I write down a recipe, I always go into lots of detail about technique and specific ingredients.  That way, you can duplicate my results.  So much of becoming a good cook is learning through trial and error and finding what works best, so I’ll just save you a little trial and error!

This recipe makes about 2 quarts of potato salad.  You can halve the recipe, double it, or even quadruple it.  It comes out great any way.

2 ½ pounds of russet or Idaho potatoes. (You can use golden potatoes, or red potatoes, or any other kind you like.  I like the texture of these potatoes, but your dish will be good with any kind.)

6 eggs (If you are vegan, you can omit the eggs and it will still be good.)

½ yellow onion (You can use red or purple onion if you like—I don’t like white onions for this because they are a little to onion-y, if you know what I mean.)

1 large stalk of celery (or 2 small stalks)  (Whatever you do, do not cut off and throw away the celery leaves!  Those things are delicious and add extra flavor.  Chop them up fine when you chop up the celery.)

About 3 tablespoons of either dill pickle relish or chopped dill pickles.  (Some people like sweet relish or pickles in their potato salad—you can substitute that if you like.)

¾ cup of mayonnaise (I use plain-old Helmann’s mayo.  You can use Miracle Whip if you prefer that taste.  Using low fat mayo or olive oil mayo will change the taste, but, hey, go ahead and experiment!  Vegan’s can substitute vegan mayo for this ingredient and leave out the next one.)

½ cup of sour cream (You can use low fat sour cream—you will never taste the difference. This is one of my secret ingredients.  I think it adds just a little tartness and lightens up the dish.)

2-3 tablespoons of mustard  (I use Dijon mustard.  You can use whatever kind you like or have on hand—yellow mustard, spicy mustard, brown mustard—it’s all good.)

Zest from ½ lemon (Another secret ingredient!  Lemon zest adds brightness to the flavors without giving it a distinctly lemony taste.  I use a micro-planer to zest my lemon.  The fine side of the cheese grater works okay, but the zest all seems to stick to the grater and you have to scrape it off. )

1 tsp salt  (I usually use Seasoned Salt, but regular salt is fine.)

½ tsp pepper (black or white)

½ tsp celery salt (Another of my secret ingredients—try not to leave this out, it really punches up the flavor.)

½ tsp paprika and more for garnish if you like

1 tsp dill weed (Fresh chopped dill is best, but if you don’t have it, you can leave it out.)

Optional Ingredients:  ¼ tsp garlic powder, 1 tablespoon of chopped pimentos for color

Scrub the potatoes and put them in a big pot, cover with water and put them on to boil.  I don’t time the boiling.  I just keep checking the potatoes with a knife or fork every few minutes to see when they are tender.  When a knife or fork goes in to the center of the potato without much resistance, they are done.  Immediately drain them and leave them in the colander or sink to cool a little.  (Some people peel and chop their potatoes before boiling.  They will cook much faster this way, but I find that they tend to become overcooked too easily.  You want your chunks of potato to hold together when mixed into the salad, not to turn into mush.  If you like your potato salad with the potatoes mashed, then go ahead and peel and chop before you boil.)

At the same time, put the eggs in a separate pot from the potatoes and cover them with cold water.  Put them on the burner on high heat and watch closely.  When the eggs just barely come to a boil, cover the pot and turn off the heat.  Let the eggs sit in the hot water until the potatoes are done (or about 15 minutes).  (I also put about 1 tablespoon of vinegar in the water at the start—it supposedly helps make them easier to peel.  I’m not really sure if that is true.)  Drain the eggs and return them to the pot with some ice and cold water the help them cool down.

While your potatoes and eggs are cooking, dice the onion, celery and pickles into a fine dice.  You could use the food processor for the onions and celery if you like, but don’t process them too much.  I prefer just to chop with a knife.  It doesn’t take that long.   Put the chopped veggies in a medium sized bowl.  Add to the bowl all the rest of the ingredients.  Mix the veggies, condiments and spices well.  At this point, I always taste the mixture to see if it needs something else (like more salt or pickles or fairy dust).

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them.  You can scrape the peels off easily with a paring knife—no need to use a potato peeler.  Don’t worry if there are few scraps of peel still on the potatoes.  (Some people leave the peels on.  I do that if I’m using a potato with a very thin skin, like red or golden potatoes.  I don’t like the texture of the thicker skins, so I take them off—again, do what you like.)

Dice the potatoes into about ½ inch dice.  This give you a nice chunk of potato that you can tell you are biting into.  Too large and the flavors of the dressing don’t permeate the potato.  Too small and you’re back to the mashed potato salad (which is fine if that is what you like).

When the eggs are cool, peel them and dice them into about ¼ inch dice.  The small dice allows the eggs to be incorporated throughout the salad so you get some in every bite.

Place the diced potatoes and eggs in a very large bowl and toss them together.  Then pour the dressing mixture over all and stir gently with a large spoon until everything is mixed evenly.  I find it is much easier to mix the potato salad and not break up the potatoes and eggs too much if you mix all the veggies, condiments and spices together first like I described here.

If you want a pretty presentation, press the potato salad into a nice dish and top with sliced boiled eggs (you will need to boil a few extra if you do this) and sprinkle with paprika.  This is how my mom always made it!

You can serve this immediately, or refrigerate it.  I think it tastes better the second and third days, as the flavors get a chance to meld.  If you are taking it to a picnic or barbeque, pack it in an ice chest.  If it sits out at room temperature more than two hours, throw out the leftovers—food poisoning is not worth it!

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Fair Lady

A few years ago I did the costumes for "My Fair Lady" at The Plaza TheatreAs usual, we had a limited budget, but I was determined to have professional looking costumes.  With a lot of hard work and penny pinching, we succeeded!  The most iconic scene is the Ascot scene.  
 Everyone was in black and white or gray.  The men were all wearing "morning suits" with gray or black top hats.

  I recreated the white lace dress with black and white ribbon worn by Eliza in the movie. 

Here is what the original looked like.

The following is a brief description of how I recreated the dress.  If you are in need of more detail, just email me and I'll try to help you out.

First I had to figure out how to do the black and white trim.  If you are lucky, maybe you will find a black and white striped fabric that you could use to make the trim.  Me, I wasn't so lucky.  It dawned on me that I could use grosgrain ribbon to recreate the look.  I took 7/8" black and white grosgrain ribbon and butted them up next to each other and sewed them together with a wide zigzag stitch.  I think I used white thread, but you could use black.  Either way, the stitching wouldn't show from the stage.  I used a whole lot of ribbon.  As you can see, the rows are black, white, black, white, black.  And there are bows involved.  You will have to do the math yourself to see how much ribbon is needed.  Once it was all sewn together, it was very easy to work with.

Then I had to make a lace dress.  I knew I needed a lot of lace fabric for this dress so I kept my eyes open for sales.  I stumbled across some lace fabric yardage that was very inexpensive (and looked very nice--also an important factor) for around $3 a yard.  At that price, I bought the whole bolt.

The next step was the pattern.  You see that dress Audrey Hepburn is wearing up there?  There is no currently available commercial pattern for that dress.  I had to create one.  It had to be modified to work with our production and our actress, but still evoke the original.  I went through my stash of patterns and put together parts of two or three different patterns that would result in the look I wanted.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have extensive measurements of your actress when you are making something this fitted.  Bust, waist, hip is not nearly enough.  You should measure across the shoulders in the back, above the bust, below the bust, neck to waist, and around the upper arm.  There is nothing worse than making a garment that fits everywhere except in the circumference of the sleeves.

Then I started thinking about how a sheer lace would work as a dress.  Obviously it would need a lining.  But if you put a white lining behind a white lace, then the lace will disappear (especially on stage).  I decided to use a beige or nude lining.  This allows the lace to be seen.  I did not line the sleeves or the lower ruffle.  Our dress did not have a train like the original because it didn't work with our production (our stage is not that big, so people would be walking on it when the actors moved around).

Once we added the purchased hat and parasol, I thought the effect was excellent.  

Later I will post some suggestions about how to purchase tuxedos very inexpensively.  You will be surprised at how cheap they can be gotten!

Happy costuming!

A Bag Made From Plastic Bags!

I am on a spring-cleaning binge.  I'm also in a "let's save the earth by recycling" mindset, so that slows down the cleaning process quite a bit.  I don't want to just throw things into the landfill.  That's why I have a room full of boxes of stuff to sell at a garage sale.  Soon, soon . . . .

So when I looked at the giant bag full of recyclable grocery bags in my pantry, I knew I needed to do something with them.  Sure, I could take them back to the store and put them in that big "recycle your bags here" box, but who knows where they really go from there?  I decided to make something from them.

I've run across pictures and tutorials about making things from "plarn" and I decided to try it.  Plarn is yarn made from plastic bags.  Basically, you cut the bags into strips that you loop together and then use them like yarn and crochet something.  There are tons of tutorials for this process.  Here is one.  

Once you've made your plarn, you have to make something with it.   Most people seem to make bags---like bags you can bring your groceries home in.  I loved the concept--use plastic grocery bags to make a reusable plastic grocery bag!  It's so reductive!

Here's what I made.  
I got real fancy and kept the different bags separate.  The bottom half is Wal-Mart bags and the top half is HEB bags.  It seems very sturdy.  I believe you could probably carry a bowling ball in it!  It is smaller than I thought it would turn out, but it is not as scratchy as I thought it would be.

Here's a picture with a 2 pound coffee can inside:
It was an interesting project.  I'm not sure if I'll make another, but it was a good way to get rid of a ton of bags (I probably used at least 50 bags to make this one).  If you are interested in trying it, there are lots of patterns available on the net.  Here is a random one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Sweet Scallops Tote

My daughter saw this Sweet Scallops Tote on Craftgawker and had to have it. 

The link is to the tutorial on how to make it.  I have to say, See Kate Sew is a pretty cool sewing blog.  I made a few changes in the directions and this is what I came up with:

Sorry for my crappy photography!  I just use my iPhone.

My daughter picked out the fabrics she liked for the scallops.  We varied the patterns, colors and textures, but all were cotton.

 The directions called for 1/4 yard of each scallop fabric, but that was enough for me to make two bags!  After sewing the scallops together and trimming, turning and ironing, I arranged them in a pleasing pattern.

I sewed them on the simple rectangular canvas bag and added handles and lining.  I sandwiched my handles between the lining and the bag instead of sewing them on the outside like the tutorial suggested.

For a little visual interest, I added some fabric covered buttons.  The lining is really cute too.

I'll try to get some photos of the bags in actionThey were very easy to make!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Perfect Sausage Cheese Balls

I’ve been making sausage cheese balls for over 20 years.  I have perfected the recipe.  You can thank me after you eat them.  Here are all the tips and tricks I’ve learned, along with the recipe.
As you can see, this recipe has been used a lot!

   2 pounds of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage (this is the only brand that gives me consistently good results—you can try another brand, but I can’t vouch for the outcome)
·         4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
·         1 ½ cups of Bisquik baking mix (Pioneer baking mix works too)
·         ½ cup finely chopped celery
·         ½ cup (or more) of finely chopped onion
·         2-4 cloves of finely chopped garlic or ½ tsp of garlic powder (to taste)

·         Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

·         Form into one inch balls and place on baking sheets (they may be frozen at this point to bake later, but really, why?)

·         Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees or until golden brown.

Tips to make this job 100% easier:

·        Take the sausage out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (at least an hour or so).   It is almost impossible to mix the ingredients thoroughly if the meat is cold.

·         Do not under any circumstances try to use plain flour instead of baking mix.  You will get golf balls.  Also, check the expiration date on your baking mix.  It doesn’t last that long.  If it is expired, buy some fresh.  Baking mix has baking powder and other additives that flour doesn’t have that allow it to rise.  I keep mine in the refrigerator after it is open to prolong the shelf life.

·         Use the biggest bowl you own to mix these ingredients.  The only way to mix them is with your hands.  Get them both in there and mix it up good!

·         Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  If you don’t have parchment paper, buy some.  Nothing else works.  Even though they have a lot of fat in them, these will stick to the pan, whether greased or ungreased, they will stick to aluminum foil, and they will fall apart when you try to pry them off.

·         Try to make all your balls about the same size.  They cook more evenly that way.  I make mine about one inch in diameter.  You can use a rounded tablespoon or a melon scoop if you can’t judge the size easily.  Be sure to roll them in your palms to meld the ingredients together.

·         The balls may be placed very close together on the baking sheets as they don’t enlarge much.  I can usually get a whole batch on two baking sheets.  The recipe makes about 70 to 80 balls.

·         After they are cooked, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove them to a container lined with paper towels to soak up any grease.

Frugal Costuming, Part I

Most of my sewing revolves around creating costumes for a community theater.  As a non-profit theater in a small town, we work on a tight budget.  I've come up with lots of techniques to minimize the cost of creating costumes without the costumes looking "cheap".   This will be the first in a series of articles about frugal costuming.  I hope some of these ideas will help other community theaters or schools.

  • Always check your costume inventory.  You may have something that can be adapted or reused.  For example, I made a jacket for the Grasshopper in James and the Giant Peach by adapting a ladies green blazer I had by adding long green tails in the back made with matching fabric.
  • Thrift stores are your best friends!  I spend a lot of time in Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other local thrift stores.  I always go armed with a list of what I need (including sizes).  Some of the thrift stores that I shop frequently will even sometimes send an employee to search the racks to see if they have a particular item I'm looking for.  They will also call me if they get in vintage items (which I always snap up if the price is right).
  • Develop an inventory of sewing patterns.  I wait for the sales and then buy up dozens of patterns that I think might be useful.  Joann Fabrics frequently puts one brand of pattern or another on sale for 99 cents or $1.99.  I rarely pay list price for a pattern.  Especially look for costume patterns that are frequently used.  Sometimes I get them in several sizes.  If I'm only going to buy one size I get the larger one.  It's easier to make a pattern smaller than larger (in my opinion).
  • Keep a stash of basic fabrics that you find on sale.  We have several area Wal-Mart stores that sell fabrics for $1 or $2 a yard.  If you find a nice men's suiting fabric or a crushed velvet or a nice satin in a good color, buy it!  Muslin can be used for lots of things (including costumes that you paint) so buy it up when you find it super-cheap.  When I'm buying fabric that I don't have a particular use for at the time, if it is really cheap, I buy a lot--at least 5 yards.  I've been known to buy a whole bolt of particularly nice fabric if it particularly cheap.  Of course, always check your stash to see if you have something that will work before you go out and buy fabric for a particular costume.
  • E-bay is also your friend!  There is an amazing amount of clothing available on E-bay.  Search for what you are looking for and you are likely to find it.  I only buy things that are cheap.  I only deal with reputable dealers who have tons of positive ratings.  Don't forget about the E-bay stores.  A search for auction items might not find things that are available in E-bay stores, so search them separately.  
  • Enlist the help of your actors and their families.  Especially for our children's productions, I request that the actors provide certain basic items (e.g., black tights, black or white t-shirts, black shoes, etc.).  I always give them written instructions on exactly what they need to bring with suggestions of where they might acquire the items if they don't already have them.  Ask if anyone knows how to sew and might be able to help.  You might be surprised at how much help you can get.
  • When using costume web sites, be sure to comparison shop.  There are dozens of web sites that sell cheap costumes and most of them have very similar, if not identical, items.  Bookmark several different sites and search for your item on each of them.  You will find prices vary quite a bit.  Don't forget to factor in the shipping costs--those can make a big difference as well.  I don't buy much from the costume websites because the quality is usually quite poor and the costumes look cheap and don't stand up to the repeated wearing that is required when your show runs two or three weekends.
  • Garage sales and church rummage sales are another good source for inventory.  Usually what I look for there are accessories like hats, purses, scarves, belts, ties, gloves, jewelry, and the like.  Look for things that are vintage or look vintage.  You will get a lot of use from them.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful.  I plan to start posting photos of productions we have done at our theater so you can see how our costumes look on stage.  I will also be posting detailed tutorials on how to make certain costumes.

Happy sewing! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ear Bud Case

So my daughter loves Craftgawker and Pinterest and she got me started perusing those sites as well.  Usually she finds something she likes and says--"can you make this mom?"  Then I do!  She saw this ear bud case that you can hang on your key chain and had to have it.

I followed the tutorial found at Dog Under My Desk and created something very similar.

We used fabric from a pack of coordinating fat quarters that we bought at Wal-Mart.  It was easy!  I think you can do it too!