Monday, October 09, 2006

Ranch Dressing, or Your Slip's Showing

Ya ever dress ranch-style? You know, little fringed cowgirl skirt and vest with a tin star, those cute little red boots and a perky Dale Evans hat whipstitched around the brim...
Oh. Wait. That's a childhood fantasy, or maybe a Dixie Chicks album cover. Ranch dressing nowadays means white goop you put on a salad.
Now, you may know that I'm generally anti-commercial salad dressing. It's just no trouble to put some stellar ingredients in a jar, give it a quick shake, and onto the arugula it goes.
But I will confess a weakness for the taste of ranch dressing, all creamy and buttermilky and how-the-heck do they make that stuff? In fact, despite the fact that I seem to have trained my taste buds to the point that I can detect the awful industrial taste of factory farming in salad bar offerings, I still get a little thrill from the tinny flavor of the sticky liquids on display there: ranch, Italian, blue cheese... all fake, all kinda electric, like Halloween candy. Just call it slumming, I guess.
I bring this up because late last August the San Francisco Chronicle did yet another of its Taster's Choice roundups, where a distinguished panel of food professionals does a blind tasting and critique of a sampling of store-bought foods in a single category, and on August 30 the category was ranch dressings.
I don't always agree with Taster's Choice conclusions. In fact, of the store-bought food items they've judged that I happen to have tasted myself (OK, not many: canned clam chowders, dried pastas, maybe some others), I mostly disagree.
But, oh, you should have read the rave reviews the panel gave to (fanfare) — Safeway Ranch Dressing! It scored enough points to enter the so-called Taster's Choice Hall of Fame. (And come to think of it — aw, nuts — shouldn't it have entered the Hall of Tastes Pretty Good? Who cares about famous food?)
Safeway's ranch dressing was described by the panelists thus: "good buttermilk flavor," "quite well-balanced" and "tanginess, spices and herbs very well balanced." Oh, there was more. Lurid come-ons about its texture sealed the deal. I had to have a bottle.
How bad could it be? I'm known to eat salad-bar dressings!
But after shelling out over four dollars for a huge plastic jug of this goo, I have my own pronouncement on Safeway Ranch Dressing: Suckety-Poo. Horribly fake. Creepy, burny, unknown flavors. Unhappy homogenized consistency. It went straight into the trash.
So. Back to homemade dressings. Which brings up today's happy ending.
Cranky and I had lunch yesterday at, where I had a simply perfect little salad dressed in a crème fraîche vinaigrette. It seemed to have a subtle flavor of, oh, freshly grated horseradish, I think. It was light and tangy and very well balanced. It reminded me of a ranch dressing with very good manners, and it was REAL.
Next time I get a hankerin' to dress my salad like a cowgirl, I'm makin' the dressing myself.


Karina said...

Nothing like a lurid come-on that fizzles into Suckety-Poo to ruin a perfectly good salad.


TasteTV, the Indie Food Channel said...

Great writeup! (from kevin at TasteTV)

Abby said...

I'm so low-brow. I love ranch dressing, but I will admit that's where I draw the line. I'd rather have some oil and vinegar over a bottle of (ick) Thousand Island any day!

Dagny said...

The only dressing that I will buy in the store is Marie's. It's in the produce section, usually next to the lettuce and all. Anything from the shelves just doesn't seem to taste right anymore. They all seem to pour to easily whereas Marie's requires a spoon. My thought is that I will probably use less (the right amount) if it is thick enough to stick to the leaves properly.

vanessa said...

Cafe Rouge is rather tasty and I second the verdict on their salad. Their burger was incredible as well, if you feel up for such a formidable meal.

I came across something called "spread" on a recent trip to Oregon. It was like Caesar dressing with a touch of ketchup and chunks of...something. Folks used it dip fries. I can't really judge because I come from a state that likes to mix ketchup and mayo and do the same. But we don't do chunks. Or caesar salad dressing.

KathyF said...

Is this the same Cafe Rouge that's a chain over here? Must not be; I went in there once and was not too impressed with the menu, meaning there was only one thing there I could eat. And I can get hummus anywhere.

Kevin said...

Have you tried that recipe for avacado ranch dressing I posted with the crab cakes? I'm not a ranch fan, but it's seriously good.

cookiecrumb said...

Karina: I want my money back! :-P

Abby: Well, see? Great minds run in the same gutters. You have a brand you *adore*?

Dagny: I assume Marie's is refrigerated, then, no? Did you see today's Taster's Choice in the Chron? It ranked Marie's blue cheese dressing in second place. :D

Vanessa: Oh, yeah. Stay away from the bumpy stuff! But ketchup on caesar? Nah.

KathyF: The good news is, no it's not part of that chain. The bad news, you-wise, is that Berkeley's Cafe Rouge is all about the meat. You can click on the little logo in my post and visit the website.

Kevin: Well, if you're going to bestow "Seriously Good" on it, then I'm trying it. I just went and looked, and it's quite straightforward.

Abby said...

No favorite as of yet. I'm still working through them! I know! Gasp!

Tea said...

You are so cute! And I want a little vest with fringe on it.

When you get around to making 'em:-)

cookiecrumb said...

Abby: Well, have fun making up your mind. ;-)

Tea: Howdy, pard! So, you wanna join my posse, eh?

Mary Ladd said...

When I used to work as a food judge, foodservice and commercial salad dressings were among my least favorite categories (don't even get me started on frozen dinners, or the absolute worst: reconstituted, scary food blobs destined for institutions like prisons and elder care facilities).

Annie's Naturals are among the few brands I may buy, in a pinch (going somewhere last minute with no time to buy and make dressing, I know, I know--excuses!). But I don't know if they even have ranch or not.

I do have a soft spot in my heart for Bob's Big Boy Bleu Cheese Dressing (growing up, that was my Dad's favorite--either from the jar at home or even at a Bob's Big Boy on a Sunday afternoon, after church), but haven't thought to look for it in the store in years. I agree with Dagny that Marie's is another good one.

cookiecrumb said...

Hi Mary: This has been a fun, and enlightening conversation. And guess what: Until this very minute, I didn't bother looking at the other dressings tested by the Chron, and where they placed.
OK, 100 points is a perfect score; Safeway brand got 81. Now comes the shocker. Marie's came in at 24 points, and ... Annie's Naturals garnered 20! (Newman's Own: 15; Trader Joe's: 14).
Ya gotta laugh. And trust your own taste buds.