Dinner Party Delight: Irene’s Famous Salad Dressing

IrenesFamousSaladDressing.TheCubanReuben.comA few weeks ago, Kenny and I were invited to our friends’ house for Shabbat dinner. This is a big deal, because often times our friends get nervous about inviting me, the in-house foodie, to eat their home-cooked food. The truth is, as much as I love cooking for others, I also appreciate when others cook (or order in) for me! It’s really a treat, and this particular dinner was no exception. Leading up to the occasion, we were teased with promises of an old family recipe for Russian short ribs, which Irene paired with creamy, stick-to-your-ribs polenta. Yes, the short ribs most certainly lived up to the hype, as there may or may not have been a moment where all four of us bonded over sucking on the bones after the meat literally slid off. Even when there was no meat left, we tore pieces of my challah to mop up any remaining sauce. That’s how good it was. And yes, home-style polenta was certainly the perfect choice to accompany such a decadent and special dish. But those tasty eats aside, I must admit that the true dark-horse dish of the evening was a simple salad Irene prepared, that was topped with a homemade dressing.

Pre-dressing, my salad included spring mix lettuce, sliced hearts of palm, cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and chunks of fresh avocado.

Pre-dressing, my salad included spring mix lettuce, sliced hearts of palm, baby heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and chunks of fresh avocado.

I know it seems hard to believe that when compared to short ribs and polenta, the star of the evening would be dinner salad, but trust me on this one, as it was all in the dressing. I will always favor a homemade dressing to the jarred stuff you can get at the store, particularly because they are so easy to make. Irene combined a handful of both savory and sweet ingredients, like real maple syrup and dijon mustard, that so perfectly heightened her choice of salad mix-ins, and for several days after our dinner, I was still thinking about it. This is why, when I planned the next dinner party Kenny and I hosted, I knew exactly which salad dressing to feature.

Rachel, sporting her mighty peach upside-down cake.

Rachel, sporting her mighty peach upside-down cake.

As my guests arrived with their pot-luck offerings in tow, I quickly shook up the ingredients of the dressing in a small mason jar, and placed the jar alongside the salad on the dinner table. It was really that easy. After a quick photo for good measure, we chowed down on dinner, and before we knew it, there wasn’t a morsel of lettuce left of the salad to speak of.

Dinnerpartyguests.TheCubanReuben.com

Dinner guests, anxiously awaiting the photo, so that they can start eating!

It looks like I’m not the only fan of Irene’s famous dressing! Next time you’re in the mood for whipping up some homemade dressing, give this one a whirl. Or a shake, for that matter. It may be the je ne sais qoui to kick up your favorite salad just a notch.

Irene's Famous Salad Dressing
 
Author:
Recipe type: Side Dish
Serves: 6-8
Prep time:
Total time:
 
Kick up your salads a notch with this easy, homemade dressing recipe.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. pure maple syrup
  • 1 heaping Tbs. coarse ground dijon mustard
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 three-finger pinch each of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar, seal tightly, and shake vigorously until oil has emulsified and everything is well-incorporated.
  2. Chill until right before serving.
Notes
Irene also suggests trying flavored balsamics, like peach or fig, for this recipe.

 

Cooking with the sisterhood: Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifle

Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifles.TheCubanReuben.comMy mother-in-law, Bette Jo, has been an active member at her synagogue for years,  and some of her closest friends are those she met participating in her temple sisterhood. These are the women whose kids grew up alongside my husband and his brothers, and who jumped at the chance to throw me a fantastic bridal shower when I married Kenny. Several of them made the trek to L.A. to celebrate our nuptials with us, and a couple even acted as official witnesses during our ketubah signing ceremony. Over the years, some of Bette Jo’s sisterhood friends and I have connected via social media, and every time I post a cooking or blog-related post, they are always quick to respond.
Last year, after I posted a photo from one of my cooking classes, Marci and Judi both commented about how they wished they could join the class, but given our current distance at the time, their participation was out of the question. I responded with a promise to hold a cooking class the next time I was in Columbus, whenever that might be. A couple months ago, when Kenny and I settled our plans for a visit to his hometown, I reminded Bette Jo of my promise, and a plan was quickly hatched. Of course, within moments of the official announcement for the class, Marci and Judi sent in their RSVPs (though, as they were the impetus of the whole event, I did give them a heads up that this was in the works).

The Women of Temple Israel working hard to cook a tasty dinner. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

The Women of Temple Israel working hard to cook a tasty dinner. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

Bette Jo graciously offered to host the event in her home, and with her help, I relished coming up with a menu that I hoped would include ingredients that might be new to these women. Bette Jo made sure her knives were sharpened, and when I arrived to town, we had a blast going from store to store, procuring all the ingredients on my list. Soon, the night of the event was upon us, and ten Women of Temple Israel joined us for a cooking class and a fun dinner amongst friends.

We chatted as we cooked, sipping on a Summer punch Bette Jo had made (and some of us had spiked), and we quickly navigated through four of our five dishes before we got cozy around the dinner table to feast on the fruits of our labor. By the time dessert rolled around, the ladies were pretty full, but once they knew what we’d be making, we all managed to make room for our Marinated Strawberry Trifles. I could see the skepticism written across a few faces as they saw that we would be marinating our strawberries in a good balsamic, but the dubious looks quickly subsided as we whisked together freshly made whipped cream, Barbi’s favorite ingredient. We assembled our trifles in little decorative mason jars that Bette Jo found for the occasion, and soon, the women oohed and aahed at the tangy and sweet flavor from the unusual pairing. I knew my recipe had earned their stamp of approval when every single trifle-filled mason jar turned up empty at the end of the night. This was good news for the ladies, as they now had a handy take-out container to fill with our leftover pasta dish.

The Women of Temple Israel showing off their desserts. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

The Women of Temple Israel showing off their desserts. (Photo by Kenny Stempel)

As the night came to an end, and Kenny, Bette Jo and I finished putting away the last of the dishes, I checked my Facebook page, and sure enough, I found comments and “likes” from the women who started it all. I now understand why this group is so important to Bette Jo, and I am thrilled that I was able to share this experience with them. I’m already thinking about what recipes we’ll make next time I’m in town!

Balsamic Marinated Strawberry Trifle
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 4-6
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
 
A tangy twist on a traditional trifle.
Ingredients
For the strawberries:
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered
  • ½ cup of good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp superfine of baker's sugar
For the cream:
  • 3 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
For the trifle:
  • 12 vanilla meringue cookies
Instructions
  1. In a baking dish, add the strawberries, vinegar and baker's sugar. Stir to combine, and set aside to marinate for 15-20 minutes.
  2. In a separate bowl that has been chilled, add the whipping cream, and using a mixer with a wire whisk,
  3. whisk until soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and sugar, then continue to whisk
  4. until stiff.
  5. In individual glasses, spoon 2 Tbs. of the whipped cream. Using a different spoon,
  6. add 2 Tbs. of the marinated strawberries to each glass. Crumble in some of the
  7. vanilla meringue. Keep building layers until the glass has reached desired level of
  8. fullness.
  9. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.