Monday, July 14, 2008

A Parable - of sorts


Apres-midi dans le Jardin,
Charles Jean Agard,
o/c, 1901.


When I first began blogging I made a personal vow not to post recipes, nor to disclose any of the "seekrit" family recipes. Including Plum Guck.

And I'm not really breaking it.

Because I have been gimpy after the unfortunate incident of the collapsible dear little green garden bench and have found it painful to stand for any length of time, my husband thought to relieve my guilt over a succession of quicky meals with deli treats.

And so I discovered the Great Potato Salad Mystery.

A potato salad composed of small red-skinned potatoes, cut in hunks/quarters ( redskin potatoes are those that always taste wonderful, no matter how they are prepared -- whether baked, fried, roasted or boiled) coarse chopped egg, chopped sweet red onion, celery cut fine, and herbs -- basil and parsley, for certain.

The major components are easily identified.

It's the tart white dressing that most confounds me in my deconstruction.
The dressing may derive from a thin mayonnaise base, but I am uncertain.
(I suspect this delicious uncertainty will last the entire summer.)

My exercise in reverse engineering of a deceptively simple product reflects to a degree the difficulties in pin-pointing just what elusive ingredients combine to make a successful novel and which savour makes some stories addictive.
But if we want to replicate, we have to try.


45 comments:

StarvingWriteNow said...

Definitely mayo. Probably some vinegar as well. Sounds yummy, whatever it is!

Sorry to hear your poor foot isn't back to 100% yet. Get better!

writtenwyrdd said...

If you send me a sample--say a gallon?--I am certain that I can sleuth out the secret ingredient, heehee! However, I would bet on a mayonnaise base with tarragon is a likely candidate. Sometimes people adda bit of cumin or curry, but that is probably unlikely or you'd have guessed that yourself.

laughingwolf said...

i like to use plain, old ranch dressing, works in most situations, including in homemade coleslaw ;)

toss in in some some chopped green onion, chives, or scallions [plus fresh garlic]

agreed on the redskin spuds, tho i find all 'new' potatoes irresistible

yeah, i'm a guy, but have always liked to muck around in the kitchen, started at around age four, at ma and pa's knee

hope your own heels quickslike....

laughingwolf said...

dang: HEALS :(

Ello said...

I love potato salad with eggs! That sounds good. Hope you are feeling better! Sorry to hear you have been injured. Having finally got my husband semi-mobile again, I know how frustrating it can be. Here's to fast and full recovery!

BernardL said...

Deconstructing what makes a novel enjoyable to read is an intriguing endeavor. With some authors, the ingredients can be reused as a recipe many times, while others can never join the mix profitably again.

Add a finely cut dill pickle in there too. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I have learned to love Yukon Gold potatoes more than red potatoes. They are so good and the texture is so smooth and silky. (Now I want some potato salad.)

spyscribbler said...

Mayo, yes. But I like the German way, better, without mayo. Give me not-sweet potato salad any day, with loads of dill.

December/Stacia said...

I think I'm one of the only people alive wo doesn't like potato salad; I don't like celery and I don't like mayo, so... My Mom used to use mayo and mustard, though, and hers always brought raves.

And funny, last night I attempted to recreate the Olive Garden's pasta e fagioli soup. It turned out okay, really, except British beef doesn't taste near as good as American, I had to use cannelini beans instead of Great Northern, and the spaghetti sauce I used isn't, of course, the kind we would use in the States. Oh, and no dittalini pasta. Still, it was pretty good. We were pleased overall.

My attempt to recreate honey garlic chicken wasn't quite as successful though. :-(

December/Stacia said...

Oh, and perhaps the sauce was creamy italian dressing? Or a combo of mayo and dressing?

Bernita said...

I do think vinegar is used to thin, Beth, am just not sure.
Foot really is much better. I no longer threaten people with a cane.

Oh, and chopped chives are in it, Written. I forgot them.
Tarragon is certainly possible.No curry or tumeric though.

Think that just about any commercial dressing would work with this, Laughingwolf, according to taste. Worth experimenting with actually.
Have a SIL who is a fantastic cook.

Thank you, Ello. You've certainly had a litany of disasters lately, you poor Dear!

Yep, Bernard, that je ne sais quoi quality.

They are nice, Written, but not quite as versatile to my mind.

Sweet? Couldn't stand sweet potato salad, Natasha.

Hmmm, I wonder about mustard in the dressing too, December.Sometimes it's hard to tell whether the bite is from vinager or from mustard.

Have the feeling it's an original dressing.

Robyn said...

My mom made potato salad with mashed potatoes, not diced. And with pickle relish and eggs and mustard and mayo. Nobody else I've ever known makes it that way, and people look at me like I've got two heads when I suggest it.

raine said...

...the difficulties in pin-pointing just what elusive ingredients combine to make a successful novel and which savour makes some stories addictive.

Ah.
Certainly hope you will share THAT recipe when you discover it.
Would love to give it a try.

Bernita said...

Robyn, that was more or less the standard recipe for potato salad where I grew up.

This is one of those days, Raine, when I despair of making a competent peanut butter sandwich.

Charles Gramlich said...

This reminds me. We were out eating last night and I told Lana how good the sauce was and how I wished I could make it at home. She said, "well what's in it? Can you taste it?" And I was completely bamboozled. That's not a talent I have. It's either good or bad. No reverse engineering for me.

Gabriele C. said...

December, I have no idea what the celery is doing in the potato salad anyway. :) You won't find that here, though we have tons of variants, with or without eggs, pickled cucumber or fresh cucumber, leek or onions, with ham, with raisins ... and warm as well as cold variants. You can make the salad with an oil and vinegar (and herbs, or mustard, if you like that) dressing instead. For the warm variant, add a bit finely chopped bacon.

Bernita, the dressing sounds like Miracel Whip which is becoming an increasingly popular replacement for mayo here. It's a mix of mayo and créme légère or yoghurt.

Bernita said...

Charles, sauces are the hardest to analyze - maybe because they can become a complex compound.

Bernita said...

Ooh, Gabriele,bacon bits sounds like a lovely addition.
I have substituted bacon fat w/bits for a portion of the fat (not more than 1/3 or they become too soft) when making peanut butter cookies. Yum!

Scott from Oregon said...

We use real mayo and lemon juice.

Then we throw in a killer pickle for suspense.

Bernita said...

Sounds like a winner, Scott!

December/Stacia said...

Oh, Robyn, that sounds like my Mom's recipe! Except she didn't mash the potatoes, she diced them small.

December/Stacia said...

Bernita, perhaps it's sour-cream-based?

Lisa said...

In a collection of essays, called THE ELEVENTH DRAFT, I was so intrigued by Ethan Canin's description of hand copying John Cheever short stories and finding the experience career changing that I've been tempted to do the same thing just to see what happens...

Bernita said...

Could be, December, but I don't think so.
~need more taste testing~

Lisa, it's fascinating how hand-mind connections affect thought. I had to over-ride my original programming to produce on screen without a hand-written draft, for example.

Jon M said...

If only we could deconstruct and analyse what makes some writers shine. I spent long minutes doing just that with a particular tome at the weekend and then deciding it was a bit of a pointless exercise as I knew what I had to do to get my manuscript up to scratch!

Olive oil and ground black pepper does it for me with most foods...except icecream...

raine said...

I had to over-ride my original programming to produce on screen without a hand-written draft, for example.

I'd be curious how you managed that, Bernita. I still find myself switching back and forth between the two methods--can't quite let go of the hand-written draft. :(

writtenwyrdd said...

I've had potato salad the way Robyn mentions. You can get half-mashed with really soft boiled chunky potatoes that smoosh up when you stir. Also, pickle relish, mayo, eggs, mustard are all common. I use all those, celery seed and no pickle relish as I find that nasty, lol. And mine generally is pretty mashed. I also leave the peels on.

laughingwolf said...

my sis was a super cook, too... my bil, her hubby, burns water at best ;) lol

Bernita said...

Jon, an old Sicilian gentleman once told me about homemade bread brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with black pepper and lightly toasted in the oven. Delicious.

Raine, if I knew I'd tell you.It developed slowly and rather astonished me, considering how post-Luddite and techno-stupid I am. I still scrawl hand-written notes, but find continuous composition easier on screen now.

Steve Malley said...

The Tiny Dynamo makes an unbelievable potato salad... and she won't let me *near* the kitchen when she does it!

Guess I'll just have to keep her.

Bernita said...

Looks like you will, Steve!

ChrisEldin said...

The secret is chocolate marination.
:-)

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I'll tell you what is great in potato salad - toasted cashew nuts. A gourmet touch. I make my own mayonnaise with olive oil, mustard and garlic. Yum!!

Bernita said...

Chris...nooooo!

Cashews improve a lot of things, Suzanne.

haunted author said...

My Mom's potato salad is very much like how Robyn describes hers.

I got my recipie from an Italian Orthodox Priest- oh, man could he cook! This is pretty good-use real Mayo, (Not Miricle Whip or "salad Dressing) and add Olive oil, and thin with a little milk- you can use non-fat milk to make up for the Cals in the Mayo and Olive Oil. Over the years I find I'm using more Olive Oil and less Mayo. I use olives, sweet onion- like Vadalia, and in the summer fresh cucumber.

Now I want potato Salad!

Sam said...

I always add a nice dollop of sour cream and mustard to the mayo.
I bet everyone's potato salad recipe is a little different.
:-)

Bernita said...

~grins wickedly at Haunted~

Sam, I think every good cook tinkers with recipes.

Vesper said...

We have to try! :-)
I like your reverse engineering ideas, Bernita, for any recipes... The most intriguing are the ones that don't reveal their mysteries easily.
I'm sorry you've been injured. Get well fast! :-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Vesper.
Meanwhile trying variations is so much delicious fun.

Leigh Russell said...

Wish you better quickly from your accident. You could produce a 'recipe' book for how to write in the various genres: horror, thriller, romance etc.

Bernita said...

Thank you, leigh.
I think they call those the "The Complete Idiot's Guide to..."
Being an idiot, I have several.

Chumplet said...

I always cut the mayo with a little mustard. Chives and bacon work too.

My mother in law did the German one, but I found it too drippy with vinegar.

I sprinkle smoked paprika on mine.

Bernita said...

Yes, Sandra! Paprika for the mashed and moulded kind.

Barbara Martin said...

My mother always used Mayo and chopped green onion in her potatoe salad, along with the eggs, of course.

Why aren't you resting that foot? You should be sitting with it up on a stool.

Bernita said...

I so like onions in things.
Barbara, I sprawl inelegantly in my chair with my foot hoisted on the other desk most of the time.