Dressing up dreary meals

A reader has asked for ideas on how to dress up basic meals. 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, butters and dressings come in. Essentially, by using these, you can serve up the same old thing to produce a completely different taste sensation!

Dressings are a great way to spice up veges from your garden. The basic “formula” for French dressing is 3 parts (olive) oil with 1 part vinegar. Taste variations come from changing the type of vinegar (try balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice) and adding extras like a clove of crushed garlic, salt, pepper, herbs (parsley, basil, tarragon, chives, mixed herbs and so on), along with a sprinkle of sugar to sweeten. Once the ingredients have all been added together, shake well while doing jazzercise (the last bit is optional!).

Try this one to start. You need a half of a cup of olive oil, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and 1 crushed garlic glove. Throw it all together, shake it all about, and splash it all over your salads.

If you have plenty of lemons from your lemon tree, why not try 1 part lemon juice, three parts good quality olive oil, and salt and pepper – it’s 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 yolk, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a teaspoon of sugar to sweeten, 1/2 a teaspoon of dry mustard and a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Throw all the ingredients together except the oil, and combine. Then add the oil, pouring it in slowly while mixing.

Like dressings, sauces can add variety to the dullest of 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, along with 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 for 1 to 2 minutes more.

This basic sauce may be varied in a number of ways. A cheese sauce is made by adding an additional quarter cup of milk and a cup of grated cheese, carefully stirred into the sauce over low heat until melted. Any type of cheese will work with varying flavours. Serve with vegetables. It’s a great way to make silver beet more appealing, especially to youngsters.

A variety of herb sauces can be made by adding half a teaspoon of one of the following: basil, caraway seed, celery seed, 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 such flair, that your family and friends will vote you Master Chef – without ever knowing you are doing it all off the smell of an oily rag!

To make flavoured butter or margarine, first soften the butter or margarine by leaving it at room temperature for an hour, or zapping it in the microwave, then beat with a wooden spoon to a creamy texture, before adding in your choice of seasonings.

To make garlic butter stir in 2 cloves of minced garlic or half a teaspoon garlic powder. Serve with bread or beef.

What about adding grated parmesan cheese and shredded basil leaves with a little finely chopped sundried tomato, or chopped tarragon with whole grain mustard – the options are endless!

Sauces, butters and dressings can make all the difference in turning a thrifty meal into a culinary sensation!

If you have a favourite recipe or tip for making dressings, sauces and butters then please share it with others.