One of the biggest offenders was salad dressing, something we use nearly every night. In college I had to do a Biology lab that involved adding a tiny drop of, er, something, to various types of salad dressing from the dining hall salad bar. I have only a vague sense of what it was I was supposed to take from that lab --something about acids and bases? Yet, I still think of the disturbingly gelatinous results, particularly in the ranch and fat-free varieties, every time I make a dressing decision. So, a dressing made from actual ingredients seemed a good place to start.
Making salad dressing is really easy. Who knew?
First, I looked over vinaigrette recipes and extrapolated a general pattern that I could use for improvising:
1 part acid, like vinegar or lemon juice
3 parts oil, olive is best
salt and pepper to taste
seasonings, like fresh herbs and finely minced garlic or shallot
Put it all into some covered vessel; an old Mason jar would be charming here, but I used what I had on hand, an old Market Basket brand disposable tupperware-type container. Shake well.
Then came a Ranch that wouldn't invoke the chalky ooze that I remember from that long ago Bio lab. I found a Guy Fieri recipe on foodtv.com and modified it slightly:
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons freshly chopped chives
1 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 cloves of garlic
Run the garlic cloves through a press and then form a paste by mashing them with half of the salt. Throw all of the ingredients in a tupperware type bowl and mix to combine, then carefully seal the lid and shake it vigorously. There you have it: salad dressing.
I was on such a roll with the dressings (and wanting to justify the purchase of a very large jar of Tahini for a very unsuccessful try at sesame noodles), that I even made a foray into dips with a homemade hummus. I used an Emeril Lagasse recipe from food network:
2 cups canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 tablespoon garlic
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more, for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini paste, and garlic. Process until smooth. With the machine running, add 1/4 cup olive oil, a little at a time. Season with salt and pepper.
The verdict on all three: Very tasty and open to customization to suit personal tastes. Please note, however, that actual garlic is much more potent than laboratory garlic and becomes even more so when the dressings/hummus are stored for a few days. After lunching on the pictured veggies with ranch and hummus, I bent down to hug Little E. She drew back grimacing and asked, "What's that smell?" When I explained that it was probably my breath, she looked incredulous. "No," she said, "that must be the dog."
Keep some Altoids on standby.