Monday, July 23, 2007

Let’s Dress Those Salads

I am following up my previous post on salads with one on salad dressings. Salad dressings usually contain oil along with either vinegar or a dairy product like buttermilk or mayonnaise. Most times an emulsifier is used. An emulsifier is a binding agent that works to keep the dressing uniformly mixed. We have all seen how an oil and vinegar separates as it sits for a while. If you use an emulsifier, like lemon juice or Dijon mustard it will help keep the dressing to stay blended.

People have been using dressings for thousands of years. The Chinese have been using soy sauce as a dressing for as far back as 5,000 years ago. Oil and vinegar dressings date back to the Babylonians 2,000 years ago. Commercial dressings were introduced to the market in the early 1920’s (Hellman’s Mayonnaise in 1912; Marzetti dressing in 1919; and Kraft brands in 1925).

Basic Vinaigrette
The two main components of the basic vinaigrette are oil and vinegar. You can use any type of oil or vinegar. Since the standard ratio for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar, use the best quality oil that you have on hand. Whether it is vegetable oil, olive oil, canola oil or a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut it does not matter, but it is the main ingredient so quality does matter. I usually use balsamic, wine, fruited or herbed vinegar with the oil. If you are looking to make a delicate vinaigrette, rice wine vinegar is a great option. You can dress it up with fresh herbs, minced shallots or garlic and a bit of mustard.

Makes 1 cup

1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1-2 Tablespoons of minced fresh herbs, try parsley, basil and thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

In a mixing bowl, add the garlic, herbs, salt and a few turns of the peppermill to the vinegar. Whisk in the mustard. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, allowing oil to blend with the vinegar mixture before adding more. This can also be done in a food processor or blender. Allow the vinaigrette to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to let the flavors blend. Mix again before serving.

Ranch Dressing
One of America’s favorites, this dressing is commonly used as a dip as frequently as it is a dressing. The Hidden Valley Dude Ranch in California created ranch dressing and sold its Hidden Valley Ranch dressing to the Clorox company in the 1970’s for $8 million. Ranch dressing consists of buttermilk, mayonnaise, green onions, fresh parsley and spices. A recipe for a copy of Hidden Valley’s hit, although I would leave the MSG out.,1715,148171-235206,00.html

Bleu Cheese
Similar to ranch dressing, this creamy dressing is often associated with buffalo wings. My favorite recipe is from Joy of Cooking and is best I believe if it sits for a couple of hours:

Makes 2 cups

1 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or red wine vinegar1 teaspoon minced garlic6 dashes Worcestershire sauceSalt and ground black pepper to tastePinch of ground red pepper, or to taste
4 ounces bleu cheese, Roquefort or other good quality cheese

Puree everything but the cheese in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add and process to the desired consistency, taste and adjust the seasonings. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate.

Thousand Island
Another creamy creation, this dressing has a mayonnaise base and usually includes chili sauce with chopped pickles, green olives, green peppers, onions and occasionally hard boiled eggs. It was created by a fisherman and his wife in upstate New York, an area with a thousand islands who offered guided fishing day tours. They gave the recipe to a local hotel owner, who in turn gave the recipe to the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. From there its popular has grown world wide.
There are so many varieties and variations of dressings. The concept is really easy and I would love to hear about your favorites and any recipes that you just love.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy Moon Day

Today is Moon Day - 38 years ago today Neil Armstrong walked on the moon (July 20, 1969).

Six hours after landing at 4:17 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (with less than 30 seconds of fuel remaining), Neil A. Armstrong took the “Small Step” into our greater future when he stepped off the Lunar Module, named “Eagle,” onto the surface of the Moon, from which he could look up and see Earth in the heavens as no one had done before him.

So for this post, I thought I would celebrate the Moon.

For those into astrology:

"The Moon's natural House in the Zodiac is the Fourth -- the House of Family and Home, ruled by the domestic sign of Cancer -- the Martha Stewart of the signs, if you will. The Moon influences entertaining and caretaking, and food is often the central theme in both cases."

The Chinese Moon Festival always on the 15th day of the eighth month by the Chinese lunar calendar. This year it is being held September 25.

The Moon Festival is an important festival where families get together and watch the full moon rise, eat moon cakes and read moon poems.

A cocktail? Blue Moon

And those tasty and delicious Moon Pies! This cookie sandwich filled with marshmallow and coated in chocolate was created by a Chattanooga, TN bakery as a way to use up flour in the early 1900’s.

Celebrate the moon today - invite your friends over and wash down a few moon pies with a blue moon cocktail.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Let Us Examine Lettuce

Salad is usually the first thing that comes to our mind when we think about lettuce. Salads have come a long way from the old iceberg lettuce salad – from sweet to savory and everything in between, on a bed of greens or topped with a mesclun mix. And the varieties of lettuce keep growing.

The name lettuce is derived from the Latin word for milk, lactis, referring to the milky juice of the plant. Lettuce at one time was considered a weed in the Mediterranean basin (countries surrounding the Mediterranean see like Spain, Italy, Turkey and Libya).

Lettuce is a cool season plant and does not like high temperatures so springtime and early summer are the perfect time to enjoy fresh, locally grown lettuces. Some lettuces, like iceberg, have been bred to remove their bitterness. The milky white liquid that gives lettuce its name is the source of its bitterness.

There many varieties of lettuce that fit into five main types:
Butterhead Lettuce generally small, heads with loose leaves folding on top of one another and have tender, soft leaves with a delicate sweet flavor. The bib lettuce and Boston lettuce are varieties of butterhead.
Cos or Romaine Lettuce forms an upright, elongated head with a sweeter flavor than the other types of lettuce, making it a salad favorite. In addition to romaine, popular cos varieties include chicory and endive.
Crisphead Lettuce forms a tight firm head of crisp leaves. Iceberg is the most common variety of this type.
Leaf or Loose-Leaf Lettuce produces crisp leaves loosely arranged on the stalk and available in colors from dark green to red. Green leaf and red leaf are common market varieties of leaf lettuce.
Stem Lettuce forms an enlarged seed stalk used in Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian cuisines. This is not usually found in typical American markets. Examples include asparagus lettuce, celery lettuce, Chinese lettuce.

Pronunciation and taste for some common types:

arugula [uh-REW-guh-la] or rocket: peppery and bitter flavored
endive [EN-dyv, AHN-deev, ahn-DEEV]: bitter flavor that becomes more bitter when exposed to light so should be stored in the refrigerator until ready to consume
escarole [EHS-kuh-rohl]: a type of endive

mesclun [MEHS-kluhn]: also called salad mix, it is a blend of young, small salad greens

mizuna [mih-ZOO-nuh]: a Japenese green, with a mild peppery flavor
radicchio [rah-DEEK-ee-oh]: has a slightly bitter flavor available with green or red leaves

Some of my favorite salads include:

Pear, walnut and goat cheese – try on bitter greens like arugula

Dried cherries, tomatoes, red onion and almonds – try on baby spinach

You can be inventive with any vegetable that you like eaten raw (or blanch quickly); fresh fruits like apples, pears, berries, or kiwi; dried fruits like blueberries, currants, raisins or figs; nuts like almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts or pine nuts; or fresh herbs like parsley, basil or tarragon.

I haven’t tried this salad, but sounds delicious Sweet and Sour Arugola, or Radicchio in Agrodolce

Next time you are at the market and reach for the same type of lettuce you always get, try grabbing a new type and experimenting. I will blog some about dressings because that takes your salad to a whole other level!