Homemade French Dressing

I was never a fan of the tossed salad and French dressing was among my least favorite dressings, but that all changed in my late 30’s.  I had a June cooking demo to do at the farmers market and salad greens were among the few ingredients readily available.   I apologetically passed this recipe development project onto my dietetic intern, Becky.  A week later she returned with 4 dressing recipes and samples for taste testing.  Granted my expectations were low, but I swear that upon my first bite, a choir of angel began singing.  I tasted a subtle, creamy, tangy dressing without a trace of cloying artificial sweetness and chemical emulsifier mouth-feel—homemade French dressing.  Life changing discoveries happen so infrequently as we grow older; I do not exaggerate when I say that this student forever changed the way I and my family eat…

Because I now can add greens quickly to the menu for any meal!  Besides obviously keeping salad greens on hand, the key to instant greens is having at least one dressing in the fridge ready to go.  With ingredients that have a long shelf-life, homemade French dressing has become a staple in our fridge, and no-one’s complaining.   The kiddos and the sour-adverse like this one and a little goes a long way—just a tablespoon on 6 cups of salad ingredients.

French Dressing

Storing & Food Safety:

Use a good quality fine garlic powder not salt.  I like Penzey’s or The Spice House.   If you use fresh garlic, crush the whole clove, emulsify all the other ingredients, then add the crushed clove allowing it to marinate and impart its flavor in the dressing for a few days before removing.  Do not mince the garlic, and allow it to remain in the dressing unless you plan on eating all the dressing within a few days!!!  Minced garlic immersed in oil can be a breeding ground for botulism spores.  Enough said.

Squeeze Bottle for Dressings and SaucesFood poisoning aside and on a much more insignificant note, the chopped garlic spoils the creamy texture and clogs the squeeze bottles in which I store homemade dressings. Go get some of these.  You can find them at the restaurant supply store.  Clean and convenient, squeeze bottle are the best 2 bucks you’ll spend.French Dressing in the squeeze bottle

 

Best French Dressing
Author: 
Recipe type: Dressing
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
 
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ cup canola oil
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 T paprika
  • 2 t kosher salt
  • ¼ t quality garlic powders or 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (SEE “STORING”)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ½ t Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 - 2 t mayonnaise (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients (except fresh garlic if using) and blend for about 1 minute. Transfer to a squeeze bottle for ease of serving and store in the fridge. It will keep for 3 months.
  2. Alternatively, you can add the ingredients to a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously for 1 minute though it won’t stay emulsified—just shake each time before serving.
  3. FRESH GARLIC USERS: After emulsifying, add the fresh garlic to marinate for 24 hours shaking occasionally, then remove and discard the clove.
Notes
Mayonnaise keeps the dressing emulsified for longer. It does not impact the flavor.

 

French Dressing Served by Big GirlFrench Dressing--Big Girl taste tests

Cooking (and Eating) with Kids:

As a dietitian, I have long advised everyone to include a daily serving, either raw or cooked, of the most nutrient-dense super-food available—greens.  This can be a challenge when you think that you don’t like salad (like the old me) or greens in any form (like most children.)  To the defense of the little food neo-phobes, they taste the bitterness in greens more keenly than those of us with well-worn taste buds.  Moreover, cooked greens can pose a texture problem in the form of mushiness. On the other hand, crisp, raw veggies are more readily accepted in the under-18 community. Dips are particularly popular.  So start there. Serve crisp leaves from hearts of romaine with a small dish of dressing.  The kids love dipping and eating the individual leaves just like they would carrot sticks.   Bingo!  We have our gateway green and the kids will be on to requesting side salads for dinner before you know it.

Check out the pictures of the kids below (mine plus the neighbors’) who kept begging to eat my food props during the photo shoot.  I love to see kids eating veggies, but begging…that brings a matchless joy to my heart.IMG_4919

 

Onion Chutney

From cooked to raw, smooth to course, and sour to sweet, Indian cuisine abounds with condiments made from veggies and spices known as chutneys. If you frequent Indian restaurants, you probably have sampled at least three of these: mint, tamarind and onion.  For unknown reasons, these chutneys have become the ubiquitous accompaniment to most Indian buffets.

Onion Chutney 2While I find them all delicious along with countless other chutneys, onion remains my favorite. Essentially a pickle (you may have noticed my fondness for all things pickled), onion chutney adds tantalizing zing and bite to any meal. This recipe forgoes the preternatural red dye that most restaurants add.  I made up the recipe based on taste; the Man tweaked it adding tempered mustard seeds.  He couldn’t help himself—Keralite Indians believe mustard seeds make everything better.  I say it works either way.

Onion Chutney IngredientsOnion chutney along with dal is a part of our basic Sunday night Indian meal.  I use this chutney in non-Indian meals too.  I particularly like it with eggs or smoked meats.

Onion Chutney
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Indian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 1 cup
 
Ingredients
  • 1 T oil--mustard, vegetable or canola (optional)
  • 1 T black mustard seeds (optional)
  • I large onion, finely chopped (about a cup)
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ t sweet paprika
  • 1 pinch cayenne powder
  • 3 T cider vinegar
Instructions
  1. If adding the mustard seeds, first heat the oil in a small pan over a medium-high flame.
  2. Once hot, add mustard seeds and cook until they "pop" and release their flavor (30 seconds), then immediately remove from heat.
  3. Mix all the ingredients, store in a glass jar, refrigerate, and serve the next day. The chutney should last several weeks if kept refrigerated.
Notes
Cooking spices in oil to release their flavor is called tempering spices and is a technique used in many Indian dishes.

Tip: 

If you live in a town or city with even a small Indian population, you undoubtedly have access to an Indian grocery.  I can think of five in Milwaukee alone and every time I drive to an unfamiliar part of the city or suburbs, I see another one.  Find one near you and go.  The Indian grocery sells spices and other whole foods like rice, legumes and nuts at a fraction of the cost you find in the supermarket.

Going to a small mom & pop shop where YOU are the foreigner can seem intimidating sometimes, but they do want you and your business.  Be brave  Just think of it as an adventure—a cheap, quick, international-travel experience.  Go; take your time; explore the aisles; it’s fun to discover new foods.  Think about it as visiting an ethnic museum with a food theme.  Not only will you have fun, but you will also support a local family business while you save money.  I can’t think of a better masala than that!

Romesco—best dip in the world!

Romesco is my go-to recipe whenever I need an appetizer. Rich, nutty, and sweet, this is a seriously delicious and highly addictive dip.  Though the dish originated in Catalonia, Spain, I include it with any meal with even a remotely Mediterranean influence.  Versions vary but all contain almonds or hazelnuts, garlic, peppers and olive oil.  This recipe is simple but gets me all kinds of complements and has become my signature dish.  I use it mostly as a dip with crackers, but it can be served as a sauce for all sorts of foods—beans, potatoes, pasta, fish, meatballs, etc. Try it; you’ll be inspired.

For a rich, complex, sweet and smoky flavor, roast your own peppers. Roasted red peppers from a jar make the dish bland and unremarkable.   In the fall when red peppers are at their peak, I apply an economy of scale principal, roasting and storing as many as my freezer will hold.  Not only do I save money, but I also save time.  With ready-to-use roasted peppers in the freezer, I can make romeso in less than 5 minutes all throughout the year.

Romesco
Author: 
Recipe type: Appetizer, Dip or Sauce
Cuisine: Spanish
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 2 cups
 
Using red peppers you've roasted and frozen in advance makes this a super quick appetizer.
Ingredients
  • ½ cup whole almonds
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 3 roasted red sweet bell peppers, seeds and skins removed
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 t paprika
  • 2 T olive oil
Instructions
  1. Add almonds to a food processor and finely chop.
  2. Next add garlic, peppers, vinegar, salt, and paprika and processes to a course puree.
  3. With the processor running drizzle the olive oil in until it becomes a thick, and creamy paste.
  4. Serve at room temperature.

 

Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning…so far.

My family enthusiastically rushes to the table whenever I make Mexican anything.  For us, no condiment better complements Mexican foods than salsa fresca—that fresh and feisty combination of onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and lime.  For about 6 months of the year, this posed no problem as fresh tomatoes are easily accessible, but the other 6 months…well, I got a problem.  Because we try to eat local as much as possible, the solution seems apparent, just can some salsa during tomato season.  So I tried that again and again and again.   I searched for years to find a decent, tested tomato salsa recipe for canning with no success.

Faced with disappointment, I put the dream of a good canned tomato salsa on the shelf and moved on to explore other options.  We tried commercial brands, even high-end ones, but with their mushy texture and over-cooked flavor we unanimously rejected them all.

Making salsa fresca with out-of-season grocery store tomatoes also met with dead-end results.  Grape tomatoes had an acceptable flavor, but a thick skin and high price made them an un-solution.  Roasting paste tomatoes enhanced their flavor but made a sloppy salsa and took too much time.  I thought that I had arrived at the perfect solution when I discovered the Kumato—a rich, red-brown tomato perfectly packaged in cellophane.  While pricy, the flavor was excellent particularly considering the source and the season.  But when something seems too good to be true, it is.  A bit of research revealed that Syngenta, the company that developed the Kumato, collided with my ethics.  Syngenta has patented the Kumato’s seeds and strictly regulates the farmers allowed to grow the plant.  I believe that farmers have a right to save seeds and that life cannot be patented, and I am back to square one.

So this summer I once again took up the crusade to find a decent canned salsa recipe, and I think that I finally got it.   While it does require cooking before canning (thus diminishing that fresh flavor), it doesn’t taste overcooked. It uses lime, the logical choice to acidify the tomato salsa–a far superior flavor compared with vinegar.  It has adequate cilantro flavor, and the texture, because it uses paste tomatoes, remains firm.  Although nothing compares to salsa fresa with vine-ripened tomatoes, this is a good substitute with the added benefit of convenience. Once made and on the shelf, it essentially becomes an instant food—a blessing if not a lifesaver at times when you have 10 minutes to prepare a meal for hungry, whining kids.

Use safe canning practices.  Click her for step-by-step hot water-bath canning instructions.

Best Tomato Salsa Recipe for Canning...so far.
Author: 
Recipe type: Preserving
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 8 half pints
 
Recipe adapted from University of Wisconsin Extension Salsa publication.
Ingredients
  • 7 cups peeled, cored, seeded and chopped paste tomatoes (about 3½ lbs.)
  • 1 cup seeded and finely chopped green chilies—from hot to mild
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • ½ cup bottled lime juice
  • 2 t salt
  • ½ t cumin
  • ⅔ cup finely chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.
  2. Add cilantro and simmer for another 10 minutes; continue stirring.
  3. Ladle into hot half-pint jars leaving ½ head space.
  4. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at 0—1000 feet altitude; 20 minutes at 1001-6000 feet; or 25 minutes about 6000 feet.
Notes
You can easily double or triple this recipe. I like to use ½ pint jars to can salsa but you can follow these same instructions and use pint jars.

Lebanese Pickled Turnips

You know those delightful little pink pickles you find garnishing your hummus at your favorite Persian or Middle Eastern restaurant? These are those. A few minutes to prepare and a few days later…CRUNCH, a salty, sour, cheerful pink pickle with a mild radishy bite.  Who knew a lowly turnip could taste so good?

Lebanese Pickled Turnips
Author: 
Recipe type: Pickle
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 1 quart jar
 
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. turnips (about 5 or 6 golf ball sized)
  • 1 small beet
  • 4 - 5 sprigs celery leaf, or ½ t celery seed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 - 5 cloves garlic, crushed
Instructions
  1. Peel turnips and beet. Slice into ⅛th inch half-moons.
  2. Pack the turnips, beets, garlic and celery, into a sanitized quart jar layering the ingredients.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the water, vinegar, salt in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Pour the hot brine over the veggies completely covering them.
  4. Set aside to cool, then label, date and refrigerate. Wait 3– 5 days before eating. They will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months.

Preserve it:

This is not a canning recipe, meaning you cannot hot-water-bath can these pickles safely.  This recipe is not tested for that.  These pickles are refrigerator pickles only and will keep in the fridge a good long while.  Since turnips are available nearly the whole growing season in the Midwest—right up through November—and store so well in the fridge, there seems no reason to bother canning them when you can make a fresh batch so quickly. But if you really want to have a “puting up” pickle, let me know.  I’m sure I can get you one.

 Cooking with Kids: 

Don’t underestimate your child’s love of sour.  Think of all of the sour candies on the market.  I have also witness arguments between kids over who will get to suck on the left-over lemon rind. I can get my kids to gobble up any veggie as long as it comes pickled.
Pickles make the ultimate sour taste experience and making pickles is like experiencing a bit of magic.  The taste transformation accomplished with just a few ingredients and a bit of time is likely to spark the imagination of any kid.  Have your little ones cut the celery with scissors or measure the spices and liquids.  Taste the raw turnips before pickling for a great opportunity to compare the before and after flavors.