Saturday, March 23, 2013

Salad dressings- not from a bottle!

Salad dressings don't have to come from a plastic jug. And considering how many nasty things can leach out of those plastic jugs, that's a good thing!

Years ago, I dated a fella who went by the name of Hawk. He was a little rough. But his grandfather was a former chef for the Royal Canadian Navy, and told me something that I've only recently started to remember- "Never buy salad dressings. Make them." He had a 'fridge literally FULL of little jars of salad dressings that he, himself, had made from scratch, every kind you can imagine. (I think the man lived on salads.) And they were the BEST I'd ever had! I'm rediscovering that joy, and I'd like to share it with you. You don't have to buy the stuff in the plastic jug (and eat whatever chemical mess is leaching out of said jug.) Plus, I'll give you a reasonable excuse to continue to hoard jars, too! (Um, everyone else does that too, right?) It's a win-win!

Cooking hint alert! Major useful stuff ahead! (Yes, I'm totally using exclamation points too much!)
The two that I've whipped up today are a lemon-based "viniagrette", and a from-scratch ranch, better than the stuff from a certain hard-to-locate depression in the earth's brand. Made with things that you might-could-have on hand already.

The "viniagrette" is just these things:

1 c. of light olive oil
3-4 lemons, juiced
4 cloves of garlic, pressed or crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt

Dump all of 'em into a jar or bottle, and shake up. Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight.
That's it. And it's amazing, especially on slightly bitter greens, such as a spring mix, endive and such, or even just a simple blend of romaine and radicchio. Also, this is a great dip for hot, freshly-steamed shrimp or crab. Super-yum!

In a mood for more of a creamy, house-dressing type of salad? Here's some ranch that beats the PANTS off of the usual "long, low spot often caused by erosion from a river that is not easily seen" brand....dump this stuff into a mixing bowl, in this order:

1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream
3 T. dried chives, crumbled up
1/2 heaping t. granulated or powdered onion
1/4 t. granulated or powdered garlic
Nearly 1/4 c. finely chopped Italian parsley (don't substitute- tell you why in a minute!)
1/4 t. Worchestershire sauce
1 t. seasoning salt (I prefer Kroger, but if you've got a fave, by all means, use it)
black pepper, to taste- fresh-ground, if you can
a dash of hot pepper sauce, or cayenne pepper

Using a wire whisk, mix these up well- I mean, really beat the ingredients together! Make sure that your garlic and onion powders don't clump up- whip that thang! If you can get everything incorporated perfectly while it's thick, you're in like Flynn.

Now add 1/2 c. (or more) of buttermilk, and stir it up again- too thick? Add a little more. Make sure that everything's exactly the way that you want it. And get ready to wait. This isn't about instant gratification, kiddos. It's all about the flavor.

Now, pour that in a jar, and stick it in the 'fridge, for at least 8 hours. Better yet, let it sit in there overnight. Shake it up, when you have a great salad to pair it up with. Or veggies. Or potato chips. (I'm not going to judge your eating habits- really, my latest addiction is Michelina's Zap-Em's Pizza Snack Rolls, further described on the bag as "Pepperoni Pizza in a Golden Crust". It's sick, and not in the cool way. I don't eat this stuff, normally. But they're kinda good. I actually like them, and I don't eat a lot of processed stuff. This is what I get, for shopping in the Walmart's food section with my husband, which I usually avoid like the plague.As a former vegetarian, I should feel guilty. *Ha!* I don't.)


OK, about that Italian parsley- something that most folks don't seem to know is this: Italian parsley will allow you to fake-out that ALL of your herbs, in a dish, are fresh. As in, from your garden- or at the very least, purchased from the incredibly expensive fresh-herbs section of the produce aisles. Seriously, it works. If you add even about 1/4 t. (or less) of fresh, minced Italian parsley to your herbs, you're golden- it has the magical ability to make 'em bright and fresh-tasting. This works on dill, marjoram, thyme, oregano, basil, most of the majors, in pretty much any dish. (The one exception is the coriander-instead-of-cilantro swap in a salsa fresca, which you don't want to do, anyway- cilantro's cheap and easily available, most of the year, and it's not worth trying to pull off. It will fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people, all of the time. And even the wilted-est cilantro can be repaired, even when some of it's gone black. I'll tell you about that, sometime.Professional kitchens do it all the time. Cilantro can be pain, in the winter.) In the wintertime, the Italian parsley trick can be a lifesaver in cold-prepared things, like a chevre-cheese ball thingy for crackers, or a dip. (Quickie Recipe: Mix a good throw of thyme, basil, black pepper, and chopped fresh Italian parsley together, mix it up, and roll a ball of chevre, cream cheese, or other relatively fresh, soft cheese in it, wrap it in plastic, and refrig it for 12 hours- viola, you have a gourmet cheese ball! And yes, this is how caterers do it.) It also works in hot-prepared things like a slow-cooked marinara or sauce. If you have "foodie" (god-I-hate-that-term!) acquaintances who have to be holier-than-thou at every dinner party or potluck, by all means, have fun with this. Seriously, tell them that you grew all of the herbs in your given dish in your conservatory, carefully cultivating them through the winter! Go into detail, about how the coffee grounds and rose petals make the soil so much richer. Watch their eyes bug out in sheer jealous rage. Smile broadly. And then never let them over to your house. Because who the heck can afford a conservatory?!)

That's all for now. Tomorrow, we're gonna do some Sunday Dinner. On the menu: "California's Most Exclusive Beach" Chicken, a name-famous rice mix knock-off, and a foil for those salad dressings. This coming week, I think it's about time for the Butch Wax to come on, too, and I'm going to shoot for showing how to make the bracelets that I wore throughout my professional cooking career (no, not handcuffs!). I've got so much to show you guys, and so little time! As corny and silly as it sounds...stay tuned!

Linkin' up to Craft-O-Maniac Monday- the best part of my Monday morning!

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