Really good peanut salad dressing

I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing Oprah writes in her gratitude journals, but every day I thank my stars that no one in my household has a nut allergy. Quite apart from the threat of anaphylaxis, I can’t imagine life without peanut butter. Actually, I can barely imagine a day without it. 

Peanut butter – especially proper peanut butter, like the excellent varieties springing up everywhere in New Zealand now – is a major food group in my house. Peanut butter and banana on toast is my hurried breakfast (and sometimes, lunch) of choice. It’s a handy tahini replacement in homemade hummus, works well in a marinade and is a major baking ingredient. It’s also a nifty addition to a salad dressing to perk up broccolini and other assorted bits and pieces. Add this to your weeknight repertoire for those nights when peanut butter and crackers seem like the only viable dinner option.

 

Really good peanut salad dressing

This is child’s play to make and it’s really useful. I think it’s good with steamed broccolini, but you could add all sorts of crunchy greens and some cooked chicken or tofu for a very family-friendly dinner. 

1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp flaky salt

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 Tbsp good quality peanut butter

1/2 cup good quality peanut oil

Put all ingredients in a screwtop jar, attach the lid and shake well until emulsified. Makes about 1 cup – easily enough for a substantial salad for 4-6 people – and stores well in the fridge.

If you prefer your peanut butter treats to be a little more decadent, then this peanut butter pie should fit the bill (though you won’t be fitting much after eating it). 

*My clever friends at Kiwi Mummy Blogs have teamed up with the nice people at Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter to collate some Really Good peanut butter recipes. You can get more peanut butter inspo here.*

How to make the perfect viniagrette

Q: Why did the tomato blush?
A: Because it saw the salad dressing.

I’ve always loved that joke, partly because it’s about the only punchline that I can remember. But all jokes aside, some people should blush with embarrassment at their salad dressings. Paul Newman, I’m looking at you. Whoever makes the salad dressings at several Wellington restaurants that I’ve visited recently should also take a good look at themselves.

How To Make Vinaigrette

The thing is, you don’t need to be a super chef to make a good salad dressing, but plenty of people do a great job of making bad ones. If in doubt, remember that condensed milk is best saved for baking and that no amount of secret herbs and spices will disguise cheap oil and nasty vinegar. A lot of people ask me how to make a basic vinaigrette (that’s vin-AY-gret, not vinegar-ette – which sounds like the sort of perfume worn by sour little French women) so I’ve devised this handy guide. Here’s how…

Vinaigrette Easy Recipe

How To Make Vinaigrette
Jamie Oliver once put out a special sort of gadget for making salad dressings but all you need  is a clean and empty jam jar, or a small bowl and a fork.
You can vary the acid and the oil to suit your preferences, your pantry supplies and what you’re going to use the vinaigrette for. I most often use lemon juice and apple cider or red wine vinegar with extra virgin olive oil. A good pinch of cumin seeds can be a good addition, or finely fresh herbs. If you’re using herbs, the vinaigrette is best used that day. Otherwise it will happily keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks.
Having a jar of vinaigrette in the fridge makes that after-work dinner dash much easier. Even though it only takes minutes to make, knowing you can pull some salad leaves out of a bag (or the garden) and dress them with something you’ve prepared earlier makes dinner time seem less daunting. I also use vinaigrette on steamed beans and carrots, shredded beetroot and new potatoes.

First, peel a clove of plump, juicy garlic and put it on a chopping board with a good pinch of salt. Using the blade of a knife, crush the clove with the salt to form a smooth paste. Scrape this off the chopping board and put it in a clean, dry jam jar (or a small bowl).
Add a teaspoon of honey (or brown sugar) and a teaspoon of mustard (Dijon for preference, English for wow factor).
Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of vinegar/lemon juice and six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, then screw the lid on the jar and give it a good shake. Taste it for seasoning and sharpness – does it need more salt? more oil? more vinegar? a pinch of sugar to balance the flavours? – before using.

What’s your favourite salad dressing?

Miso and lemon mousetraps

Do you remember mousetraps from when you were a kid? I couldn’t wait to make them when the Small Girl was smaller, mainly so I could eat them myself. There’s something about salty, savoury Marmite that goes so well with slightly scorched bread and cheese. But I’ve found something that goes even better – a mega-umami hit of miso. I know it sounds unlikely, but one bite and you’ll be hooked. The only thing that makes it better is a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top. Trust me, it’s a winner.

Miso And Lemon Mousetraps Photo And Recipe Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Miso and lemon mousetraps
The beauty of these mouth-watering morsels is that you can make a whole trayful to serve with drinks when  you are unexpectedly pressed into hostess service, or you can make a whole trayful and call it dinner on those nights when all you want to do is collapse on the sofa. You can use any kind of bread you like – baguette, a coarse-textured country loaf or even a cheeky gluten-free number, but nothing too wholegrain-y. Keep the slices about 1/2 a cm thick for best results and only toast one side so you get the soft/crunchy texture thing happening. I’ve kept quantities vague, but keep to the suggested ratio of miso to butter. Don’t forget the lemon, either. Any leftover miso-butter mixture can be kept in a covered container in the fridge.

sliced bread, as above
1/2 cup white miso
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
50-100g tasty cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 juicy lemon

Preheat the grill and line a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Lie the slices of bread on top, then put under the grill until golden. Don’t do what I do and wander off, unless you have an unlimited supply of bread to replace the charcoal that those forgotten slices will become. Take the tray out of the oven and turn the slices over, so the toasted side is facing down.
Put the miso and butter in a small bowl and mix until well combined. Generously spread the non-toasted side of the bread with this mixture, then scatter some grated cheese on top. Return the tray to the grill and toast until the cheese is crispy and the edges of the bread are darkening.
Let cool briefly before serving with a squeeze of lemon on top.  These are best eaten the day they are made.

Kitchen DIY: Homemade capers

Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Green peppercorn sauce for cheats

I pulled a packet of frozen peas out of the freezer yesterday and something heavy shot out from underneath them and landed on my foot. I uttered a string of epithets not suitable for a family-friendly food blog and bent down to pick it up. Was it a brick? Was it a small frozen animal? Was it that packet of wonton wrappers that I’ve been planning to use for ages? In fact, it turned out to be three small pieces of fillet steak. Hurrah! I nearly lost a toe, but I gained an excellent dinner. It seemed like a fair trade to me.

Green peppercorn sauce – the cheat’s version
When I told my beloved we were having steak for dinner he looked like I’d dropped the frozen meat on his foot. He perked up a bit when I told him it was fillet, then he perked up even more when I told him I’d make his favourite green peppercorn sauce. But somewhere between making the offer and dinnertime I got sideswiped by such fatigue that I couldn’t face all that faffing about with reductions and whatnot. Instead, I made this in all of five minutes and it was so good I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the other one. If you’re not a carnivore, rest assured this is equally good on baked potatoes or bread.

100g unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
a good pinch of salt
4 tsp green peppercorns in brine

If you have a mortar and pestle, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand. Put the garlic and salt in the mortar and pound away until it forms a smooth paste. Add the peppercorns and smash them a bit, then add the butter and mush it around a bit. Scrape it on to a piece of waxed paper and roll into a cylinder. Stick it in the fridge to firm up – for at least 15 minutes. When your steak or potatoes or toast is ready, slice the butter into discs and put on top. Buttery, peppercorny heaven awaits. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle (or you do and you just don’t have the energy), this is easy enough to do by hand.

What’s your favourite sort of butter?