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WND – Pumpkin Pasta Take II

March 13, 2008

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Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce
Salad

The interesting thing for me about doing this blog – other than the chance to reveal the not at all secret facts that I obsessively watch the Food Network and don’t like tofu to an even wider audience – is that it lets me keep track of how often things turn up on the Dinner rotation. I apparently make apple sauce far more often than I’d ever have guessed, and make corn pudding less frequently than I’d assumed.

It’s easy to get into a rut. You have your eight or nine menus that you know, and you like and you’ve made them so often that you don’t really have to think about it when you make them. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. I read a lot of cookbooks and cooking magazines, and I print a lot of recipes from the internet, but I don’t actually make most of them. Partly this is a time thing. I don’t usually cook on the weekends, and by the time I get home from work I don’t want to make something that takes more than an hour to put together, both because I’m tired and because I’m hungry. So I don’t end up making new recipes, so much as cycling through a set of old standards.

Using this blog to keep track of what I make isn’t an entirely perfect system since what my roommate and I eat for dinner most nights and what I make for Dinner are very different animals. Most weeknight dinners generally aren’t the kind of things that have recipes, and use much less heavy cream and butter (which frankly, having skimmed this recipe archive, makes me feel much better about the prospective state of my arteries). I probably rotate through grilled fish, and roasted sweet potatoes, or eggs baked with spinach (I lie, that does have a recipe that calls for heavy cream, but not much, really), or spaghetti a lot more often than I rotate through Dinner recipes.

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Dinner is not really company food, since nobody who comes to Dinner regularly could possibly be considered company. At this point I’m shocked when people knock on our front door before they walk in*. Plus, growing up company versus family was always defined by the all important question – is dessert being served? Only company got dessert, and I don’t do dessert for Dinner except on birthdays. Mind you, one of our friends is currently studying to be a pastry chef and we get half of her leftovers every week (the other half go home and with her husband to work; he’s become the most popular person in his department), so we are actually having dessert, but since I’m just not making it the essential paradigm of dessert=company has not been negated.

However, despite the fact that I wouldn’t quantify Dinner as company, volume and the need to usually make some part of it in advance means that Dinner food tends to have a recipe and be more elaborate than the things I make during the rest of the week. Dinner tends to walk a line between comfort food (macaroni and cheese) and food that wouldn’t be out of place being served to company (lamb stew). Not, mind you, that I have company to dinner all that often since practically speaking almost everyone I know who lives locally comes to dinner once a week anyway. And everyone else I know lives in another state if not on another continent.

My point being, I made Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce again this week and I’ve already talked about that. Clearly, this means that it is now time to talk about salad dressing.

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Salad dressing is, apparently, one of the most exotic things I make. We never had bottled salad dressing when I was growing up. This, I suspect, was not because it was unavailable so much as a sense of why bother. Salad dressing is very easy to make. I always have the ingredients for it on hand. It keeps if you don’t use all of it, and as long as you can multiply by three you can scale it up or down to serve as many or as few people as you like.

Classic French vinaigrette is made by whisking a dab of mustard with 1 part vinegar and then steadily whisking in 3 parts olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. The mustard helps the vinegar and oil emulsify to create a cohesive salad dressing.

You can do pretty much anything with this basic recipe. You can use any kind of oil – peanut, sesame, flavored olive oils (my parents gave me a lemon olive oil a few years ago that was amazing). I wouldn’t recommend plain vegetable oil just because it doesn’t taste like anything, but in theory you could use it. You can use any kind of vinegar – red wine, white wine, balsamic, rice wine – or substitute some of the vinegar for another kind of acid like orange or lemon juice. If I’m marinating meat in orange juice for something I’ll frequently make my salad dressing with orange juice** and rice wine vinegar.

The salad dressing I make most weeks for Dinner is a slight variation on a basic vinaigrette.

Dab of honey mustard
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
6 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp (scant) honey

Put them all in a bowl and then whisk to combine (my mother is gasping in horror right about now because I don’t bother with whisking my mustard and vinegar together first). Or you can make up a large batch in a bottle (with a lid) and shake vigorously to combine, and then just keep using it until you run out and need to make more.

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The balsamic and the honey makes the dressing a little sweeter than a classic vinaigrette, which I like but not everyone does. The honey and the mustard both act as emulsifiers, so the dressing is thicker and won’t break as fast as a classic vinaigrette.

* Assuming that they aren’t using their cell phones to call us from the doorstep because the door’s locked and our doorbell is temperamental.

** If you’re going to do this you really need to use fresh squeezed orange juice, bottled orange juice is too thick and cloying to use in a salad dressing. Trust me, I’ve tried.

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