Fresh is Best

Shortly after graduating from college, while staying at a good friend, Lydia R.'s place, I was amused to find that she did not have any canned goods in her kitchen...I mean none, zip, nada. Remember this was back in the day where most of us used canned soups to eat as soup or in recipes, bought canned vegetables that were cheap on just-graduated budgets, and had grown up on Spaghetti-os.  Lydia R. told me that her mother had made meals from scratch using fresh ingredients and she was carrying on that tradition. Now, if someone stayed at our home, they would find basically the same thing:  almost no canned items, other than evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk , and a few cans of tomatoes and pumpkin.  When I started seriously getting into cooking 13 or so years ago, I found that most of the recipes from the Food Network Channel and my cooking magazines used only fresh ingredients, and fresh herbs, like basil, rosemary, thyme, Italian parsley, chives, oregano, etc. The colors of fresh are wonderful. The taste difference and pure fun of making the foods with fresh was exponentially magnified, at once boosting flavor and getting a taste, literally, of what it might be like to be a chef.  Since then, I have made that one of the foundations of my cooking:  whenever possible, use fresh.  It is always worth the time and effort, as well as having rewards in sight, smell, taste, and hearing of compliments--4 out of the 5 senses...not bad!

One of the areas that I have gone completely fresh in is salad dressings. Dressings from scratch are fresher, tastier, cheaper, and better for you.  Listed below are 3 of our favorites, Homemade Buttermilk Ranch, Homemade Blue Cheese, and Homemade Balsamic.


Buttermilk Ranch Dressing (basic recipe by Barefoot Contessa, modified by Teresa Brubaker)  Prep Time:  20 min.  Inactive Prep Time:  1 hour  Serves:  3 cups dressing


 3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1  1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon good olive oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4-5 garlic cloves, chopped (modified...real recipe calls for 2 cloves)

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (I cut this to 1 teaspoon, as it seemed too salty)

1+  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1 Cup good mayonnaise

1/2+ Cup Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total (I add more in if needed at the end to thicken dressing)

1/2 Cup buttermilk, shaken


Place the scallions, basil, lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. (or blender, if no food processor) Puree for 15 to 20 seconds to make a smooth mixture. Add the mayonnaise, yogurt, and the buttermilk and blend until smooth. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour for the flavors to develop.  (I add more yogurt if it seems too thin or too salty.) This will keep 1 to 1.5 weeks in the refrigerator, sometimes longer.


Chunky Blue Cheese and Yogurt Dip (basic recipe by Barefoot Contessa, modified by Teresa Brubaker) Prep Time: 30min.  Inactive Prep Time:  2 hours   Serves: 2 cups 


1/4 Cup finely chopped shallot

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I use 3-4 cloves)

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

7 ounces Greek-style yogurt, such as Fage Total

1/2 Cup good mayonnaise, such as Hellmann's

4 ounces sharp (mountain) Gorgonzola, crumbled

5 dashes Tabasco sauce, or to taste (I use Crystal's)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons minced fresh chives


Place the shallot, garlic, lemon juice, yogurt, mayonnaise, Gorgonzola, Tabasco, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse the processor about 12 times, until the mixture is almost smooth but still a bit chunky.  (you could probably use a blender, but be careful not to do too much to make the blue cheese all "mushed".)  Add the chives and pulse two or three times, until combined. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and chill for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop. This will keep 1 to 1.5 weeks in the refrigerator, sometimes longer.


Emi's Balsamic (basic recipe by Emi D.-R., modified by Teresa Brubaker)  Prep Time:  10 min. Serves:  approx. 1 Cup


2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons sugar

6 tablespoons of Balsamic vinegar

6 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

pinch sea salt

several grinds of freshly ground pepper



In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together mustard, sugar, and balsamic until mixed well. Then drizzle in slowly the Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), whisking until emulsified. Add in salt and pepper, whisking to combine.  If the dressing is too thin for your liking, add a bit more EVOO.  If it is too thick, add a bit more balsamic.  This will keep in the fridge for a long time; the EVOO will congeal a bit in the cold, but upon sitting out for a bit, will loosen up again.