Having a great toolbox of basic recipes you can use for more than one dish is one of the best things you can do to maximize your time in the kitchen. I absolutely believe that mastering a few techniques and flexible recipes or recipe guidelines — think pan sauces, vinaigrettes, omelets — will build your confidence in the kitchen big-time. When you think about “cooking dinner” it can be overwhelming. Multiply that by seven days a week and I think we all feel a little intimidated. But the basics of cooking can be very simple, and once you have them you can treat them as building blocks to scale even the tallest mountain of meal planning. I’ll have both Recipe and Technique 101 series to help you get comfortable with making meals on the fly as well as building an understanding of how one recipe can serve two or three different roles through the week.
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Our First Tool: Easy Creamy Dressing
I know. You’re probably thinking I’m off my rocker, but a basic creamy salad dressing will see you through entertaining season easily. Mayonnaise-based dressings have been popular for a very long time (look at any early-mid 20th century cookbook), and I think they secretly continue to be so, but we just don’t talk about them as much because they’re not kale. You can put them on kale, though, so win-win.
This base works for coleslaw, broccoli salad, carrot and raisin salad, and layered salads (and more), and can be transformed into poppyseed or blue cheese dressing. I think it’s perfect for so many occasions, and the salads tend to be both crowd- and family-pleasers. I like making things I know will be a hit. I think we all do, right? Today I’ll share the dressing and a recipe for broccoli salad, but you’ll see it come up in future recipes too!
This recipe also provides an excellent and easy introduction to ratios in cooking. More on that at the end of the recipe.
Here’s the basic recipe:
Easy Creamy Dressing
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or Swerve for our low-carb friends – I use less Swerve than sugar, despite what the bag says; about 1/4 cup here
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk (a fork works if you can’t find your wire whisk) to combine. Taste for salt and sugar. Store until needed, up to a week in the refrigerator.
That was easy, right? So now what do you do with it?
A note on the mayonnaise here: I vastly prefer Hellmann’s for this application. I love homemade mayonnaise, but for some reason the name brand holds up better here.
Once you’ve made it, you can see if you’d like it to be more or less sweet and so adjust the sugar, etc. There are so few ingredients, you’ll soon have mastered your own perfect version.
Here’s another thing to notice and start picking up: Some things are made by basic ratios, especially baked goods and dressings. Here, the ratio is 1 part vinegar to 2 parts sugar to 6 parts mayonnaise. This makes it easy to scale. If you’d like a smaller amount, say, you only have 3/4 of a cup of mayonnaise, all you have to do is adjust the other ingredients according to the ratio. So, the mayonnaise makes up 6 parts; 3/4 cup divided by 6 is 0.125 cups which is (and I’ll elaborate on this soon) 1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons. That means your vinegar is 1 part, or 2 tablespoons; sugar is 2 parts = 4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup; and mayonnaise is 3/4 cup. You can do this for any amount, and if you can’t remember the quantities you can always think 1:2:6 vinegar:sugar:mayo. Learning to think this way will eventually transform how you look at recipes.
Something to Try: Broccoli Salad
I happened to have all the ingredients on hand for this, so it’s what I made with my last batch of mayo dressing. I love broccoli salad. Many people do, and it usually only turns up on holiday tables and at potlucks; it’s a nice surprise to serve it at home from time to time. It’s much better if you give the flavors a few hours to meld. That lets the broccoli soften and absorb some of the dressing, and the dressing picks up the nuance of the bacon and onion (which itself becomes less sharp and more pickled). I find it’s fine for a couple days, though by the end of day two it’s starting to get a little soggy, and on day three it’s definitely not what I’d call crunchy.
1 head broccoli, cut into florets (about 3-4 cups)
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, hulls off
1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
4oz shredded or cubed Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup crumbled cooked bacon, or 6-8 strips (Costco sells great real bacon bits you can use, too)
1 recipe Easy Creamy Salad Dressing as given (i.e. with 1-1/2 cups mayonnaise), but you can adjust this based on whether you like more or less dressing
Place all ingredients in a large bowl (preferably one with a seal; I use my Tupperware Thatsa Bowls, obviously). Toss or fold with a spatula.
Let rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes; several hours to overnight is preferable. This does really well when made ahead.
I hope you’ll try the dressing and salad in your next meal plan! Let me know if you do – I’d love to hear about it. Join my Facebook group or comment here!