Category: Test Kitchen

The Great Vinaigrette Challenge

After weeks of preparation, the day of The Great Vinaigrette Challenge has arrived. Finally, we will find out which vinaigrette recipe is better – Julia Child’s Lemon-Oil Dressing or Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette in a Jar.

If you have not read our two preceding posts, here and here, now is the time to go back and review them. You will see why The Great Vinaigrette Challenge is so important to so many serious gourmands.

Come join me and the staff of the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen as we bring together outstanding recipes by two legendary chefs. We will place them in the spotlight. The distinguished Chef Luna will then put both recipes to the test and answer the important question. – Which vinaigrette is better, Julia’s or Jacques’s?

If you are truly a lover of great food, no matter how humble its place in a multi-course meal, The Great Vinaigrette Challenge will make your day.

Great Vinaigrette Challenge Background

Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen

Allow me, first of all, to thank Monsieur Pierre LeChat for all his work on the two preceding posts. He provided the vital background and technical details you need to understand the importance of this challenge. Most importantly, he has shown you that, in the kitchen, “Two different paths can lead to equally fine results.”

Now, it is my turn to share with you how my staff and I organized and conducted The Great Vinaigrette Challenge.

Chef Luna – A Short Curriculum Vitae

Every food-related contest requires a qualified and unbiased judge. The Serendipity Farmhouse test kitchen was most fortunate to have our long-time associate, Chef Luna, volunteer for this duty.

Chef Luna has been cooking from a very early age. At first, she was self-taught, and her cooking style was that of great experimentation. Later on, she took on employment at the Try Thai Restaurant in Front Royal, Virginia. That is where she developed great skills in East Asian cuisines.

Chef Luna

From there, Chef Luna’s career took a very important turn. She was hired by “an award-winning chef trained at the Connecticut Culinary Institute” to work at Christendom College. Working under the mentorship of this highly qualified Executive Chef, her skills and breadth of knowledge have grown and matured.

Yes, our Test Kitchen had found Chef Luna. She would be the perfect judge for The Great Vinaigrette Challenge.

Let The Great Vinaigrette Challenge Begin

This was a blind test. Two identical tossed salads were arranged on the tasting table. One was tossed with Julia’s Lemon-Oil Dressing. The other was tossed with Jacques’s Vinaigrette in a Jar. Only my Hubby knew for sure which was which.

the great vinaigrette challenge

I spent some time with Chef Luna, and we reviewed Persnickety Pierre’s Five Criteria of Excellence. She was asked to place primary focus on the criterion of achieving fine results in taste and flavor. She had worked with Pierre before and embraced his cooking philosophy. Chef Luna declared that she was up to the task and ready to begin.

I had decided we would hold this once-in-a-lifetime event on neutral ground outside of Rappahannock County. A select audience viewed the tasting challenge. Some had come from over 90 miles away. – The room was totally silent as Chef Luna, using her signature chopsticks, took her first taste.

Throughout the tasting, Chef Luna meticulously recorded her impressions. She compared and contrasted the elements of taste and flavor of the two competing vinaigrettes. This chart contains just a few of her notes.

Salad Dressing ASalad Dressing B
Overall, it blends well with the salad.A bit lighter than Dressing A, though neither A nor B is overly heavy.
Flavor that complements the bitterness of the saladDoesn’t complement the salad as well as Dressing A
There are citrus notes, lemony.Also has slight citrus notes.
A garlic-like elementSaltier than Dressing A.
More vinegary.
Some of Chef Luna’s Tasting Notes

Chef Luna Determines the Winner

great vinaigrette challenge

Chef Luna spent just a bit over five minutes tasting, comparing, recording, and finally deciding. Without hesitation, she had decided on a winner. – – – It was Salad Dressing A!

Immediately, the entire audience rocked the room in a single voice with the question, “Whose recipe is Salad Dressing A?

I came to the front of the tasting table and began to make an announcement. But, as I started to speak, my Hubby began to gesticulate in an odd manner. He wanted to speak to me. I quietly stepped to the side of the room and conferred with my Hubby. He knew I didn’t want to get this wrong. So, he whispered in my ear. I thanked him and turned to face the anxious audience again. – – “It is my distinct pleasure to inform you that the winner of the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen Great Vinaigrette Challenge is … the winner is – Julia Child!

The audience jumped to their feet as Chef Luna invited them all up to the tasting table to sample from each of the salads. Some liked Salad Dressing A. Some thought Salad Dressing B was better. – Would the judge change her mind?


Yes, there was an official decision. And Chef Luna had no reservations. She would not second guess herself. Her decision will stand.

As Pierre LeChat had said, “Two different paths can lead to equally fine results.” So, even though there is an official decision, you should hold a vinaigrette challenge in your own home. Let your family decide the question: Which vinaigrette is better, Julia’s or Jacques’s? Both recipes are listed below.

If you’ve enjoyed this series of posts, please make a comment below. If you want to have some more light-hearted culinary adventures, join up and be an e-mail follower.

make a vinaigrette.

Julia's Lemon-Oil Dressing


  • 1 Tbs minced shallots or scallions
  • 2 tsp Dijon-style prepared mustard
  • 2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • About ¼ tsp salt or more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup excellent olive oil


  • Put the minced scallions, mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small mixing bowl and whisk until well blended.
  • Pour in the oil slowly, in droplets at first, and then in a thin stream, whisking constantly until the oil has been completely emulsified and the dressing has thickened.
  • Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  • Use immediately; if the dressing separates while standing, whisk to blend.


Jacques's Vinaigrette in a Jar


  • A 12-ounce glass jar with a screwtop lid


  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 2 Tbs Dijon-style mustard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup red- or white-wine vinegar
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil or a mixture of the two


  • Put all the ingredients in the jar, screw on the lid, and shake very well.
  • Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more oil or vinegar, as you like.
  • Store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks, and shake to blend before using.


Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Julia’s?

You want to make a vinaigrette for your guests. It has to be just right, but you’re running out of time. What do you do?

In our last post, we saw how Julia Child makes her Lemon-Oil Dressing. Now, you are going to learn how Jacques Pépin makes his classic Vinaigrette in a Jar. Jacques takes a different approach than does Julia. Although he uses many of the same ingredients, the proportions for those ingredients bear no resemblance to Julia’s.

Come join the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen as we recreate Jacques’s recipe. In this second post of a three-part series, we focus on development of superior taste and flavor. The reason for this will become abundantly clear in our next post. It will be then that Chef Luna, in a blind test, will answer for us this most important question.

Which vinaigrette is better? – Jacques’s or Julia’s?

Continue reading “Jacques Pépin’s Vinaigrette – Is It Better than Julia’s?”

Pimento Cheese IHO Mom

February is my Mom’s birthday month. When I think of the best of Southern tradition and style, and sometimes sassiness, that was my Mom. She was filled with a joy for life and good food. One of her favorite dishes was Southern-style pimento cheese. Perhaps that’s why it is one of my favorites as well.

So, let me share with you the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen adaptation of QUEENREYNEY’s version of Southern Pimento Cheese.

Test Results & Commentary

I’ve been using this adapted recipe for many years now. The purpose of this test kitchen event was to document the process while honoring my Mom on her birthday. – Once again, this recipe distinguished itself, as you can see by my smile of satisfaction

As is our standard operating procedure (SOP), I adhered to Persnickety Pierre’s Test Kitchen Philosophy. Also, I want to thank Hubby for his admirable assist in this test.

1. Level of the challenge:

This recipe confronts even the most stouthearted of chefs with a great challenge. What might that be? A chef can turn to the wisdom of practical experience to resolve most cooking dilemmas. However, there is not a one of us who dares to solve the riddle of proper spelling in the English language. After all, English has adopted so many foreign words and there is no authority in existence that can competently standardize two competing spellings.

And, Peeps, so it is with this simple recipe. I dare say that there is not a person among you, who can say for sure whether the proper spelling for those minced red bits in this dish is ‘pimento cheese’ or ‘pimiento cheese’. If you really think you can, please feel free to make a comment at the end of this post. – For now, I am taking Mr. Monte’s word and using ‘pimento cheese’ throughout this post.

2. Selection of good-quality ingredients:

Hubby forgot to add the salt and pepper shakers to this staging of ingredients. There’s nothing required for this recipe that can’t be found in your local grocery store. Many substitutions will work just fine with this recipe, with one huge exception. My Mom told us girls: “Never use anything except Hellman’s Mayo!”

3. Use of cooking techniques:

This is not cooking. This is just mixing of ingredients once they are prepped. My trusty Proctor-Silex 3 hand mixer was more than adequate for the job. Things can get a little messy, so I put the mixing bowl in the sink to keep the mess to a minimum.

4. Development of superior taste and flavor:

Don’t be afraid to use two or more jalapeños in this dish. The cream cheese tends to reduce the overall spiciness. The use of extra-sharp, sharp ,or mild cheddar cheese is up to you. It’s good to know your guests’ preferences beforehand. Although the recipe calls for garlic powder, to me, fresh, minced garlic is superior.

5. Presentation

If the occasion is a high tea, this dish can be presented in many delightful ways. Nothing is too fancy for a high tea!

Pimento cheese is so easy to prepare, you can serve it almost anytime with crackers for a light lunch. Even better, you can store it in the fridge and it can make an encore performance two or three days later.

I must extend my thanks and appreciation to Mr. Monte for his assistance in the SFH Test Kitchen and in drafting this post. He is a font of wisdom when selecting the best ingredients. He can sniff out a bad garlic clove at 30 feet. Also, he has no peers when it comes to English language spelling rules.

pimento chees

Southern Pimento Cheese

Pimento cheese was one of my Mom's favorites. She would have appreciated how this versatile recipe can be used in sandwiches and as a spread for crackers. I find it is a perfect dish to serve at tea parties with my girls.
Prep Time 15 mins
Total Time 15 mins
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Servings 12
Calories 208 kcal


  • 1 Stand mixer – We used an electric hand mixer


  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese – We use mild cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces cream cheese softened
  • ½ cup mayonnaise – We recommend Hellman's
  • 1 4 ounce jar diced pimento, drained
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded and minced (Optional) – We use 2 peppers
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder – We use fresh, minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper – Optional
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • salt and black pepper to taste


  • Place Cheddar cheese, cream cheese, mayonnaise, pimento, minced jalapeño, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and onion powder in a large bowl.
  • Mix until thoroughly combined. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
    pimento cheese
Keyword Pimento Cheese, Pimiento Cheese, Southern-style pimento cheese

SFH-TK SKills – Herbs

Hi! Blondie here with a mix of garden and food talk.

In this post we will discuss how the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen (SFH-TK) is mastering herb skills. So, come join me on the back porch and let’s talk about what’s going on.

Although Mr. Monte would probably disagree, my dear Hubby is greatly underrated when it comes to practical skills and  long-range planning. – – Well, come to think of it, sometimes Monte’s low opinion concerning Fuzzy’s skills is spot-on. – – Whatever. This year, Hubby did have some good ideas relating to herbs and spices that have led to improvements for the SFH-TK.

I guess his long-range plan began to come into focus this time last year when he decided to give me a set of herb and spice bottles for Christmas. When I opened the rather large box containing the 48 little bottles, all I managed to say was, “Just what am I supposed to do with these?” He merely answered, “You’ll see.” – – And so I did in early March when Hubby installed two sets of herb and spice storage racks, one set for the kitchen and one for the pantry. (See the item Bringing Order to a Real Mess in the post Spring is Here! (Meteorologically speaking))

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next step in his plan was to improve our ability to grow herbs by preparing an entirely new herb garden in SFH Vegetable Garden #2. (See the item Part I – The Herb Garden Gardens in the post Feast Day Garden Talk)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Throughout the growing season, Hubby could be found gazing into his crystal ball (his computer and the Internet) looking for the best information sources needed to complete his master plan. That’s when he started collecting articles, items, and notes from places like the National Center for Home Food Preservation. From these resources he learned how to dry herbs. A big part of his master plan was to dehydrate some of our new crops of Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, and Tarragon and to become self-sufficient in these frequently used herbs. He thought this would be possible because all four herbs are perennials and we won’t have plant any new ones for some time. His newfound knowledge highlighted distinctions between the various types of herbs that would help him in selecting the best combinations of dehydrating times and temperatures. For example, he learned:

Less Tender Herbs —  Include rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory and parsley – these are easier to dry

Tender-Leaf Herbs — Include basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm and the mints – these have a high moisture content and will mold if not dried quickly

When the pressure from the main growing season subsided, Hubby had the time to pursue the task of perfecting his SFH-TK herb dehydrating skills. For a period of two weeks, every day was filled with either picking, dehydrating, or storing our herbs. Although he learned that it is better to store some herbs whole, that is not ground, he did experiment with grinding herbs using a make-do mortar and pestle. Here are pictures of the process and the results. Sometime in the future, I’ll let Hubby go into more detail. – – For now, however, let’s just say Hubby actually had a plan that worked.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Don’t Rest on Your Laurels, Hubby

Hubby was a bit overly proud of his new dehydrating skills. Consequently, Mr. Monte and I had to bring him down a peg or two. So, I took the opportunity to tell him that it was time to replace my special flashing light display on the back porch. Reluctantly, he set up the step ladder, climbed to dizzying and dangerous heights (for him) and proceeded to install the new lights. — Fortunately, there were no accidents and surprisingly the lights worked the first night.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

First Fire of the Season

First fire of the year – November 13

Now it’s getting a bit cold out here on the porch. It’s time to go back inside and warm up. I’ve asked Hubby to light a fire in our trusty old wood stove. While he’s doing that I’ll make some hot chocolate for the two of us.

Once again, it was the best harvest ever! – No, we’re not preppers; we’re not homesteaders; and we’re not farmers. We’re just a happily married couple living rural life in a practical way. – It’s all a great blessing.

SFH Gardens – By the Numbers

The extensive and highly productive vegetable gardens here at SFH have been blessed with a most abundant harvest. For now, the following links will catch you up with what has been planted, harvested, and preserved since our last report:

SFH 2022 Plantings

SFH 2022 Harvest

SFH 2022 Preserving

SFH WX Station Report – Monthly: 

SFH WX 2022-11-01 through 11-30


SFH TK Renovation – Feature #1

What can happen in a 13.50 x 11.25 foot room in the course of 95 years? Of course, the possibilities are endless. In the case of what is now the Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, let’s consider what the realities might have been:

  • 1927 (or thereabouts) – The kitchen was a barebones cooking space. There were few cupboards. There was no electricity. The only known water well was in the front yard, so water had to be carried to the kitchen. A probable wood cookstove dominated the southern end of the room which vented to a chimney that remains standing to this day.
  • The hidden period – The Millers owned the house and several relatives and/or apple orchard workers moved in and out. Electricity finally arrived, an electric pump for the well brought water into the kitchen. The woodstove was replaced, likely with an electric range.
  • 1978-1987 – The Millers sold the house to the Settles. During the next nine years, the kitchen was ‘modernized’, cabinets and storage space was increased dramatically.
  • 1987-2000 – The Wyants bought the house and probably added some of their own touches.
  • 2000-2009 – The Crosleys owned the house during this period. They were responsible for a number of innovations and improvements in the kitchen. The refrigerator was moved from its rather awkward position at the northwest corner of the kitchen to the northeast corner of the kitchen. This was a good move for several reasons, but it caused the loss of quite a bit of cabinet and counter space. Big improvements included, using paint to make the room brighter, installing black granite countertops, the introduction of a beautiful farm sink, and adding hardwood floors.
  • 2009-2013 – The Grainers made relatively few changes to the kitchen, but they were responsible for many major projects throughout the house and the addition of two new sheds.
  • 2013- Present – Keeping the best of what had come before and looking forward to the arrival of the next occupants, we, the staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH TK have renovated the kitchen, bringing it into the 21st Century while maintaining a memory or two from 1927.

And my dear Friends, I Pierre LeChat, working under the inspiration and guidance of SFH TK Executive Chef Blondie, have now brought you to a level of historical knowledge that will enable you to understand the importance of each and every feature of the renovation as I presented it to you in my post Oh Yes, it is!. And for the first feature to be discussed, I have chosen the one that is perhaps closest to Chef Blondie’s heart: The Custom Corner Cabinet.

You now know that cabinet storage space and counter space were sacrificed when the refrigerator was moved from its very awkward and inefficient location in the northwest corner. The SFH TK had placed a movable cabinet there with a microwave on top. Storage was minimal to say the least. The picture below will give you an idea of how much storage space has been recovered with the advent of the new cabinet.

The new kitchen storage configuration

Great attention was paid to the design and construction of the new cabinet. Mr. Monte inspected every facet of the cabinet to ensure that it met the highest SFH TK standards. Every step along the way, he consulted with me and with the contractors, pointing out minor imperfections and never allowing work to resume until all discrepancies were corrected.

Then came the day when the paint was dry. All that was left was for Chef Blondie to add the finishing touches. Not a single piece of kitchenware or any item was put in place until she gave her go-ahead.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.