By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

All dressed up

A drizzle of lemony hollandaise sauce over a fried egg on a bed of sauteed onions and greens makes for a very special breakfast. It also works more vegetables into the breakfast — a spouse unwilling to eat plain sauteed greens may find them irresistible with hollandaise sauce.

There’s a wonderful world of sauces and condiments you can make in your very own kitchen, for very little expense, that add a lot of flavor to simple dishes. Hollandaise and vinaigrette are two current favorites.

The first hollandaise sauce recipe I found, online, was so easy that I wondered at all of the cautions I’d read. Then I tried a different one, and they became much clearer. The original, from a website called Average Betty, eliminated much of the difficulty, as well as the threat of curdling, by having you slowly whisk cold butter into a mixture of egg yolks, hot water and lemon juice, all over hot water.

You can find that recipe here: (I eliminated the Canadian bacon from our eggs benedict.)

Hollandaise is a silky, creamy sauce like buttery, lemony mayonnaise, except thin enough to pour. It is good on eggs benedict. It is good on the aforementioned sauteed greens, with a fried egg. It is good on omelets. It is good in a spoon or on your fingers. Don’t overdo it though — it is very, very rich.

Refrigerate leftovers. Cold hollandaise can be gently spooned over a hot egg, and will melt fine without having to be warmed up.

Salad vinaigrettes were another revelation. There’s no end to the variations you can come up with.

Dressings allow you to play with all kinds of different flavors. I like savory herbs in vinaigrette; my spouse prefers sweet berry vinaigrettes. It’s easy to make both, and they keep so well in the refrigerator that it’s a while before I have to make more.

For his, a spoonful of raspberry or strawberry jam goes into the mix, along with olive oil, raspberry (or strawberry) vinegar, a little mustard, some crushed garlic or minced shallot, salt and pepper. I don’t bother trying to match the jam with the vinegar, by the way, but just use what happens to be on hand. Since the raspberry and strawberry vinegar-making got out of hand a few years back — not always intentionally; there was a failed batch of wine in there somewhere — there’s a lot of berry vinegar to use up. This is not necessarily a bad problem to have.

I used to mix the dressing with a whisk, which created an emulsion I thought was fine, but it did tend to separate a bit, producing complaints about oiliness. Then someone let me in on the secret: mixing it with an immersion blender. Suddenly, the vinaigrette was thick and rich, and perfect. No more complaints.

My favorite herb dressing is fresh basil vinaigrette from the Stitch and Boots blog. You can find it here:

It’s like pesto made into salad dressing, and it is divine.

But it’s fun to experiment with other variations, too. This spring, before the basil was ready, I mixed lemon oil from Red Ridge Farms with oregano vinegar, fresh oregano and thyme, salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar. The basil vinaigrette had a run for its money, and I finally had a use for the oregano vinegar I’d made a few years back by steeping fresh oregano in plain vinegar.

There does appear to be a small problem with flavored vinegars proliferating in the house. If you have one, too, then definitely learn to make good vinaigrette. Berry vinegar, lightly sweetened and in small quantities, also nicely flavors water on hot summer days.

This is another place where you can experiment with using up odds and ends. One year, I found myself with a lot of leftover cranberry orange sauce on my hands after Thanksgiving. This is the version where you mix raw cranberries, whole oranges and sugar in the food processor, until you have a finely shredded mixture. A little bit goes a long way.

Having no better ideas for using it up, I added some olive oil, vinegar, garlic and salt, and discovered that it makes great salad dressing. Now I can look forward to having leftovers.

A sauce can add a fancy and flavorful touch to simple meals, that belies the ease with which it is made. It’s well worth taking a little time now and then to stock the refrigerator with one or two of your own specialties.

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