Homemade Italian Dressing

*This is an update to my Pasta Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing.  I’ve noticed that it’s been showing up on Pinterest quite a bit and have been wondering if anyone has made – and liked! – it.  Care to comment?

Since the weather has been getting warmer and I’ve been trying a slightly more Paleo approach to my diet (more on that at a later date), we’ve been eating a lot more salads.   I have a couple other homemade dressing favorites – one for a basic vinaigrette, which I mix up depending on the type of vinegar and spices I use, and another for a Japanese ginger dressing.  Almost every time I make a batch, I think, This is my favorite!

Well, the other day I broke out this Italian dressing recipe and decided to give it another go.  This, my friends, is by far my favorite!  I suppose variety is the spice of life, but why mess with a good thing?  And if I can pare down my recipe collection, all the better!  This dressing is yummy on all types of salads and oh-so-versatile, since you can play around with the spices.

I looked at the original recipe again and went from there, staying pretty true to the basic ingredients, with a few minor changes.  I have loads of fresh oregano in my garden, so I opted for a small handful of leaves instead of the dried.  In addition to the black pepper I added a dash of red pepper flakes and since I don’t have any celery seed on hand I used celery salt.  Since I’ve been trying to nix sugar – even natural sweeteners *sniff sniff* – I decided to forego the sugar (or honey, which I prefer) and add a pinch of stevia, which added just the right amount of sweetness.  For the liquid I went with apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar in place of the water.  And please note that you should blend this to get everything nicely incorporated, rather than just mixing it together in a jar.  In fact, whenever you mix oil and vinegar or water, using a blender will better emulsify the mixture.  Just so it’s written out for you…

1T garlic salt
1T onion powder
2T ground oregano (or a small handful fresh)
1T parsley flakes
pinch stevia
1t sea salt
1/2t ground black pepper
dash red pepper flakes
1t dried basil leaves
¼t dried thyme flakes
dash celery salt
1/2c olive oil
1/4c cider vinegar
2T rice vinegar (or water)

For some reason, the dressing got really thick the second time I made this – maybe because I blended it longer?  In any case, I added a bit of water then.  But OMG, this is so good!  I could just eat it right out of the jar!

The other day we paired the dressing with one of our favorite salads, inspired by the side salad they serve at one of my hubby’s favorite steakhouse restaurants.  It’s so easy and so good!

Just dump half a bag of mixed greens into a 13×9″ pan (I find this works better than a bowl for getting a good ratio of ingredients).  Top with sliced cucumber and chopped tomato; sometimes I add alfalfa sprouts if I have them on hand and you could add carrots, onion, whatever.  Slice some hardboiled egg, crumble some cooked bacon, and toss that on top (I typically use four of each – four eggs and four slices of bacon – but you could add more if you want).  If you want to get really crazy, grate some cheddar cheese on top.  Voila!  A nice salad fit for a meal since you’ve got the protein and veggies all together.  If you keep some hardboiled eggs on hand it’s even easier and cooking the bacon in the toaster oven on some aluminum foil makes for hardly any clean up.

Homemade Cough Syrup & Decongestant

As I get older my seasonal allergies seem to get worse.  I don’t remember ever having them as a child, and then a few years back – BAM! – they hit me.  It settles in my sinuses, giving me a sore throat, stuffy nose, headache, making it nearly impossible to fall asleep at night.

I don’t like to take medicine – unless perhaps I have a really bad headache – so I didn’t even think of buying allergy medication.  I did, however, look around for some home remedies.  I found a promising homemade decongestant but didn’t have all the ingredients on hand (I don’t usually stock radishes and red onion), but then I found a really simple recipe that actually looked like it might taste good, too.

Maggie’s Cough Remedy consists of cayenne, ginger, cider vinegar, honey and water.  How easy is that?  I didn’t have the cayenne but settled for chili powder, which I think acts in the same way.  As you can imagine, with the pepper and ginger, it’s spicy – but a sweet spicy.  As the original recipe notes, it’s quite watery and the spices don’t completely dissolve, so you just shake it up each time you use it.  I made a small batch in a jelly jar and store it in the fridge.

It’s not a miracle elixir or anything, but I feel like it really helped, and the combination of ingredients seems to both tackle decongestion and soothe a sore throat.   Safe for the whole family – except for babies, who shouldn’t have honey –  and I don’t think you can overdose on pepper and ginger!

Maggie’s Cough Remedy
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey

Dissolve the spices in the vinegar and water, then add the honey.  Take one tablespoon as needed.

Pasta Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing

*May 2013: I wrote a little update on the Italian dressing.

We’re going camping tomorrow so I’ve been busy preparing the food and getting the fridge packed.  Phil asked me to make some pasta salad to take to work today, so I made a double batch so we’d have some to bring along.

The recipe was on an old favorite, passed on by a friend, and I hadn’t made it in a while.  It has very few ingredients but calls for bottled Italian dressing, which we don’t buy anymore.  So I decided to look for a recipe.  I, of course, put my own spin on one that I found and we were really happy with the way it turned out.  So now I’ve got pasta salad sitting in the fridge and an extra batch of dressing for fresh-lettuce-from-the-garden salad.

Pasta Salad
(freel free to double the recipe) 
1 box tri-color rotini (or any pasta you prefer)
1 big bunch of broccoli, cut into small pieces
1/2 container grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 block montery jack cheese, cubed
1 recipe Homemade Italian Dressing (recipe follows)

Cook the pasta according to the directions; leave slightly al dente.  Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.  Stir in the broccoli, tomatoes and cheese.  Add half the dressing, stir to incorporate, and taste to see if it’s to your liking.  We don’t like our pasta salad dripping with dressing, but if you like yours a bit dressing-ier, continue to add more until it’s to your liking.

Homemade Italian Dressing
(based on the fresh fridge’s Homemade Italian Dressing Seasoning)
1T granulated garlic
1T onion powder
2T dried oregano (I used about 3 stalks dried oregano from my garden)
5 sprigs fresh parsley, stems removed
1T honey
1t sea salt
1t ground black pepper
dash red pepper flakes
5 large leaves fresh basil, cut into pieces
1/2t dried thyme (I used the dried stems from my garden)
1/4c rice wine vinegar &/or apple cider vinegar (I mixed the two)
1/2c olive oil

Blend everything in a blender and keep in a glass container in the fridge.

The original recipe calls for all dried herbs, but I used a combination of fresh and dried, depending on what I had on hand (mostly from the garden and farmers’ market).  I would love to try it with all fresh herbs – maybe even garlic cloves and some onion instead of the powders – and if you do so keep in mind that you need a greater quantity of fresh when a recipe calls for dried because the latter has a more concentrated flavor.  The flavor is wonderful!

Fluffy Chocolate Yogurt with Chocolate Granola

I’m always on the lookout for healthy-yet-yummy snacks or desserts for us.  I don’t usually buy packaged items at the grocery store, but whenever we pass the Jell-O section at the grocery store Josiah says “jelly! jelly!” (he can’t seem to get the “o” on the end).  I sometimes let them pick one of the sugar-free varieties, and last week we picked one out and I got some whipping cream to make fresh whipped cream (though I almost got lazy and bought Cool Whip).

We had some leftover whipped cream after using up the Jell-O and then I remembered a recipe for Chocolate Delight Yogurt that I had pinned a while ago while on the lookout for yogurt ideas.  It’s just one recipe among a slew of other yummy yogurt concoctions like Red Grapes with Nut Butter Yogurt DipBanana Nut Butter Honey YogurtBanana Split Yogurt and Mint Chocolate Chip Yogurt.

So I mixed some homemade yogurt with homemade chocolate syrup then folded in the leftover whipped cream (in a 1:1 ratio with the yogurt – probably a cup or so of each).  The night before I made a batch of chocolate granola (using the greater amount of oats and less sweetener), which I sprinkled on top of the yogurt – soooo goooo!  The kiddos and I gobbed it all up.

Homemade Chicken Broth

Did you know that you can cook a whole chicken in your crock pot?  And after you’ve cut all the meat off the bones, one of the most rewarding things to make with your crock pot – besides yogurt – is chicken broth.  Since I almost always get the store brand organic chicken when it has a sale sticker on it, I really maximize my savings.   

I used to think it was easiest to make the chicken at the same time as the broth, filling it all the way with water, basically poaching the chicken at the same time.  This is fine if you’re using the meat in other dishes, but if you want the skin crispy this won’t cut it.  I also found it frustrating dealing with the chicken and all that broth at the same time.  So… this is my method, adapted from Nourishing Traditions

I put everything in the pot, gizzards ‘n’ all, drizzle some olive oil on it, sprinkle some spices, and turn it on high for most of the day.  If it starts to look done before dinner I’ll turn it down to the low, but if you plan on cutting up the chicken right away you’ll want to turn the heat off so it’s cool enough to handle.  Do with the meat what you will; we often have some with rice or potatoes and veggies, then use the rest in soup, quesadillas, pasta, sandwiches, whatever.

Now for the broth.  Put all the scraps back into the pot along with all the drippings, add two quarts water (this is the amount that fits comfortably in my pot with all the other ingredients, but you could add more), a splash of apple cider vinegar (this helps extract the nutrients from the bone), a chopped onion, chopped carrots (2-3), chopped celery (3-4), a bunch of fresh parsley, and whatever other peelings you may have saved – I’ve even used pepper tops and carrots peelings that I stuck in the freezer.  Turn this on low and let it simmer overnight, up to 24 hours. 

When it’s done I let it cool off, strain it into a big bowl, then add another quart of water.  I like to have three quarts of water total (the two I initially put in the crock pot plus the one added to the bowl) so my broth isn’t too watery, but you could have a total of four quarts.  Then I ladle the broth into canning jars or recycled food jars (leaving headspace if you wish to freeze them) and put them in the fridge.  After they’ve cooled down all the way, I put one or two in the freezer.  If I don’t let them cool all the way before putting them in the freezer, they freeze inconsistently and the jars crack. *sigh*

When you’re ready to use the broth, skim the solidified fat off the top.  And if your broth is gelled, that’s good!  That’s the natural gelatin from the bones that’s nutritious for your body; I used to think something was wrong with the broth when it did that, but don’t throw it out!  One of our favorite soup recipes is a version of this Italian Wedding Soup.  I change it around a bit, adding chicken instead of the meatballs, a bit of butter and spices for flavor, and tomato sauce instead of the diced tomatoes since my kids are picky like that.

Raw Applesauce

Did you know you can make applesauce without cooking the apples?  Cooked applesauce is actually pretty easy, and I’ve done it plenty of times either on the stovetop or in the microwave, but this was a revelation! 

I don’t remember where I found it – perhaps while looking for a recipe for apple chips, which I have yet to try – but I immediately knew I had to try it.  Just cut your apples  (you could use an apple corer, but I just cut around all four sides), put ’em in a food processor, and process till smooth.  You could add a splash of lemon juice to keep the apples from browning, some cinnamon, even some honey or other sweetener – but I find the fresh apples sweet enough already. 


Don’t even bother peeling your apples!   The skin contains fiber, antioxidants and all sorts of good stuff, but you may want to get the organic apples since the peel retains pesticides from the growing process.  I find it most cost-effective to get bagged apples, and the organic brand is only a dollar more.  Not only is the apple peel nutritious, but it makes the applesauce look pretty and rosy with flecks of red (if you use red apples, like I did!).

I first started making my own applesauce when making homemade baby food, but it has since become a staple in our home.  We like our applesauce plain, with walnuts on top, as a substitute for some of the oil in baking, and in oatmeal – one of my newfound favorites.  I’m curious to try adding other fruits for flavored applesauce, but still want to keep it raw.  I bet blueberries and strawberries would blend well, and peaches if they’re fresh enough.  How do you do applesauce?



Sidewalk Chalk Paint

Gwendolyn loves to paint. I rarely get out the paints for her, though, because: a) it’s messy, b) she quickly loses interest and it isn’t always worth the effort, and c) Josiah gets upset when I won’t let him make a mess paint.  I do, however, have sidewalk chalk that they will often use outside and it got me thinking of other outdoor crafts.  I love when the weather is nice and playtime and meals can be taken outside, thereby eliminating much of the clean-up (unless, of course, your precious littles find a mud puddle and decide to sit in it… *sigh*).

I forget where I initially got the idea for sidewalk paint, and I can’t give credit to any one person because I looked at a number of different sites trying to find an easy recipe, and bookmarked a couple faves.

Basically, you mix cornstarch and water in a ratio of 1:1 (although I suppose you could play around with it; mine wasn’t an exact science) and add food coloring.  I used a muffin tin to hold the different colors, but you could probably use cups – although they may tip over easily. 

The kiddos had a blast painting the walkway, chalkboard, themselves – and the colors became more brilliant as it dried. 

At one point Josiah grabbed my pant leg with his messy hand, much to my chagrin, but I was pleasantly surprised when the color just flaked off. 

I did end up giving them a short bath before lunch since they insisted on coloring their hands and faces. 

Note: I used Wilton food coloring that I already had on hand for coloring frosting, and it seemed to stain their skin somewhat.  I didn’t bother with their hands, but on Gwen’s face I rubbed at it with some witch hazel, which did the trick of removing it.  She commented that it didn’t smell good, however. :P

If you’ve already got some random pieces of sidewalk chalk lying around, try this neat idea for recycling the pieces into sidewalk chalk paint.  At another mama’s suggestion, I’m also going to try my hand at homemade play dough, another medium which is best taken outside.