A couple years I stopped buying salad dressings at the grocery store, even the “organic” versions at Whole Foods. Too many preservatives, salt, fake salt, sugars and other things I don’t recognize. Cane sugar? Nice try! I’ve found that some good quality olive, flaxseed or walnut oil, an artisan or homemade vinegar and a touch of hot Dijon mustard shaken up in a jar with a little salt and pepper and stored in the fridge works just fine. But I’ve been deprived – not having buttermilk or a ton of cheese on hand means I can’t as easily make my beloved Ranch and blue cheese dressings. Typically full of calories and fat, it’s not like I need to make these dressings – I usually wait until the next steakhouse visit to indulge.
Now I don’t have to.
Swinging by the Southport Farmer’s market the other day to pick up my weekly box from Big Head Farm, a simply setup stand a few bowls of lettuce and a few squat glass jars behind them caught my eye. What is this? Ranch and blue cheese dressing made with just a few, locally-sourced ingredients and a reasonable calorie count in just right doses? Sold.
Meg Dhamer left the catering world years ago to try her hand in the specialty foods market. It’s a tough market to break into. But her niche of creating completely natural, preservative-free, allergen-free and gluten-free dressings that could still last in the fridge for up to six months and be used for more than just salads won her customers over. Including me – even at almost $12 a bottle! Hand-packaged at Lambs Farm in Libertyville, a portion of the proceeds goes back to the farm, which supports mentally-challenged adults. Now it’s a feel good buy too. I bought all three types (available at the Southport Farmer’s Market, Southport Grocery and Mariano’s downtown):
Ridiculously Garlic Blue Dressing – made with Oberweis sour cream and buttermilk, cave-aged Saint Pete blue cheese from Faribault Dairy in Minnesota and a ¼ cup of organic garlic (yes it’s garlicky, but that means extra antioxidants, right?), 2 tablespoons are just 96 calories and 8 grams of fat. Not bad. I tossed the dressing with perky butter lettuce from Iron Creek Farm and a handful of different cherry tomatoes from Leaning Shed Farm for a simple salad that didn’t need much else, save for cracked black pepper. I imagine that grilling some romaine lettuce for a couple minutes on the same grill used for a steak and drizzling the greens with the dressing for a classic steakhouse-style wedge would also be delicious. Maybe with some bacon too. See below for Dhamer’s recipe using the dressing as an easy Alfredo sauce substitution.
Three Berry Vinaigrette – made with pounds of fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries from Midwestern farms picked in season and cooked over a period of a few days, this is definitely a dressing worth buying over attempting to make. Sweetened only with a touch of German summer flower honey, it’s free of added fats, sugars and salts and the berries offer a powerful antioxidant punch. Makes for a nice cooking and finishing sauce for salmon and pork chops. Meg’s daughter told me she spreads the stuff on freshly baked bread for a turkey and Havarti cheese sandwich with sprouts. Nice. 32 calories, 0.4 grams fat per 2 tablespoons.
Beets All Ranch Dressing – made with roasted seasonal beets, this newcomer to the Pigtail Twist dressing family has a slightly pink color as a result. Super natural again – just Oberweis buttermilk and sour cream, chives, parsley, grainy mustard, freshly squeezed lemon juice, organic garlic, Tellicherry black peppercorns and Kosher salt, I like it as a nice dip for thickly sliced cucumbers and bell peppers. Dhamer’s recipe for a coleslaw using the hidden gem works great too (see below). 72 calories and 4.7 grams fat per 2 tablespoons. Not bad either.
Recipes (adapted from Pigtail Twist):
Ridiculously Garlic Blue Alfredo and Jumbo Shrimp
8 ounces dried pasta (Barilla tubular versions work well)
1 tablespoon good quality, unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
12 – 16 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tail on
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 freshly cracked black pepper
Juice from 1/2 a lemon
1/2 a 16-ounce jar of Pigtail Twist Ridiculously Garlic Blue Dressing
6-8 large fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled like a cigar and cut into a fine chiffonade
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup shredded good quality Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp in a single layer, season with salt and pepper. Cook shrimp until opaque, turning once, about 2 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a 9-inch glass baking dish, toss with lemon juice.
Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water. In the same pot used to cook the pasta, add the dressing, basil and tomatoes. Transfer the pasta mixture to the baking dish; toss to combine. Top with breadcrumbs and cheese, bake for 5 – 10 minutes, or until breadcrumbs are browned and cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Beets all Ranch Coleslaw
2 cups shredded green Napa cabbage
2 cups shredded purple cabbage
2 cups shredded carrots
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 cup crumbed, cooked bacon (optional)
1/2 to 1 jar Pigtail Twist Beets All Ranch Dressing
2 or 3 tablespoons crushed peanuts
In a large bowl add all ingredients; toss to coat. Cover and chill, at least 4 hours or overnight. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with cilantro and peanuts and serve.