Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Daily Tip - Dressing salads

We all have our favorite bottled salad dressing...come on, admit it! Mine was (note the word WAS) Seven Seas Creamy Italian. I ate enough of that dressing to float a boat - no pun intended. When I was in college, I would eat it on anything...well, not on chocolate, but that was about it. Nowadays, so many bottled dressings are filled with much so that you can hardly identify what it really is supposed to be. Then I started making my own dressings a number of years ago. It is not only fast but, once more, you can use your imagination and create so many different flavors. I am going to share my salad dressing "base" with you. Then sally forth (did I really say that?) and add different spices, herbs, ingredients to it...whatever you like or whatever seems to go best with what you're serving. Add fruit, fresh or dried. Add vegetables. I don't think meat would work but who knows...! Try it and let me know!!
Now, you will see a lot of chefs whisk the oil into the salad dressing ingredients. The reason for this is to create an "emulsion" emulsion is a mixture of one liquid with another that it ordinarily will not combine with...such as oil and water or, in this instance, vinegar. You add the oil very slowly and whisk the vinegar quickly so that it binds. This is, of course, the classic way of doing things but sometimes you have to throw classic out the window and get real. My favorite method for "emulsifying" my oil and vinegar is with a small screwtop jar and a little Dijon mustard. The flavor of Dijon has a way of blending into whatever type of dressing you're making or it can express itself, for instance, in a honey Dijon salad dressing. In any event, the mustard acts as an emulsifier and helps the process it cheating if you like but it works like a champ. And, I think most people don't make dressing because of the idea of whisking things. So now no more excuses...get a half-pint Mason jar and go to it!

Candace's Salad Dressing Base (this is purely a jumping off point)
In a small jar with a tightly fitting lid (preferably screw top)
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
1 - 2 tsp dark brown sugar (depending on how sweet you like it - you can also leave it out completely)
1 tbsp minced shallot and/or 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil (I like light and not oily dressings)
Place the top securely on the jar and shake it like crazy.

Now you've got salad dressing that is fresh, light, full of flavor and will last in your fridge for at least a week or more...actually, probably not that long because you'll use it so fast! A half-pint of dressing is enough for many, many salad greens but please, do not commit the Cardinal sin of over-dressing your greens. Let your greens shine through...they deserve their place in the spotlight...but that's another tip for another day.
Now just to get you started thinking...
For sweeteners: try honey, maple syrup, light brown sugar, light or dark corn syrup
For vinegars: try red wine, white wine, rice (unseasoned), raspberry, sherry, or champagne
The oil you use will depend on whether you want to taste it...flavorless canola, vegetable, or flavorful olive oils...I wouldn't recommend sesame except as a flavor enhancer in an Asian dressing.
You can use this same theory with mayonnaise-based dressings.
Don't be afraid to's just doesn't care!
The rest is up to you!

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