condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Recipes, Side dishes

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

My husband is addicted to ranch salad dressing. I like it too, but I don’t like all the extra junk they put in the stuff sold in stores: soybean oil, for instance. I stay away from soybeans because they are treated with glyphosate herbicides. So I’ve been working on a buttermilk ranch-style salad dressing that is made with the freshest, healthiest possible ingredients. These include homemade buttermilk, cultured at home and full of good probiotic organisims (make it from organic milk for best health), homemade mayonnaise (also made with healthier, higher grade oils than the commercially-produced mayos), and home-grown and dried herbs. Now, you can make this dressing with store-bought buttermilk, store-bought mayo, and store-bought herbs, and it’s still going to taste better and be better for you than any ranch dressing you buy in a store. I hope you’ll give this a try.

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch-Style Salad Dressing

3/4 cup homemade mayo *

¾ cup homemade buttermilk **

1 tablespoon homemade apple scrap vinegar ***

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder ****(optional—I’m always looking for new ways to use this)

¼ teaspoon hot smoked paprika (regular paprika may be used)

1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1-2 tablespoons dehydrated onion bits (ground in clean coffee grinder or spice grinder) or onion powder

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

½ teaspoon dried hyssop (I like this herb, it adds a sharper greenness than parsley, but it isn’t common, and can be omitted)

Pinch (or more) of dried thyme

¼-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

¼-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (I like freshly ground)

Start with the lesser amount of seasonings. Mix well in jar with tight lid. (You can see I used an old ranch salad dressing jar to make it easier for my husband to find it in the fridge. He’s a bit challenged when it comes to seeing what he’s looking for!)

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Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. You may substitute other herbs, or use fresh herbs, but fresh herbs will lessen the storage life of your dressing. I use dried in the winter when we eat fewer salads, and fresh in the spring and summer when my herbs have greened up and my own lettuces are producing, and we go through the dressing in a week or two.  Fresh chives are delicious in this dressing when you have them.

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Store in fridge. Keeps about 2 weeks in fridge, or longer, depending on the freshness of your buttermilk and mayonnaise. I’ve had it last over a month. It might separate, but you just shake it back together. Discard if the dressing becomes moldy.  That’s when you know the dressing has exceeded its shelf life!

Notes: *If you have not yet tried the easiest homemade mayo ever, please click here for the recipe. It is so good, and it also contains some probiotics if you use active culture yogurt and raw vinegar in it. If you use store-bought mayo, the dressing will still taste great.

**Making your own buttermilk is so easy. I love making it at home because I can make it the amounts I am likely to use. I used to buy it a quart at a time, and half of it would always go bad before I used it up. I hate wasting anything and discovered that I could freeze leftover buttermilk to use as a chicken marinade or in baking, but if it’s been frozen very long, the active cultures in it die, and then it can’t be used to make sour cream or more buttermilk, although I believe it’s still good for baking. (When you use buttermilk in baking, you need to add baking soda, which reacts with the acids in the buttermilk to make light, fluffy, baked goods).

So now I make my own buttermilk, about a cup at a time, which is perfect for making a batch of gluten-free buttermilk pancakes (recipe coming soon—so good!) or a jar of buttermilk ranch salad dressing, or cakes, biscuits, and other baked goods. To see how to make your own cultured, probiotic buttermilk as you need it, please click here.

***Those of you who follow this blog know that I make my own apple scrap vinegar. It is probiotic and tasty. If you’d like to try it yourself, click here.  You can make it on a small scale, in a half-gallon jar, which is how I started out. Now I have enough organic apple scraps from my apples to make it in 5 gallon buckets! But you can buy Bragg’s vinegar raw, or you can use any apple cider vinegar in this recipe.

****Also if you follow this blog, you’ve seen me write about saving my tomato skins when I make charred salsa, tomato-apple chutney, and Italian Red Sauce. I’ve found various ways to use them; please click on the links if you’re interested in new ways to use your dried tomato skins: pulled pork rub, braised and barbecued pork ribs. The tomato skins can be omitted from the ranch dressing recipe if you choose, but I like it.

I hope you enjoy this ranch dressing recipe enough to ditch the store-bought dressings with all the added ingredients that nobody needs to be ingesting. The bonus with this recipe is that you get some probiotics to boot! You really can’t beat that deal.

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Beverages, condiment, Dairy, Desserts, Recipes, Side dishes

Making Buttermilk

Now, some of you might be asking, why would you want to do that? Well, buttermilk is probiotic. It’s a culture/ferment that uses lactobacilli to alter the chemistry of milk. I must confess, I do not drink the stuff, although my father loved it. One of his favorite snacks was a big glass of buttermilk poured over a bowl of cold, crumbled cornbread, with a couple of fresh green onions from the garden on the side. I never developed a taste for that dish, but I have learned that buttermilk in baked goods lends a lightness only rivaled by sourdough. And it is excellent in salad dressings, and as a marinade for chicken, so I’ve been told, though I’ve never done it. I’ve come to love the stuff, and I keep a small jar of it in my fridge at all times. I enjoy knowing I have something freshly probiotic to mix into a salad dressing, for instance. I’ll be sharing a couple of my favorite buttermilk recipes with you in future posts.

Making your own buttermilk is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is mix 1/3rd cup of cultured buttermilk from the store with 1 cup of fresh milk. Shake it up in jar with a good lid, let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours, and you’ll have buttermilk. On the left is the old jar, with what’s left of the buttermilk I made a couple of days ago, and on the right is the fresh batch that will be ready in 24 hours.

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You’ll know it’s ready when you tilt the jar and the buttermilk pulls away from the side of the jar. It will be thick and viscous.

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At this point, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

I’ve learned through experimentation that the more often you culture buttermilk, the tangier and thicker your buttermilk will become. Also, you can make buttermilk from milk of any fat content, but the more fat, the thicker the buttermilk tends to be. Buttermilk mixed into half and half or heavy cream will produce sour cream that is similar to crème fraiche. For that recipe, click here.  You can use this cultured cream just as you would any sour cream or crème fraiche, in dips, in baking, as a topping for baked potatoes or cheesecake!

Always save 1/3 cup of cultured buttermilk to mix with 1 cup of fresh milk for a new batch. Of course, you can double or triple these amounts, keeping the same proportions, if you wish to make a larger volume of buttermilk.

Check back with me in a few days for a recipe using fresh, homemade buttermilk.

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Desserts, Recipes

Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears

Update:  December 19, 2015

I made Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears for dessert tonight–the first time this winter. I just love this dessert.  Tonight, I gave it a little twist.  To the spice mix, I added a half-teaspoon of mixed peppercorns that I crushed slightly in my marble mortar.  They added an interesting little zing to the pears and the syrup.  Yum!  I hope you’ll try this dessert this winter, if you missed it last year.

This is one of my favorite fall and winter desserts, and it’s so easy to make.  I am not an elegant plater, but if you have the right dishes and plate this dessert properly, it’s pretty as well as delicious.  Be sure to give this one a try before pears disappear from your grocery store.

Blackberry and Wine Poached Pears

Serves 4

2 cups red wine (pinot noir or merlot are best)

½ cup blackberry jam or blackberry jelly

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1-2 cinnamon sticks

10 whole allspice berries

3 whole cloves

4 ripe but firm pears suitable for cooking, with stems if possible (Anjou or Bosc are best, but Barletts can be used as well)

Vanilla ice cream

Combine wine, jam, and spices (ground spices can also be used:  1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves) in a pot or pan  large enough to hold the liquids and the pears; bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Peel pears, leaving stems on fruit. Carefully lower pears into poaching liquid and simmer, covered, until cooked through (15-30 minutes depending on the ripeness and type of pears you use).

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Rotate fruit as needed to ensure even color and flavor.  Check doneness with a fork near the base of the fruit, where it is thickest. The fork should slide in easily all the way to the core. Do not overcook the pears, or they will simply fall apart.

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Remove pears from poaching liquid and set aside in warm oven to stay warm while sauce reduces.

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Turn poaching liquid on high and boil rapidly until it begins to thicken, then turn down and continue reducing at a medium low temperature until syrup is as thick as pancake syrup. Strain syrup off into glass measuring cup or pitcher to cool slightly.

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Plate each pear with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of slightly cooled spiced blackberry-wine syrup.

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If you have any syrup left over, save it for pouring over ice cream alone or for topping pancakes and fruit for a luxurious winter breakfast or brunch.

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