Marinated Mushrooms and Colorful Pasta Salad

This isn’t exactly the recipe I had intended to share today. I had planned to share a recipe for Pasta Salad that I have been using for years. It’s one of my own creation.  But before we get into the salad itself, let me share a backstory here . . .

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Stuffed Pasta Shell Salad

One of the things that I really don’t like is when I’ve cooked a beautiful meal and have my guys dragging through the door to announce they are too hot and too tired to even think about eating. It’s a drawback to cooking anything in August. I know, make a salad and call it a day, right? But there has to be more to a salad than chopped lettuce. And there is!

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California Spaghetti Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing

I remember so clearly one Memorial Day weekend, when my youngest sister invited us over for a day of swimming and a little family barbecue of hot dogs and burgers. Great! I offered to bring a pasta salad. The more I mulled it over; the more I realized the salad I had originally planned – A California Spaghetti Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing – might not be the best choice with hot dogs and hamburgers.

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Celebrating National Picnic Day

Yesterday was International Earth Day, and today is National Picnic Day. It was hard to pick a day to share this menu between the two, since having a picnic on Earth Day makes sense. Earth Day, Picnic Day. I went back and forth, but as an American, I had to go with Picnic Day. And let me tell you why.

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Mema’s Macaroni Salad

This delicious and super simple Macaroni Salad has been in our family forever (or at least since the 1950s). With the exception of cute little garnishes and presentation ideas, very little has changed. It’s Mom’s recipe and growing up I loved it. Hubby’s favorite, too. He’s a basic kind of guy, so uncomplicated foods suite him just fine. Rather than leave this little gem of a recipe obscured in a montage of recipes, I thought it would be nice to bring it out of hiding. After all, these are the fading days of summer. Soon enough we will be packing away the picnic baskets, backyard grills and whatever else is a part of our summer fun in the sun. In our house, macaroni salad is all a part of this type of year.

When entertaining, I usually make Mema’s Potato Salad to go with my Macaroni Salad. Have you noticed that there are Potato Salad eaters or Macaroni Salad lovers – preferring one type over another? For big gatherings or when I’m asked to make a few dishes, I like to make both just to keep everyone happy.

Mema’s Macaroni Salad
6 Eggs, hard-boiled
1 lb Salad Macaroni
¼ Cup Green Onions, finely chopped
¼ Cup Red onion, finely chopped
2 Celery Stocks, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon Dill Pickle Relish (more to taste)
1 ½ Cups Best Food Mayonnaise
½ Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste
Green Onions for Garnish (Optional)
½ Cup Chopped Black Olives (Optional)

Peel hard-boiled eggs and set in refrigerator to cool completely.

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions. Drain and rinse well under cold running water. Set aside to continue draining.

In bowl, combine onions, celery, pickle relish, mayonnaise and red wine vinegar. Whisk to combine. Taste dressing and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning according to personal tastes.

Chop 4 eggs. Add to dressing. Cut V marks in remaining 2 eggs to create tulip flowers. Reserve 3 flowers, chop remaining flower and add to dressing. Taste dressing a second time, adjust seasonings as necessary.

Place macaroni in a large bowl. Pour egg dressing over macaroni. If desired, add chopped olives and toss to coat. Smooth out top.

Using the back of a spoon, create 3 indentations in the top of the salad. Place Egg flowers into indentations. If desired, sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until well chilled.

Note: Did you know you can color the macaroni to suite the celebration? Check out the photo below – same salad, colored for the 4th of July. Orange for Halloween, maybe red and green for Christmas – you get the idea.

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Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad

The first time I made this dish, it was to pack for an elegant picnic. It was a first for a lot of things that day – the picnic’s spice-rubbed chicken and the pesto sauce for the salad. I had never made pesto sauce before. I’ve eaten pesto sauce recipes in restaurants and found the sauce at times to be a bit over baring. I’ve tried commercially prepared pesto sauces, and found them to be “okay” but lacking in something, I just didn’t know what.

So why make a pesto pasta salad? I was convinced Pesto was a good thing – and like escargot – it was an acquired taste. As a fan of spinach, basil and all things Italian (thus far), Pesto was a taste I was determined to acquire if it was the last thing I did!

Wow! This is really good. I mean really good! The salad is intended to be served at room temperature, which made it a good choice for a picnic or buffet table. It is creamy and deliciously sublime.  The pasta of choice is Farfalle Pasta, better known in America as bow tie pasta. Yet I prefer the Italian translation – Butterfly. It could also be made with any type of broad pasta, although I would not recommend a tube or shell pasta as some of the sauce may gather inside and over power the overall dish.

On a final note before cooking, I recently read that Walnuts can be used in place of the Pine Nuts, which tend to be an expensive ingredient. While I haven’t tried that, I can see where it might work. If substituting Walnuts for Pine Nuts, I would use only a few, adding as needed until you’ve reached the desired taste.

Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad
3 Garlic Cloves, unpeeled
1 Cup Fresh Basil
1 ½ Cups Baby Spinach
¼ Cups Pine Nuts
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
½ Cup Best Foods Mayonnaise
1 lb Farfalle Pasta (bow-tie)
1/4 Cup or so Reserved cooking water

Toast garlic in a small skillet over medium-heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let garlic cool, then peel and chop coarse.

Process garlic, basil, spinach, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed. Add Parmesan Cheese and mayonnaise, continue to process until thoroughly combined. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just past al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, drain pasta. Toss pasta with a little olive oil and spread into a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coasts pasta.

Just as a side note, I brought my Butterfly Pesto Pasta to a family gathering a few years back. Feeling rather cleaver, I put the pasta into a butterfly shaped cake pan, inverted it onto a serving platter and attempted to “decorate” the salad as a butterfly. While the end result was “cute” it’s still very much a work in progress. What can I say? I like to play with my food! The nice thing about salads such as pastas, rice or potato salads is that they are easy to “mold” using just about any shape bowl or container.

Just remember, when playing with your food, it’s important to have fun!

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Hawaiian Macaroni Salad with Spam

Whenever I tell people I’m making a Hawaiian Macaroni Salad with spaghetti and spam, I always see that same puzzled expression on their faces, usually followed by a very slow, unsure “okay.” I will admit, it is a little different and yet it is usually a big hit. You will always have those hold outs who refuse to see cold spaghetti noodles as anything else except cold spaghetti noodles, not very appealing. The Spam isn’t so much a part of the dish itself as it is a decorative garnish.

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