Friday, February 8, 2008

Salad Days

I keep apologizing for my less-frequent posts so I won't apologize again. Instead, I will explain. I have a dissertation to write and I have been working diligently on it. I'm approaching another milestone and will have more time to breathe and blog once my next chapter is complete.

I do have a new culinary endeavor to announce. After months of regaling (more likely, boring) you with my soup-making, I am changing directions. The thinking is that if I stop making so much soup--a winter food, ideal for snowy weather and such--winter will end more quickly. As a nod to the eventual spring and summer, I am switching to salad. I know what you're thinking, that sounds boring. Guess what? It's not boring to me. I think I can do better than the new classic of dried fruit (cranberries, for example), "fancy" cheese (gorgonzola, goat, etc.), and some variety of nuts (candied pecans? sliced almonds?)--not that these items don't make for a tasty salad. In addition to lettuce salads, I am also hoping to explore other hot and cold salads: pasta salad, potato salad, salads with whole grains like quinoia, bean salads, and perhaps weven some retro fruity-type salads in the vein of my beloved Watergate Salad. Also, I am counting coleslaw as a salad. I have an insatiable appetite for all varieties of slaw.

As part of this salad endeavor, I am also going to start making my own salad dressing. This little idea has been percolating for a while. First, I bought a cookbook back in December that included several tasty salad dressing recipes. Then, my friend SMF made a delicious strawberry dressing for our New Year's dinner. Last week, another friend just recently made a dressing that involved rice wine vinegar that sounded simple yet quite refreshing. Why not try such things myself? All I have to lose is a little olive oil.

Last week I secured some of the necessary tools: a garlic press (so I can use fresh minced garlic in favor of the jarred stuff I use for other cooking) and a cruet. On Wednesday of this week, I attempted my first dressing.

Salad Dressing Test Case #1: Balsamic Vinaigrette
Source of Recipe: side of newly-purchased cruet (BonJour International brand, available at Tuesday Morning for $3.99)
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 cup of olive oil
2 cloves of minced garlic
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Results: For me it was tough to pour an entire cup of oil into the cruet, and I admit I probably poured in somewhat less than a cup. I realize that bottled salad dressings include just as much or more oil, but I'm not actually "responsible" for that, you know? I did enjoy adding the balsamic though. I was pleased with the look of the dressing and admit to stroking the cruet and feeling pleased with myself as I placed it in the refrigerator (that is where I keep all dressing unless someone tells me differently). Once on my salad, it was rather garlic-ky for my taste. However, this is because I ended up adding something like four gloves of garlic as I tried to figure out the workings of the new garlic press. Despite the overpowering garlic (my breath was HORRIBLE and my hands smelled like those of a line cook at an Italian restaurant), the dressing still pleased me.

So, here's your task. If you already make your own dressing or have a favorite salad, please send me the recipes. You can put recipes in the comment section or email them to MEP, LAP, or PITA (if you happen to know us and our email addresses). By sending me a recipe, you are giving me permission to blog about it. I would love the kind of short, newsy blurb that accompanies recipes in some cookbooks and food magazines, you know, "This dressing comes together quickly, but it is always a hit!" or "I was experimenting in the kitchen one evening, and this recipe is the result. My family now requests it once a week!" or "I made this potato salad for my husband's rifle club banquet and took home an empty bowl! It's definitely a 'sure shooter!'" The cheesier the better on those blurbs.

LAP and PITA do not know this yet, but I plan to enlist them in the test kitchen for Operation Salad. Get ready girls.

Okay, send the recipes please. Do your part to end winter.


Hubby (aka T-Baby) said...

Before we go on a salad dressing making binge, can we purge the refrigerator of all the half empty bottles of dressing that I am sure were bought on impulse at the grocery store. If I counted, we must have 25 different store bought salad dressings in the refrigerator and I may use two of them.

Actchy said...

Not to brag, but I haven't purchased store-bought dressing in years. I think you will find that once you make a few dressings from recipes, you'll get the hang of it and be able to do freestyle. Chez Shrek, we eat green salad at least 3 or 4 times most weeks, and I tend to mix up a few tablespoons of dressing in a ramekin each night. This will allow you to let go of the "holy shit that's a lot of oil" sensation.

I don't have any of my recipe-driven favorites handy here at the office, but in a pinch, I make honey mustard: honey, mustard, a little olive oil, salt/pepper. Once you have a few basic things in your pantry, dressing-making options are endless (sorry to your hubby in advance, as this will require the purchase of more bottles: sesame oil, sesame seeds, rice-, apple cider-, and white wine vinegars, chili oil, etc.) Oh, and I will also say that if any of your dressing recipes seem bland, add more salt than is recommended...I think salting salads is the key to wanting to eat them regularly.

Oh, and cheesy plug: My Dear Husband never ate anything green until I introduced some of my healthy homemade dressings from the heart!

::shakes head in shame from channeling Sandra Lee::

MEP said...

Just for the record: We currently have 10 bottles of store-bought salad dressing in our refrigerator--a testament to the fact that I like variety!

For T-Baby's sake, I can probably purge a few of those bottles.

Actchy, I do already have many of the ingredients you mentioned, so I look forward to making them part of salad dressings. Thanks for remembering the cheesy plug!

Steph said...

Mmmm...I look forward to reading more on the new theme! AND, I wish you well on the dissertation-writing! I spent part of last week editing a good friend's dissertation. You know what? It was really fun!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree salads are the way of the spring. I have several new ones to share with you. I went to a cooking class this week and tried a shrimp salad that was delicious. I will send them via email. BDavin

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