Ever been to a restaurant and wonder how even a simple salad tastes so much better than what you make at home? Chances are, it’s the homemade vinaigrette. Store bought salad dressings, even the supposed healthy ones, are still loaded with oils you don’t want (canola and soybean), thickeners you don’t need (guar gum, xantham gum) and unnecessary sweeteners (sugar). All these additives help to make the product shelf stable, but don’t do much for taste or your health. So what’s the solution? Make your own. Today’s recipe is one of my personal favorites, although both our cumin lime and honey mustard dressings are pretty awesome too. When people come over for dinner, they always ask how we make our dressing and I figured it was time to share.
Making salad dressing is not an exact science. Every time I whip up a jar, it’s slightly different since the ingredients available in my fridge, garden, and cupboard are ever changing. When we first committed to not buying dressing (one of the few resolutions that actually stuck!), we used one of the Good Seasons salad dressing cruets, the type with the measurements right on the glass. We followed the measurement markings, but instead of adding water and the “dressing packet” we sprinkled in fresh herbs instead. Things have evolved ever since, especially with the revelation that our garden produces thyme, oregano and rosemary year round. In preparation for this blog post I measured everything out so I could put together a coherent recipe to follow. I hope you love it as much as I do.
While this may drive some of you crazy, you don’t need to be exact with your measurements. I use a mix of red wine and balsamic, but you can use whatever vinegar blend you like. If you adore the sweetness of the balsamic flavor, go for just balsamic vinegar. For all the herbs below, fresh is best, but in a pinch, dried will work. If you use dried, you’ll need a bit more of each since they are are not as flavorful. In order to make this dressing “pop” and taste of restaurant quality, you will need at least 1-2 fresh herbs. If you are picking herbs from your garden or using fresh from the market, make sure to wash them thoroughly by soaking them in a bowl of clean water and letting the dirt sink to the bottom. Always get organic when you can. For the garlic powder, make sure it is pure garlic powder and not garlic salt or a seasoning with extra additives. If you don’t mind the raw garlic flavor, a small clove of garlic put through the garlic press works too. As far as the container, old salad dressing containers work beautifully. Really, any old glass jar will do as long as it has a tight-fitting lid.
Balsamic & Herb Vinaigrette
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 tsp fresh Thyme leaves, stems removed, minced
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, stems removed, minced very fine
1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves, stems removed, minced
1/2 tsp fresh minced basil leaves or dried basil
1/2 tsp fresh minced parsley leaves or dried parsley
1/4 tsp ground mustard (or 1/2 tsp of Dijon mustard)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp minced shallots, red onion or scallions
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chop all your fresh herbs very finely, especially the rosemary. Add ingredients into the glass jar in the order listed above, with the exception of salt and pepper. Put lid on the glass container and shake vigorously until powdered ingredients are fully incorporated. Taste, and add salt and pepper to your liking. You can also do this in a food processor and pour in the oil in a fine stream while the processor is running. But this method involves more dishes and special equipment, which may scare some of you off and is really not necessary. This dressing is best after it has been sitting for 4-24 hours in the fridge, but can be used right away. Store in the refrigerator and shake well before pouring on your salad.
Remember Real Housewives of New York City’s, Bethenny Frankel? Apparently, this reality TV star now has her own line of cocktail drinks called Skinnygirl. AccessHollywood reported last week that Whole Foods was pulling Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margaritas from their stores after learning that the cocktail contained a preservative. In a statement to AccessHollywood, Whole Foods said:
“After discovering that [Skinnygirl Margarita] contains a preservative that does not meet our quality standards, we have had to stop selling it.”
The Skinnygirl website does not include the ingredients in their products, but I was able to find a picture of the ingredient label on FitSugar:
At first, it looks okay. 7 ingredients is a pretty low number and it is thankfully free of artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners. But….and that is a big but (no pun intended), like virtually every pre-mixed cocktail, it does contain a preservative. So, what’s the big deal? Here are the possible health effects from consuming sodium benzoate:
“May exacerbate asthma, hyperactive behavior (when consumed in products with certain food colorings), and cause skin rash upon contact. A study in 2007 indicated that it may cause serious cell damage associated with cirrhosis of the liver, ageing, and Parkinson’s disease. In animal studies, there are reports of possible weight gain, liver and kidney issues, and birth defects.”
Sodium benzoate is found in thousands of foods and beverages and is very difficult to
Wondering which food products have been recalled lately? Do you have a serious food allergy and need allergy alerts? Do you want to see a picture of the item recalled along with UPC numbers? Need to check on a particular food? Check out this announcement from the FDA regarding their new (and much needed) food recall web page.
On April 4, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched a new consumer-friendly Web search for use during recalls. Consumers will now be able to search for food and other product recalls easier and quicker on the FDA’s website. To provide greater ease of use for consumers, the search results will now provide data from news releases and other recall announcements in the form of a table. That table organizes information from news releases on recalls since 2009 by date, product brand name, product description, reason for the recall and the recalling firm. The table also provides a link to the news release on each recall for more detailed information. The news releases were chosen as the source of information for the table because they provide the most up-to-date and user friendly information about any recall.
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law in January by President Obama, called for a more consumer-friendly recall search engine within 90 days after the law went into effect. Per the requirements of the FSMA, for certain recalls the search results will also provide status information on whether the recall is completed or on-going. The status information will be provided for those recalls that FDA either ordered a mandatory recall or provided the opportunity for a voluntary recall under FDA’s FSMA authority.
FDA Recall information is now available on the Be Food Smart blog. Recall information is received from the FDA as soon as they issue a press release. Take a look at the recent recalls on the bottom right of the blog (in the yellow bar under the tags section). Check back often as mandatory and voluntary food recalls are, unfortunately, very common.
Food recalls may occur for a variety of reasons including:
As you can see from the first bullet, you really don’t know what’s in your food if it comes in a package. There very well may be nuts in a product that you specifically purchased because it was nut-free. If you or someone in your family has a food allergy or is very sensitive to certain foods, check the recall list often and try to reduce the amount of packaged foods you purchase.