Sweet and Sour Bean Combo vs 4 Bean Salad

In which I make 2 bean dishes.

It’s time for the ultimate showdown.  The world holds its collective breath and waits while the final verdict is determined.  In the battle of the beans, who will come out on top?  A bean dish served warm with a cooked sweet and sour sauce, or is it a dish served cold (like revenge) with a simple shaken dressing?

It may be surprising to learn that I don’t actually remember eating bean salad until last summer.  I’ve seen it on potluck tables my entire life.  Who in the Midwest hasn’t?  Usually nestled in there between some cheesy potato casserole and a layered Jell-O salad.  The thing is, bean salad of any variety does not look that interesting.  The colors are kind of clashy.  It kind of has that look of a 70’s kitchen.  It just doesn’t look like it would actually taste good.  And everyone knows that we eat with our eyes first.

Ok, so these two recipes have a lot of similar ingredients.  Both use kidney, wax, and green beans.  The Sweet and Sour Bean combo allows for fresh.  The 4 bean salad calls for cans.  This is not major.  Either could be switched out for the other (except good luck finding fresh kidney beans).

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The cooked dressing in the Sweet and Sour Bean Combo calls for using the liquid from the beans.  Do NOT use the liquid from the can of kidney beans.  It does nothing for the texture of the sauce.

 

The 4 Bean Salad, as you will notice when you look at the recipe calls for 1 can of kidney beans, 1 can of green beans, and 1 can of wax beans.  There is no fourth bean unless you are counting that it’s being served to a human bean…We discussed options for 4th bean. You could use both dark and light kidney beans or throw some edamame in there.  Garbanzo might be ok.  I think I’d veer away from canned lima, but frozen/thawed might be ok.  And realistically, it was probably supposed to be called 3 Bean Salad, but people get moving too fast and write things down without thinking and then never bothered to change it.

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The overall flavor of the cold 4 Bean Salad was much better than the hot Sweet and Sour Bean Combo.  The only thing we liked about the Sweet and Sour Bean Combo was the kidney beans.  This is not good.  You should not make food where you only appreciate one ingredient of the finished dish.  We tried it again the next day to see if the flavor was improved.  It wasn’t.

Make the 4 Bean Salad.  Add another bean if you like.  I might think about reducing the sugar and using fresh beans.  This salad is light and refreshing.  It’s a compliment to whatever meat you are serving, but can also be used as an ingredient in a larger salad.

 

Make sure the onion is sliced thinly and you may even consider cutting it into half moons instead of rings.  It all depends on how much you like large pieces of onion.  If you are using olive oil instead of another type, you may end up with chunks of cold oil in your salad.  This is perfectly normal. As the temperature rises, the chunks will melt back into oil.  If you prefer, you can pretend it’s oil “caviar” and you have performed some feat of molecular gastronomy.

4 Bean SaladSweet and Sour Green Bean Combo

Cooked Cranberry Salad

In which I make a gelatin salad.

I am not a Jell-O girl.  I don’t care for it and have probably eaten more of it while making recipes for this blog than I have my entire life.  I’ve certainly made more of it.  And there are so many recipes left to go.  I am debating investing some serious money in ring molds and individual molds at the thrift shops nearby.  You know, all of $10 maybe.

When I was a young girl, I read a book by Lois Lenski called Berries in the Scoop.  I was intrigued by the notion of cranberry bogs and how cranberries were harvested.  In the story a little girl loses her grandmother’s pin in the cranberry bogs and ***Spoiler alert*** after she falls on the ice and injures herself while ice skating on the bogs she finds it and they all live happily ever after.  Or maybe they do.  I mean, once you injure your ankle it never goes back to exactly how it used to be.

Anyway, everyone eats cranberries during the holidays and I am no exception.  We are a real cranberry family and don’t eat the canned stuff.  My sister loves cranberries when they are fresh and raw and mixed with orange and just enough sugar to take a little of the tart out. I prefer mine slightly sweeter and a little more cooked.  Occasionally when it’s not the holidays I’ll have a glass of cranberry juice with or without vodka, but I ignore cranberries in their hydrated form for most of the year.  I think most of us do.  Dried cranberries are a different story all together.  This might change that.DSCN2368

First of all, this recipe calls for unflavored gelatin.  This means no artificial colors or flavors if you care about that stuff.  It means that the only flavors you are going to get out of it are the ones that you put into it.  Because it was July when I made this recipe I wasn’t going to get fresh cranberries, but I had some left in the freezer that someone brought me back from one of the Cranberry Festivals and that I was going to take to my sister’s for Thanksgiving and forgot. I think I had also offered them to my mom, but forgot to put them in her cooler also.  I guess maybe I was fated to use them for this recipe.

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This recipe is beautiful.  There is something about that deep red color.  John says this recipe reminds him of really good fruit cocktail.  It’s somehow light and refreshing despite having that tartness of cranberries.  The pineapple adds sweetness, the nuts add crunch and depth. The grapes just lighten everything up.  Serve this up with some whipped cream.  Or be like Caroline and dip your pork chops in it.  It’s a good side for roasted meats. Cooked Cranberry Salad

 

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

In which I explain about potatoes.

I get this sort of arrogance when it comes to cooking.  I use recipes as references only and feel like I can do it better than the recipe writer.  That, somehow, I can improve upon the original intention of the dish.  With a dish like simple old-fashioned potato salad, it seems a shame to not add bacon or pesto or sprinkle the top with paprika.  Liven it up somehow.  But this recipe doesn’t call for any of that.

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My arrogance extends to my cooking methods. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents last summer.  At the beginning of summer they announced they were moving into an assisted living facility in Duluth, about 5 hours away from me.  Their decision to move so far away broke me a bit.  I spent as much of the summer with them as I possibly could to try to help them get things squared away and just to spend some time with them before it became more difficult for me to do so.   When I was up there once, my mom, grandma and I were all in the kitchen together cooking dinner.  I cut some potatoes and got them into a pan to boil them for potato salad or something.  I started to add water and was immediately scolded by my grandma for using too much water.  Apparently, I had been doing it wrong for nearly 30 years, according to grandma.  “There is no need to waste so much water, just put a little water in the pan and let those potatoes steam.”  My mom stated that she always used a lot of water, but then used the potato water for other things like soups or breads.  That was the same summer I was informed that I was middle-aged and reminded that I don’t know everything even if I walk around like a know-it-all.  I think about that every time I boil potatoes now and never put too much water in unless I have plans for the extra water.dscn2390.jpg

 

When I was prepping this recipe, I realized that the can of evaporated milk I thought I had was actually sweetened condensed milk.  This is where smart phones are handy.  I learned that evaporated milk can actually be made in at least two ways.  You can actually reduce about 2 ¼ cups of milk on the stove top until it’s 1 cup, or the much faster way is to make double strength milk from milk powder.  I tried the first, but realized that it was going to take much longer than I felt like I had.  I pulled the milk and will use it to make cocoa for the kids later.

DSCN2407Most delis have at least three varieties of potato salad on hand at all times because potato salad can be so many things.  In the book Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West, she dedicates an entire chapter to potato salad.  Her mother has very definite ideas as to what potato salad should be and what it should not be.  My opinions on it are not nearly as strong as hers.  However, I do like my potato salad to have enough crunch and enough ingredients in it that not every bite is exactly the same.  And this is that sort of potato salad.  It’s classic, the eggs provide a nice texture.  It’s the perfect kind of mushy without being sludge.  It’s sweet and would be great with fried chicken or BBQ meats.  It tastes like summer.  Old Fashioned Potato Salad

Cabbage Salad

Cole slaw is something we all grow up with.  It’s usually mayo based, or vinegar based and not that interesting.  Occasionally you get cole slaw that is amazing for some reason, like at Bismarck’s Bar and Grill where they add bacon.  But normally, it’s something we eat as a side dish because of tradition more than anything else.  Cabbage is cheap. It is mostly used the cut the richness of fatty foods.  (See what I did there?  Cheap Cabbage/Rich food? I’m hilarious.)  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone exclaim “Cole Slaw!  That’s my favorite!”

dscn2408.jpgThis isn’t cole slaw.  It is a cabbage salad. It was John’s favorite part of the meal.  He said it was the only part of the meal he didn’t think he’d get sick of eating as leftovers.  I thought that perhaps the onion rings were a little much.  I am not sure if I would’ve preferred them to be thinner slices or chopped more, but they were too much.

But it’s not memorable.  I wrote up the first part of this when we first had the salad.  A few days and a few recipes later, I can’t even remember what the salad tasted like.  It was good, it was fine, it wasn’t worth having it the second day if there were other options.  And it kind of sucks for the salad.DSCN2377

Actually, thinking back, this would probably be a great accompaniment to grilled food. There are hot days where a nice cold cabbage salad is the perfect thing to go with a nice pork shoulder, rubbed with onion and herb paste and slow roasted on the grill all day long.  Or BBQ chicken.  Nice and moist and falling off the bone.  That tang of the barbecue sauce.  But this salad is never going to be the star of the show.  It’s always going to be a member of the chorus.  It might get a line or two in a major production, but it’s ultimately going to back to its waitressing gig to wait for the big break that will never come.  I mean, come on.  It’s still just cabbage salad.Cabbage Salad