Salad dressing recipe roundup.

OK, so pretty much every list of foods you should NOT buy at a grocery store includes salad dressing at or near the top. Why? Bottled, commercially made salad dressing typically includes a laundry list of ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and artificial flavoring.

It’s sooooo much better, healthier and cheaper to make your own salad dressing. I have a jar of easy homemade salad dressing in the fridge all the time. These dressing recipes include just 5 or 6 ingredients, no sugar or sugar substitute. They aren’t necessarily low fat (those dressings made with low fat Greek yogurt are, in fact, low fat). But they’re natural, made with whole ingredients. And — culinary tip alert!!! — if you salt your salad greens before dressing them, you’ll need less dressing.

Here’s a peek at my favorite easy homemade salad dressing recipes!

fresh strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar | writes4food.com

Strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar.

This is the Easiest. Dessert. Recipe. Ever. Fresh strawberries, local, ripe, sweet and juicy. Creme fraiche, that wonderfully rich sour cream alternative. Brown sugar. Dip, drag, pop, eat. Perfect.

Make this fresh strawberry recipe — it’s hardly a recipe, really — while berries are at their seasonal peak. That means RIGHT NOW.

fresh strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar recipe

(serves 2; can be multiplied)

1 pint fresh local strawberries, as ripe as you can get them
1/2 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream or whole milk Greek yogurt)
1/4 cup brown sugar

Wash the berries but do not hull them; pat them dry. On a platter, place the berries, a small bowl of creme fraiche and a mound of brown sugar. Dip each berry in the creme fraiche and then the brown sugar.

quick pickled strawberries | writes4food.com

Quick pickled strawberries.

Pickled strawberries. Sounds weird, I know. But trust me on this (and, full disclosure: I’m not generally a pickle person). These are wonderful, unexpected and delicious.

On the heels of a strawberry picking session last week that yielded a haul of 6.5 pounds of fresh local berries, I was researching fruit shrubs. (A shrub is a vinegar-based infusion that’s quite the thing in locavore cocktail circles. More on my strawberry shrub experiment to come.) I came across this recipe for pickled strawberries. Who knew?

I adapted the recipe a bit. The result? Delicious. Bright, tart, tangy, bracing, flavored with anise and black pepper. And they’re beautiful in a jar. These pickled strawberries are fantastic with a plate of cheeses and charcuterie, much as you’d use little cornichons and dried apricots as accompaniments.

If you have a pint of fresh berries on hand and need to use ’em up, give this a try!

quick pickled strawberries recipe

(makes 1 cup)

1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled (halved if large)
1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons water
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons finely milled sea salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 sprigs fresh tarragon or thyme

First, sterilize a clean jar and lid by pouring boiling water over them. Let sit for 5 minutes, then drain and let the jar cool. Add the strawberries, peppercorns and herb sprigs. In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt; bring to a strong simmer and stir just to dissolve the sugar and salt. Let the brine cool completely. Pour it into the jar so the berries are covered or nearly so. Let the pickled strawberries sit in the refrigerator for a day to develop flavors. Keep for up to 1 week.

 

fresh strawberry pie in salted brown butter graham crust recipe | writes4food.com

Strawberry pie with sea salt browned butter graham crust.

This fresh strawberry pie? She’s not much of a looker. Oh, sure, she’s beautiful in the whole, unsliced and unsullied. But cut into this pie, all full of spring’s ripest, juiciest strawberries, and, well, the whole thing falls apart. Juice oozes. Crust crumbles.

But you know what? Doesn’t matter. No, you’ll be happy to overlook the aesthetics of the perfect pie once you’ve slid a forkful of berryjuiceandcrumbcrust into your pie-hole.

In my experience, there’s just no saving a fresh strawberry pie from crust sog. So you have to embrace the problem, with a pie crust that’s just so flavorful you can’t possibly care that it looks a hot mess on the plate.

That, friends, is this crust. A regular ol’ graham cracker crust taken to the next level with browned butter and sea salt. The salty grahaminess of the crust is the perfect foil for those sweet berries and orange-tinged glaze.

So here you go: My grandmother’s recipe for fresh strawberry pie in a salty brown butter graham crust. It ain’t pretty. But damn, is it good.

fresh strawberry pie in salted brown butter graham crust recipe

(serves 8)

For the graham cracker pie crust:

12 whole graham crackers, crumbled (or 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Preheat oven to 375°. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the graham crackers until they're finely ground. Add the sugar and salt. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Cook the butter, stirring occasionally, until the milk solids turn lightly brown and the butter smells nutty, about 7–10 minutes. (During this process, the butter will foam and sputter; watch for large bubbles to form on the surface as a sign that it's nearly done.) Let the butter cool slightly, then combine with graham crumbs until thoroughly blended. Press the mixture onto the bottom and up the side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before filling.

For the strawberry filling:

3 pints (about 6 cups) fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
3/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Several drops red food coloring

Place the strawberries in a large bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together the orange juice, sugar, cornstarch and red food coloring. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally. Cook until the mixture thickens and turns translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let the glaze cool. Pour the glaze over the berries and toss to coat, then transfer them to the baked graham cracker crust. Serve with whipped cream.

easy lime vinaigrette salad dressing recipe | writes4food.com

Easy lime vinaigrette.

Forever ago, there was a cute little French café on a neighborhood square near my home; I can’t recall its name, but I remember the authentic ham-and-brie sandwiches on crusty baguette and perfectly dressed green salads. It’s weird, but I especially remember the dressing for those little green salads, because it was flavored with lime instead of the more traditional lemon. Seems unlikely, but that shift in citrus makes for a completely different taste.

With a bounty of spring lettuces abundant in my garden, we’re having salad every night for dinner. So I concocted this lime vinaigrette dressing recipe to give my garden greens an out-of-the-ordinary flavor.

Use this simple lime vinaigrette to dress a pile of butterhead lettuce; add diced avocado, shaved radish and a handful of finely chopped fresh herbs, like parsley, chives and savory.

easy lime vinaigrette recipe

makes about 1 1/4 cups
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil

In a lidded glass jar, combine the lime juice and zest, mustard, and salt and pepper. Cover the jar and shake it to blend the mixture and dissolve the salt. Add the olive oil to the jar; cover and shake until the dressing is thoroughly combined. Keep the dressing for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator, being sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

risotto with spring vegetables and herbs recipe | writes4food.com

Spring vegetable and herb risotto.

Amazing, isn’t it, how our food and eating habits change with the seasons. In spring, just when the whole landscape is waking up from its winter brown, our plates take on the same green color. Peas, asparagus, spinach, lettuces, herbs … GREEN!

This recipe for risotto with fresh herbs and vegetables is the epitome of spring. Avoid the temptation to use green veggies and herbs that aren’t in season and make this a true ‘primavera’ dish. You could certainly stir in a big handful of spinach or arugula at the end to up the green factor. Use homemade vegetable stock to make this dish vegetarian.

risotto with spring vegetables and herbs recipe

serves 4 (or 6 as a side dish)

4 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade) or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 1/4 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 bunch fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup minced fresh spring herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, savory)
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the stock in a saucepan and keep at a gentle simmer while you're cooking. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes; remove to a bowl.

In a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the olive oil; when it's warm, add the diced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it's translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil; cook until you see a white spot in the middle of the grains, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it's almost cooked off. Begin adding stock about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the stock is absorbed; when you scrape a spoon across the bottom of the pan, it will leave a path. You want the risotto to be "thirsty" before adding more stock.

The process of cooking, stirring and adding broth will take about 20 to 30 minutes. After about 20 minutes, begin tasting the risotto to see if it's done. You want the dish to be creamy, with grains of rice that are firm but tender. If the rice has a bit of crunch when you sample it, keep stirring and adding broth. When the rice is nearly done, add the peas and asparagus; cook until the vegetables are warm. Stir in the herbs and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with additional cheese.

cherry almond overnight oatmeal in a jar recipe | writes4food.com

Cherry almond oatmeal in a jar.

How is it possible that it’s been plus-80-degrees already in May? It’s hot. Like, August-hot. In May. Eesh.

It’s too hot for oatmeal. Traditionally cooked oatmeal, that is. I love starting my day with this stuff: it’s hearty and filling and keeps me going until lunch. So in addition to this overnight steel-cut oatmeal recipe that I make often, I’ve added refrigerator oatmeal-in-a-jar to my breakfast lineup.

This version is studded with sweet cherries and almonds (both are related, horticulturally speaking, and their flavors pair beautifully). I typically use plain, unsweetened almond milk in this oatmeal recipe — again, because the flavor syncs with the rest of the ingredients — but you could certainly use dairy milk. I don’t have a prominent sweet tooth, so I think this refrigerator oatmeal is perfect as-is, but you could drizzle it with a bit of local honey before spooning it up in the morning. Be sure to add the almonds just before eating so they don’t get soggy.

This recipe makes a single serving of refrigerator oatmeal, so you can prepare several jars to get you through the week. It’s super kid-friendly, and it makes a great breakfast (or lunch) on the go, if you must.

cherry almond overnight oatmeal recipe

makes 1 serving

3/4 cup nonfat milk or plain almond milk
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Few drops pure vanilla extract
Few drops pure almond extract
Pinch of salt
1/3 cup frozen cherries
1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds, for serving
Honey, for serving (optional)

In a pint Mason jar, combine the milk, oats, brown sugar, lemon zest, extracts and salt. Shake well. Add the cherries. Refrigerate overnight. Before serving, top with sliced almonds and a drizzle of honey.

easy potato-topped homemade focaccia recipe | writes4food.com

Potato and thyme focaccia.

I spent several days last week in Chicago, covering HOW Design Live on social media. The event (for people in graphic design, advertising and related creative professions) is dear to my heart, as I spent many years as HOW’s brand leader and the event’s host. This year, I contributed marketing content and copywriting to support the event. And as a writer with strong design sensibilities, I got quite a lot of inspiration out of the experience.

Of course, I engaged in some food-related activity while I was in Chicago. (Food is part of my business, after all.) I spent some quick but quality time with my brother, a baker and chef who owns Baker & Nosh in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. I met a friend for dinner at Naha, where we feasted on James Beard Award-Winning chef Carrie Nahabedian’s Mediterranean fusion cuisine. (Hello, beet hummus! Sweetbreads, you are so delicious!)

Twice, I convinced a willing compatriot to go with me to Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian food emporium. Mind you, I’m no celebrity chef groupie, but I do love a food emporium … and my God, this place! (Speaking of graphic design, the store’s branding, merchandising and environment are beautiful and thoughtful.)

As my colleague Marilyn and I were leaving after lunch, we passed the focaccia bar … and couldn’t resist grabbing fat slices of potato-topped focaccia for a later-in-the-day snack. It made a satisfying dinner in the airport on my way home. And over the weekend, I made a batch of homemade focaccia inspired by Mario’s.

This is an adaptation of my brother’s homemade focaccia recipe, with plenty of olive oil, salt and thinly sliced potatoes on top. I used dried thyme underneath the potatoes for an extra pop of flavor and fresh thyme leaves on top for a pretty finish, but you could use either fresh or dried in both applications.

Oh, and don’t be intimidated by making your own focaccia. It’s easy and foolproof, kind of a gateway to home bread baking. The dough is compliant and doesn’t require shaping, and you can mix it up in a Kitchen Aid. You can mix the dough and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight before finishing off the process, or do the whole recipe in an afternoon. Give it a try!

potato and thyme focaccia recipe

1 package active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water
Pinch of flour
Pinch of sugar
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour (or a combination)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more for finishing
1 russet potato, peeled
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and water; add a pinch of flour and sugar to feed the yeast. Let the mixture rest until it's very foamy (like the head of a beer); this may take up to 30 minutes. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the dough hook, combine the flour and olive oil; add the water/yeast and stir just to combine. Sprinkle kosher salt over the dough and mix; then knead the dough for 3–4 minutes, until it is very smooth. The dough will be slightly tacky to the touch; if it's very sticky, add a bit of flour 1 tablespoon at a time. Scoop the dough out into an oiled bowl or lidded container and turn the dough over so it's well-coated with oil. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk — either overnight in the refrigerator or for 2–3 hours in a warm place.

Liberally coat the bottom and sides of a 10.5 x 15.5-inch rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and press it out with your fingers (if the dough is cold, it may spring back on you; just let it rest for about 20 minutes and again press it into the corners). Brush a piece of plastic wrap with oil and cover the pan loosely. Let the dough rise again in a warm place until it's bubbly and completely fills the pan, about 2 hours. The dough will be jiggly when it's ready to bake.

Preheat oven to 450°. Brush the dough lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt, ground pepper and dried thyme. Peel and very thinly slice the potato. Arrange the slices atop the dough, overlapping slightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the focaccia for 25–30 minutes, until the edges are deeply golden brown and the potatoes are slightly crispy. Scatter fresh thyme leaves over the top before serving.

quinoa salad with green vegetables recipe

Spring quinoa salad.

Springtime brings green … everything. Green grass, greening trees, green vegetables. My favorite farmers’ market, on Saturdays at Findlay Market, is heating up for the growing season, and the tables are all stocked with GREEN! Scott Family Farm had first-of-the-season asparagus 2 weekends ago, and I’ve seen gorgeous lettuces, spring mixes and herbs.

This super-springy salad recipe takes advantage of all this bounty, with asparagus, peas and edamame — plus quinoa for protein. I’ve been eating this all week for lunch and not tiring of it. Just 1 cup of this salad is nicely filling and gets me through a busy afternoon. Plus, what’s not to love about the goat cheese and walnuts?

spring quinoa salad with green veggies recipe

makes 4 servings

3/4 cup quinoa
4 cups lightly cooked green vegetables (peas, asparagus, edamame)
2 ounces fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup snipped fresh herbs
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette

In a small saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups of well-salted water to a boil; add the quinoa, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, until the quinoa is tender. Drain and fluff with a fork. In a large bowl, lightly toss together the quinoa, vegetables and herbs. Season with salt; add the walnuts and vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Serve at room temperature.

crostini with pea puree recipe

Crostini with burrata and spring pea puree.

I love sweet spring peas in all their forms: shelled, sugar snaps or snow peas. This easy recipe for spring pea puree is much like pesto, with a hint of olive oil and a bit of green onion for flavor. It’s super versatile: After schmearing some on crostini with creamy burrata cheese, I tossed the leftover pea pesto with some goat cheese ravioli for dinner. Next day, I dipped whole-wheat pita breads in the pea pesto, as a swap for hummus. Fantastic!

spring pea pesto on crostini with burrata cheese

makes 6 appetizer servings

For the pea pesto:
2 cups cooked peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 green onion (white and light green parts), minced
2 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Whirl all the ingredients together in a blender or a deep container using an immersion blender, until you've got a slightly chunky mixture. Add more olive oil to thin if necessary. Season well to taste with salt and pepper.

For the crostini appetizers:
12 baguette slices, toasted
1 ball fresh burrata or mozzarella cheese
Olive oil for drizzling
Freshly cracked pepper

Drizzle the toasted baguette slices with olive oil; season with salt. Top each crostini with a generous spoonful of the pea pesto and a wedge of cheese, finishing with olive oil and cracked pepper.