Friday, July 16, 2010

Cleo Coyle's Cool and Creamy Peppercorn Dressing

Dang, it's hot here in New York. At this time of year, it always is, and it's never a dry heat. To paraphrase my amateur sleuth, Clare Cosi, it's the kind of relentless city sauna that liquefies every ounce of energy before sucking it right out of you.

What does that mean for this post? Cool and creamy is the order of the day. No, not ice cream. That's Wendy's department. :)

On my menu for you today is a cool and creamy salad dressing.

But first...

I must pause to send a shout-out of Congrats! to my fellow mystery writing cooks: Avery Aames and Riley Adams (aka Elizabeth S. Craig). Both became official national bestselling authors this week.

If you have not yet picked up Avery's THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE and Riley's DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS, then get yourself on over to the bookstore! These (uh-hem) bestselling culinary mysteries are both delightful reads with the fresh, fun voices of two amazing women writers.

Late breaking shout-out. Thanks to Cooking with Ideas, who just posted a review of Roast Mortem, my new Coffeehouse Mystery. To read the "bibliochef's" thoughts on my book, see her fun foodie comments and informative live links, click here.

( I was saying...)

I grew up on really basic salad. Almost every dinner, my mother would mix Regina brand red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a little salt -- that was it. The greens were usually fresh from Dad's garden and we didn't complain. We hardly ever had bottled dressing, either, and (to tell you the truth) I never could get used to the artificial taste of bottled. Still, vinegar and oil every single night became pretty darn boring.

Then, one day, my family dropped in on my uncle's house for dinner. My older cousin had tossed together the salad and, wow, it was fantastic. If you can imagine an eleven year old getting excited about a salad, that was me. Her secret? Dried herbs and freshly ground black pepper--lots of it. Her advice was simple: "Put more pepper on the salad than you think it needs." Over thirty years later, I still heed that advice, which really just comes down to something I've heard professional chefs say: season and re-season.

That pepper advice was also the inspiration for today's recipe: a cool and creamy yet far from bland salad dressing that my husband and I always enjoy in the summer.

The lemon and pepper in this dressing make for a classic combination, and the shaved Pecorino Romano on top finishes the dish with the perfect balance of flavors. It makes almost exactly one cup and has a nice consistency, too--not too thick and not too watery. You can also easily adjust the seasonings to your taste. The pepper can be decreased for a more subtle dressing or upped for a more powerful punch. The garlic can be doubled or eliminated. You can keep the sour cream, mayo, and milk full fat or cut back and use lighter versions. All up to you.

So eat well, stay cool out there, and...

Be sure to stop back next week. Starting Monday, we're celebrating our ONE YEAR BLOGOVERSARY! HURRAH!!

We will have a mystery giveaway every day, a fantastic grand prize for the week, and a wonderful culinary theme to our daily recipes. So come on back now and celebrate with us, y'hear?!

Cleo's Cool
and Creamy
Peppercorn Dressing

Makes 1 cup


1/3 cup olive oil (extra virgin)
1 Tablespoon black pepper, ground coarsely (for a more subtle pepper dressing, reduce to 2 teaspoons)
1 whole garlic clove (2 if you really like garlic)
1/2 cup sour cream (regular or light)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons milk (whole or skim)

2 teaspoons white vinegar (I use white rice vinegar)
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 1 teaspoon)
Kosher or sea salt to taste


Step 1 - Infuse the oil with flavor: Place olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Throw in your whole garlic clove (or 2) and your ground pepper and simmer for about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. (To speed up this process, I transfer everything to an empty bowl; give it about five minutes on the counter then 10 in the fridge.) 

Step 2 – Whisk together your sour cream, mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, and lemon. When your oil has reached room temperature, discard the whole garlic clove (or cloves). Whisk your oil and all of the ground pepper into the creamy mixture. Salt to taste.

Serve chilled over crisp, cold salad greens. Romaine and iceberg pair well with this dressing. Shave Pecorino Romano over the top of the salad. (Parmesean will work nicely, as well.) The sharp, salty flavor of the aged, hard cheese is a beautiful complement to the creamy pepper and lemon on the crisp, cold greens.

Store any leftover dressing in an airtight container in the fridge. It should keep well for several days, so you pull it out on another hot day, and...

Eat with joy!


~Cleo Coyle
author of

To get more recipes ideas or to find out about the books in my nationally bestselling Coffeehouse Mystery series, visit me at my official website:

On Sale
August 3, 2010
Roast Mortem
by Cleo Coyle

Comments for Cleo welcome!
Just hit the "comments" link below...


  1. Ohhh YUM!! This sounds fantastic!

  2. I am going to have to try this tonight for our salad. Everyone was complaining of the same old dressing well not tonight. They are in for a big surprise. Thank you for sharing this.

    Congrats to Avery and Riley!!! I have Avery's new book and will have to check out Rileys. Great job ladies.

  3. Congrats to Avery and Riley!

  4. I know what I'm having for lunch today!! Homemade salad dressings are the best. (Right, Shel?) Looking forward to trying this, this afternoon when I step away from the computer. Not doing too much of that lately LOL!

    Congrats Avery and Riley!! Woo-hoo!!


  5. Your photos and recipe makes me want a salad and I haven't even had breakfast yet (never mind that I don't eat breakfast, unless the coffee counts).

    Congratulations to Riley and Avery. Way to go ladies!

    I can't believe it's been a year since you ladies started. Time flys by way too fast when you're having fun. Congratulations.

    Thoughts in Progress

  6. I love this! And I like that it's adaptable, too. And...I like that I wouldn't have to turn on my stove or oven to make it! Yes, it's hot and humid here, too. Ugh!

    Fresh salad from your dad's garden sounds like a nice addition to your supper table growing up! But I know you were excited to get a different salad when your cousin made it. :)

    Thanks for the congrats!

  7. I am going to be two weeks behind in reading these books. The only bookstore on the island did not receive copies. So, waiting for Amazon, but at least i contributed to the BEST SELLING AUTHORS numbers!

    Can not imagine anything more exciting!

  8. Very timely, Cleo. The garden veggies are getting ripe here and we're eating lots of salads!

    ~ Krista

  9. Love this salad!! Thanks for the shout-out, Cleo!

  10. Cleo and Julie, I added this to my storehouse of go-to recipes, I think I'll have to start alternating this with batches of my Ranch. There's just nothing better than homemade salad dressings!

  11. Replies to -

    @Shel - I remember your ranch dressing! I'm so glad you approve. I'm about dying here in NYC today - so hot and humid, ugh. This salad saved my sanity. No kidding, totally refreshed me.

    @Babs - Great job indeed. Avery and Riley are cookin' out there with their new releases and we are all so proud of them. (Also hope you enjoy the dressing!)

    @Dru - Woot!

    @Julie - You go, girl! I know you've been busy writing. Keep up the work, your fans (me included) are waiting for your next book!

    @Mason - Aw, thanks for the congrats on the blogoversary. And thanks especially for being such a supporter of this blog and our books!

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo

  12. Replies to...

    @Elizabeth - Congrats again to you on the bestseller! I hope you are finding time to celebrate.

    @Dave (A Year on the Grill) - Have to thank you again for your incredible support and enthusiasm for all of us mystery writing cooks over the past year. You are a biblio-grillin' prince.

    @Krista - Could not agree more! Salads rule at this time of year, don't they?

    @Avery - Congrats again to you! We are all so proud of you and Riley.

    @Shel - Lovin' your enthusiasm, thanks for dropping back and my apologies for taking so long to reply!

    ~ Cleo
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. Cleo,
    Mr. Nancy made this today for our supper tonight. It was fabulous!! I considered our dinner a "Mystery Meal" as we also had granitas :-) We had gone to our Farmer's Mkt and found wonderful mixed greens so this dressing was a great complement...wish we had some left for tomorrow but the "boy child" found it and finished it off :-) A compliment to you!!