Recipe Project #71 – 73: summer is for simple things.

Lately, we’ve been grilling at least several – if not most – evenings every week. Nothing complicated, just ribs, blade steaks, chicken, corn. Mostly simple green salads on the side. The simplicity has reminded me that I needed to up my game in the salad arena, since there’s no room to hide there. I grew up with bottled salad dressings, and that’s just the way it’s been. A couple of years ago, I was loitering around Momo’s kitchen as she finished putting together the salad for the meal she, Fresca and I had made. It took her about 45 seconds to put together a basic, well-balanced herb vinaigrette, and I was transfixed. How did I not know how to do this? This is one of those things that a cook should just know how to do. Then I went back to dissertating and moved halfway across the country again and the salad dressing still came in bottles. Last summer I found myself in GR’s kitchen while he finished making a truly inspirational mustard vinaigrette, but I still didn’t get around to making dressing until January, when a pile of buffalo wings demanded a decent bleu cheese accompaniment. It was so dead easy that I resolved to broaden my horizons this summer. So far, that’s involved this buttermilk ranch dressing that takes about a minute to toss together and throw in the fridge to thicken up, plus about a million attempts at vinaigrette. (All of which inevitably sin and fall short of the glory that is GR’s vinaigrette.) The first ones were dismal, but it’s improved pretty rapidly. After flitting between recipes in schmancy books and on food blogs, I settled on the basic recipe from the Joy of Cooking as a base formula. It’s easily made by hand, but I make it in a mini food processor.

1 small clove garlic, peeled
2-3 pinched of salt
1/3 – 1/2 cup red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice (or white wine vinegar or lemon vinegar [found in Asian markets])
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I use more)
Ground pepper to taste
Fresh herbs, minced (possibilities: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano)

Whir around and add 1 cup olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Taste and adjust the seasonings. The recipe scales well, and I usually halve it.

Sometimes, though, you need more than salad. Mr. Husband happened upon Mexico Made Easy on on-demand lately, and we ended up watching a fistful of episodes one night (thus making it the only Food Network show I’ve ever watched.) I’ve got mixed feelings about the authenticity, but the show does live up to its promise of accessibility. The next night, we made Corn Mashed Potatoes to go alongside a grilled pork loin. It was great, even with a halved amount of butter and milk instead of cream. For whatever reason, we both thought it was an awesome idea to make a full batch instead of a halved one, and so ended up with a ton of potatoes left over. They became potato pancakes the next morning, topped with a sprinkling of River Rat Cheddar and served alongside scrambled eggs. Good stuff.

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