Fear Conquered: Macaroni Salad
"Thank you for the cheese," I murmur. I'm alone in the kitchen, cubing cheese for macaroni salad. And for a moment, the texture and color and flavor of the cheese is overwhelming. The sensation of slicing the cheese, the satisfying thunk of the knife as it passes through and the privilege to be the one chunking that cheese. It's all so overwhelming. "Thank you," I whisper.
I'm alone in the apartment, like most days. The sky is partly cloudy, but there's still enough sun to snap photos with natural light. As I finish cubing the cheese and glance out through the front windows, I half-smile at the bright white sky with the little blue lakes peeking through. "Thank you," I whisper. For a moment, staring out at that marbled sky, I'm overwhelmed by the generous timing of the light. At the privilege to be the one holding the camera and snapping photos.
I think about all the times I've made the salad, all those hours in the kitchen. All the cheddar cheese I've chopped, all the moments with just enough light at just the right time to capture just the right photos. All those days, all that food, all that sunlight. And I'm overcome by it all. I half-laugh, half-weep. "Thank you," I manage.
Not just for giving me what I need but for giving me so much more. Not just for tasks, but for my talents. Not just for work, but for the opportunity to serve. And not just for making macaroni salad, but for the privilege of sharing macaroni salad. I know it sounds silly, but when everything is gift, then everything is worthy of thanks. And when everything can be taken away without notice, every moment is gift.
Are you sick of all this emotional thankfulness? Is it all a bit smothering? A bit much?
I get it - it is a bit much. Because why should making a salad be significant? Why should sunlight from the Earth's star be meaningful? Why should cheese - a humble mold - be reason for getting choked up? Just get to the food already!
Yet a salad to me is significant. A whole array of gifts had to come together to make this one recipe possible - inspiration, overcoming fear of failure, food, time, knowledge, sunlight, skills, taste-testers and more. And the perfect timing of sunlight through the clouds - which I cannot control or influence - makes every one of these photos possible. And this humble mold called cheese is the very lynchpin on which this whole salad hangs.
So when I think about it, the success of this simple salad is more than enough to make me whisper, over and over. "Thank you."
|Bring a large pot of water to the boil; after the water reaches the boil, salt the water generously.|
|Add a 14.5 ounce box of dry macaroni pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the box instructions. I recommend Barilla Pasta PLUS for better flavor, texture and nutrition.|
|Drain the pasta and immediately cool under cold water. After pasta is cool, drain and set aside.|
|While the pasta cooks, prepare the remaining salad ingredients. Finely dice 2 large celery stalks.|
|Finely dice 2 medium carrots.|
|Finely dice half of a medium yellow onion.|
|Stem and seed a red bell pepper.|
|Finely dice the pepper.|
|Chop 6 large hard boiled eggs. See my technique and tips for preparing the eggs.|
|Cube 10 ounces of extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese. I prefer a larger cheese cube.|
|Add 4 Tablespoons of drained capers to the salad.|
|In a large bowl, combine the prepared ingredients with the cooled and drained pasta.|
|For the dressing, mince 2 Tablespoons of fresh dill weed.|
|Add 1 cup of homemade mayonnaise.|
|Add 4 teaspoons of dijon mustard (I recommend Grey Poupon).|
|Add 1 Tablespoon of prepared yellow mustard.|
|Add 4 teaspoons of chile pepper paste.|
|Add the dressing ingredients to the salad and season with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Gently mix everything together to evenly coat all of the ingredients.|
|Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.|
|For the best flavor, serve chilled.|
Cheddar Macaroni Salad
Prep Time: 1 hr
Ingredients (serves 10)
- 14.5 ounce box macaroni pasta (recommend Barilla PLUS)
- 6 large hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 2 large stalks of celery, finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 10 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
- 4 Tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 cup homemade mayonnaise
- 4 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
- 4 teaspoons red chile paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water according to the pasta cooking directions. Drain and immediately cool the pasta under cold water; set aside
- Prepare the remaining salad ingredients and combine in a large bowl with the drained and cooled pasta
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients and pour over the salad; gently mix the dressing into the salad to evenly coat all the ingredients
- For best flavor, cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours; serve chilled
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Hungry for Tips?
- Homemade Mayonnaise: There are three ways to improve almost any salad - cheese, capers and homemade mayonnaise. And the greatest of these is homemade mayonnaise. So if you're serious about making a tastier salad, make your own mayonnaise. Then worry about everything else.
- Red Chile Paste: I recently discovered this amazing ingredient and I love the subtle spicy heat it brings to this salad. There's heat but no burn - and I like the flavor better than chile powder or cracked black pepper. So I strongly recommend using chile paste. But if you cannot find the paste (or if you just don't want to use it), add a pinch or two of chile powder instead. It's not the same, but in a pinch...
- Barilla Pasta PLUS: This is NOT a sponsored post and I've received nothing for advocating this pasta. I simply love the texture, shape, flavor and nutrition of this particular brand. So if you can find Barilla Pasta PLUS macaroni, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, the regular Barilla macaroni works well. The texture and shape of the macaroni really helps the dressing cling to the pasta.
- Capers: Capers add a unique briny sharpness to this salad that is both subtle yet clearly missed when the capers are left out. So unless you're prejudiced against capers, add them to the salad. If you don't add the capers, you will need to add an extra pinch or two of kosher salt to compensate.
- Cheddar: I love cheese and I will attempt to add it to almost any salad I make. And macaroni salad is no exception. However, I first got this idea years ago when I worked at Giant Eagle in the deli department. They sold this tasty macaroni salad with chunks of cheddar cheese - and the cheddar cheese MADE that salad. As good as it was at the time, mine's better. It doesn't come with an odd chemical aftertaste.