#52NewEats :: Week 16 :: Olive Garden Salad Dressing

Olive Garden Salad Dressing

Believe it or not, I never ate at an Olive Garden until I was well into adulthood.  I was in my early 20s and living in Spokane, WA with Aaron, and there is (or, was, rather) a major lack of non-chain restaurants in Spokane.  We couldn’t find a mom and pop pizza shop to save our lives, let alone a hoagie shop (ahem, “sub” shop) or a cheesesteak shop (Bruchi’s did not count).  So we worked our way through the chain restaurants on the scene – being on an opposite coast, many were new to us anyway.  And we finally landed on Olive Garden around the time they had some dish with balsamic-glazed steak medallions atop pasta with alfredo sauce, and it was THE.  MOST.  HEAVENLY.  thing I had eaten at the time.  So we began going pretty frequently.  We quickly found ourselves among the cult following of the neverending salad – mostly for the dressing, like everyone else in the cult.

So when I found this recipe, and I had all ingredients in the house but one, I thought, I gotta make it!

And the results were mixed.

It definitely tasted like a yummy creamy Italian dressing, but at my first bite I wasn’t ooooh-ing at the likeness of it to Olive Garden’s dressing.  You always kind of expect that first bite to be like, YEAH!  THAT’S IT!  But, in the recipe’s defense, it has been years since I’ve set foot in an Olive Garden.  And I will honestly say, that by the end of my hoovering this salad, that it really did taste like Olive Garden’s dressing.

So this one, I will leave up to y’all.  I didn’t not enjoy it, but I didn’t have the reaction I was expecting.  But it was a deliciously tangy, clearly Italian salad dressing that is nice to have in my back pocket, especially since there’s no super special ingredients!

You can find the original recipe //here//.

Olive Garden Salad Dressing

Ingredients
1 (0.7 oz.) packet Italian Dressing Mix
¾ cup olive oil (high-quality yields much better results in this recipe)
¼ cup & 2 Tablespoons white distilled vinegar
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ Tablespoon mayo

Directions
Whisk everything together thoroughly and refrigerate. Store in a mason jar or other tightly closing container. Shake or whisk well before using.

Fresh Ricotta Toasts

So like.  Did y’all know you can make ricotta at home?  And that it’s better than almost anything you could buy at a store (unless you have access to some mom and pop Italian market that makes it fresh)?

It’s true.  And it was SO easy to make, that of course I immediately had to make it again.

In the interest of full disclosure, the recipe for the ricotta itself is not mine – it’s Smitten Kitchen’s.  And I love her, and so much of her food, and her cookbook is glorious.  So I will not post her recipe here – I’m not sure what is good or bad Food Blog Etiquette but I like to avoid charges of plaigiarism where possible – but I will link you to it, and I will tell you about my experience with it, so here, go here and get the recipe and then come back here to see just what you can do with fresh ricotta (hint: it’s more than lasagna, stuffed shells, or baked ziti!)…

Ok, so now I’m assuming you’ve gone and come back and are ready to talk about making fresh ricotta.

How about that direction where you have to heat the milk and cream to 190 degrees F?  Did that freak you out a little bit?  Or was that only me?

I get panicked about cooking things to a certain temperature.  WHAT IF THE TEMPERATURE GOES TOO HIGH?!  WHAT IF IT NEVER REACHES THAT TEMPERATURE?!  WILL I RUIN THE WHOLE DISH?!  WHY IS THE RED INDICATOR SO HARD TO READ?!  WHY CAN’T I STEP AWAY?!  Internal dialogue assaults me frequently.

In my defense I suppose I was also freaked out by it because I had literally JUST (as in, the day before) packed up my candy thermometer and shuttled that box off to my mom’s, so I was without a proper temperature gauge.  Until I remembered I kept my meat thermometer out.  So I improvised.

Yes, I stood at the stove and held the probe in what I believed to be the center of the pot as the milk and cream warmed up together, and waited for it to reach 190 degrees F.  My arm was tired.  And I was pretty hot by the time it was all over.  But hey.  Some people suffer for beauty; I suffer for food.

If you don’t have a food-grade thermometer at all and have to guess at when to take it off the heat, I would advise against making this.  Just go get a food-grade thermometer.

So anyway.  I made this for a little event that we have with our friends a few times a year that we used to call “that thing where we get together and make a bunch of food and pig out”, but on this specific occasion we decided to call it “Slutfest”.  After all, the whole concept of “slutty food” came from these friends.  So yeah.  Every few months we get together and make a bunch of food and pig out.  Our friend Geoff is a total whiz in the kitchen.  He’s the kind of chef I wish I could be.  He does not follow recipes, he just tosses a bunch of things together and it tastes amazing.  We, on the other hand, are more recipe followers, though we have been known to improvise once in a while as well.  Geoff is just amazing at it, so I let him do that while I just try and find a recipe or two I’ve been dying to make and try out on some people.  To give you an idea, on this particular night Geoff whipped up a cheese fondue, homemade onion rings, and cheeseburgers made with beef filet roast scraps (the parts of the filet roast that you wouldn’t cut into steaks – he ground those parts up and made cheeseburgers out of it – HEAVENLY).

So for the first Slutfest of 2016, I chose to make this ricotta.  I didn’t think much about what to ‘top’ it with, because to me ricotta spread on toasted bread is just fine like that.  But after seeing how easy it was to make, and how DELICIOUS it was, I had to invent new ways to eat it.

As we were stuffing ricotta-slathered bread into our faces all kinds of ideas popped into my mind about what else could go on top.  Below you’ll find the recipes for what I found to taste amazing in my recipe testing!

Fresh Ricotta Toasts

Ingredients
Start with:
1 recipe fresh ricotta
1 baguette, sliced

Top with:
Minced rosemary + gourmet sea salt
Any other flavored gourmet salts you may have
Poached eggs + arugula
Slow-roasted tomatoes + basil leaves
Balsamic strawberries

Directions
1. Toast the baguette slices in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.

2. Slather the baguette slices with the fresh ricotta.

3. Assemble as desired!
My favorite of these ideas ended up being the balsamic strawberries. It was surprisingly sweet and amazingly delicious.
My favorite simple preparation is the minced rosemary + gourmet sea salt. This is how they serve it at one of my favorite restaurants, The Dandelion.
For ricotta toasts that take a little more effort and are more small-meal-like rather than snack-like, go for the poached eggs + arugula or the slow-roasted tomatoes + basil.

Chipotle Cheese Sauce

This cheese sauce has been tweaked and perfected quite a lot over the years, but it wasn’t till last year that I started adding chipotle to it to spice it up a bit.

Prior to adding chipotle, I would add dry chili powder, pepper jack cheese, regular Tabasco, and sometimes even pickled jalapeno juice to give it some kick.  None of those really satisfied me, though they were all fine in their own right.  But once I discovered chipotle Tabasco, I realized I’d finally hit upon the perfect flavoring for cheese sauce!

I use this cheese sauce on many things, but most notably nachos (of course) and cheese fries.

I found that I reference this recipe a lot in many of my other recipes, so I decided to create its own post for easier reference in the future.  But feel free to use this creatively in your own dishes!

Chipotle Cheese Sauce

Ingredients
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp or medium cheddar cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle Tabasco sauce

Directions
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk quickly to combine. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the warmed milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Once it thickens, lower the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Add shredded cheese and whisk gently until completely melted. Finally, add chipotle Tabasco sauce and whisk to combine. Feel free to add more or less to your heat preference. Use this cheese sauce to top anything you’d want to top with cheese sauce!

Pimento Cheese

Earlier this year I discovered the amazingness that is pimento cheese.

I went to Lexington for work and we went to this amazing little place to eat called Stella’s Kentucky Deli.  I really went for the hot brown, but came away with a newfound love and appreciation for pimento cheese.  (The hot brown was also insanely delicious.)

At Stella’s, they served their pimento cheese with toasted white bread triangles and slices of the juiciest, ripest tomato I have ever eaten in the middle of winter.  Like seriously, I would move there to eat tomatoes like that in the middle of winter.  It was the kind of tomato that made you wonder what that crap is you’re buying every week at the grocery store.

Pimento Cheese

The flavor combination of that thin white, toasty soft bread plus the juicy ripe tomato plus the tangy pimento cheese – it’s like a match made in heaven.

I had found out why southerners are always raving about pimento cheese.  And putting it on all their menus.  And putting it on everything they make.

So of course I embarked on a mission to recreate Stella’s pimento cheese.  Although I wouldn’t mind going back to Lexington, just to eat at Stella’s again.

And buy bourbon.  (Town Branch what’s up?!  Holla at me.  I loved your bourbon and can’t get it here.)

So this is the closest I have come to recreating Stella’s pimento cheese.  I truly hope you enjoy it the same way I did.  I think you’ll find it’s addicting and of course worth every single calorie.  🙂

Pimento Cheese
Adapted from Sean Brock’s recipe in Heritage (which I can’t wait to buy!)

Ingredients
4 ounces of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup Duke’s mayo (if you can’t find Duke’s, I would recommend Hellmann’s)
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/16 teaspoon (that’s 1/2 of a 1/8 teaspoon) cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound sharp white cheddar cheese, grated on the regular holes of the box grater
12 ounces jarred whole pimentos, drained, patted dry, seeds removed, and diced

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix with a sturdy spoon or spatula. This takes some arm strength, but be patient and you’ll get there. The softer your cream cheese, the easier it will be. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with crackers, or with lightly toasted white bread cut into triangles, and tomato slices.  The original recipe states that it will keep for up to 3 days. But no worries, it will be gone before then. 🙂

CINCO DE MAYO !! Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo is like… the perfect condiment for Mexican food.

I use it on almost everything I make that’s Mexican.  Tacos, taco salads, nachos, quesadillas, even as a dip on its own.  Obviously you want to make sure you have the freshest, ripest ingredients as this is a raw dish with simple flavors.

Two things I find to be essential for good pico are cilantro and lime juice.  I know a lot of people hate cilantro, but I love the stuff and can’t get enough of it.  If your tastebuds don’t agree with me though, feel free to omit both – you will still get plenty of flavor from the ripe tomatoes and the tangy onion and the spicy pepper.

I really don’t have much else to say about pico except – stay tuned, as this is really only the beginning of my Cinco de Mayo series and I promise you will have uses for it as May 5th draws near!

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients
4 ripe tomatoes on the vine, or 5 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 white onion, diced fine
1 medium serrano pepper, or 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced fine
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Eyeball it – don’t add all the onion if you’re not an onion fan and it looks like too much. Same with the pepper!

** NOTE ** Please use caution when dicing serrano or jalapeno peppers. If you touch the pepper with your bare fingers, keep your hands away from your face! Clean hands thoroughly when finished dicing. Or use rubber gloves.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta!

How do you say this, by the way?  Broo-skett-ah?  Broo-shett-ah?  Who knows.  I don’t care.  I say Broo-shett-ah.

Bruschetta

Anyway.  I love bruschetta because you know why?  It makes me think of spring and summer, because can you really think of anything fresher and more delicious than a juicy, ripe tomato and some fresh basil?  There is nothing like it in this world.

(Except juicy, ripe tomatoes + fresh cilantro which would = salsa which I love just as much but let’s just stay in Italy for a moment.)

Speaking of Italy, I heard somewhere that bruschetta is like the Italian version of salsa.  It’s made of nearly the same components.  And it’s very versatile.  You can eat bruschetta a hundred different ways and in the coming week I will share a couple of my favorite recipes with you.

But you know what?  If you’re not interested in going the whole nine yards, you can enjoy bruschetta simply as it is – just spoon it onto some toasted baguette slices, crackers, pita chips, whatever you’d like.  One thing is for sure – you will ENJOY it, no matter how it gets into your mouth!

Bruschetta

Bruschetta

Ingredients
4 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 – 1/3 cup finely diced red onion (to your liking)
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
6-10 large basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Directions
Just make it already: This is a to-your-liking kind of thing. So if you don’t like a lot of red onion, go light on it. If you like that bite, go heavy on the red onion. Same with the basil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Combine the tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil in a bowl and stir together to combine. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir again to combine. Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to mingle and get delicious. Serve with toasted baguette slices, crackers, or pita chips.

Blue Cheese Dressing

I. LOVE. Blue cheese dressing.

Like I kind of have a sick obsession with it.

It’s literally THE ONLY salad dressing I ever use. And I use it on more than just salad.

I dip cheese fries in it (because it’s better than ranch).
I dip anything “buffalo” in it (because it’s better than ranch).
I dip vegetables in it (because it’s better than ranch).
I dip onion rings in it (because it’s better than ranch).
It’s actually pretty great on burgers.
And of course it’s better on salads than ranch.

I don’t have any shame. I would pretty much dip anything in blue cheese dressing.

So naturally I needed to find a way to make it on my own. Homemade salad dressings are so easy, and SO much better than anything you can get in the store. I would venture to guess they are even healthier than anything you can get in the store.

I wish I could say I tried so many homemade blue cheese dressing recipes over the years and modified them until I found the perfect combination of ingredients to fit my taste – but – I didn’t. Nope. This recipe is not mine. It’s Morton’s.

I have the Morton’s Steak Bible cookbook and it has recipes for darn near everything on their menu in there. Even things I’ve never seen on their menu. But lucky for me their recipe for blue cheese dressing is in there – and it’s soooo good.

I have made this recipe a gajillion times over the years and it is so consistently yummy. I love it and I know you will too if you are a blue cheese enthusiast like me. Bonus: Next week I have a couple of recipes to share with you that you could use this dressing with. Hashtag YUM.

Blue Cheese Dressing
Makes: About 4 cups

Ingredients
2 cups Kraft mayonnaise
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Daisy sour cream
1 teaspoon Durkee Famous Sauce
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
4-6 tablespoons buttermilk
Salt & pepper to taste
3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

Directions
Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, Durkee Famous Sauce, seasoned salt, buttermilk, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk together until combined. Add more buttermilk as necessary to achieve desired thickness or consistency. Add blue cheese crumbles and fold together. Store in air-tight containers for up to 10 days in the refrigerator.

Chipotle Mayo

Ok so let me just be honest up front and say that THIS IS NOT MY RECIPE.  It’s Bobby Flay’s.  But it’s so simple, and so perfect every time I make it, that I really have to share it with you.  There is literally no way that I could improve upon it and make it better.  I use it on so many things.  My favorite uses for chipotle mayo are:

Chipotle chicken cheesesteaks (recipe to come!)
Chipotle chicken grilled cheese (recipe to come!)
As a dip for French fries
As a dip for onion rings
As a dip for tater tots
As a dip for chicken fingers

It is hands-down my most favorite condiment of all time.  I probably make a jar of this every other week or so.  Drizzle it on pizza, nachos, sandwiches, burgers, or anything fried and crispy and delicious.  I could go on and on.  You can literally use this stuff on anything and I promise it will make your cheeks happy.  And your tongue.

If you make your own mayo (as I occasionally do), you can go right from making it to making this chipotle mayo.  The consistency is no different, and in fact it tastes even better with homemade mayo!

My favorite homemade mayo recipe is this one from the blog The Clothes Make The Girl.  I use an immersion blender, and every single time, it turns out exactly the same.

Chipotle Mayo

Ingredients
1 cup mayonnaise
2 chipotles in adobo sauce (I have used as many as 3, if the chipotles are very small)
1-2 tablespoons adobo sauce (depending on your heat preference)
Juice from 1/2 a lime (if the mayo is too thick for you, add the juice from the other half of the lime)
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Put all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chipotles are minced fine and all ingredients are blended well. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl and blend until fully combined.

Store in an air-tight container for 7-10 days in the refrigerator.