Salad with vinaigrette
I entertain a lot, which means that four or five days a week I'm either dining out at a restaurant or inviting friends to my apartment for a home-cooked or store-bought improvised meal. I like to combine textures, temperatures, and colors, and I make a point of serving my guests a variety of fresh, crisp salads, wintry greens, and grilled fish or chicken. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to eliminate once and for all the labor of making salad dressing from scratch every dinner.

Colin's Vinaigrette is my solution: It's a great basic recipe that can be adapted a hundred different ways. I make a big batch on Sunday nights and keep it in a squeeze bottle in my refrigerator to use all week (it lasts longer chilled than at room temperature). At dinnertime I run the bottle under warm water for a minute, give it a shake, and it's ready to go.

The key to a great salad dressing is using the proper amount of olive oil in relation to vinegar. My ideal ratio is four parts oil to one part vinegar (or lemon juice or whatever else you use as your acidic flavor). If you want a lighter dressing, substitute vegetable oil. If you want something with a nutty taste, try a little hazelnut or walnut oil. And if you want an unsurpassed, extra dose of decadence, splurge on some white truffle oil!

For flavoring I believe in adding generous amounts of salt and pepper, plus good-quality Dijon mustard and a finely chopped shallot, though here, too, the options are infinite. If you prefer your dressing more pungent and hearty, add a clove of minced garlic instead of shallots. If you want to sweeten things up, sprinkle in a half tablespoon of sugar or honey. Puree an artichoke heart or add some Stilton cheese for a richer, creamier dressing. Let what you're serving guide your choices—and don't limit yourself to salad greens. I use my vinaigrette as a glaze for baked and barbecued chicken, a wonderful marinade for shrimp, and a sauce to drizzle over grilled seafood. It adds a zesty touch to winter greens, lentils, and more. The versatility of this handy, foolproof vinaigrette borders on the magical and will make anyone feel like a superchef. Adjust seasonings as desired, shake, and you've got four parts delicious to one part fabulous.

Get the recipe for Colin Cowie's versatile vinaigrette