Keeping it Simple – Balsamic Vinaigrette

As food consumers, we are ever trying to watch what we put on our food, in our food or what we cook with. Unfortunately this gets even more important as the weather starts to turn warm and we squeeze into our swim suits or summer outfits.

Ever read the ingredient listings on something simple like salad dressings? What the heck is xanthan gum, propylene glycol alginate, calcium disodium edta or tartrazine B066D??  Yes even the calorie wise and blue menu dressings contain these items.

Many chemicals are placed in dressings to ensure that your dressing lasts a long long long time on the shelf, properly stabilized or looks aesthetically pleasing to the eye (colour).

At Fresco we make as many products from scratch as possible. It is important that we control what goes into the food because we care what our guests are consuming. Even the dressings and vinaigrettes!

Balsamic Vinaigrette:

½ cup Dijon mustard

½ cup white sugar

3 cloves of garlic

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup balsamic vinegar

Fresh Thyme to taste

Sea Salt to taste

Method: Add mustard and sugar together in the blender. Blend on high until smooth. Add garlic and continue to puree until smooth.

Place blender on medium speed and slowly add ½ of the oil (1 ounce at a time). It should not split but incorporate into the mustard mixture. Add ½ the vinegar, same as oil. Alternate oil and vinegar slowly until it is all used. Mixture should be smooth and not split. This should take no longer than a few minutes. Add chopped thyme and season with salt, blend 10 seconds. Taste

If the dressing is too thick for your liking you can add a few ounces of room temperature water to thin down. If you wish it to be stronger in vinegar taste, add a few more ounces of vinegar and blend.

*when making a fruit vinaigrette, puree the fruit after the mustard/sugar mixture is creamed. Add your oil and flavoured vinegar as per recipe. I also add juice (apple, orange, cranberry etc) instead of water to add flavour.

Making vinaigrettes are easy, fun and your guests will be impressed that you took the time and care when preparing the meal.


Chef Paul, Fresco Café


Do you need to spend a lot of money on a set of knives?

Well, if you are in the profession, it would be highly recommended that you invest in some tools that will with stand the constant abuse and use for 8-10 hours a day.  Like a car mechanic, they also invest in tools that withstand such daily hardships.

For the average foodie or home cook that will use their knives an hour per day tops, you don’t have to invest a lot of money. Now if you ask a knife salesperson, they will absolutely tell that your knives have to be forged steel, full tang, bla bla bla. False!

Let me ask you a question. Does a $200 hockey stick make you a better hockey player? Score more goals…make your shot more accurate? 

Do a $150 pair of basketball shoes make you jump higher…run faster…give you a more accurate jump shot? No…I didn’t think so, although we all seem to get sucked into thinking somehow it does.

Same for knives in a manner of speaking. Now do I think a chef’s (French) knife should be able to bend like a Kuradori? No…It is meant to be stiff and rigid for a reason. You do get what you pay, so I’m not suggesting you go to the dollar store and purchase knives, however the $200 knife will not cut any better than the $30-$50 knife.

What you should have in your knife set at home?

1. Paring knife. Blade is 3-5 inches in length. Not flexible. Used for peeling, small cuts and decorative work

2. Boning knife. Blade is 6-9 inches in length and should be somewhat flexible. Used for trimming of meats, boning of fish and chicken.

3. Chef or French knife. Blade is 10-12 inches in length. Should be stiff. Used for cutting of vegetables and general kitchen use.

4. Serrated knife. Blade is 10-12 inches in length and maybe flexible but does not have to be. Used for cutting breads.

5. Carving knife. Blade is 12-16 inches in length, slender and very flexible. Used only for carving of meats.

 A few knife terms

* TIP. The end of the blade where the point is.

*BUTT. The backend of the knife handle

*TANG. The length of steel that continues back from the blade into the handle. Full tang knife is made from tip to butt. Some less expensive knives save on steel and only give you 1/2 a tang, covering the rest of the handle with plastic. 

*CHOILE. Underneath the handle just before the start of the blade. It would almost appear to look like a safety guard of sorts.

Things you need to know.

There are a few things about knives that won’t change no matter a $200 or a $30 knife.

1) Make sure the knife you purchase feels comfortable in your hand. Don’t over compensate for something by buying the “biggest, baddest” knife on the shelf. It won’t help you. Make sure it “fits” your hand well and the weight is comfortable. I always have a tough time purchasing a French knife because I have large hands. When I “rocker” the knife, my fingers hit the cutting board and I don’t get a clean cut. If this a problem for you, ask for a knife with a large choile.

2) Keep all your knives sharp and well maintained. This will not only ensure accurate knife cuts but less opportunity to slip and cut yourself. I use a “steel’ to buff off the burrs on my knives several times throughout the day. Once they are sharpened professionally, there should be no need to have them done again if you maintain them well. 

3) Most importantly, keep them sanitized at all times. Make sure there is no risk of cross contamination. Always keep your knives cleaned and sanitized before, between and after each use. I personally do not put them through a dishwasher because it increases the chance of cracking the handle cover. I always have a small bucket with sanitizer (changed regularly throughout the day) and constantly wash my knives. The beginning and the end of the day, I wash with warm soap water and then sanitizer to thoroughly clean. 

Happy cutting and remember to keep those fingers out of the way.

Chef Paul 

Fresco Cafe and Catering