Summer may be my least favorite season. I enjoy many the summer activities, and especially summer food. In theory I would like summer, but I absolutely hate being hot. I don’t spend as much time outside during summer as many of my friends do because I can’t stop sweating. However, I was looking forward to a cookout with my friends yesterday. This was one of the last times I’d get to see all my friends together before I move to Boston. That certainly was worth bearing the heat for awhile. Fortunately, we had quite a bit of shade from trees.
I don’t see many cookouts here in the city, but I have so many fond memories of cookouts growing up. My parents always throw good picnics at our house. My dad does the grilling and my mom prepares the side dishes and desserts. I love my mom’s cooking, so I borrowed two of her recipes for our cookout.
I chose buffalo chicken pasta salad to take as a side dish. This is one of my favorite recipes my mom makes. I really do enjoy Italian pasta salad, but I love just about anything buffalo chicken. This dish is a fun spin on traditional pasta salad. I like the flavors of this dish, and it is not too spicy.
I also chose a dessert that is very near and dear to my heart: strawberry pretzel salad. I grew up with this dessert present at many cookouts. In theory, it is a bit strange, but it tastes so good.
A lot of people seem to not have heard of this before, making me curious about the dish’s origins. For a long time, I assumed it was a Pennsylvania thing, since I hadn’t seen it outside PA. However, I learned that it originated in the south and spread across the midwest, becoming a popular picnic item. Regardless of its origin, this creamy jello dessert with a sweet and salty crust could be perfect for your next summer picnic or party.
With my mom’s permission, I transcribed her versions of these recipes. Hope you enjoy!
Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
Recipe Tip: This salad is meant to be served cold, so it is important that your cooked ingredients are completely cool before you assemble this dish. You could prepare this the night before, but I wouldn’t recommend dressing the salad until the morning of, as to not dry out the pasta. Also, my mom said you could add celery to this dish, but she doesn’t. It would provide a nice crunch if you are looking for an additional texture. I decided to stick with my mom’s version and omit the celery.
- one pound box pasta (like rotini)
- two chicken breasts
- 4 oz blue cheese crumbles
- 4 oz mild cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
- one bottle ranch dressing
- 3/4 cup of hot sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce)
- Optional: sliced celery for crunch
- Cook chicken breasts to 165 degrees and let cool completely.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once boiling, add pasta to water and cook for about 9 minutes until ‘al dente.’ Drain and let cool completely.
- Once chicken and pasta are cooled, shred chicken breasts with a knife and fork. Place shredded chicken in a large mixing or serving bowl.
- Add cooked pasta, cheese, and celery (if using) to the mixing bowl. Pour ranch dressing and hot sauce into the bowl and mix until all sauce and ingredients are well combined and dispersed. Transfer to a serving bowl if not mixed in the bowl you plan to serve it in.
- Chill pasta salad in the fridge for at least an hour, or until ready to serve.
Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Recipe Tips: Where I live, the strawberries in sugar are found in a large 23 oz plastic tub that looks like a yogurt container. I just used one of these tubs. My mom gave me great advice by telling me to place the tub in some hot water before adding to the jello. This helps loosen up the strawberries to get them out of the tub, and will make it easier for the strawberries to melt in the jello. They should still be frozen when they enter the jello mix to activate the gelatin.
Another tip is that this dish won’t keep well much more than a day. While I do recommend making it the night before, keep in mind that after 24 hours, the dessert will start to loose shape and get mushy.
2 cups crushed pretzels
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
One cup powdered sugar
Two 8 oz containers of cool whip
Two 10 oz packages of frozen strawberries in juice/sugar (keep frozen)
Two 6 oz packages of strawberry jello
2 cups of boiling water
For the crust: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter and pour over crushed pretzels and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Press ingredients into a 13×9 inch casserole dish. Bake for 5-7 minutes, and cool completely.
For the middle layer: Once cream cheese is softened, beat cream cheese and powdered sugar at medium speed until well combined and smooth. Fold in the cool whip until there are no lumps. Spread evenly over cooled crust. Chill in the refrigerator completely, about 1-2 hours.
For the top layer: Mix jello powder with two cups of boiling water. Add frozen strawberries and mix until melted and mixture starts to gel. Pour over middle layer and and refrigerate until firm (preferably overnight).