Heavy cream is useful.

Of course I did not grow up in a household where heavy cream was a kitchen staple, because no one cooked seriously in our household, and on the rare occasions we needed whipped cream, we purchased a can of the totally awesome Reddi-Wip, which was not only good to eat but crazy fun to dispense. Now that I am who I am, however, there are often occasions when I need heavy cream for cooking, and so I’d say 50% of the time, if you open our fridge, you’ll find a carton of heavy cream around.

I have very strong feelings about what brands of heavy cream are acceptable. I am very loyal to Farmer’s Cow heavy cream, which I feel is both high quality and affordable. Anything with weird gums added to it is not acceptable, but I admit that we wind up with it in the house a fair amount because that’s what’s easiest to find. Stuff from Smyth’s Trinity Farm or Arethusa Dairy Farm is also wonderful, but it’s a lot more expensive. Basically, I raise or lower my standards depending on what I’m planning to use the cream in, and I can live with that. Right now we’ve got a carton of the medium-undistinguished-but-okay Guida heavy cream. I bought it to make something very specific a few days ago, and I made it, but now I can’t recall what it was. Oh: whipped cream, to go with strawberry shortcake.

I only whipped up about 3/4 of a cup of the cream that night, so right now we’ve got a fair amount of it in the fridge waiting to be used up. If I haven’t used it in a day or so, I will pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze it, because I’ve learned that adding a cube or two of cream to a number of things is a very good idea (more on that later, some day), but in the meantime, last night I had a small heavy cream epiphany.

I had had a very complicated day. Usually when this happens I try very hard to ensure that even if the day is very busy, by four o’clock or five o’clock — 6 p.m. at the latest — I am at home and organizing dinner. That did not happen yesterday. What did happen was that in the one hour and fifteen minutes when I was home, mid-day, I had the presence of mind to assemble and bake a meatloaf and wash a lot of Romaine lettuce and arugula, so that when my daughter and husband and I all got home between 6.30 and 7 o’clock, it wouldn’t be too difficult to assemble dinner. All we’d have to do is reheat the meatloaf — if we felt like it — and assemble a salad. (Yes, I forgot about the starch aspect of the meal. More on that momentarily.)

So at 6.30 my daughter and I were on a bus headed home after a long afternoon downtown and I was texting my husband saying “we’re on the bus, we’ll be home soon” and he wrote back to ask if he should heat up the meatloaf; he’d just gotten home. I said Sure, and added, “I just realized I forgot to prep a starch. You could put on a pot of rice maybe.” When we got home, fifteen minutes later, the meatloaf was heating gently in the oven and a pot of instant mashed potatoes was being assembled on the stovetop: all was well. Except I’d also forgotten about making salad dressing.

We’ve been eating a lot of salads lately, which is most unlike me. I generally take a hard stance against salads: I think they’re a waste of time. Rabbit food. I don’t care. But because my daughter turns out to love lettuces of all types, so long as they’re not too bitter, I’ve gotten in the habit of serving them. Usually I just throw on some oil and vinegar and call it a day, but sometimes I get a little more ambitious. Last night, my interest was not in being ambitious, but avoiding the same old oil and vinegar thing again. I opened the fridge to see what I might have that would make a nice salad dressing and I saw the heavy cream and I thought, “Well, I could make some kind of creamy salad dressing for a change?”

I took a bowl and poured in maybe a quarter cup of cream, and then I began to whip it. When it started to thicken, I put in a teaspoon of garlic powder, a little cayenne, some salt, and a splash of tomato vinegar, and I kept whipping. In about 30 seconds we had a thick but pourable salad dressing that was really, really delicious, strong enough to stand up to the arugula I’d snuck into the salad bowl (my daughter carefully picked it out and gave it to her father). It was so delicious that after the salad was gone, my husband folded some of the dressing into his mashed potatoes. It took almost no effort to make this salad dressing and it tasted like it required planning and real expertise: in other words, this was a very good trick to have figured out. I don’t know what took me so long. It’s obviously totally 101, but I guess sometimes it’s the really obvious stuff that slips by us.

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