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Or Ranch Dressing: The Silent Killer Dekillerfied. Yes that is a word. Because I said so. Also the first couple paragraphs are me rambling about some non-food related stuff – please feel free to skip ahead to get to the nitty gritty of this post if you would like to :)

I really kind of can’t believe it’s already Thursday. Seriously. Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week kicks off tomorrow and I have been up to my eyeballs in adding to the events calendar, fielding emails, orchestrating a few last minute & a couple last millisecond things and making notes on things we need to do next year to alleviate some of this last minute chaos. I have been running in Pittsburgh craft beer circles for a long time, I knew what an incredible group of people and sense of community there has been for as long as I have been around, but even I am impressed with how this week has come together. It has been a ton of work, but I am stupid proud to be a part of it. Nine days to celebrate Pittsburgh & Craft Beer, two of my very most favorite things! Go take a look at the event calendar – there are around 400 events ALL OVER the city, most free a few ticketed; go plan a Pittsburgh adventure, check out our lovely city and try some new beers or old favorites :) You will find me at the Brewer’s Ball on Friday and most definitely at a KBS breakfast at Pipers on Wednesday…other than that I am still trying to sort out my plan of attack. If you are attending some events let me know which in the comments…maybe you’ll help me decide what I want to do!!

If you don’t care about hockey go ahead to the next paragraph please: The Pens totally wiped the the ice with the Flyers last night after a 3 game losing streak and won 10-3. I loved every second of that game except the part where Matt Cooke got screwed for being Matt Cooke. I had no idea that NOT retaliating from your knees on the ice when a Flyer goon (or 2) is being a Flyer goon is worthy of a 2 minute minor and a 10 minute game misconduct. I kind of get it – at that point in the game (score was 10-3 already) the Flyers were all sorts of pissed and it had the potential to get U.G.L.Y. and the officials, for the most part, did a great job of making sure that this game did not go in the shitter like the last one did when the Pens lost any composure they ever had and started to act like, well, Philly. That said it was a total BS call he didn’t deserve. I know he HAD a history, but his game change this season has been amazing – he shouldn’t be punished forever for how he USED to play. That aside – Thanks Pens! You guys validated all the arguing I did with the office lady-esque GMs & Coaches, Hart most definitely included in that list, in the last few days. Never give up, always believe and STFU and support your team if you call yourself a fan. Well that and if you were qualified to run a hockey team you would be. I dont see Bylsma and Shero coming into your cube to tell you how to do your job, give them the same courtesy. I believe. #pensin7

Ok so back to food. Ranch dressing to be more specific. I posted a Kitchen Primer about vinaigrettes a couple weeks ago and in it I kinda knocked ranch dressing. Not because I am morally opposed to the stuff – I like to dip my pizza bones in it as much as the next person – but because it is ridiculously bad for you no matter how good your french fries are dipped in it and coating a salad in it is completely counter productive to eating said salad. I am not wrong, the numbers speak for themselves there, but there were a few folks, most notably my dear friend Becky, who defended the Ranch. It was a brief conversation. In it Becky asked me if there was a way to make ranch healthy. My response was no. Ya know how when you crack a tooth and your tongue just can’t help but go fiddle with it? My ‘no’ was a cracked tooth. Was there a way to make ranch healthier or at the very least not so freaking bad? There has to be. This was going to require some work.

My goal ~ create a healthier version of ranch dressing, meaning lower calories, lower fat,  no preservatives, garbage or things I couldn’t pronounce. My base line for this was Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch, the ‘good stuff’ technically. I picked that one because in very general this is what you will find in most restaurants and is one of the better you can buy off the shelf at the store. I had rules to this adventure! I could use no ingredients that were altered to be ‘fat free’, i.e fat free mayo or fat free sour cream, because what they do to make them is add a bunch of things I cant pronounce, so no. It had to be easy to throw together, no one is going to make a homemade dressing that takes longer than the salad prep does. And last but far from least the consistency had to be right, no thin watery ranch and no thick and gloppy ranch.

I also had a couple of concessions I was willing to accept – the mouth feel wasn’t going to be EXACT no matter what I did because I was removing so much fat. I am and was ok with that; my final ranch didn’t have that unctuous fattiness in the mouth that plain old ranch does, but I only noticed it when tasting it by itself, when food was added it was mostly a non-issue. I was also willing to concede the salty flavor pop because I had no desire to add MSG to the dressing. MSG is a really very quite common flavor enhancer that, similar to salt, rounds out and amps up umami flavors in a bazillion different foods, and especially spice blends, that are commercially produced. I think most people mainly associate it with bad Chinese food, definitely not the only place you will find it by a long shot. It’s generally safe to consume although there are a lot of folks who have a sensitivity to it. It is not something I keep in my pantry or feel the need to add into my food, so I dont; the down side to that, if this is even a down side, is that I had to use real ingredients and seasonings to make it taste right, not cheater additives.

I faced a couple different hurdles in this adventure. The first was flavor. What the hell is in ranch dressing? It has very specific flavors that I hadn’t really ever tried to pull apart before. This turned out to be the easier of my hurdles, I am pretty sure that I got the basic flavors nailed. The second was what it is made from – mayonnaise and buttermilk. The mayo is the main culprit to the ridiculous calorie & fat count – it’s oil thickened with egg yolks so, yeah – and the part that was going to be the hardest to get around. I needed to find a base that was creamy, thick, naturally low fat and could stand to be messed with.

Well I think I pulled it off through the glory that is Greek Yogurt. Yogurt is one of those food magic things – milk is boiled and reduced a little then good bacteria, yogurt cultures, are added to it. The good bacteria ferment the lactose naturally present in milk to thicken it and give it that characteristic tang. Greek yogurt goes ones step further – the regular yogurt is strained through cheesecloth, or the like, removing a lot of the extra whey, making it much thicker and more tart. Plain Greek yogurt is closer to sour cream than your Yoplait snack pack, flavor and consistency wise. I have been using it as a straight substitute for sour cream for a bit and I love it. Even on stuff like tacos I think it actually tastes better especially when you consider it has 0 fat and 130 calories per CUP. Sour cream is 60 calories and 6 grams of fat per OUNCE. Go for the tub of greek yogurt over sour cream, seriously, no one in your house will know the difference and I won’t tell, promise :)

Now the numbers – I crunched these for a few different versions of to give some points of comparison.  The store bough ones I took calories & fat right off the packaging, for the others I did all the math myself based on the exact ingredients I bought. If you want to see my work email me and I will send it out :)

  • Ranch #1 – Ready-to-Eat off shelf – 140 calories, 14g fat per ounce
  • Ranch #2 – Same brand Fat Free off shelf – 45 calories, 0g fat per ounce

Want me to blow your mind a little? A Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar is a single serving and has 210 calories and 13g of fat. Yes. It is almost better to cover your salad in a melted chocolate bar than it is to slather it in an ounce of regular ranch dressing. And blow that picture up and read the ingredient label, too, especially the ‘fat free’ one…I dont even know what half of that stuff is. For reference the ramekin that comes with your house salad at most restaurants? Thats 2 ounces. Yep. When you pour that little bastard of ranch over your salad you just added 280 calories and 28g of fat to your healthy lunch. I’ll just eat the Hershey bar thankyouverymuch.

  • Ranch #3 – Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix packet made w mayo & buttermilk – 108 calories, 10.5g fat per ounce. This is comparable to what you are served in most restaurants that mix up their own & the ones that taste, well for lack of a better term, right. This is the flavor bench mark I used.
  • Ranch #4 – Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix packet w non-fat greek yogurt & buttermilk – 24.4 calories, .25g fat per ounce.

Look at that! Just pulling the mayo made it so much better it is incredible. Flavor wise it has a bit more tang than the mayo version but I don’t think that’s a bad thing, really. I kept the buttermilk because the yogurt needs the fat it provides and I did not get low or non-fat buttermilk, only the real deal. Both were a little salty for my tastes…and thats because of the crap that is in the spice mix. Sodium counts on both are also high, but I didn’t note the numbers. If your goal is just lower calories & fat you can stop here, #4 is your answer.

It wasn’t mine, though. I wanted to make it for real from scratch, no seasoning packet full of MSG and preservatives. So I went a step further and concocted my own. Flavor wise it is damn close to #4, which was the goal. It’s not as salty, but I count that as a bonus. The numbers on it?

  • Ranch #5 – All from scratch w non-fat greek yogurt & buttermilk – 18.76 calories, .25g fat per ounce serving.

The end result would not be confused with mayo based ranch in a side by side tasting – I made Hart do a blind tasting while I was mixing all of these up, he could ID which one was mayo fast as hell but I think that had more to do with the color, it had a yellow tinge to it the yogurt based ones didn’t have. But he did hesitate when asked to tell me which was spice packet and which was from scratch. He nailed it after a couple tastes with the comment “this ones tastes less real, must be the packet” and he was right – it was the MSG-ness that he was pulling out. He preferred the totally from scratch one, even before he saw the calorie counts, because it had a more genuine flavor. I took that as a compliment!

The recipe for this only makes 2 cups, because it doesn’t have all that junk in it so I feel safe in assuming it won’t last for literally years, like the store bought will, so small batches would be best. Also note that the use of dried herbs means it needs to sit for a bit to let the flavors develop – what you taste when you finish mixing and what you will taste a couple hours later is much different. As to the herbs & seasonings I used – these are my best guess. I did not pulverize them, as they are in most seasoning packets, so the look is a little different, but tastes good I promise!

Ranch Dressing That is Less Likely to Kill You Quickly

  • 1.5 cups Non-Fat Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2 cup Cultured Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp Dried Chervil (or dried parsley, either will work)
  • 1 tsp Dried Chives
  • 1/4 tsp Dried Dill
  • 2 tsp Granulated Onion **
  • 1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic **
  • 1 tsp Dried Mustard Powder
  • 1/4 tsp Spanish Paprika
  • little bit of Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Put it all in a bowl and mix it up with a whisk until smooth. Seriously. Thats it. Store it in the fridge, obviously, yogurt is dairy.

** a note on these spices – I abhor garlic and onion powder, not because of taste, although they are far from good, but more because they are annoying and poofy to work with – not a huge fan of huffing onion or garlic. Instead I use granulated version of both. I find they are more consistent to measure, the flavor is overall better and they dont make me want to punch kittens…all of which I count as a win. I do not use these two spices often – I prefer to just use garlic and onion, but in some places that is not feasible, in those instances I use the granulated versions. DOWN WITH POWDER! I buy both at Penzeys by the way.

So it IS possible to make Ranch that is healthier and still tastes good. I’m not saying that this version could go up against HV Ranch in a blind taste test and win with the average ranch consumer, but it is far better than dipping your hot wings into the caloric equivalent of a melted Hershey bar.