Archive for the ‘food preparation’ Category

Herbs and other flavor boosters

The University Club was the happening place to eat on Tuesday. Culinary Cooking and Concepts was going on and featured a tasty gourmet meal and yours truly as the speaker. The topic was “Marinades and sauces and rubs, oh my!” Here’s what one participant e-mailed to her friend who wasn’t able to attend this month:

You missed a very delicious lunch today.  The salad could have been the meal as far as I’m concerned.  Sort of like a VERY fancy BLT.  HAHA, I’m not doing it justice.  And I WANT that dressing which was basil leaves, olive oil, vinegar and salt & pepper but I have never had anything like it.  They should bottle it and sell it!  Looked like a green goddess.  Chix breast was nice and moist, but the mushroom risotto was the star, along with fresh green beans and carrots, and the dessert was a simple vanilla ice cream with fresh berries and a Cabernet sauce. 

Next month is BERRIES!!!

That salad was a work of art–the way they wrapped the thin slice of cucumber around the baby lettuce leaves along side the stack of tomato slices alternating with fresh mozzarella. You can find the recipes on the Health4U website–unfortunately, not the “green goddess” salad dressing yet. Still trying to wrestle it out of the Chef! We’ll post it as soon as we have it.

I always learn so much when I’m preparing for one of these programs. For instance, to get the most “life” out of your herbs, trim the stems, place them in a container of water, cover loosely with plastic and set it in the frig. To make a sturdy, tip-resistant containter, cut down a half gallon (plastic) milk jug, leaving the handle intact. Those complementary shower caps you get in your hotel room make a really great plastic cover for your new herb vase.

The time to wash your herbs is just before you’re ready to use them. If you have a lettuce spinner, give it double duty. Leave the basket inside it, place your herbs and cool water in it, swish the herbs well, then lift out the basket, dump the water and spin the herbs dry.

I’ve been making a really delicious salad this summer using the produce from my garden. This salad will work with whatever vegetables you have–cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, red onion, green onion, zucchini, green beans, carrots, cauliflower–did I miss anything? Peel, chop and mince until you like the looks of it. Make a dressing by whisking together 1 to 2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 5 Tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped herbs–parsley, cilantro, basil or mint in whatever combination you like. The tomatoes, and the other vegetables to some extent, release their juices and make that simple dressing really tasty! I love to add a few olives and a sprinkle of feta just before serving.

Did you know that tomatoes have their best flavor if you never refrigerate them? Well, not until you cut or cook them, that is. Even after you cut them, you can let tomatoes “rest” at room temperature for a couple of hours.

I walked down to the MSU Student Organic Farm Stand just after they opened today. I made a list and Julie posted their offerings on the Health4U website: During the height of the harvest, we’ll try to update our website each week to let you know what you can find there. If you need herbs to make some of our new recipes, the SOF Stand has them!


Dressing Your Salad for Dinner

My local farmers’ market has made the transition from seedlings to produce. The early spring greens are still available, and now the offerings include other vegetables to toss in the salad bowl. I happily went home with red leaf and Bibb lettuces, spinach, early English cucumbers, sugar snap peas, radishes and green onions. The fresh herbs were there, too. I selected some cilantro since I don’t have it in my herb garden.

I took all of this lovely produce home and I washed, dried and chopped it into a beautiful salad. Then came the dilemma. How to dress it for dinner?

The person I share dinner with has his favorite salad dressings. He is happiest with his salad if I just stay out of his way and let him use one of the bottles from the door of the frig. As for me, I have never found a bottled dressing that suits my taste—they’re too sweet or too creamy or too vinegary. Yet my homemade dressings sometimes are just as problem-ridden.

So I’ve done some “research” on salad dressings. It seems to me that there must be a ratio of vinegar to oil to make the perfect dressing. The “rule of thumb” for basic vinaigrette which calls for 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar may be too sour (acidic) for some people. If this is the case, you could use part citrus juice, add a little sugar, or increase the oil. When using all or part citrus juice, or when using a mild or sweet vinegar, you may need less oil to balance the flavors. Here’s a mix and match chart to get you started, but remember to adjust the ratios to suit your salad ingredients and your taste:


3 to 5 parts olive oil 1 part red wine or cider vinegar
3 parts nut oil (e.g. walnut oil) 1 part white wine or sherry vinegar
2 parts canola, corn or safflower oil 1 part flavored vinegar (e.g. Balsamic or raspberry vinegar)
2 parts peanut oil + a drizzle of sesame oil 1 part rice vinegar
1 to 2 parts olive oil 1 part citrus (lemon, lime or orange) juice

For the most basic vinaigrette, mix the vinegar/juice with salt and pepper, then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. To give your dressing some extra personality and zip, add in diced garlic, onion, red pepper, or herbs. Or add other spices such as cumin or ceyenne pepper. If your salad ingredients call for a sweeter dressing, add sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste.

The secret to keeping your vinaigrette from separating is to add an emulsifier. There are a couple of really convenient emulsifiers found in most kitchens: mayonnaise and mustard. It’s actually the egg yolk in the mayo and the seed coat in the mustard that bonds with the oil to keep it from repelling the water in the vinegar and juice.  For each cup of vinaigrette, add 1 teaspoon mayo or ground mustard, or 4 teaspoons Dijon-type mustard.

The final step before adding your fresh homemade vinaigrette to the salad is to taste it. Dip in a vegetable from your salad  and give it a try. Adjust the ingredients until it suits you.

Still want the convenience of bottled dressing?  A favorite resource of mine, America’s Test Kitchen, did a taste test of supermarket salad dressings.  The winner of their “bottled” vinaigrette taste test was  Good Seasons Italian All Natural Salad Dressing Mix (you add your own vinegar and oil) with a close runner-up being Kraft Seven Seas Viva Italian Dressing. In the creamy salad dressing category, their tasters found Marzetti Creamy Italian Dressing with Cracked Peppercorns to be “decent all around” and “passable in a pinch.”

 However you dress your salad, take it to dinner and enjoy!