Homemade Ranch Dressing: The food of kings.

Let them eat ranch

Let them eat ranch

I like to think I am a lady of sophisticated tastes. I have eaten at the French Laundry, I will spend $15 on a tiny jar of crushed French red pepper, I like anchovies in things, you know, très chic. But there is one place where I can’t keep up my fancy pretenses; where my refined palate is too embarrassed to show its face; where my eight year old self takes charge; a magical place called the salad bar. I love a good salad bar, which means, for me, that there are croutons and ranch dressing available. I know vinaigrette has a place, there is a wonderful ginger dressing on here that I adore, and there is a yogurt miso one from 101 cookbooks that is divine, but my first love is ranch. My salad tastes skew towards that of a picky kid. Creamy dressings, basic vegetables, eggs, bacon, lots of croutons, you know, the really good stuff.

Back in the day, ranch dressing was from a packet (way better than the bottle.) Add a little mayo and milk and voila – covering up the taste of vegetables in households with small children everywhere. But I have discovered something. When you make it yourself, like from SCRATCH, it really only takes about three minutes longer than the packet does, and you get to pick the herbs you put in, which means you can punch up the best flavors (i.e. dill) to your liking. Start with two parts buttermilk to one part mayo and work your way out from there. I added garlic, Worcestershire sauce, and chives, dill and chervil, because that’s what I had. I would say the chives are standard, but everything else can be just the way you want it. I add dill because it is my absolute favorite, but if you are not a fan of dill, use parsley. Tarragon would be interesting, thyme would be interesting and basil would add a great twist, I think. It truly takes about five minutes and is so much better than the packet or bottle. Much more sophisticated, for sure. Impressive AND crowd-pleasing.

So sophisticated

So sophisticated

What I am reading: Almost finished with Beautiful Ruins and I am loving it. Not sure what I am going to read next, but it may have to be Furious Love.

What I am listening to: I am all over the map. Yesterday it was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in the morning and Top 40 for my run.

I got nothing else today. I am really tired and there are currently no sheets on my bed. How is it only Tuesday?

Homemade Ranch Dressing (makes about 1.5 cups)

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 clove garlic, minced to paste

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tbl minced chives

1 tbl minced dill

1 tbl minced chervil or parsely

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid. Close the top and shake like mad to mix. (You could also mix it in a bowl with a whisk, but it’s way less fun.) Feel free to mix up the herbs it whatever combo suits you best!

Serve over your favorite salad. (Or just dip random vegetables right in it. I won’t tell.)

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Cooking the Books: Smothered Cauliflower with Yellow Tomatoes

Guess what, Nerds! I am starting something new around here…let me introduce Cooking the Books, a new feature? series? (what am I, fancy?) on this here blog. I have a bit of a cookbook collection. I also get food mags, A LOT of food mags. I tend to read my cookbooks like novels for inspiration, and I dutifully read through my magazines every month and tear out the recipes that I think look delicious. (Except for Fine Cooking, I don’t tear anything out of my Fine Cookings, they stay intact and go right into my bookshelf.) But then I rarely actually USE them. I will go back through the cookbooks for more inspiration, and I will look for recipes for things I am craving on the interwebs, and then promptly modify it to my tastes. I thought it might be fun at least once a month or so, to find a recipe that looks good and cook it EXACTLY as presented (to the best of my ability) and report back to you all. There you have it, Cooking the Books (my other job is in finance, “cooking the books”, GET IT?!?!)

I knew immediately what my first one would be, because this is one of the most gorgeous things I have ever seen. I mean look at it.

Photo courtesy of Food & Wine

Photo courtesy of Food & Wine, August 2013

Gorgeous. And it sounded intriguing. Cauliflower dredged in flour and caramelized and then cooked with yellow tomatoes? OK! Topped with runny eggs? Heck yes.

The plan for these is to cook them exactly as directed. I will set a timer if an estimated time is given, and I will try to follow the directions and cooking times exactly as they are presented. Here goes…

Recipe: Smothered Cauliflower with Eggs (recipe here)

Source: Heidi Swanson in the Food & Wine Magazine August 2013 issue

Time required: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

Right off the bat, I do not have marjoram leaves or herb flowers for the optional garnish. Good thing it’s optional. I DO have chervil. I do not think this is the most appropriate substitution, but it’s green, so it will look pretty! Additionally, I suspect the one pound of yellow tomatoes they call for were intended to be the size and heft of your standard field tomatoes, but my little farmers’ market didn’t have those. They had these:

Yellow

Yellow

They apparently ALSO had a faulty scale, because they told me that I had just over a pound, and my scale told a different story. Luckily, I had little yellow cherry tomatoes in the house, so I could supplement. I ended up with EXACTLY a pound.

See? Exact.

See? Exact.

Also, oddly enough, this recipe called for a 10 ounce head of cauliflower. That would be a really tiny head of cauliflower. I got one of the smaller ones (at Whole Foods, none of the stalls at my little farmers’ market had cauliflower either, I am going to have to start going to the bigger market) and it was THIRTY ounces. Easy enough to fix I guess, but none the less, not exact.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s do this.

First, I set the timer for 40 minutes.

I then started a medium sized saucepan of water with a good dose of salt to boil.

As the water boiled I sliced the cauliflower and chopped the tomatoes. They referred to cutting the cauliflower in slabs. I took that to mean cutting it vertically into steaks. I got two good steaks and the rest of it kind of fell apart. No matter, I just used the smaller pieces. I also chopped the tomatoes. It calls for 1 pound with 3 cups in parentheses.  I did not get three cups, maybe 2 and a quarter?

Not three cups

Not three cups

Once the water boiled I added the cauliflower and timed it for three minutes. I drained it and patted it dry and tossed with the flour. I heated the olive oil over medium high heat in my 12-inch frying pan, and browned the cauliflower. It didn’t recommend a length of time, but it was probably eight or ten minutes total to get it browned on both sides, like so:

browned

browned

While the cauliflower was browning I grated the lemon peel on my microplane grater. When the cauliflower was browned and caramelized, I added the tomatoes, red pepper, lemon peel and a good pinch of salt, turned the heat down to medium and cooked for five minutes as directed. It was pretty clear at this point that I did not have enough tomatoes. I get the impression the tomatoes were supposed to completely cover the cauliflower, and when the cooked down a bit, they were supposed to be really saucy with a fair amount of liquid in the pan. There were definitely not enough tomatoes to do that.

I toasted two tablespoons of sliced almonds over low heat while the tomatoes were cooking down. I kept the heat low and it took about five minutes.

After the tomatoes cooked down, I cracked four eggs over the tomatoes and cauliflower. The instructions said to make four wells in the tomatoes to crack the eggs into, but there was not enough tomato sauce to make wells in, so I just cracked them over the top, turned the heat down to medium low and covered to cook until the eggs set. Instructions said it would take about 3 minutes, but it probably took closer to six or eight before the eggs set completely. Once they had, I took the pan off the heat, sprinkled on the almonds and chopped chervil for garnish, and voila.

my version

my version

Verdict: The timing was right on, the 40 minute timer went off just as I finished photographing the final dish, which was great. This dish grew on me, actually. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t sure about the first bite. By the end, I was sad it was gone. And I had it for breakfast the other day and it actually reheated pretty well, even with the runny egg, and it was delicious. It absolutely needed more tomatoes. I think I will double the amount next time, because it would have been really really great with more “sauce.” Yellow tomatoes are really sweet and not as acidic as red tomatoes. The cauliflower had really good flavor. The lemon seemed kind of random but was actually really nice. I couldn’t really taste the red pepper, so I may add a touch more next time. And a runny egg makes everything amazing. The almonds added some good texture. It was really nice. Not as pretty, but delicious. I will make this again, I suspect.

In other news…

What I am reading: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

What I am listening to: El Camino by The Black Keys. I somehow missed out on The Black Keys being a thing until recently. A friend reminded me of them this weekend and I put the album on my phone and have been listening to it quite a bit. (That and Neko Case, which is good for headphones at my desk listening. The Black Keys are great for walking to work or cooking listening.)

Things that have captured my attention this week:

The Quotable Jane Austen for Evil People from The Toast made me laugh a lot.

That Zillow commercial where the woman and man are looking for a house and chatting via Skype and then she  and the kid walk into their new home and he is there in uniform to surprise them? AH MAH GAHD, I cry EVERY time. And it’s on a lot.

Do you guys watch Scandal? You should totally be watching Scandal. I cannot wait until it comes back. First season is streaming on Netflix, Season Two is streaming on Hulu. Watch Scandal.

“Guess what day it is?!” This commercial best be on every Wednesday for the rest of the time that I am on this earth.

I had a fried chicken throwdown at my house the other night. And by throwdown I just mean that I used two different methods to prep the chicken and then a couple of my besties and I tried to decide which one we liked better. I used a recipe that Bon Appetit called the best fried chicken ever about 18 months ago, which is tossed with spices the night before, then dipped in buttermilk and egg and dredged in flour and cornstarch the day of, and then a more basic, chicken in buttermilk overnight and then dredged in flour the day of. We actually came out somewhere in between. I liked the extra flavor that the spices gave the chicken but it was a lot of extra kick, and there is something to be said for the simplicity and purity of your basic buttermilk brine. I think maybe next time I will try to split the difference. Use the spice combo from Bon Appetit and temper it by combining that with buttermilk to marinate overnight. I guess I’ll just have to make it again soon, so I can tell you about it. The thing that I don’t have to try again, but will definitely be making again??? A corn salad based on the very famous and VERY delicious Mexican street corn from Toro. Not to worry, I will be telling you about that soon. Very soon.

Football is back in our lives. Football has its issues for sure, but there is just something about Sundays in the fall and winter, football on the tv, people in my house and something delicious on the stove that is absolute perfection.

Grown ass classy lady moment of the week: I gave myself a stomach ache twice because I ate too many fried chicken leftovers for lunch. Congratulations Meghan, you are a puppy.

Cleaning Out the Fridge: Quinoa Zucchini Cakes with Feta and Red Onion

A happy accident

A happy accident

This was a fluke. It was my first day back from vacation and my grocery situation was bleak. A few things had unexpectedly survived in the crisper drawer, including a zucchini and a red onion, and I randomly had some feta cheese in the cheese drawer. I don’t generally care for feta cheese all that much, so I rarely buy it. I have no idea how or when it got in there, but I went with it.

I have made these thrice since.

You guys. These were so good. Stupid good. There was so much flavor here. They were way more than the sum of their parts. They tasted rich, like it took a long time for the flavors to develop. They were filling but still light. They were really really good leftover. Remember how I like to say I could NEVER be a vegetarian? These could sway me. (Though, full disclosure, the first time I made these I did cook the quinoa in chicken stock. It was goooood.) I pretty much ate these three or four times a week for three weeks AND I WOULD MAKE THEM AGAIN RIGHT NOW. I don’t know, I really don’t. It’s inexplicable.

Basically, make these as soon as possible. Next time you have leftover cooked quinoa? Make them. Next time you have a zucchini hanging out in your fridge without purpose? Make them. Next time you just feel like it? Make them. Just make them, basically. Don’t be alarmed if they don’t hold together quite as well as you were expecting when you form the cakes. The crispiness from the frying is what ultimately keeps them together. And the crispy crust is the best part.

In other news…

1. I have purchased EIGHT BOOKS in the last month. EIGHT. I have read two, and they are not even two of the eight that I bought. But I can not say no to a Kindle Daily Deal. Actually, that’s not true. I can say no, UNLESS it is a book that is already on my list, or one by an author whose name I recognize. My purchases: People Who Eat Darkness, The Sisters Brothers, The Fifties (this was super random but got good reviews? I don’t know.) Bring Up the Bodies, Furious Love, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, A Clash of Kings, and Beautiful Ruins. There’s a job somewhere that entails reading books and cooking all day right? Because I want it. I am IMMENSELY qualified. I will always be on time and I will read faster and cook more than you can possibly imagine. Salary negotiable. Thank you for your consideration.

2. I read A Game of Thrones. I held out a long time. I haven’t gotten into the show because I know it is really violent and I have a really hard time with violence and scary stuff. I am a wimp. I was (still am??) afraid of Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Remember when he is in the truck and the driver turns around and says “Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya” and turns into a scary cartoon…zombie face? Ghost? Ghoul? I don’t actually know BECAUSE I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY SEEN IT. I close my eyes. IT’S A CARTOON. I told you. I will be avoiding Game of Thrones the show thankyouverymuch. BUT, I was feeling left out, and I was assured that even though fantasy is not really my bag, so I thought, that I would really enjoy it. So I bought it. I read 800 pages in EIGHT DAYS. Eight work days. I couldn’t stop. It was awesome. (I actually hated the end. Just like the last paragraph, so literally, just the end. But I am sure it will redeem itself in the next book. Which I just bought.) It was great. It made me realize a couple of things: 1.) I would be a terrible fiction writer because I HATE bad guys. Mean people? Get rid of them. If I was a writer my protagonists would have literally no enemies. I can do life obstacles, I can totally get behind a good life obstacle story, but mean, evil people? No thanks, not into it.  My books would be Lannister-free. It would be all rainbows and friendship and happiness. 2.) I missed reading. Like really reading, and getting into a book and wanting to do nothing but that, and actually letting myself do nothing but that. I have to read more. It’s the best.

3. Neko Case’s new album is streaming on NPR prior to its September 3rd release. And that is what I will be listening to for the next couple of weeks. I just bought tickets for my mom and I to see her in November. I am very excited.

4. I just spoke to some of my favorite West Coast people, whom I miss terribly, and found out I will be heading to Nantucket with them at the end of September. Yay!

Ok, that’s all for tonight. I have to get up early and run. There are not enough hours in my day. Blerg.

White quinoa, round two.

White quinoa, round two.

Quinoa Zucchini Cakes (serves 4 for lunch or a light dinner)

2 cups cooked quinoa (I’ve used red or white, doesn’t matter a bit.)

1 medium zucchini, shredded in the food processor or with a cheese grater (about two cups)

Generous 1/2 cup red onion, sliced into 1 inch pieces (to mimic the size of the zucchini shreds)

Generous 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 cup panko bread crumbs

2-3 large eggs

Salt and pepper to taste (don’t be stingy with either)

Oil (of your choice) for frying

Place the shredded zucchini in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and salt generously. Let sit for 20 minute or so and then press on the zucchini to extract excess liquid.

Combine quinoa, zucchini, red onion and feta cheese in a large bowl and salt and pepper generously. Stir to combine well. Add the panko and two of the eggs and stir to combine again. Test the mixture to see how well it holds together. It should not hold together firmly, but if it doesn’t stick together at all, add the third egg and stir well to combine.

Heat a bit of oil, enough to nicely cover the bottom of the pan, in a frying pan over medium heat until hot. Form the mixture into cakes (About a third of a cup for each works nicely) and fry until deep golden brown and then flip and repeat on the second side. (About five minutes a side? The crispier and browner the better.) Repeat with remaining mixture. Serve with a salad or wilted spinach or just by themselves. THEY DON’T EVEN NEED A SAUCE.

Get ready for your mind to be blown.

Pressed Sandwiches are the best sandwiches…

Perfect picnic food

Perfect picnic food

Sandwiches are perfect.

They are portable, they include bread, the filling can be anything you want, they are usually pretty easy to put together, and in this case, they are made ahead of time, so they are great for adventures or weeknight dinners or bag lunches or picnics. And they are really great for summer.

Sandwiches are perfect. These sandwiches are even perfecter.

I have made these a couple different times, most recently for a fundraising meeting at my house on a Tuesday night. I work later than most of the rest of the ladies, and needed something that I could do ahead of time so I wouldn’t spend the whole meeting cooking instead of, you know, meeting. Plus it was hot as blazes that week, and we needed to be able to stay in the living room with the AC.

These can be done with mostly meat or mostly vegetables. They could be completely vegetarian and would be delicious, and I suppose they could be all meat and cheese, though I think they might be a bit one note done that way. I recently did them with various cured meats, some pesto, some provolone and roasted peppers, and they were great. This version included grilled eggplant and squash, pesto, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, and sweet capicola on a really good ciabatta that I can get at a bakery in my neighborhood. Next time I might try tapenade or olive spread of some sort. Maybe another meat or cheese or both. You can really do anything your heart desires, but don’t leave out the pesto, because that might be the best part. All the work is done the day or night before, and then the sandwiches get wrapped up and pressed under bricks in the fridge. All you have to do the day you eat them is slice them up.

Plan a picnic, or a boat ride, or a night a roof deck or even a meeting. Invite your friends. Make these sandwiches. Bask in their thanks and awe. Pack them leftovers if you have them. Bask in their thanks once more. And do it in August. It’s national sandwich month!

What I am thinking about when I am not thinking about food:

1. ALL THE BOOKS. I just finished Canada by Richard Ford. It was beautifully written. I have about eleventy hundred still on my list. The problem is they keep publishing more. Someday I am going to find a job that involves copious reading, cooking food, and writing about stuff. And then I will be happy.

2. I, like the rest of humanity, can’t stop listening to Blurred Lines. This is my new favorite version.

3.  I just spent a week with 50 of the loveliest humans I know. They are fun, funny, smart, musical, kind and generous, and I am lucky that they are also my family. We have good times.

Pressed Sandwiches (makes 8 big sandwiches)

One large loaf ciabatta (two smaller would work just fine too. The ones I get are 16 or 18 inches long and about 8 inches wide. You may not be able to find them that big. Two smaller ones would work just fine!)

three large red peppers

two medium summer squash, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

two medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

one large globe eggplant, sliced lengthwise in 1/4 inch slices

1 cup of your favorite pesto

12 oz fresh mozzarella sliced in 1/4 inch slices

1/2 lb thinly sliced sweet capicola or prosciutto

olive oil for grilling

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Roast the peppers in a 400 degree oven for about an hour, turning every 15 minutes or so, until the skins are charred and the peppers are soft. Remove the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam. Set aside for 20 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, salt the eggplant slices and let sit on paper towels for 20 minutes or so to remove the bitter liquid. At the same time, heat a grill pan over medium high heat (or an actual grill is even better!) and rub lightly with olive oil. Grill the squash, zucchini, and eggplant when they are finished salting, in batches until cooked through and soft. Set aside.

Remove the roasted peppers from the bowl and peel, stem and seed them. Slice them into wide slices and set aside.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and spread the pesto on the bottom half. Layer the cheese over the pesto, followed by a layer of meat. Follow that with the grilled vegetables, then the peppers, then another layer of meat. Put the second piece of bread on top and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Find a spot in the fridge and use bricks, cans or cast iron pans to press the sandwich down overnight.

Slice the day you plan to eat it and enjoy!

layers of goodness

layers of goodness