Sunday, April 9, 2017

Oh, Caesar, Bring Me Your Dressing!

For years I've wanted to find the perfect (and authentic) Caesar dressing, so I developed my own. I've had it at two restaurants outside of San Francisco. I mention San Francisco because everywhere I've had a Caesar salad there, well, it's been outstanding. It's one of the easiest recipes, but you will need a food processor. A blender just won't work as well. If you have a small processor, make half of this recipe.

Caesar dressing is underwhelming to look at. It's brownish and uninspiring, but--BUT--it is quite another expression when you taste it! The salad is easy enough, but easy isn't always a simple as opening a bag of pre-washed lettuce with the cheese and croutons included. No. You buy the Romaine whole, tear off the leaves, wash and set in a colander to drain the excess water, then wrap it all up in a cloth towel and place in the refrigerator for a few hours. This brings the lettuce up a notch in the crisp and refreshing department. The croutons? Get a loaf of French or Italian bread, cut into cubes and place on a baking sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with your hands. Place on the middle rack of a 350F oven and cook until the bread cubes are lightly browned and very crisp. The cheese? Your best bet is to grab a nice chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and use a vegetable peeler to shave off the amount that you want. I always want a lot.


2 (2 oz) cans anchovies 
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped 
2 t. dijon mustard 
1 whole egg and one egg yolk, coddled if you wish * 
2 dashes hot sauce (I use a lot more)
juice of two lemons (1/4 cup) 
1 T. red wine vinegar 
1/2 t. Worcestershire sauce 
2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil 
Typically, the same cheese with which you finish the salad is also added to the dressing. I don't do that. I find that what I add to the salad is more than enough.

As much Parmigiano-Regianno cheese as you wish
2 heads romaine lettuce 
croutons (oh, go on, make your own) 

Process all of the ingredients except for the oil. Once everything is in a loose paste-like consistency, slowly drizzle in about 1/4 of the oil while continuing to process. Now you can speed up from drizzling to pouring. You'll notice that the dressing has emulsified and is a bit thick. Refrigerate at once. 

To assemble the salad, tear the lettuce into a huge bowl, add the cheese, drizzle with the dressing and toss well. Serve with extra cheese and top with croutons. 

*Some recipes recommend doing this in order to ensure a bacteria-free egg. I've tried it, but cannot say that it's worth the extra effort. I've made mayonnaise and aioli and never "treated" the egg. Please use your own judgment. To coddle the eggs, drop them into a pot of boiling water for 30 seconds and remove. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Elegant Meal & Casual Dining

When I think of an elegant meal, my mind goes directly to lobster, not because of the expense as you might imagine. For me, it's because of the subtle sweetness and delicate texture of the meat and the seasonal availability. You want lobster? You have to wait until it's lobster season. It's also because, while there aren't many steps in procuring the meat from the shell, there is a skill to adding just enough salt to the cooking water and cooking the whole lobster just long enough. Just long enough takes much effort and many failed attempts. By the time your pure and simply delicious lobster meat is on a plate, it's one of the most elegant meals you'll ever experience! Whip up a garlic-basil aioli by adding two tablespoons of chopped fresh basil to this basic recipe by Martha Stewart, or combine 1 cup Duke's Mayonnaise with a very finely chopped garlic clove and two tablespoons of finely chopped fresh basil. Either one makes an excellent flavor companion for the lobster.

The only thing that makes this elegant meal better is that you don't have to eat it in a formal environment. Dining room table, pearls and tuxedos are optional. While you may certainly use good china, linen napkins and "the good glasses" for you wine, you can take this dining experience down a notch and enjoy it all on a picnic excursion by the lake or on your patio under a brightly colored umbrella. This elegant meal may be enjoyed in the most casual manner, even going so far as to use fingers instead of forks.

And what do with the leftovers? Gather them up in a bowl, squeeze lemon juice over the top, stir in a little of the garlic-basil mayonnaise (or aioli) and a teeny bit of finely chopped celery. Now you've got a fabulous lobster roll filling! Can you say, lobster round two?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Creamy Carrot Soup

This is a very short story about how I develop new recipes. It includes my newest recipe.

Situation: So, one day, you have a lot of carrots that you need to use before they spoil. Yes, they're good for the compost bin, but I don't usually shop for composting ingredients. I prefer, instead, to shop for dinner and lunch ingredients.

Solution: On this particular day, I had 2 lbs of carrots, some green onions (scallions), red and yellow peppers, and 2 beets. I always have onions, garlic, canned goods and an assortment of spices, so I began with what became the first step of my recipe. I peeled, cut and roasted the carrots with an onion and garlic. Next, I pureed everything and stirred in water (you can use chicken stock) and a few spices. Because my mind had wandered to Asian-inspired spices, I also used sesame oil and a can of coconut milk. After tasting and adjusting for salt, I realized that the soup was lacking balance and excitement, so I added lime juice for brightness, a tiny bit of sugar and a little chili-garlic paste.

Now we're talking!

Savoring: The only thing I needed was a garnish. Send in the chopped peppers and scallions and the julienned beets. What a great color contrast! An orange canvas with red and yellow and green bits and shreds of ruby red in the center. Creamy Carrot Soup--good looking and delicious!

Here We Go:
2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut into equal pieces (about an inch or so)
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 large cloves garlic (skin on)
salt & pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I just drizzle a generous amount over everything)

Roast everything at 400F for about 45 minutes. Toss once during roasting to ensure even caramelization (the little burned looking bits). Remove from oven and allow to cool. Throw everything into a pot and puree with a hand/immersion blender. (If you only have a traditional blender, wait until everything has cooled, pour it all into the jar along with half of the water or chicken stock listed below. Blend, then pour into a pot.)

Stir in the following with a slotted spoon or a whisk:
3 t. chili-garlic paste
1/8 c. sugar
2 t. curry powder
1/4 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. cumin
1/4 t. turmeric
1/4 t. ginger powder
4 c. water or chicken stock
1 (19 oz) can coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime

Stir over medium-high heat until everything is heated through thoroughly. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a mix of red and orange finely chopped peppers and sliced scallions. Dress the center of each bowl with a large pinch of raw julienned beets.

I peel the beets, hold from the stalk end and shave on a mandoline. Then I gather a few slices and slice across into long, thin strips.