A reader has asked for ideas on how to dress up basic ingredients. When feasting off the smell of an oily rag it's important to embellish low-cost ingredients that may otherwise be a little unexciting.
That's where sauces and dressings come in. Basically, you can serve up the same old thing, but use a different sauce or dressing to produce a completely different taste treat.
Dressings are great for spicing up veges from your garden. The basic "formula" for French dressing is 3 parts (olive) oil to 1 part vinegar. Taste variations come from changing the type of vinegar (try balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice) and adding taste sensations such as a clove of crushed garlic, salt, pepper, herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, mixed herbs) and sugar to sweeten. Once the ingredients have been combined, shake well while doing jazzercise (the last bit is optional).
Try this one to start: you need 3/4 of a cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 1 crushed garlic clove. Throw it in a jar, shake it all about and splash it on your salads.
If you have a lemon tree, try 1 part lemon juice, three parts good quality olive oil plus salt and pepper. Sensationally simple.
Here's a quick way to make mayonnaise. You will need 1 cup of oil (olive oil works, motor engine oil doesn't), 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of sugar to sweeten, 1/2 a teaspoon of dry mustard, a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Throw all the ingredients together except the oil, and mix. Then add the oil, pouring it in slowly while mixing.
Like dressings, sauces can add variety to the dullest dishes and need not be expensive or difficult to make. Some sauces can be useful to add spark to leftovers as well as giving your everyday meal a gourmet touch.
For a basic white sauce, melt 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine in a small saucepan. Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour, add a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. Add 1 cup of milk and stir constantly over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes more.
This basic sauce may be varied in a number of ways. A cheese sauce is made by adding a 1/4 cup of milk and a cup of grated cheese, stirred carefully into the sauce over low heat until melted. Any type of cheese will work. Serve with vegetables.
A variety of herb sauces can be made by adding 1/2 teaspoon of one of the following: basil, caraway seeds, celery seeds, marjoram, oregano, sage or thyme. Serve with vegetables or poultry.
Flavoured butters dress up ordinary vegetables, meats, or breads and they are so good, and add a little bit of flair, that your family and friends will vote you Master Chef, without even knowing you are doing it off the smell of an oily rag.
To make flavoured butter or margarine the butter or margarine should first be softened to a creamy texture which can be stirred easily. This may be done by letting it stand at room temperature, heating it in an oven, or zapping it in the microwave. Once it is soft, stir in your favourite herbs and spices and use liberally. To make garlic butter stir in 2 cloves of minced garlic or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Serve with bread or beef - delicious.
Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips at www.oilyrag.co.nz