Ketchup. Chocolate milk. A disgusting biscuit.
These are the three things I remember about a random sleepover I had with my best friend when I must have been five years old. I don’t know why I remember so vividly except that a vivid memory is my blessing and my curse.
But in any case, I remember sitting in my friend’s kitchen in Bartlett, Tennessee. We were eating sausage biscuits for breakfast. He dipped his in ketchup. We were given glasses of milk, and unrestrained use of the Hershey’s syrup… not a wise thing to give kindergartners, but this was the 1980s and deregulation was politically popular.
And the sausage biscuits, while I could stomach them, just tasted… off. I couldn’t explain why. When my mother picked me up, I mentioned to her that the biscuits we ate tasted off (because that’s an important topic of conversation to a five-year-old).
“Oh, biscuits from a can?” she asked, matter-of-factly. I was shocked. A can? Biscuits came in cans?! And people bought them, even though they tasted like… that?!
Biscuits in my home were made from scratch. They weren’t perfect, of course. My parents were not gourmet chefs, and there were some things they made that I didn’t like. But the biscuits were real. As biscuits should be…
I really like dipping things into other things.
Corn chips into salsa are among my favorites, because both items are inexpensive and delicious. But I inevitably run into the “corn chip dilemma”: I cannot pour a bowl of salsa and a plate of chips, and have their amounts match perfectly.
I either end up with this situation:
Or this situation:
My typical solution is to simply pour a bowl of salsa and then eat the chips straight from the bag. But this doesn’t always work… for example, sometimes I’ve gotten some chips and salsa to go from a restaurant, or maybe I’ve packed them up at home and brought them to work for lunch.
Another solution is to cover and refrigerate the leftover salsa and reuse it next time I want chips. But when you open the fridge and you see a tupperware filled with used salsa sitting next to a delicious jar of fresh salsa, what are you gonna pick?
That’s what I thought.
So here’s where I need your help: What do you do to solve the chip/salsa ratio dilemma? Leave your answer in the comments. The best answer wins a drawing of yourself eating chips and salsa, drawn by me.
Occasionally, I get on compulsive do-it-yourself kicks — especially concerning food. I make my own ranch dressing, spaghetti noodles, fettucini noodles, lasagna noodles (yeah, I’ve got a pasta maker, deal with it). I’ve brewed beers and sodas alike. I won’t eat biscuits if they come from a can.
Like I said, these are just occasional kicks. For the most part, I’m chowing down on drive-thru burgers. But when I get on a kick, it cannot be satisfied until I have at least attempted the creation.
Which brings us to cheese.
My desire to make my own cheese goes back a couple of years, when I first got my pasta cutter. I had the idea that if I could make my own lasagna noodles, I could make my own lasagna all the way — the sauce, the noodles, even the cheese! So I went to my favorite cookbook.
I saw how simple it was to make mozzarella (more complex cheeses, not so much). But around this time, the compulsion fizzled… only to be reignited last week.
The Quest for Rennet
Mozzarella, as I said, was the simplest. Milk + citric acid, heat, add rennet, pull out the curds, head and knead. This is the recipe I used (forgive the Comic Sans). Unfortunately, stores that should have carried the required enzymes just… well, they just didn’t. I ended up going to 8 different stores:
- Earthfare – bought a cheesecloth and organic whole milk. They did not have rennet or citric acid, nor did the first two employees I asked even know what those were.
- Pearly Gates – bought citric acid, but they were out of rennet.
- Kroger on Drake – Never heard of rennet. Bought unchlorinated water.
- Publix on Whitesburg – Never heard of rennet
- Target Jones Valley – Never heard of rennet
- Fresh Market – Never heard of rennet, said they didn’t have it
- Publix Meridianville – Never heard of rennet, said they didn’t have it
- Kroger on Oakwood – Found rennet, didn’t even have to ask.
The irony being 1) Kroger on Oakwood is where I buy most of my groceries anyway, and 2) Pearly Gates (where the employees were more helpful than anywhere else) had expressed doubt that this particular Kroger would carry rennet.
Anyway, with the quest complete, I began the task of making cheese…
I have few true loves in the world: Bacon, Taco Bell, hot wings… and ranch dressing.
I use it as a salad dressing, as a dipping sauce for fries, hot wings (along with its step-sibling bleu cheese), regular-temperature wings, vegetables, fried cheese sticks. It is a sandwich condiment, a hamburger topping, a friend to other condiments, or enough on its own. Its creamy, full-flavored goodness is accented by the additions of barbecue sauce, or jalapenos, guacamole or horseradish. It is an accent and it is a dish.
Ranch was undoubtedly by my side throughout my unintentional journey to 300 pounds, and its abandonment during my journey back was heart-wrenching. My love for ranch has caused at least one girl to break up with me. (Not really. Well… sort of).
It wasn’t always this way. In my early childhood I was fairly indifferent to ranch. I much preferred Italian or Thousand Island to top my salads. One evening, when I was 6 or 7 years old I decided to go overboard with ranch dressing, and ended up turning myself off to it.
I rediscovered its excellence in 7th grade, but my admiration for the lovely creamy deliciousness was not yet at its state of being a full-fledged obsession. No, this happened at the age of 17, when I discovered the combined powers of ranch dressing and guacamole. It was at Quizno’s, where I had never eaten, but was in the process of attempting to negotiate employment. The menu included a “turkey bacon guacamole”, and the words “Bacon” and “Guacamole” on the same sandwich were enough to pique my interest. Two months later, when I began working at Quizno’s, I learned how to make this sandwich, and realized the beauty was the ranch dressing and its flavor blended with that of the guacamole.
I also learned to make a number of other sandwiches, and in 2001, ranch dressing was a key ingredient on most Quizno’s subs. So I became quite a big fan. But something was still holding me back. The ranch dressing from Kraft or Hidden Valley that I would purchase at the supermarket just didn’t have the same flavor. In fact, it was kind of gross.
After awhile, I learned that to mimic the restaurant ranch, my options were A: buy the more expensive brands from the refrigerated or produce sections, or B: make my own.
My initial attempts at making my own consisted of buying the powder and following directions. Then, one day a few months ago, I realized that the ingredients for making a good ranch dressing from scratch were in my kitchen all along. And this knowledge has changed my life. I don’t know what’s considered “Official Canon Ranch”, so I call this “Ranch-ish”
Sam’s Ranch-ish Dressing
- 1 cup of mayonnaise
- 1/8 to 1/2 cup of milk (depending on how thick or thin you want it)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- A squirt of lemon juice
- 1 stalk of green onion
- Celery Salt
- Dill Weed
- Bay Leaves (the sprinkle kind, not the whole leaf kind)
- My dad’s pepper powder (if you’re not fortunate enough to have a dad who makes pepper powder, you can use black pepper or chili powder)
1. Put the mayonnaise in a bowl. Chop up the green onion, or mince it in a food processor. Add the onion to the mayo and stir it up.
2. In a separate container, pour the milk and squirt a bit of lemon juice in. Stir it slightly until you see it curdle. This looks gross, but it means it will behave like buttermilk in the recipe (this works for almond milk too, but I haven’t tried it with soy).
3. Add the garlic powder, salt, a pinch of celery salt, a couple of shakes of parsley, one shake of bay leaves, several shakes of dill weed, and a couple shakes of pepper or chili powder to the mayo-onion mixture. Stir it all up.
4. Add the milk-lemon mixture to the mayo-spice mixture. If you want to gauge the thickness, add a little at a time, stirring between. If you’re feeling adventurous, just dump it in. Stir until it’s all one consistency.
5. Store in the fridge, or serve immediately. It doesn’t last a long time when stored, so try to use it within 24 hours. I usually make it right before planning to use it, either as a salad dressing or to make chicken ranch pizza.
When I make this, I use light mayo and almond milk for calorie reasons. I assume it works just as well with soy milk, or with unflavored yogurt. I do not know if it works with vegan mayonnaise substitutes, so if you have any info there leave it in the comments and I’ll edit this article.
Whatever other spices you may want to play with, by all means go ahead! I like the flavor added by rosemary, but rosemary also has a tendency to get stuck in my teeth.