Monday, May 22, 2006

Cross Salad Dressing

Did you grow up with a bottle of salad dressing on the dinner table? Maybe even more than one bottle?
Excuse me, I have lots of salad dressing rants in me. Let me try to organize my thoughts.
When I was a kid, my mom used Good Seasons dressings (“Italian,” I think) that came dehydrated in foil packets. When you bought your first packet, it was rubber-banded to a curvy, empty, glass bottle with a green plastic snap-on lid. The bottle had markings on the side telling you how much water, vinegar and “salad oil” to add to the powdered ingredients. Cap it, shake it, and velò, you had a nice, golden liquid with little onion bits, black pepper, and tiny flecks of something red (probably bell pepper).
It looked like something. And you could be reasonably sure the ingredients were mostly benign. It tasted OK. Salty, probably too salty. Not horribly fake, though.
(By the way, have you heard the rumor that Col. Sanders’ secret 11 herbs and spices are the same 11 herbs and spices found in Good Seasons? Yeah, and that his recipe was most likely made with packets of dehydrated dressing.)
My mom would then pour a little of the dressing over the salad in a nice bowl, toss it, and then either put portions on our plates or pass the bowl around to the family.
No bottle of dressing on the table.
The leftover dressing would go into the fridge, where it would separate into geologic layers of chunky bits on the bottom, vinegar-water next up, and oil on the top. Shake it up again, and presto.
We did buy a commercial bottle of “French” dressing from time to time, a throat-burning, ghastly orange blend of salt and sugar (and mayonnaise, ketchup and paprika, I presume), that we were allowed to pour over wedges of iceberg lettuce... once in a while. It never separated in the fridge.
Cranky’s mom tried Good Seasons packets too. She mixed up a batch or two, but then decided the cool bottle with the snap-on lid was all she needed to make her own dressing. Which consisted, Cranky recalls, of nothing more than oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Plus, in a dashing gourmet touch, one clove of garlic rolling around in the bottom of the bottle. Cranky suspects it was the same clove of garlic for a long, long time. She was a frugal lady.
But again, no bottle of dressing on the table.
At this point, I can’t decide where to go with my rant.
Well, let’s go with bottles on the table. See, I think the cook should be responsible for the salad, including dressing it to his or her taste.
But what’s really going on with the bottles on the table is that each diner wants a different flavor of dressing, so out come the Ranch, the Thousand Island, the the increasingly diverse varieties of Honey-Poppyseed, Chipotle-Cheddar (honest), Dijon this-and-that, Three-Cheese Balsamic Vinaigrette, and – blow me down – there’s actually a dressing out there called “Spinach Salad.”
Now you’ve got a cluttered table.
Worse, you’ve got a cluttered refrigerator. Bottle after bottle of sugary goop, mixed with surreal food starches so the ingredients stay emulsified and don’t separate into layers (and oh, such mouth-feel). Gummy bottle caps. Drippy shelves.
Not to mention the fact that by pouring on the dressing individually at the table, you’ve surely added too much glop to your greens.
But wait! You don’t have to pour on your dressing anymore. Wish-Bone has introduced Salad Spritzers, which is sort of like throat spray for your arugula, which sounds a little too much like "gargle" in this sentence. Press the button, and you’ve got particles of high-fructose corn syrup, xanthan gum and soybean oil flying around your plate (and table, and floor…). Oh well, at least you have portion control.
OK, I’m ready to shut up. Here’s where I’m going with this rant:
Make your own dressings! They will be fresh, flavored the way you want, in manageable sizes so you can use them up and move on to new concoctions without having a cluttered fridge. Start simply if you are timid. I use a little jar with a tight-fitting lid to shake my dressings. I don’t go much beyond simple vinaigrettes myself, but that’s what I like best.
I can’t believe how many recipes I come across that promise to produce mouthwatering results – only to list bottled vinaigrette as one of the ingredients. Cucumber dressing? I don’t even know what that is. But it’s OK, the recipe author says I can substitute poppyseed. Poppyseed what? Muffins?
It turns out I’m not the only one ranting about salad dressings this spring. I had been collecting my thoughts for a week or so when I came across Hen Waller’s Salad Dressing Ramble from May 15; NPR’s Kitchen Window tackled the subject last month, to name two others.
Must be the nice weather.


Michelle said...

I completely agree! I've been trying to get "rid" of the dressing in my fridge for-ever, by using them up...dangerous, I know, but oh how I hate to waste food. LB argues that they'll last ages, but I say "gross" (there are some that have been in there so long that I won't touch 'em, so those are the ones that go onto his particular portion of salad). That said, we do make our own dressings in addition...that's probably why there are still so many in there...

Dagny said...

When I was growing up, the dressing went on the table. It wasn't always this way. My dad is not a huge fan of vegetables though so sometimes you end up with leftover salad. Now salad without dressing on it is fine the next day but the stuff with dressing on it? Ick.

The dressing still goes on the table at my dad's house. Now it's because due to his having high cholesterol and diabetes. If my stepmother were to toss the salad with the dressing, then she probably would not use the dressing that my dad prefers. That would mean no salad for him.

Anonymous said...

LMAO... just found your site and I love your style, dude.

One thing I didn't see you mention is the fact that salad dressing is the bane of dieters everywhere. People think "Hey, I'm eating a salad, that's healthy." and then they dump half a cup of thousand island dressing on it and turn that healthy salad into a 1,000 calorie bomb. 8-0


Anonymous said...

Giggling over gargle and arugula. This is a great rant!! I had completely forgotten about that salad dressing jar with the measurements. Wow.

I do have a confession: about once a year I have a craving for ranch dressing; I will buy the teeniest bottle of the "original" Hidden Valley. It's a nasty thing to admit, I agree, but true it is.

MizD said...

I'm afraid I'm all for the bottles on the table, otherwise there's a 50/50 chance someone serves me salad with dairy dressing, and then I'm SOL on salad. :-(***

(At least I make a point of seeking out bottles sans HFCS, but hey, I'm lazy. I'm lucky if I have time to get out the salad spinner, much less make a dressing. And Chopper? Salad? Heh. I'm still trying to convince him that spaghetti sauce isn't a vegetable.)

cookiecrumb said...

All right, exceptions will be made for health considerations. Dagny's dad and Mrs D are excused for having their own personal bottles of dressing. But do the bottles have to go on the table? :D
(By the way, I'm not quite as nutty about this as I'm coming across. I have nothing against a bottle of soy sauce on the table, for instance. I'm just having fun with this strange American habit.)
Oh, and Kudzu? I've been known to insist on going to a certain salad bar almost entirely for their vats of industrial dressings, which I mix with abandon on my plate... Sometimes you gotta have that mouth-twang you could never mix up at home.
Hey, Vic: Thanks! Yeah. Or they'll say "Dressing on the side, please" as if they're only going to use half of it... Not! Heh.
Mrs D: I know, you're really swamped with work. If you do eat salads at home, maybe you could find 20 minutes to mix up a big batch of something tasty, and you'd have it in the fridge for probably as long as you keep the commercial stuff. Just saying. (Don't put any Parmesan in there! Spaghetti sauce IS a vegetable!)

MizD said...

Thinking on this further: Y'know, it may not even be the time so much as the sad fact that anything without a commercial label gets hopelessly lost within our tiny and over-crowded fridge. If I can invent a reasonable labelling system and a way to organize leftovers, then salad dressing ingredients and I will talk.

Meantime. Bottles on the table. Hell, everything else ends up on the table. The day's junk mail, yesterday's snack dishes, the car keys, Chopper's baseball cap, the cat...

Ilva said...

Interesting to read, here in Italy there are no bottles at all but in Sweden there are. It seems so to me at least, I'm slightly out of touch though but when i read Swedish food blogs, the names of bottles dressings do pop up. I like it the Italian way, growing up with a father who had a thing about making the perfect dressing, fresh for every salad! And then one had to toss the salad in the right way as well...puh

Kevin said...

My mother was also a Good Season's Mom -- same deal as your house. These days even making a vinaigrette is a bit out of the ordinary for me. Typically I go for herbs (fresh preferred, but dried will do), S&P, and olive oil and lemon juice all added directly to the salad.

The only common exception is that I make a blue cheese dressing that will eat tooth enamel.

s'kat said...

I grew up thinking that pre-bottled Italian dressing was the only way to go, and I really didn't care for the stuff.

The first homemade dressing I tasted was a revelation. Now, if I'm not doing oil&vinegar, I'll sometimes use Braswell's Vidalia Tomato & Onion. Good stuff, and not full of fakery.

cookiecrumb said...

MrsD: That is the topic for a whole different post: Refrigerator organization. I don't know what's in my fridge. The worst culprit is the shelves of the door, and you'd think that would be easiest to sort through, but no...
Ilva: You dad sounds a *little* intimidating. :D
Kevin: I want your blue cheese dressing!
S'Kat: Nice discovery, eh?

Dagny said...

Actually I usually put the dressing on the salad first but then I'm usually just cooking for me. Of course, most days I stick with my fave of raspberry white balsamic with walnut oil. My mom keeps trying to convince me that the bottled raspberry vinaigrettes are perfectly good but I haven't found one that I like yet.

Guy said...

So, are you pro or against the premade dressings?

We didn't "do" salads as a kid. I think the only time we did, was during the holidays. If my mom made it, it was something she read out of one of Julia's books and had red wine vinegar in it. She used so little, but it was so good I can still remember it. And if it was my uncle, he just added stuff till he liked it. I think he was too lazy to buy the dressing, easy to make.


Erin S. said...

I, too, grew up in a household of bottles on the table and a love of "french" dressing--the orangey stuff. Now, I will admit, when not in the mood to emulsify and dirty more dishes, the bottles of balsamic vinegar and olive oil go right on the table for a "do it yerself" dressing.

cookiecrumb said...

Dagny: Ooh, are you mixing it yourself? Groovy. Walnut oil: mm. There are fresh raspberries in the market now. Why not make yourself raspberry vinegar? You could even use white balsamic (which is an oxymoron, but there you have it) as the base.

Biggles: Uh... "pro"? Hay, I remember a post of yours about a year ago with a photo of a smashed bottle of dressing you ended up hating. "It was shiny and I was hungry," you said, or something like that. But how cool you grew up with (the occasional) home-dressed salad.

Erin: That's how my mom does it now, except she puts the oil and vinegar in pretty cruets. Table-worthy.

Dagny said...

Hadn't thought about the vinegar thing. Thanks because when I was shopping on Saturday I couldn't find the raspberry white balsamic vinegar that I love so much. Looks like I'll just have to start making my own. The store was also out of walnut oil so I have had to use olive oil lately.

Got into the habit when I used to work for this "lovely" corporation that had a subsidized cafeteria. At the end of the salad bar was a selection of oils and vinegars, besides the usual crocks of dressings.

Greg said...

Nothing like a wedge of iceberg with thousand island dressing. When I worked at Hotel Fancy the CCA trained chefs balked when a customer asked for Thousand. I threw mayo,ketchup and relish together et Voila. The customer was happy and I was promoted to White Trash Cook.

cookiecrumb said...

Greg: Funny!

Ilva said...

cc-naah, he was great and it was irresistible and fun to tease him about it!

kitchenmage said...

...and why were there so many dressings named after countries back then? And why were Russian and French so similar...secret cuisine collaborators?

cookiecrumb said...

Intrigue! Maybe one of them had little bumps in it... No, that was Thousand Island.
Anybody remember Green Goddess?

Anonymous said...

I think I am lucky, we never had bought dressing and never had dressing lurking in the fridge or on the table, one of my first responsiblites as a child was being the designated dressing maker. Storebought never competes with homeade.

cookiecrumb said...

Clare! Wow, an early headstart on culinary prowess. No wonder. (I was my mom's galley slave too. I don't think I made dressings, but I was always helping, always learning.)