Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Mutiny Preventor

One of my first cooking jobs was to prepare meals for the crew of an environmentally conscious, historically preserved, Delaware Bay oyster schooner. We did not use paper napkins, and our old chief mate (who was more of a yachtsman that a schoonerman) used to leave globs of salad dressing on his face in protest. As I was relatively new to cooking for other people I was riddled with insecurity. With the cautious desire of a person passing a taped off accident scene to both look and shield my eyes simultaneously, I used to rush up the galley hatch and sit on deck to spy on the crew as they tasted their first bites of each meal. I would half listen to the jovial banter of the well-tanned, tar covered sailors below while they recounted the day's highlights, hoping for some morsel, some juicy words to slip out of the tiny square hatch to indicate whether the meal was well received.

Mostly the food was a huge hit, but once in awhile I would try something really risky (like toasted bulgar with mushroom gravy) and even the hungry sailors would leave me with leftovers.
It was on these days that I would find the bottle of ranch dressing had gone dry. Ranch dressing is the ultimate pacifier in any culinary disaster. It is particularly useful if you find yourself, as I often do, wrestling to convince stubborn non-vegetable types to explore the world of salads. Store bought ranch has a delicate blend of sugar, oil, salt and MSG, equivalent to a liquid bag of Doritos (who could stop at just one)?

The problem with Ranch is that once you get your crew hooked, you can never go back. This past summer I worked as a cooking instructor for Native American high school kids on an organic farm in Hugo, MN. I made the mistake of bringing out a bottle of Ranch dressing one day, from that day forth every lunch period was a stream of never ending inquiries "where's the ranch?" It filled my heart with nostalgia.

I decided to use this opportunity to develop my own version of ranch dressing. Having just discovered how easy it is to make a yummy version of this dressing I regret having not tried it sooner.
The dressing:
2 cloves garlic mashed, chopped and squished into a pumice (use the flat side of your knife to get it smashed and the chop it until it resembles the kind of minced horseradish that my dad used to put on his steak..if you have no idea what horseradish looks like, it is kind of a mealy, gritty, watery paste)
1-2 Tbsp minced onion (same as the garlic)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped well
1 green onion, chopped
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk
1/2 cup Mayonnaise (to make your own see the earlier salad-e olivia, or use store bought)
1/4 tsp salt
a few shakes of lemon pepper

Chop 3 cups spinach (I used spinach and pea shoots mixed because that is what the farmers at the market had)
mix in
2 diced carrots
10 radishes
3 celery stalks
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 whole diced yellow pepper
1/2 English cucumber sliced and quartered

Christina's vote: "Hidden Valley better stay hiding!"

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