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Friday, March 14, 2014

Outrageous Creamy Garlic Salad Dressing

Outrageous Creamy Garlic Salad Dressing
We eat a number of lovely, homemade salad dressings at our house (such as this one and this one, to name just a couple). But this is the salad dressing I make if I want all of the salad to be eaten.

I realize that pouring a mixture of mayonnaise, sour cream, and other goodies over a lovely green salad in some ways defeats the purpose. But hey, there are still vitamins under all that goodness, and if it gets them to eat more veggies, I'm up for it (did I mention that my children look like they have recently moved here from a prison camp? Fat really isn't an issue for them, although I realize that someday it will be, and that we need to keep their hearts healthy, etc.) But still. This stuff is really, really good.

The recipe makes quite a lot--maybe 3-4 cups. But it's also the only salad dressing that I don't think I've ever washed down the disposal because it didn't get used.

Outrageous Creamy Garlic Salad Dressing

2 tablespoons soy sauce (the original recipe called for tamari. I almost always have soy sauce; I almost never have tamari).
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons granulated garlic (the original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, but I don't want my kids to have to sit by themselves at school lunch)
Cracked black pepper to taste

Whisk together the soy sauce vinegar and honey until the honey has dissolved. Then whisk in the garlic, sour cream, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, mustard, garlic powder and black pepper until smooth. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours before using. Use within a few days.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Creamy Parmesan Dressing

Creamy Parmesan Dressing
There's a Boston-style pizza place in our area that serves to-die-for Margharita pizza--tomato, basil and mozzarella. It's incredible how good such a simple pizza can be, but it's hands down our favorite local pizza.

But the other menu item that keeps us going back is the house salad dressing. It has a unique and incredible flavor. I've tried many times to replicate it at home and haven't even come close. I used to work in an office where we ordered food in from this place, and I tried more than  once to get the delivery guy to divulge the secrets to the dressing. He told me they sell it by the quart.

Then a few weeks ago, I was looking for a new dressing to try. I started searching on creamy italian dressings, and found one on that looked promising. I made up a batch and guess what? It was almost exactly like the stuff at the pizza place. The color wasn't quite right--I've figured out since then that the restaurant probably uses red onions, since the dressing has a pink color. And the Allrecipes version didn't include parmesan, which is essential to the taste. But with a little adaptation, we now have our favorite dressing whenever we want.

A couple of items of warning on the comments from Allrecipes reviewers: sweet onions work better than other onions, and don't overdo the onions or it will taste bitter. And the dressing isn't particularly thick, so watch the liquid-to-mayonnaise proportions, or you'll have consistency problems. I haven't tried it yet with red onions, but it's on my to-do list.

Creamy Parmesan Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 small onion (the original recipe called for 1/2 small onion, but I've cut that back and find it powerful enough)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white sugar
3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a blender or food processor, combine mayonnaise, onion, vinegar and sugar. Add the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and cheese. Blend until smooth.

This recipe makes enough for an average-size family; if we're feeding a crowd, I double this.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Bob and I have a Valentine's tradition of not eating out. Instead, we take turns making a nice dinner for each other. It's a chance to try out dishes we might not otherwise make as we try to impress each other.

This year was my turn. We started out with a strawberry chop salad with a strawberry vinagrette dressing. You can find the recipe here. It was not only beautiful (which is not fully reflected in the photo), but even Bob, the non-strawberry eater in our family, gave it a big thumbs up.

Valentine's Salad
The main course was chicken in a basil cream sauce, which was one of our favorite culinary discoveries this year. Here's the recipe. And the photo showing Bob's very own hand!

Valentine's dinner featuring chicken with a basil cream sauce
Sides included a mushroom rice pilaf with red peppers instead of green (it's Valentine's Day!) and roasted asparagus with balsamic vinegar (our new favorite way to roast asparagus).

One of the highlights of the meal was the heart-shaped chocolate cake:

Heart-shaped Valentine's Cake
The cake was fairly simple, but won the title of Coolest Thing Ever from our teenage daughters (they also thought it tasted really good when we ate it later). I remember making this cake when I was 14 or 15 with a church group. But I think the advisor who helped us make them must have had miniature cake pans, because this cake turned out to be enormous. Seriously, the only thing we had that it would fit on was a cookie sheet (aka a jelly roll pan), and then it barely fit.

I used a chocolate cake mix and put half of the mix in a 9-inch square pan, and half in a 9-inch round pan. After it was baked and thoroughly cooled, I cut the round cake in half and placed each half along the side of the square cake (turned it diagonally) so that it formed a gigantic heart.

I debated whether to make the lattice on the cake out of whipped cream or frosting. I opted for frosting; we (we being the girls and I) also debated whether to make the frosting pink, cream-colored, or light chocolate. You cans see that plain cream won out, and I think it was a good choice given the visual intensity of the cake. I used this frosting recipe, doubled it, and barely had enough. The frosting turned out to be a good choice, as we didn't even come close to finishing the cake in one sitting, and the frosting will hold up much better than whipped cream would.

I've already reminded Bob that it's his turn next year. Good luck, Honey!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Creamy Chicken Soup

Creamy Chicken Soup
I intentionally titled this post creamy chicken soup rather than cream of chicken soup, which was the original name. The first time I made it, I told the kids we were having Cream of Chicken soup for dinner. They kept waiting for me to break out the can of Campbell's. They were disappointed.

My quest for this soup started a few years ago, when Bob and I had dinner at a very well-known restaurant about 100 miles north of where we live. They served a creamy chicken soup that Bob has not forgotten. He kept wanting to drive back there, just for that soup, even though they only serve it one day a week (which turned out to not be an especially convenient day for us to go there). I figured it was far cheaper and easier just to figure out how to make it.

I started with a recipe from the Food network, and adapted it from there. It's not an especially healthy soup, but it's wonderful and comforting for special occasions. This was our Christmas Eve dinner this year (well, part of it) and it was hugely popular.

Creamy Chicken Soup
1/2 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
7 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
2-3 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 teaspoons sherry
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and cook, stirring for about two minutes until well mixed.

Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Add spices and mix well. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the chicken and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Whisk the cream, sherry, and salt into the soup and season with pepper to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Serve immediately.

I've used a variety of types of chicken in this recipe. I've made it with rotisserie chicken from Costco, a fresh chicken boiled at home, and various breast and thigh pieces that I had boiled.

Boiling the chicken takes a little more work, but it gives you a lovely broth that you can use in the soup. I usually start the process the day before, cleaning out the chicken and then boiling it for about an hour. Then I store it in the fridge over night, which makes it easy to skim off a fairly healthy layer of fat before you start cooking. When I used rotisserie chicken, I made broth using chicken base, which gave the soup a little bit of a synthetic taste. Another option would be to use rotisserie chicken with canned or boxed chicken broth.

Keep in mind that your chicken/broth choice will influence the amount of salt you use. If you use chicken base, add it a little bit at a time (tasting between additions) or you'll oversalt it. If you made your own chicken broth, a tablespoon will be about right.

Oh, and if you have fresh herbs, by all means use them.