Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tools of the Trade

Today am offering salad dressings, but even these play a vital part in the cooks' s kitchen. Yes, they can be bought ready-made, but often we don't want to keep a whole range in the larder, preferring to stick with just the mayo. Given a few basic ingredients, we can extend the mayo to make quite an assortment of dressing ourselves, as and when we wish. So try these for size:

Beginning with the classic French Dressing, As the oil and vinegar always separates when standing, give it a good shake before drizzling over salads. Although not given as an ingredient, sometimes I add a pinch of icing sugar.
4 fl oz (100ml) olive oil
2 tblsp red wine vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Mix everything together. Easy as that.

This colourful dressing is often served with shell-fish, as with the retro prawn cocktail. But equally good drizzled over salad leaves, even spread into the curvy bits of a celery stick, or scooped out cucumber. At a pinch you can get away with just the mayo, ketchup and the seasonings, but the other ingredients certainly add more flavour.
Thousand Island Dressing:
4 oz (100g) mayonnaise
3 oz (75g) tomato ketchup
good pinch each of salt and paprika
quarter of a red bell pepper, finely diced
2" (5cm) piece of celery, finely diced
Again, easy, peasy - just mix everything together.

Dressings for Caesar salad usually contain anchovies, which can make the dressing quite strong. An alternative is to use a little anchovy essence (this comes in tubes, similar to both tomato and garlic pastes - both useful to keep in store). Because Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies, only a little anchovy is used in this recipe and could be omitted if you prefer.
Caesar salad is traditionally made using Cos lettuce, but Little Gem is a good alternative. Crunchy croutons are another essential ingredient (a way to use up that cheap bread discussed over the past few days). Instead of adding anchovy fillets to the salad, use strips of crispy bacon and slices of avocado.
Caesar Salad Dressing:
8 fl oz (225ml) mayonnaise
juice of half a small lemon
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 anchovy (0ptional)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 oz (5og) grated Parmesan cheese
Blitz everything together in a small blender or use a pestle and mortar until smooth, then just prepare the salad, drizzle over and toss together.

Tartare Sauce:
Just add chopped tarragon and finely chopped capers to mayonnaise to make this classic sauce to be served with fish.

The flavour of this next dressing depends upon the type (strength) of blue cheese, and the amount used. One of the dressings where we can be in complete control. A classic dressing served with a salad made with lettuce, avocado, bacon, tomatoes and cooked chicken. But as ever, omit the expensive items (chicken/avocado), and it still makes pleasant eating.
Blue Cheese Dressing:
3 fl.oz (75ml) olive oil
juice of half a lemon
approx 3 oz (75g) blue cheese of your choice
freshly ground pepper, black or white
Blend or mash everything together until smooth and drizzle over the salads in the normal way.

Garlic Dressing (Aioli):
8 oz (225g) mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tblsp horseradish sauce (creamy type)
Mix everything together. Great served with roast beef, hot or cold.

Speed merchants will grab a pack of ready-made melba toast, crostini slices or something ready-made. But hopefully, we will can cut out unnecessary expense and make our own, after all it doesn't take much effort or time to slice home-baked (or even bought bread) and toast it - does it? Sliced baguettes (see previous postings) would make wonderful croustades.

Caesar Croustades:
Spread the croustade with a little Caesar dressing, top with a little mashed avocado and lemon juice, a dollop more of dressing, topping with a little crispy fried bacon.

Prawn Cocktail Bites:
Chop up cooked prawns into little pieces and bind together with Thousand Island dressing. Spoon this on top of the chosen base. Garnish with chopped chives.

Ploughman's Piece:
Spread a lightly toasted slice of granary bread with a little pickle, cover with a few rings of red onion, and top this with Blue Cheese dressing into which has been mixed plenty more blue cheese.