Risotto with Asparagus

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been in a sugar coma.

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been sweets. I have a ton more goodies to post, but I felt a tad guilty about posting so many recipes using processed white sugar, when my goal is to help people get OFF processed foods. Processed sugar is my one huge weakness (meaning: addiction). It’s also my kryptonite.

Unfortunately, when I’ve had the time and energy to make a fabulous blog-worthy dinner, I’ve rarely had the patience to hold off four starving kids and a starving hubby long enough to take pictures and such. Desserts are another story. I can make them any time of day and take pretty pictures.

But, I finally pulled it off and took some decent pics of this dinner before serving it. But, please forgive me if the next 20 posts are all desserts.

Risotto: risotto is a high-starch, short-grained rice. It is cooked differently than normal rice. It is first browned in oil, then cooked in broth, stirring continuously while adding the broth in small amounts. Honestly, the first time I made risotto, I said to myself “you’ve got to be kidding! that’s a lot of work!”, but it really isn’t that bad. I had a good book I was reading, and just read while stirring. You will find risotto rice, typically the arborio variety, in the specialty food section of your grocery store. My local store has an Italian section that has specialty items from Italy, like extra expensive olive oils, sauces and vinegars. That is probably where you’ll find the arborio rice.

RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS

1 pound of thin asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
7 cups chicken stock
3 cups uncooked arborio rice
1 TBS butter
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (do NOT use the cheap powder stuff you get in a can, go to the cheese section and get real parm).
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and trim the asparagus. Do this by removing the bottom inch or so and discarding. An easy way to do this is to hold the spear upright and bend it down from the top until it breaks off. Where it naturally breaks off is where it goes from tender to fibrous. I usually do this to a few at a time, then put them back in the bunch and cut off the bottoms of the entire bunch where those few broke off. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it did to me as I was writing it. In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and stir fry until cooked but firm (where you can fairly easily snap it in two with whatever utensil you are using to stir fry it, but before it becomes soggy). Remove the asparagus to a plate, reserving as much of the oil in the pan as possible. While cooking the asparagus, heat up your chicken broth, either in the microwave , or in a saucepan. Add the garlic and the arborio rice to the hot pan. Stir fry those with for 2-3 minutes, until they start to brown. Stir in one cup of hot broth. Start your timer, setting it for 14 minutes. Stir and cook until broth is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup of broth. You will continue to add the broth by cupfuls, stirring until each cup is absorbed before adding the next. You will use between 6-7 cups of broth, and the total time will be between 14-20 minutes. At about 14 minutes, start testing your risotto. It should be “al dente”, which means it still has some substance, it doesn’t dissolve or turn to glue in your mouth, but isn’t crunchy or chewy. If it seems a bit hard, continue adding broth and testing every couple of minutes. When you believe it has the right cooked texture, remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir until both are melted and incorporated. Add in the asparagus and serve immediately. This recipe is about 6 main portions or 12 side portions.

REAL food alert: please, please, please use real parm cheese. Pretend you have never heard of Kraft canned parmesan powdery cheese. Trust me. Also, check your chicken stock for additives and msg.
ALLERGY alert: you can leave out the butter and cheese, but it won’t be as creamy. A non-dairy margarine could be used, or a dollop of coconut oil (though the taste may bug you).

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Prepping for School

Did you miss me? This is the last week of summer for three of my four kids, and the first week my teacher husband was back to work. We spent all last week shoving every activity we planned to do this summer into a week-long family activity fest. I have several recipes coming down the pike that I made this summer, but I thought I’d change things up and use this post to tell you how I’m prepping for school to start.

The last two years, my kids have eaten hot lunches at school. It made me cringe every time they would come home and tell me what they had for lunch. Last year they even ate breakfast at school. First, let me say that our school serves above-average tasting food. They also allow for unlimited salad and fresh fruit, which is great. Our district also follows our state health policy for lunches. You know, so many servings of vegetables, “low” sugar content, a certain fiber content, etc. I acknowledge that it’s a valiant effort, and it’s definitely better than nothing. But, there are a few problems with it, in my opinion. First, the almighty Dairy Council (cue either angelic singing or a morose funeral durge, depending on your opinion) has lobbied and succeeded to make flavored milk exempt from the sugar content rule. Did you know that flavored milk has at least as much sugar as soda? Your child’s chocolate or strawberry milk has 27-31 grams of sugar per serving. Second, I believe strongly in training a palate. It’s one reason that dieting using processed foods (like, low-fat instead of full-fat pizza) will never succeed in the long run. In my family, I cook home-made, from-scratch, nutritious, flavor-packed meals. I tend to make ethnic foods from all walks of life and expect my children to experiment with taste and enjoy trying new things. My third son’s favorite meal when he was 2? Baked salmon and asparagus. The problem I have found is that within a month of eating school “healthy” food, they lose their adventurous palates and start refusing to eat my dinners. Can you blame them? They are eating processed chicken nuggets and pizza and french toast sticks for breakfast and lunch. Yeah, the pizza has a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese, and the nuggets are baked and not fried…but it still trains their palate to want to eat that type of food.

So, we decided, NO MORE! We are a processed-food-free family, I have to admit that the decision was difficult. We qualify for free meals at the school, so this is an expense we would not normally have, but we believe it is worth it. Both for the health of our kiddos, and for the peace of mealtime, the extra effort is worth it.

This post is how I am planning to do breakfast and lunches for my kids, to give them choices and give me less of a headache.

First: breakfast. I would love to say that I plan to get up and make my kids breakfast every morning. But, I’m a realist. Maybe some days I will, but in general, I just know it won’t happen. We stopped eating cereal when we stopped getting raw milk. Cereal is one of the worst breakfasts you can have. Milk has a naturally high sugar content, and cereal is mostly empty carbs (yes, there are whole grain cereals that are better). I find when we eat cereal that our blood sugar is raised, it gives us great energy, then we crash mid morning. Days that I have cereal for breakfast, it sets me into a mood swing cycle that is hard to recover from. Protein is key for us for breakfast. I have one child who won’t eat protein for breakfast, my goal for him is to lower his sugar intake for breakfast. Even though milk has protein, he responds better to oatmeal for breakfast than cereal, for some reason. We’re not fans of processed milk here, anyway, since two of our littles have dairy allergies (only to processed milk, raw milk they have no issues with. That is a post for another day…)

Three options for breakfast on days I don’t make something fresh:

#1: Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

#2: Breakfast Burritos: Scrambled eggs and natural sausage (no msg or perservatives: Jimmy Dean just came out with natural sausage that is super good!) wrapped in a tortilla and frozen. Microwave for 40 seconds to heat

# 3: Oatmeal packets: My oatmeal kid’s favorite type is apple cinnamon. I pre-make oatmeal packets using snack-sized ziploc bags. In each I put 2/3 cup whole oats, 1 TBS sucanat, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, about 1 TBS dried apple, cut into small pieces with kitchen shears. Use these just like regular oatmeal packets: add water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. I’ve also made strawberry ones, using dried strawberries. You can make whatever kind your kids like, and control the sugar amount and type yourself.

Lunch. The trick to lunch is going to be keeping them from getting bored. The plan is each lunch will have a main dish, a piece of fresh produce, a savory snack, and a sweet snack.

The sweet snack is a family favorite. The recipe is flexible and for a sweet snack, healthy in the way that it has no processed sugars, it’s low in sugar, and it’s chock full of healthy fats for energy and brain function. They are called energy bites, and the recipe is below. I make 3-4 batches and freeze them. For school, I placed 3 in each snack bag and froze the bags. Yes, it’s a lot of plastic bag waste, but I’m going for convenience here. Maybe someday I’ll be superwoman and do it all. for now, I’m satisfied feeding my kids healthy, unprocessed foods. Oh, and the reason I put them in individual bags is because it stops my kids (or me) from taking 20 every day, which they would do. They are that good.

The produce will be anything they choose from the array we have at all times, typically apples, mini carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and whatever in-season snack fruit is on sale (right now, peaches and berries).

The savory snack is typically cheese sticks or bags of pretzels. Sometimes, I may make Soft Pretzels, but I typically reserve those for an after-school snack.

The main dish, for right now, will be a choice of dinner leftovers, bean burritos (my homemade beans, cheese and salsa in a tortillas and frozen) or “Hot Pockets”, which is my Breakfast Pockets recipe, but each one is a slice of cheese and 1 slice of natural lunch meat (we like Boars’ Head Ovengold turkey breast, and Hormel’s naturals, which has an uncured ham and I just discovered an uncured salami, which has made my 11-yr old’s year).

I calculated costs and figured that it’s costing us about $2 per lunch per kid. Not too shabby.

So, whether your kiddos are back to school this week, next month or in September, you can start prepping those healthy lunches and snacks now!

ENERGY BITES

makes 35-40 bites, depending on size

1 cup natural peanut butter (check the label, the ingredients should only be peanuts and salt, or just peanuts.)
1/2 cup raw honey, or agave syrup if you prefer
2 cups whole oats
1 cup shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix the peanut butter and honey well. Add dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Roll into balls, or use a small cookie scoop (I found this to be easiest). You can refrigerate these and use within a week (Ha! They won’t last more than 2 days), or freeze.

REAL food alert: check the chocolate chips for artificial flavors.
HEALTH alert: to keep these healthy, you really need to use unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened coconut, otherwise, you might as well make cookies.
ALLERGY alert: the peanut butter can be substituted for any nut butter, like almond, or sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). You can eliminate or swap any of the add-ins (like the coconut, flaxseed and chocolate chips). You can use dried fruit, nuts, chia seeds, or anything else your imagination can come up with (try cocoa!).
VEGGIE alert: These are naturally vegan, depending on the add-ins. Eliminate the chocolate chips and add in dried fruit or vegan carob chips.

Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots

Chile and Corn Quinoa

Okay, okay…this is very similar to my other corn quinoa recipe. But, I’m on a quinoa kick. If you’re curious why quinoa has become popular lately, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. First, it has twice the protein of white rice. It also is a complete protein. That means it has all 9 amino acids the body needs. Typically, you find complete proteins in animal products (meat and dairy), or you need to eat a combo of foods to get all of the amino acids. Quinoa is a unique plant product that is a complete protein. That makes it popular amongst those who are moving to a more plant based diet (which is becoming a string movement, partially in thanks to a movie called Forks Over Knives, which I strongly suggest, especially if cancer runs in your family).

While eating my other quinoa recipe, I said, “This would be really good with roasted chiles”. My husband agreed, and this dish was born. If you subscribe to my posts, you’ll notice that oven roasting veggies is a habit of mine. Pretty much anything tastes better roasted, and it’s any easy way to prep parts of a dish while making other preparations.

In this dish, I kept with the southwestern flavor theme by adding a little cumin and browned sweet onions. I also added chicken as an option, for those not yet on board with meatless main dishes. Enjoy!

CHILE AND CORN QUINOA

2 ears of corn, still in the husk
1 poblano chile
2 TBS olive oil
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound chicken breast, cooked and diced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in the husk) and chile on a baking sheet in the preheated oven. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn chile once during roasting. Chile should be bubbled and black in most areas when done. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While they are roasting, heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add onion and cook until soft and brown. Remove from heat. In a pot, heat chicken stock over medium high heat. Add garlic and heat to boiling. Stir in quinoa and cumin. Cover and lower heat to low. Simmer for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked and all of the liquid is absorbed.

Wearing gloves, remove the blackened skin from the chile, remove and discard the seeds and slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husks from the corn and cut the kernels from the cob. When quinoa is cooked, stir in the onion, the chile and the corn kernels. Add chicken if desired. Salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve warm.

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Roasted Corn, Broccoli and Black Bean Quinoa

In lieu of a written entry for this recipe, I will refer you to this awesome blog post.

Also…I use my food processor A LOT in recipes. Every time I write a recipe that uses my food processor, I think about what I would do without it. I LOVE my food processor. They can be pretty expensive, so when I ran across a cuisinart sale here, I thought I’d post it. If you’re new to the site and join, you get a free $15 credit, which is cool. There are stick blenders, ice cream makers, coffee grinders and all sorts of awesome small kitchen appliances on sale. Check it out. (The cuisinart sale ends in a couple of days, but comes back every few months or so).

ROASTED CORN, BROCCOLI AND BLACK BEAN QUINOA

serves 6-8 as a side dish, or 4-6 as a main dish

2 ears fresh corn, still in the husk
2 large heads of broccoli, with the main stalk removed
2 TBS olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tsp fresh thyme, removed from stems
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place corn (still in husk) and broccoli crowns on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the broccoli a couple of times. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Remove husk and cut corn kernels from the cob with a sharp serrated knife. Break the broccoli into very small crowns, removing excess stalks. I like the broccoli to be as small as possible, without completely chopping it up.

While the veggies are roasting, heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and cook until lightly browned. Add garlic and cook, while stirring, an additional minute. Add quinoa, broth and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes (or until all the liquid is absorbed). Stir in corn, broccoli and black beans. Add salt and pepper to taste. This makes a great side dish, or main dish.

Adapted from The Dish on Delish

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Two Tasty Tomato Dishes

My mom is an incredible gardener. My dad was, too. I am not sure yet if I’ve inherited this ability. My pinterest board is filled with great gardening tips and ideas. I have aspirations to have a gorgeous garden from which I can pick and make fabulous fresh dishes. Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and very forgetful. Our first garden attempt was dry and dead with in two weeks (I live in the desert, so gardening here takes a little more effort, care and *ahem* regular watering). I really want a garden, but I know two things must be in place before I can be successful: 1. I must be done with school. 2. It must be on an automatic watering system. When I can get these two things done, I look forward to a wonderful harvest and learning many new things!

If you already have a garden and are wondering what to do with your huge crop of tomatoes, here are two super tasty recipes for you! The sauce freezes well, and the soup is perfect with crusty grilled cheese. To be honest, tomato soup for me has always been an excuse to eat gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. When I made this soup, I ate one half of a sandwich. The soup was so good it didn’t need anything, so I left the sandwiches to the kids and had seconds of soup. The sauce goes well with some mild italian sausage, if you’re a carnivore, and piled onto a tender whole wheat pasta. It’s perfect summer comfort food with some grilled asparagus.

EASY CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

serves 4 (main dish) or 6-8 (side dish)

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook while stirring until they start to brown. Add garlic and cook and additional minute, or until garlic barely starts to brown. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar and remove from heat. Pour into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender to puree. Puree well, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Heat on low until warm again. Serve. Garnish with fresh basil or croutons, if desired.

REAL food alert: check chicken stock for msg and additives
VEGGIE alert: to make vegetarian, sub veggie broth for the chicken stock.
ALLERGY alert: for dairy allergies, sub a non-dairy milk, like coconut or almond milk, for the heavy cream.
HEALTH alert: this recipe is only about 150 calories per serving. If you want to health it up even more, you can reduce the cream to 1/4 cup, and sub honey for the sugar, or eliminate the sugar.

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6-10), cored and quartered
1 head of garlic
1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
1 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped
salt
sugar
3/4 pound mild italian sausage (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes on one or two foil covered baking sheets, along with the head of garlic (do not separate the cloves, just remove any loose paper from the outside). Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the tomatoes. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly charred. Rotate pans halfway through cooking, if they don’t both fit on the same rack in your oven. Remove from oven when done roasting. Pour the tomatoes and any juices into a blender or food processor, or pour into a bowl if you use an immersion blender. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the root end of the garlic head. Pull the garlic head apart into three or four chunks. Squeeze the soft roasted garlic pulp into the tomato mixture and discard the tough exterior. Blend the tomatoes, garlic and herb mixture until desired consistency (we like minimal chunks, but you may like chunks in your sauce). Add salt and sugar to taste (if you have nice ripe tomatoes, you won’t need sugar, if you have grocery store tomatoes, you may need a pinch or two). The sauce is ready to serve with pasta. If you like meat in your sauce, brown sausage in a large pan over medium heat. Add sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

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Calabacitas con Crema (Zucchini with Cream)

There’s a song I learned in my 7th grade Spanish class. Here’s how I remember it (starting from the part I can recall): “cinco de mayo, seis de junio, siete de julio, San Fermin. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagareta. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagara.” I sang this for my Brother-in-law once, who is fluent in Spanish, and he looked at me like I was crazy. After messing around with google translate, I’m pretty sure “hien” should be “quien”, but I am still pretty sure somewhere since 7th grade, the song has become warped. We called this the “Smurf Song”…you can guess why. I still sing it today (incorrectly)…every time I hear the words “Cinco de Mayo”. I live in the American Southwest, so Cinco de Mayo is a pretty big deal. We eat Mexican food on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but I still love to have a little themed dinner on May 5th, just for funsies. This particular dish is one of my favorites. It takes some prep, but it’s sooooo worth it. Plus, it’s fairly healthy to offset the refried beans, rich meat and stacks of tortillas that is normal Mexican fare. Try it for your Cinco de Mayo dinner this year! It’s perfect with soft tortillas, Garlic Pork Roast and Roasted Red Salsa.

CALABACITAS CON CREMA

2 ears of corn
1 large poblano chile
1 pound zucchini or mexican squash
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place 2 ears of corn, still in their husks and poblano chili. Place in the preheated oven. Cook for 30 minutes, turning chili as needed to get a nice blister on each side. The blacker the skin, the better. While corn and chile are cooking, dice zucchini into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the zucchini in salt and place in a colander. Put the colander in a larger bowl or over the sink or a towel to catch drips. The salt will draw out moisture, which you want to drain off. Let sit for 30 minutes, then dry zucchini on paper towels. Sometimes I have gotten 1/2 cup of liquid, and sometimes only a few tablespoons. Either way, I’ve noticed a difference in the texture of the zucchini after it’s cooked. Cut onion into thin strips. When corn and chile are done cooking, allow to cool, about 15 minutes. Take a paper towel and rub the chile, removing the blistered skin. The blacker the skin, the easier it is to come off. You may want to wear disposable gloves while you do this, as chile oil does not wash off easily and you will be in pain if you touch your eyes after the chile. Pull off the cap on top and any seeds that come with it. Cut open on side of the chile and flatten it out. remove any seeds and discard. Slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husk from the corn and cut the kernels off.

When the zucchini, chiles, onion and corn are all prepped and ready, Heat oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. And the zucchini and fry, stirring frequently, until brown and just tender (cooked, but not mushy). Remove the zucchini to a plate, retaining as much oil and butter in the pan as possible. If the pan is dry, add another TBS of oil and wait for it to come up to heat before continuing. Add the corn, onion and chile to the pan and stir-fry until onions are soft and brown. Add the zucchini back in to the pan along with the cream. Heat until the cream glazes the vegetables. Remove from heat and serve immediately. If you don’t plan to serve immediately, after the veggies are cooked, combine with the zucchini and let rest. Right before serving, add cream and heat over medium until cream reduces to a glaze, about 3-5 minutes. This tastes best if made and served immediately, so I would suggest you do all the prep work beforehand, then leave this to be your last dish cooked.

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Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless.

 

Zucchini Chips

I’ve been seeing pictures of zucchini chips floating around pinterest. My sister swears by a baked version, so I tried it. I couldn’t get what I wanted through baking: a crisp, salty, thin slice of zucchini, like a sweeter, greener potato chip. So, I resorted back to deep frying. Yeah, not the healthiest method, and the nutrition factor is questionable, but, MAN! they were tasty. I much prefer them over potato chips.

ZUCCHINI CHIPS

4 cups water
1/8 cup salt
2-3 zucchinis
oil for frying

In a large bowl, add salt to the water. Stir until dissolved. Slice zucchini very thin (think potato chips). It’s easiest to use a mandolin, food processor, or the slicing part of a box grater. Soak the zucchini in the salt water for 15 minutes. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot to 350-375 degrees. I usually throw a slice in to see if it immediately starts bubbling around the food, that’s how you know it’s ready. Oil at a correct temp leaves less oil on the food, so it’s fried, but not greasy. If you put your food in too early, it will soak up oil before getting fried, leading to greasy food and higher calories.  While waiting for the oil to heat, dry off your zucchini slices as much as possible. Water hitting hot oil will spatter, so be sure you are wearing an apron, and keep your distance. I quickly blotted the zucchini with paper towels, and didn’t have a spattering problem at all. When the oil is ready, dump a handful or two of the zucchini slices into the oil. You want them to be able to float individually in the oil. Use a wooden spoon to separate any that are clinging together. You essentially want to cook one “layer” of zukes at a time. Watch your heat, If they are cooking too slow or too fast as you go, lower or increase your burner temp. Once you see that they are starting brown, remove to a plate covered in paper towels using a slotted spoon. My kids loved these, and I wish I had cooked a double batch!

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Creamy Ranch Dressing

Ranch Dressing…it’s what makes the world go ’round.

Personally, I eat salad for the express purpose of having a reason to eat ranch dressing.

I will pick certain restaurants over others only because of their amazing ranch dressing.

It is the perfect condiment…

Unless it’s bottled. Years ago I gave up bottled dressing for the powdered mix…until we became an MSG-free home. So, I went on a quest. Luckily, this one didn’t involve dragons. The quest for the perfect homemade ranch dressing. This is it.

Creamy Ranch Dressing

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp dried chives
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge for optimum flavor. This thickens as it sits, add milk to achieve desired consistency as needed.

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