Ranch Dip

Ranch dip forms part of my American (United-Statesian? Estadounidense!) psyche. ‘Mericans put it on salad, potatoes in all their various formats, vegetables, hamburgers, pretzels, Thanksgiving turkey (in my family at least), sandwiches, chicken wings, the list is really endless.

You can use ranch to make anything tasty and/or incredibly unhealthy.  It’s easy to put that out of your mind when you’re eating it though. When I first moved to Spain I really missed it and so decided to make it from scratch using what I had at hand. As it turns out, the homemade version is super easy to make and far less nasty than using the spice mix from a packet stirred into a bunch of mayonnaise.  Surprised? Not really.

Ingredients:

  • 250 ml (two pots) of natural Greek yoghurt (this recipe is pretty low in fat as it is so do yourself a favor and use regular yoghurt, not the watery low-fat stuff)
  • 1 teaspoon each of: sea salt, garlic powder, black pepper and dried parsley – you can adjust the ratios to your liking
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
  • juice of one lemon wedge

Instructions:

Combine yoghurt and spices in a bowl (cereal-sized) with a whisk until well-blended. Slowly whisk milk and lemon juice in, the extra liquid will keep the dip from becoming too thick. Allow to chill for at least 15 minutes before serving, if the dip is too thick for your tastes whisk in a wee bit more milk.

Did you know that buttermilk (traditionally a key component in ranch dip and many other tasty dishes) can be perfectly substituted with natural yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice? True story!

Servings: Four. 88 calories. (Not including the huge packet of Ruffles that you’ll be using as a vehicle for this nom-rific dip.)

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Chewy Brownies

Two factors influenced the decision to post another baking recipe. First off, I teach (a bit of a stretch, we hang out and talk in English) a pre-teen called Mar, and one of our favorite activities is cooking. We’ve gone through a lot of recipes over the years, so many that I’ve had to dig deep in the archives. As she gets older she gives me more input about what she’d like to make, and this week she requested brownies, the quintessential chocolate-y North American treat.

Her request got me thinking about brownies and the absolute dearth of chewy chocolate goodness in this city. There are quite a few cafés, bakeries and hip bar/restaurants that offer “the best” brownies in BCN. Sheer fallacy. For the low price of 5€ you can enjoy a chalky, dry, cake-like brownie that barely tastes of chocolate. I have no idea why this is when all the ingredients for a gooey chewy brownie are within easy reach. This recipe is so easy even a 12-year-old can make it.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup (62 ml) melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (62 ml) sunflower oil
  • 1 cup (250 g) white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (67 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (65 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Valor Cacao Puro en Polvo)
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) of chopped up walnuts or a chocolate bar, or a combo (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 175ºC/350ºF and grease a square (9×9) cake pan. You can also line it with aluminum foil so you can remove the brownies later.

In a medium bowl whisk melted butter, oil, sugar and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Add flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt, whisking gently just until dry and wet ingredients are uniformly mixed. It’s okay if there are a few lumps.

Pour brownie mix into prepared pan. Sprinkle chopped chocolate over the top of the batter and use the tip of a knife to gently push some of the pieces into the batter.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the batter starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool to just warmer than room temperature, this is when they are at their chewy best!

Servings: Nine. 263 calories.

Smoked Salmon & Lentil Salad

This recipe is a lunchtime favorite in our office. It comes from my boss’s husband, he’s the cook in their family. We have a little kitchenette at work, so quick & easy cold salads like this are ideal. You also save loads of money on going out to lunch!  Although one time I did remark to my friend and colleague, Becky, that “we’ve had smoked salmon TWICE this week!” and her reply was “think about what you’ve just said.” First world problems, indeed.

Ingredients:

  • 250 grams cooked lentils
  • 100 grams smoked salmon, “deshebrado” or cut/shredded into little pieces
  • 75 grams capers in their juice
  • 4 medium tomatoes, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 TB quality olive oil
  • 1 TB balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Combine lentils, salmon pieces, capers, tomatoes, oregano and black pepper in a bowl. Stir together well and then dress with olive oil and vinegar. There is no need to add salt as the ingredients are already quite briny.

The salad makes a nice accompaniment to Wasa crackers and soup, it’s hearty and filling without being heavy.

Servings: Four. 188 calories.

Mmmmeatloaf

The idea of meatloaf doesn’t necessarily bring to mind the most positive of images. Dry, grey, greasy-spoon (or school cafeteria!) fare, served alongside wilted canned green beans and instant mashed potatoes. This of course is a gross generalization, and I am here to show you that meatloaf can be delicious, a bit spicy and even healthy!

This recipe has been adapted from Alton Brown. In the original, he uses more than a kilo of ground/minced meat, which seems a bit excessive to me. I’ve tinkered quite a bit with the recipe, to find the right vegetable-to-meat ratio so that it holds together well.  The icing on the cake, so to speak, is the glaze on the meatloaf; its tangy/spicy/sweetness really brings out the flavors of the garlicky meatloaf.

And by all means, serve your meatloaf with green beans and spuds, but please use fresh ingredients, no one wants mash from a box.

Ingredients:

  • 500 grams ground beef/veal (carne picada)
  • a package (80 g) of garlic croutons (picatostes de ajo)
  • 1 carrot
  • half an onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pimentón dulce (sweet paprika)
  • 1/2 tsp pimentón picante (hot paprika – or you can use cayenne)
  • 1/2 tsp pimentón de la vera (smoked paprika)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 60 grams ketchup
  • 1/2 TB honey
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • dash of hot sauce, like Tabasco or Espidaler
  • dash of Worcestershire or brown sauce

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 180ºC/360ºF.

In a food processor bowl, combine croutons, paprikas and thyme. Pulse until the mixture is of a fine texture. Place this mixture into a large bowl. Combine the onion, carrot, garlic, and red pepper in the food processor bowl. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped, but not pureed. (Note: before I had a food processor – thanks Mom! – I used to mince the shit out of the vegetables (technical term) with a knife until they were of a fine texture. And I would pulverize the croutons by beating the bag w- a wooden spoon. In some ways highly satisfying. But I digress.)

Combine the vegetable mixture and carne picada with the bread crumb mixture. Season the meat mixture with the sea salt. Add the beaten egg and combine thoroughly, but avoid squeezing the meat, this is what makes meatloaf tough.

Form a large ball with the meat mixture and place it onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat the meat into a loaf form. You can also form it into an oblong shape with a round ball stuck to one end of it and call it a cat loaf. (Muffin doesn’t find this amusing.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the ketchup, honey, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and cumin. Brush onto the meatloaf after it has been baking for 15 minutes.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 70ºC/155ºF. This is a more accurate way of determining doneness, and keeps you from over-baking (and thus drying out) the meatloaf.

Servings: Four generous portions. 430 calories.