I just had the pleasure of taking my first real vacation since my trip to Europe in 2011. This particular holiday was extremely overdue and desperately needed.
With the incredible desire to get out of the city for a while and breathe some unfamiliar air came about two uncharacteristic occurrences that aren’t typical of my average getaway.
First off, my retreat was actually a road trip that took me through seven states in just eight days, covering more than 3,200 miles and it centered primarily around reconnecting to Mother Nature and navigating a region of the United States I’ve never before had the opportunity to explore.
Normally I jet off to big cities and get lost in the crowds. Not this time. I surrendered my senses to the noises, smells, sights and emotional feelings brought on by some of the most incredible natural settings to grace this planet, including the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon.
Second, I ate bad food — like really bad food. It’s not that I dined at bad restaurants. It’s really that I didn’t dine in many restaurants at all. Fast food was the culinary theme of this trip, embarrassingly.
I did seek out a funky little paleo coffee shop and bistro appropriately called “Mmm … Coffee” in downtown Denver. Additionally there was the following night where I enjoyed a seafood dish at a coastal Mexican spot in another part of the urban D-town, nestled in a super hip neighborhood referred to as “LoHi.” LoHi reminded me a lot of Kansas City’s River Market neighborhood in the way there were so many restaurants in a small area, accompanied by a sea of lofts and newly built apartment homes.
As stated before, fast food matched the fast pace of this road trip. I only spent one or a few days in any one place, so I didn’t have much time to seek out where the locals like to fill their tummies. Having been on an elimination diet for several months prior and transitioning to a paleo-ish style of eating, the fast food and quick snacks really took a toll on my digestion and overall sense of well-being. I was obviously not anxious to return home, but I was excited to set foot in my own kitchen and start crafting nourishing meals once again.
The one thing I really lamented over not being able to snack on while enjoying down time in my hotel rooms was a fresh supply of veggies and my scratch-made ranch dip. I love a good homemade vegetable dip. I also highly dislike pretty much any and every bottled ranch dressing or dusty packet of store-bought ranch seasoning, intended to be mixed with a tub of sour cream and somehow enjoyed.
Haven’t you ever noticed how the ranch dressing at a fine-dining restaurant tastes nothing like the chemically processed mystery gunk you find on your grocer’s shelves? One of the main reasons this difference exists is due to the fact that so much vinegar and sugar are added to the stuff that you begrudgingly purchase from the supermarket. The same difference applies to store-bought mayonnaise versus homemade mayo, just in case you’ve ever wondered.
Several years ago I was extremely frustrated with not being able to purchase a truly delicious salad dressing or dip for my veggie snacks without dining in at an expensive eatery, so I poured through several recipes, seeing what common herbs were used, and eventually came up with a formula that I proudly call my own. Dry herbs are most commonly present in my recipe, except preferring to use fresh parsley, and you can certainly use all fresh herbs if you have them handy.
Now that I had a creamy, flavorful accompaniment to my vegetable platter, I still craved something bolder in flavor than just raw carrot sticks to reawaken my slumbering taste buds. Being that it’s football season, we are typically surrounded by junky, delicious foods such as cheese dips, greasy pizzas and buffalo wings.
Keeping that in mind, I thought it might be fun to do a winning play on buffalo-flavored something-or-other and incorporate that idea into my healthy snack platter. Buffalo cauliflower was the first thing that came to mind, but all I had on hand for hot sauce was Sriracha. So I blended the Sriracha with some honey and only a small bit of butter to create a sweet-and-spicy sauce in which to roast the cauliflower bites. Football Sunday most certainly doesn’t mean we need to send our poor hearts into cardiac arrest for before half-time. Healthier grub can most definitely be enjoyable, and life is all about balance in my opinion.
Enjoy a slice a pizza, but don’t be afraid to nosh on nutritious bites as well. I promise you this comforting ranch dip and the Honey-Sriracha Cauliflower bites do not taste like health food. Plus your body will remain ever grateful through the fall season.
The Best Ranch Dip Ever
3/4 cup mayonnaise (use egg-free mayo for vegan)
1/2 cup sour cream (use dairy-free sour cream for vegan)
1/4 cup buttermilk (use dairy free milk for vegan)
3-4 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion
1 tablespoon fresh, minced parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Pepper to taste
Whisk everything together in large bowl. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least eight hours. It’s best to make this dip before you go to sleep and allow it rest overnight, planning to eat it the following day. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. If you prefer to have a thinner salad dressing consistency, simply use 1/2 cup buttermilk, only 1/4 cup sour cream, and add 1 teaspoon of any neutral-tasting vegetable oil.
Chef’s Notes: If making the vegan version, I highly suggest using the So Delicious brand of unsweetened coconut milk — the kind you pour over your cereal, not the full-fat kind from the can. I have tested this recipe with both soy and almond milk and did not care for either one.
If you are sensitive to the taste of onion, simply omit the green onion. But please do keep in the small amount of onion powder. It doesn’t taste onion-y. But it does add a key component to the overall flavor profile of this dip.
Roasted Honey-Sriracha Cauliflower
1 large head cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup Sriracha (or hot pepper sauce of choice)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon honey (use agave nectar or any appropriate substitute for vegan)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 pinches of sea salt, to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment paper or foil, prepared with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together the Sriracha, butter, honey and the garlic powder. Place the cauliflower in a large storage/freezer bag, pour in the liquid mixture and toss in as much salt as you prefer; make sure bag is sealed tight and shake the cauliflower around to coat.
Dump the cauliflower in a single layer onto your baking sheet and place in oven, roasting for at least 15 minutes. Check the cauliflower at 15 minutes. If it is not fork-tender, set your kitchen timer for an additional five minutes. You only want the cauliflower cooked until fork-tender rather than caramelized.
Once the cauliflower is roasted, allow it cool on the tray before transferring to plate or storage container. I actually like to enjoy this particular cauliflower at room temperature with my ranch dip, but it can most certainly be enjoyed hot and as a side dish to any main course meal. Enjoy!
Trish Minton is the pastry chef and baker for Pierpont’s at Union Station. Although she has a passion and love for all things baked and sugary, she particularly loves catering to clients who need gluten-free and vegan desserts.