Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ranch Dressing Gets Real

I think I feel a new series brewing.  I think I'll call it "Yes, You Can!"  Or maybe "Never Buy It Again!"  And, yes exclamation points are needed, because this series will feature recipes or techniques for food items that need never be purchased again.  Today's topic just may be the first in this imagined series: ranch dressing.

Until very recently, ranch dressing was one of the frew processed foods that I bought, even though reading the ingredient list too soon before bed would probably have induced nightmares.  I did try a couple of recipes for homemade years ago, but they involved chopping onion and garlic, or called for fresh herbs that I didn't stock.  I wouldn't mind the chopping now that I'm a little more experienced and have a wonderful, lifetime knife that I can't believe I didn't rave to you about (Thanks, Santa baby!), but fresh herbs are still expensive and not fridge stable for very long. And boy do they, as well as the garlic and onion, get funky sitting around too long in cold storage.

Let's face it.  Ranch dressing in its original incarnation is dairy based and pungent.  Leaving it in the fridge for long with the expectation of dewy freshness is a little misguided. It does not happen in the natural world.  Thus the list of preservatives, emulsifiers, etc. on the label of even the best brands.  And don't forget MSG.  Obviously, this dressing was not meant to be bottled and stored in the pantry.

But it was the one dressing that my picky britches son would eat, and having it around meant that he would eat salad.  I made my compromise and lived with it, still nagged at by the chemical names I avoided reading.

I have now solved this problem and need never buy ranch dressing again.  I did a survey (research nerd award) of scads of ranch dressing recipes, boiled it down to the basic ingredients common to most of them, and created my own version that works for us.  Meaning that Mr. Picky Britches eats it without announcing that it isn't as good as store bought, and we like it, too.

Since I have not tested them side by side and have no plans to do so, I can't swear that it tastes just like Hidden Valley, but the recipe I eventually worked from claimed that it would.  The dressing I've concocted pleases us in a ranch-like way.  That's all I need to know.  Besides, it's pretty sad when a freshly made dressing is held to the standard of an unnatural brew filled with chemicals that's been sitting in a plastic bottle for months. 

I don't have a standardized recipe for my ranch dressing.  I have a general formula that I'll share with you so that A) you can suit your own taste and B) you never have to buy it again.  It will be better for your body and maybe your wallet, too.

I solved the funkification problem by using onion and garlic powders, and dried dill, which seems to be the key to ranchiness, instead of fresh.  Using the dried flavorings lets you keep the dressing around almost as long as your wet ingredients are dated to be good.  Not that I'm a food scientist.  Use your good sense, please.  I've kept it for about a week.  And it's so easy to make that I don't mind whipping up another batch when it's gone. 

Since Mr. Picky Britches is a car-driving, sports-playing teenager and isn't always around to eat his share now,  I've found other uses for the tangy stuff, one of which I will soon be sharing.  Here's a hint: it involves the world's best cornbread!  Plus, with flavoring modifications, many other kinds of creamy dressing can be invented.  Blue cheese, anyone?

I'll admit that my dressing is still somewhat a compromise.  It uses store bought mayonnaise (making my own is another culinary goal for me) which doesn't have a squeaky clean ingredient list either.  But it's still an improvement--the creamy dressing I want, made easily with ingredients I ususally have on hand.  That'll do for now.  

Ranchy Enough Dressing

Makes: as much as you need

Onion powder
Garlic powder
Dried dill

Yes, there are no measurements.  Don't panic.  Plop some mayonnaise in a small bowl, as much as you think you might need.  If you don't need much, one spoonful (the big one from your flatware set) will do.  If you have a horde to feed or other projects in mind (suggestions forthcoming), then two to three heaping spoonfuls or more.  You could also use part sour cream or yogurt if you wish. Whisk in enough buttermilk to reach a consistency you like.  Add some of each of the remaining ingredients and taste.  Adjust the seasonings as necessary to make it taste the way you want.  You could even add a pinch of sugar or dash of vinegar if you're feeling so inclined. Experiment like a mad dressing chemist!  And sleep well at night.  


Kristin @ Going Country said...

OH YAY! I love ranch dressing, but have never made my own because of the chopping and so forth you mention. We kind of go overboard with the lettuce from the garden in the spring and early summer and I get REALLY tired of vinaigrettes after awhile. But I am totally going to try this when we have lettuce again. Which, the way this winter is going (and going and going and going . . .) may be awhile.


Ann said...

I'm so glad to be helpful. You could even change the herb or add cheeses, etc. to create even more variety during the coming (soon, I hope) salad season. If it works for you, please let me know.