Last month, I was browsing in a specialty food shop and café in Livingston Manor, N.Y., where, scattered around the store, a handful of books were displayed. The one titled “Ranch” caught my attention. It wasn’t until I took it off the stand and read the subtitle, “An Ode to America’s Beloved Sauce in 60 Mouth-Watering Recipes,” that I understood what the title meant. I thumbed through the book and being the single-subject-cookbook collector that I am, this was a must. The book has a New Haven connection, too. The author, Abby Reisner, graduated from Yale with a degree in neuroscience and psychology. Curious to know why this Yale grad wrote a book about ranch dressing, I knew then, I would be seeking an interview.
“I was interested in what the brain does when you eat and drink,” Reisner said. “I worked in a lab, but I didn’t really enjoy it. So, I took as many food study courses as electives as I could. After graduating from Yale, I attended The International Culinary Center in NYC. My internship was at Tasting Table, the digital media company focused on food and drink. Today, I am their editorial director. Much like the ranch craze of the ’90s, I’m a product of that era.”
Growing up, Reisner enjoyed Tuesday pizza night. While the pizzas were being picked up by her mother, Reisner and her sister got busy making the ranch dressing. In her home, pizza was paired with carrots, and of course ranch dressing.
Green Goddess, Caesar, Thousand Island and Ranch; the history of food products fascinates me. Perhaps, in another column I’ll feature the other popular dressings. If you think about it, there are many foods that have been around for years and stay under the radar, until one day, for some reason, reaches cult status. Besides ranch dressing, think of sriracha, around for years, and now bottles of it are standard condiments on many restaurant’s tables.
Reisner’s book begins with the history of the dressing. It began in 1954, when Steve Henson, a plumber from Nebraska who was interested in ranching, and his wife, Gayle, purchased a ranch near Santa Barbara, Calif. They named it Hidden Valley Ranch.
One would think the activities the ranch offered would be at the forefront. What guests wanted, was to take home as a souvenir from their stay, the dressing mix so they could make the creamy Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at home. So, they began selling the mix at the ranch and by mail order. By mixing it with mayonnaise and buttermilk, guests got to fulfil their craving.
In 1972, Clorox purchased the brand for $8 million. In 1983, the bottled version was introduced. In 1986, the brand was extended with Cool Ranch Doritos. In 1992, ranch became the most popular salad dressing in the United States. According to Statista, Ranch is still the most popular. Has the ranch craze been taken too far? In 2015, an “everything ranch” restaurant opened in St. Louis, named Twisted Ranch. In 2017, ranch fountains (think chocolate fountains) and shirts with “Peace, Love, Ranch” printed on them were introduced. And, in 2018, this book. What’s next?
Reisner’s section “Ranch on TV” is fun to read with the “appearances” of the dressing on familiar shows. The whimsical headnotes, illustrations and chapter openings make for an enjoyable read.
You will learn how to make ranch dressing from scratch, fold it into comforting snacks, dips, grain bowls and salads, meat marinades, and pasta sauces. How about ranch buttermilk waffles; chicken tenders with ranch Alabama BBQ sauce; ranch-crusted pork chops or ranch biscuits? Reisner asks, “Is there anything ranch can’t do?”
The headnote says, “Problem: Every snack food tastes better when it’s made to taste like ranch, but pouring dressing on a bowl of chips creates a soggy mess. Solution: DIY ranch seasoning. The recipe is easily doubled (or tripled), makes an awesome gift for ranch fanatics, and couldn’t be easier to make. Trendy sumac puts the “cool” in cool ranch, but you can omit it without ill effect. You’ll learn how to use this homemade seasoning in many ways later in the book — on Ranch Popcorn, in Ranch-Battered Onion Rings, and even in Homemade Ranch Pasta. I suggest you make a giant batch to have ready to go, so you can make it rain on anything you’d normally top with the liquid version.”
In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and fold mixture until well combined. Transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator. The seasoning will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 cup.
The headnote says, “It’s not a party unless ranch is invited, and it’s not a picnic unless there’s pasta salad on the menu. Combine those two golden rules, and you have a dish that makes a show out of cherry tomatoes and Kalamata olives from underneath a silky vinaigrette coating that uses Greek Yogurt Ranch. If you’re really trying to prove a point, use the Homemade Ranch Pasta (provided on page 162 in the book) instead of store-bought.”
Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the shallot and vinegar. Add the mustard and ranch seasoning. In a steady stream, add the oil, whisking constantly, until the ingredients come together. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Make the pasta salad: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the oil until the tomatoes are well coated. Season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the tomatoes are nearly bursting and very tender, about 50 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a large bowl and lightly drizzle with oil, tossing to combine. Set aside.
Add the vinaigrette, roasted tomatoes, olives, feta, peppers, half the basil, half the mint, half the ranch, and the Pecorino-Romano. Toss to combine (the feta and ranch should lightly coat the pasta). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more vinegar.
Transfer the pasta salad to a platter and top with the remaining basil and mint. Spoon dollops of the remaining ranch all over the pasta salad. Sprinkle with more Pecorino-Romano, drizzle oil all over, and serve. Makes 8 servings.
In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, garlic, onion powder, Aleppo pepper, and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the buttermilk. Add the dill, parsley, and mint, and whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The ranch will keep in an airtight container refrigerated for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.
The headnote says, “Elote is a classic Mexican street food and an unparalleled way to serve corn on the cob — grilled to perfection and slathered with sauce. It’s also a great go-to for a summer gathering, making possible the classic party game of ‘Let’s See Who Can Get the Most Mayo All Over Their Face.’ Spiking the already creamy sauce with ranch seasoning, as well as ranchifying the cheese that gets crumbled over the top, can only make this mess better. If you can’t find cotija, sub in a crumbly cheese like ricotta salata for similar effect.”
Brush the grates of a gas or charcoal grill with oil and heat it to medium-high heat.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, chili powder, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon ranch seasoning. Set aside. In a separate small bowl, combine the Cotija cheese and the remaining 1 teaspoon ranch seasoning. Place the corn on the grill and roast, turning occasionally, until the corn is cooked through and charred in spots, about 10 minutes. Transfer it to a plate and brush each ear with the mayonnaise mixture (alternatively, you can pour the mayonnaise mixture over the corn). Season the corn lightly with salt. Sprinkle the Cotija mixture and cilantro over the corn. Serve with the lime wedges. Makes 4 servings.
Beer & Oysters On The Sound, sponsored by New Haven Land Trust, Sept. 15, 4-7 p.m., Carousel at Lighthouse Point Park, New Haven. Beer from a selection of local breweries, Copps Island oysters, live music, food trucks, carousel rides and more. $40 in advance, includes beer tastings and six oysters, plus a commemorative pint glass; $25 (ages 14+) includes non-alcoholic beverages, 6 oysters, and light snacks; $5 (ages 5-14) Includes non-alcoholic beverages and light snacks. Tickets at https://bit.ly/2TA9rru.
“Chefs of Our Kitchen” presents Rinku Bhattacharya, chef and author of “Instant Indian: Classic Foods from Every Region of India Made Easy in the Instant Pot.” Sept. 18, 6:15 reception; 7 p.m. dinner. Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 203-285-2617. $65 includes a signed copy of her book, reception and dinner; benefits Gateway Community College Foundation. Validated parking in Temple Street garage. Bring ticket for validation. Tickets at bit.ly/2zTfUWf.
Consiglio’s Demonstration Cooking Class: Sept.19 or Sept. 26, 6:30 p.m., Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, 203-865-4489 (reservations required), $75 (beverages, tax and gratuity not included), bit.ly/2Nd0xAg. Menu: Beet salad with feta cheese over whipped cauliflower, shrimp bisque, N.Y. strip au Poivre with chive compound butter, apple crostada.
Consiglio’s Mystery Dinner Party: “Sour Grapes” Sept. 20, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.), Consiglio’s Restaurant, 165 Wooster St., New Haven, reservations at 203-865-4489, bit.ly/2O3TQzQ, $65 includes dinner and show. Bbeverages, tax and tip not included.
Worth Tasting, culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven, Sept. 21, 10:45 a.m., reservations required, 203-415-3519, 203-777-8550, $65. Enjoy samplings from several of New Haven’s favorites. Tickets at bit.ly/2FjiwMP.
Ok2berfest Sept. 21 and 22, noon to 6:30 p.m., Two Roads Brewing Co., 1700 Stratford Ave., Stratford; $25 per day advance admission includes commemorative stein and one beer. Features German food and music, games and German-style beers. Beer tickets are $6 apiece, purchased with cash or credit (limit of four tickets). $15 per day for designated driver ticket. Must be 21-plus; no minors or animals are permitted. Valid ID required. 203-335-2010 Tickets and info at bit.ly/2khQ3SV.