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BLOG — The ranch dressing challenge

I’m not a mom, but I am a step-mom. I’m a step-mom who likes to cook all manner of new and surprising dishes and try them out on my captive consumers. Well, actually they wouldn’t eat it any other way.

The first dinner I ever made for “the kids” occurred shortly after we met. None of us knew anything about step-relationships, let alone how our individual personalities would mesh. If I was going to be part of the crew they were going to have to turn the kitchen pretty much entirely over to me, and I didn’t want to create false hopes that they would be seeing Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese and boiled peas every night. So I made the kids, ages 4, 7, 10 and 12, vegan shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot with nappa cabbage, tofu and cellophane noodles in a citrus-soy fish broth.

At the time, I believed that it was largely due to shock that they didn’t speak to me for the rest of that evening. It wasn’t my intent to scare them exactly, just to make an assertive statement. But to the kids, I later learned, “vegan” and “fish” are individually evil concepts. Paired together, and them’s fightin’ words.

The kitchen war has been waging now for six years and three months. We’re still on speaking terms, the kids and I, but we all know where we stand. I’m for that which is fresh, organic and unprocessed, and they are for that which is packaged, hydrogenated and laced with corn syrup and monosodium glutamate. I hate to be petty, but I think I may be winning.

Robbie has admitted since the beginning that our homemade egg rolls are hands down the best egg rolls there are. She’s even made them once or twice herself already – a deep and meaningful score! Liam now likes tofu; and Anne, who approaches the sensitivity of a supertaster, loves Greek potato bake with lemon and oregano.

They budged a little, perhaps because they matured and finally saw the light, or maybe just to be kind, but they took some serious steps to meet me. It was my turn to do the same.

I say “they” like the kids are a single unit. But Marya, the youngest and toughest, is still holding ground at the taster’s starting line. She loves macaroni and cheese, root beer, ice cream and carrots and cucumbers with ranch dressing. There’s nothing I can do about the adoration for sugar, and I’ve already educated her on the virtues of homemade mac ‘n cheese. But if I could sell her on an organic version of ranch dressing, I thought there still might be hope.

Ranch dressing, according to Wikipedia, has since 1992 been America’s favorite salad dressing. It was created by a couple of California dude ranchers, who in 1954, began selling the dressing to guests and later bottled it. It went through several commercial transformations, and now is commonly known as its own flavor, as in Cool Ranch Doritos. The site’s assertion that Ranch dressing is “not a condiment, but is often used as one” was demonstrated before my incredulous eyes the other day when Marya heaved about a half cup of the stuff onto her already cheesy, salty Hawaiian pizza at Ha Ha’s.

Hidden Valley Ranch has MSG in it, so we don’t allow it through the front door. But T. Marzetti’s brand contains a shorter, less offensive list of ingredients, and it warms my heart a little to see it sold in the refrigerated section of Tom’s. For those reasons and because Marya loves it, we occasionally have it in the house. That version of the mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream and herb dressing isn’t terrible, but I wouldn’t say it’s good. Surely winning Marya over to a homemade version would be a short and simple task.

I tried two versions of the recipe and had several people taste test them against the Marzetti’s brand in a somewhat blind setting. Both have varying ratios of mayonnaise, buttermilk and sour cream, but the second uses cultured buttermilk powder, which adds a certain umami, or savoriness, much like that of MSG.

In another stunning score for me, five out of six (that’s empirical, not statistical) of the tasters liked the homemade version with the buttermilk powder. Only one taster, Liam, 13, preferred the commercial brand (but then his favorite beverage is Dr. Pepper, so if he doesn’t count then I still may be winning.) Marya went for the house version, and since then hasn’t stopped eating the stuff for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Version #1:

1 C mayonnaise

¾ C sour cream
1 small garlic clove, smashed with salt
¼ C parsley
¼ C chives
1 C buttermilk
½ tsp pepper

Version #2

½ C mayonnaise
½ C sour cream
½ C buttermilk
2 T cultured buttermilk powder
1 small garlic clove, smashed with salt
2 T parsley
1 t lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard

Just in case you’re wondering, the Marzetti’s ranch contains: SOYBEAN OIL, BUTTERMILK, DISTILLED VINEGAR, EGG YOLK, SALT, SUGAR, GARLIC*, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, ONION*, SPICES, XANTHAN GUM, NATURAL FLAVORS. *DEHYDRATED

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3 Responses to “BLOG — The ranch dressing challenge”

  1. Lauren Shows says:

    this post is really interesting to me, within the framework of being a parent. now, with t-minus 40 days (or so) until i’m scheduled to be a parent, my partner and i have been going back and forth on our personal vices, and how/when to address, augment or, with extreme willpower, eliminate these vices, in the name of being good examples for our kid. your blog reminds me of an event that occurred less than a week ago, when the two of us went to the pizza buffet (a favorite bastion of american gluttony for the two of us), and i, eating pizza (smothered in ranch, and that’s no lie), said to anthony, “are we even going to take our kid to the pizza buffet? should we?”

    we have yet to arrive at a solid answer. it’s hard for me to imagine a life without the freedom to succumb to my vices, at least 70 percent of which are food-based. but perhaps homemade ranch is a stepping stone on that path. though i reserve the right to eat copious amounts of cheese whenever the mood strikes.

    also, they’re not “fightin words” to us, but vanessa and i were wondering how something can be both “vegan” and “fish”?

  2. Vanessa Query says:

    This looks great and I may have to try it, because I’m not a big fan of most salad dressings, particularly bottled ones. In Ireland everyone makes their own salad dressing, and I’m kind of inspired by that to try, rather than just putting salsa on my salads (which isn’t a bad thing either, let me tell you!), or the really lazy route of just lemon juice and herbs, which gets really old really fast, especially for the more simple salads…

  3. Yvonne Wingard says:

    All I can say is that it’s a good thing that you can cook! But you do have great step kids….

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