Hankerings’ (Not-So-Secret) Ranch Dressing Recipe

If someone were to ask me, “what’s the best salad dressing you ever had?” – I’d actually have an answer for them.

I was sitting at a local bar in New Jersey’s Long Beach Island called the Black Whale, where I was told that I “had to order the house salad.”

For reasons I’m sure you can understand, I had my doubts that this salad would be any good.

The house salad ended up being a house salad. But the house-made ranch dressing they served with it blew my mind.  It came in a glass bottle that the bartenders kept within arm’s reach in the ice machine.

I should’ve known then – when they gave me enough ranch dressing to last a family of four six months – that there was a reason they bring an entire carafe of dressing for a small plate of leaves. Within a matter of minutes, the salad heap was dwindling, but I was still pouring.

I couldn’t have enough of this dressing.

I asked the waitress to see if the chef could do me a huge solid and share the recipe with me.

She came back without a recipe, letting me know the secret was a whole lot of garlic – but not just one type of garlic. There’s fresh and roasted garlic.

So after some drawn-out, nitpicky trial and error, I have created a dressing that tastes nearly identical to what I had at the Black Whale. And I’m very happy about it.

As a self-proclaimed neutral with a capital “N” on salads, it doesn’t mean I can’t still love the dressing we pour over them.

I’ll be posting several more salad dressing recipes in the coming weeks – be sure to check back & see what new concoctions I’ve managed to whip up. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes 1 1 / 2 pints.

  • 1 / 2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 1 / 3 cup whole milk
  • 1 / 4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 garlic bulb + 2 cloves garlic
  • Olive oil

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *400.
  2. Cut the garlic bulb in half, rub with olive oil, and place in foil on a sheet pan or the oven rack. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes, until the garlic flesh is browned but not burnt.
  3. Once cooled, squeeze out the garlic cloves from half the bulb, discarding the skins. Since you already put in all the work, save the remaining half of the roasted garlic.
  4. Put the roasted garlic and all the remaining ingredients in a food processor, whirring until all the herbs & garlic cloves are completely emulsified.
  5. Set in the fridge for as long as possible so the flavors can mingle with each other. The dressing will last 7 to 10 days in the fridge.

Double-Dressed Radish & Arugula Salad with Ramp-Ranch Dressing

In the odd moments where I’m longing for some clean eating, usually after days of fried food, red meats and dairy-laden dishes, I admit I will throw a salad together.

I urge you to try this new dressing technique next time you make any simple, garden salad. They are, after all, simple salads, so they are by definition screaming for flavor.

Dressing salads not once, but twice, is the perfect remedy to what would be an otherwise flavorless disappointment. You want each leaf to impart some tang when it hits your tongue. Dressing twice eliminates the possibility of that truly miserable, dry forkful of undressed leaves.

We’ve all been there.

It’s the same feeling when you get to the bottom of the nachos, and there’s no cheese or toppings left.

Don’t text while driving. Hold the door for moms with strollers. Pick up after your dog when they do their business in public parks.

Layer your nachos.

The first round of dressing includes the acids, salt and with a bit of olive oil to coat – whether that’s lemon juice, balsamic or wine vinegar.

Due to some lettuces’ tendencies to wilt, the heartier the leaf-base of the salad, the better. I wouldn’t try this on mixed greens. But hearty arugula, romaine, bitter greens like radicchio & endive or kale would work great.

The second dressing – you guessed it – is the headliner. Here I made a ranch-style dressing with ramps I saw at a farmer’s market. Scallions offer the near-exact same flavor, so that can and should be used in place of ramps if you can’t get your hands on them.

Radishes and arugula share a sharp, spicy undertone. I added some roughly-crushed peppercorns to bring the pepper theme home. With a buttermilk ranch to mellow out these flavors, I can absolutely guarantee you will like this.

At least once in a while. 😉

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

F o r  t h e  S a l a d

  • 2 big handfuls arugula
  • 8 – 12 radishes, tops removed & sliced
  • 6 basil leaves, chiffonaded 1 / 2 inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns, for garnish

F o r  t h e  V i n a i g r e t t e  B a s e

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, or vinegar of your choosing
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon pepper

F o r  t h e  R a m p – R a n c h  D r e s s i n g

  • 1 / 3 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 / 2 ramp, minced
  • 10 chive stems, minced
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dill, minced
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Mix the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl. Mix the ramp-ranch ingredients in a small bowl, whisking vigorously to ensure there are no small clumps. Set both in the fridge for as long as possible (10 – 15 minutes) so flavors have a chance to blend.
  2. Rinse dirt & sand from the radishes in cold water. Dry. Cut the tops and roots off the radishes and slice thinly. Cigar roll the basil leaves and chiffonade about 1 / 2 inch thick.
  3. Serving 1 large handful of arugula per person, toss the leaves with the basil and vinaigrette base in a large bowl until all leaves are lightly coated in the vinaigrette.
  4. Plate the arugula & basil mix. Layer the sliced radishes into the arugula.
  5. Pour as much ramp-ranch dressing as you’d like over the top of each salad. Top with crushed peppercorns and a sprinkling of finishing salt.

Green Eggs & Spam

This is the first of a few modern-day “no-no” processed meat recipes I will be posting in the coming weeks, so brace yourselves.

I’m going back to my food roots.

I have always been drawn to nitro-, sulfite-, preservative-packed meat products. Hot dogs, Steak-umms, deviled ham, bacon, Jimmy Dean sausages, Spam, bologna, that bologna stuff studded with olives. Pretty much anything with the Oscar Mayer logo stamped on it.

I was a really skinny kid. Thinking back, I wonder if my parents bought this food thinking it might fill me out a bit. All that and Little Debbie snacks. Zebra Cakes were my favorite. Anyone else? Any Nutty Butty fans out there? Try putting those in the freezer if you haven’t already, by the way.

Of course, I’m kidding about the trying to fatten me up part.

As an adult I still have the same salty, faux-meat cravings. And I let myself give into them – not all the time, but every so often.

I think of green eggs and spam the same way I think of egg in a hole or Micky Mouse-shaped pancakes. It’s a fun breakfast food that (I imagine) may appeal to kids.

But let’s get real – wouldn’t we all pick this off a menu in a heartbeat, if only because of the name? Some foods can be super nostalgic. And as adults, most of us love to eat what we ate as kids.

I loved Green Eggs & Ham as a kid because it was about weird food. And who would’ve thought that would carry through to adulthood!

So this recipe hits home for me big time. I hope you like it.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 1.

  • 1 / 2 can Spam, sliced into cubes

F o r  t h e  E g g s

  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter

F o r  t h e  S a u c e

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 / 2 scallion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Melt the butter in a nonstick saute pan. Fry the two eggs until the whites are just set. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. In a blender or food processor, pulse the sauce ingredients until completely incorporated. Set aside.
  3. Take the cubed Spam and pan-fry on medium heat for 7 to 9 minutes, tossing often. Set aside.
  4. Plate the sunny side up eggs with the Spam. Pour the green sauce over the Spam and eggs. Garnish, if desired, with chives or any other green herbs you have on hand.

Capered Salmon en Papillote

We’ve all heard the stereotype that French recipes are notorious for being highly complex – requiring hours and hours of preparation, expert-level tempering and knife techniques. But so much of their cooking is incredibly simple and so damn elegant.

It’s why France is arguably the global mecca for foodies. With an added emphasis on the word arguably.

One preparation they use for fish encloses it in parchment paper with aromatics and seasonings, and bakes it in the oven, often with in-season vegetables.

It makes for a beautiful presentation, and because it’s fish, there’s not much actual cooking time involved.

I had been wanting to try this technique for a while and finally got around to it. I wasn’t sure how achieve the moon-shaped package with a square piece of parchment paper, so I sourced a technique from the New York Times.

There’s an undeniable wow element when you’re served the fish enclosed in the package and opening it up to see what’s inside.

Just human nature I guess. Must be why wrapping paper exists. Or in my case, newspaper.

Because brine is life, I went hard on the capers. I mixed together a simple sauce to accompany the salmon with capers and thyme, to mirror the flavors used with the fish.

I remember to tell myself – simple can be incredibly elegant. The French taught us that much. I hope you enjoy this. Let me know what your other go-to herbs, vegetables and seasonings you like to use on salmon –  I bet they’d be great here.

I’m thinking an Asian-inspired version? Soy sauce, chili oil, scallions & sesame seeds?

Bon Appetit!

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 6 – 8 oz. filets salmon, silver skin removed
  • I small shallot, sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small bunch thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

F o r  t h e  C a p e r  S a u c e

  • 3 oz. crème fraiche
  • 1 teaspoon capers, minced
  • 1 / 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon minced thyme
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *400.
  2. Cut two pieces of parchment paper, about 1 1 / 2 foot long, into large heart-shaped pieces.
  3. Place the salmon filets on one half of the parchment paper, folding over to ensure there’s enough paper to completely enclose the fish.
  4. Once it’s correctly placed, sprinkle the filets with salt and pepper.
  5. Top with slices of shallot, capers, several springs of thyme, and 1 tablespoon of butter per filet.
  6. Fold over the edges of the parchment paper starting at the bottom of the heart shape, until the fish is completely enclosed. It’s a similar technique you would use to crimp the edges of a pie so that the filling doesn’t escape while baking.
  7. Cook the fish for 12 minutes for medium-rarish, 15 minutes for well-done.
  8. In the meantime, combine the caper sauce ingredients. Serve in small ramekins.
  9. Remove the salmon from the oven & serve it immediately plating it, parchment and all, with sauce on the side.
  10. IMPORTANT: Stick your nose in and inhale that first whiff when you tear open the package.

Crostini with Whipped Goat Cheese & Summer Herbs

Unlike cow’s milk, which much of the commercialized world is accustomed to for its milder taste, goat milk and cheese products have more of a musty and acidic flavor.  I’m talking about the French-imported, preferably unpasteurized chèvre.

Anyone else obsessed with Bucheron?

With goat cheese, the flavor can be very intense. Tasting it, you can just imagine some dairy farmer drawing milk from the goat’s teat that transformed into the cheese you’re eating at that moment.

It’s the same thing I’ve noticed with people who prefer dark meat and lamb meat – it tastes gamey and a bit funky. That’s why I like it.

For those on the fence about goat cheese, I discovered Ina Garten’s Salad with Warm Goat Cheese. I’ve been cooking that recipe for years now for any picky eaters who claim to hate the stuff.

No matter the vehicle it’s served on, you can’t go wrong with a slathering of whipped, soft cheese infused with flavored oils, spices, herbs and whatever else feels right. Ina Garten published a Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta recipe that is out-of-this-world. I fully disclose I drew inspiration from her with this recipe here.

The lighter texture achieved by the whirring in a food processor makes it more spreadable, and gives it a lighter consistency more appropriate as an hors d’oeuvre for outdoor eating in the summer.

Just like vegetables and fruits can be in-season, herbs can be categorized the same way, to some extent.

The heartier herbs, which you can probably already guess, like rosemary, thyme and sage tend to thrive in cooler and drier climates and temperatures. Herbs like basil, tarragon, chives and the those with more delicate leaves are typically unable to survive once temperatures plummet.

Basil is a universal go-to summer herb. Tarragon and chives and dill taste like summer to me, too, because I plant them every late spring.

Let me know if you have a different recipe for a cheese-topped crostini on-hand. I’d love to hear about it.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4 to 6 as an hors d’oeuvre.

F o r  t h e  C r o s t i n i

  • 1 crusty French baguette, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • Olive oil, for toasting
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

F o r  t h e  W h i p p e d  G o a t  C h e e s e

  • 12 oz. high-quality goat cheese*
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons basil, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons dill, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped
  • 1 lemon, zested & juiced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

*Montrachet is a great French-imported brand to use, and can be found in most grocery stores. But if you can find a more uncommon variety of soft goat cheese at a specialty food store, it will be that much yummier. Humboldt Fog, Bucheron, Bonne Buche from Vermont Creamery (with rinds removed) would all be great as well. Appreciative of Serious Eats for their listing of goat cheese varieties beyond chèvre.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat your oven to *425.
  2. Cut the baguette on the diagonal, about 1 / 4 to 1 / 2 inch thin.
  3. Rub each piece with the garlic clove, and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle the baguette slices with salt and pepper.
  4. Toast the crostini for 7 to 8 minutes in the oven.
  5. In the meantime, place the goat cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, half the lemon zest and salt and pepper in a food processor. While pulsing, pour in the olive oil.
  6. Pulse continuously for 30 seconds or so, until the mixture is combined and has emulsified & has thickened.
  7. If serving family style from a bowl, top with additional minced herbs of your choice, lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil. To make it easier for folks to grab-and-eat, smother each crostini with 2 tablespoons of the spread and place on a large platter, sprinkling with lemon zest and minced garnishing herbs of your choosing. This tastes best served room temperature.