Friday, July 4, 2014

Hail Caesar! And Hello Again!

Missed me? You missed me. You totally missed me. I missed you! But there's been to live. And blogging takes a backseat.

Also: I was an angsty type teenager blogger. And the only conflict in my life has been THE WEDDING and that goes away in two weeks (!!!!!!) (registered at Macy's and Amazon. Just in case you were wondering. wink wink nudge nudge) and while I have SO MANY thoughts on that, I don't want to bore you with all those thoughts or with whining about my VERY FANCY wedding. I mean. I just sound like an asshole then, right? But trust me: SO MUCH angst around that.

Other than that: I have a real adult job that requires my brain power and then I get home and vow to work out and sit on the couch and watch bad TV and don't work out and make out with the boy because he's great and that's all boring domesticity and NO ONE CARES.

And weirdly, I really truly not at all don't miss nights that are debauched and end up with me making out with some guy whose name I don't know after wasting my intellect at Bar None. This current version of my life is nice. In a not at all boring and we still learn a lot about each other, but are mostly on the same page kind of way. Who knew I'd choose this someday? NOT ME! Which takes some reconciling, to be fair. The kind of life I thought I'd have with the one I have and very much like but didn't expect. Blah blah blah other plans blah.

And as SF becomes more and more full of tech type assholes, I don't even miss it there. You know what the Central Valley doesn't have that SF does, besides tech assholes? MY FAMILY. For the first time in the entirety of remembered history, I spent my recent birthday doing EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED. Do you know what that was? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I came home from work. I had some wine. *I* made dinner. I didn't have to go out and have insipid conversation with relatives I didn't choose because that's what you're supposed to do. And do you know what else? I may have told a fib about what I did. My mom called and asked how the dinner I had told her we were going out to was and I told her it was great because I didn't want to explain that after a very stressful work & person life week, I didn't feel like sitting through a meal at a nice restaurant. So I fibbed. So she'd be happy. And I'VE never been happier about all these decisions. Things are good! And also not good, because the wedding. But I'll save that for another time.

Anyway, that's a quick update on where things are.

And now, because it's 104 out here (real temp), which doesn't even make swimming in the complex pool any fun, I am sitting inside on the 4th of July drinking Corona (and don't you dare judge that beer choice). And I got to thinking about food and such.

This actually started with the boy, who writes about the CFL for work, letting me know that one of the CFL analysts also has a FoodNetwork Canada show. Our analysts barely speak English. This guy has a dual career. I thought that was hilarious.

It was then that it occurred to me that the famous family Caesar salad recipe is from a Food Network (Canada) show.

I was always loath to share the Caesar salad recipe because it was OUR family's. I realize the silliness of that when it's adapted from a chef with a cookbook and a FoodNetwork (America's Hat) show, but...ya know... It's the family party trick. It makes us special because we are the ONLY ones who can do it.

However, I don't live near most of you now. (Or anyone. Except cows. Lots and lots of cows.) So I thought I would share it with you. With usual Lisa wordy commentary. Make it for all your parties. It looks like you're working really hard and it's really impressive when really you're mashing some stuff in a bowl. It's the end result that everyone loves that's the impressive part.

Link to Bob Blumer's recipe here.  It's reprinted below and then added on to with my comments in italics. (He actually does a pretty good job. Which I still improved on.) 

3 thick slices of slightly stale, sourdough or rustic country-style bread,
3 Tbsp olive oil 

Caesar Salad
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves
3 anchovies, or 1 heaping teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tsp 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
5 Tbsp safflower or canola oil1/3 cup olive oil (see notes below)
1 ½ tsp red wine vinegar
1 large head romaine lettuce, washed and trimmed. If lettuce looks anorexic, or is in need of a serious trim, buy 2 heads.
1 ½ cup croutons
½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and add olive oil. Toss and squish the bread like a sponge until the oil is evenly absorbed.
3. Place the croutons on a baking sheet or aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 20 watchful minutes, or until golden brown. Turn once or twice. Try not to forget about them in the oven—as I often do. 

Okay. So. This part I'm going to revise substantially. We do a whole loaf of San Francisco sourdough. Usually a batard from Acme or Boudin, who will give you a free loaf a month if you buy something else stupid at their store. A FREE LOAF OF BREAD! People in the midwest would (or should) kill for that. Take your sourdough batard (and yes, sourdough, what kind of monster are you?) and cut it into bite sized cubes. Place cubes on your standard cookie sheet in a 200 to 250 degree oven. While those are getting dried out in the oven, take a whole head of garlic, peel all the cloves, and press into your wooden Caesar salad bowl. (I reject immediately the notion that you don't have a wooden Caesar salad bowl.) Add a cup and a half of olive oil (estimated because I never measure this stuff). Once your bread cubes are sufficiently dried out, or you've gotten tired of waiting for them to dry out, take them out of the oven and toss them all in the olive oil garlic mixture. If they seem super dry, add a bit more oil. If they seem SUPER oily, drain off the excess into a tupperware to use later for whatever the hell you want, because delicious olive oil infused with garlic. Put coated in oil bread cubes back in your 200-250 oven and have a glass of wine. Toss them with a spatula. Have another glass of wine. Toss with spatula. Wine. Take out of oven when golden brown/impatience has set in. 

If you want to do a higher temperature, you are more than welcome to. Just know that nothing will ruin your evening like burning the shit out of croutons. So if you do a higher temperature, check like the paranoid parent of a newborn on the oven. Take done croutons out of the oven and set to the side. If you're at this point starving and can't wait the ten minutes it takes to do the rest of this, shred some parm over the warm croutons and devour. I've said if I ever own a bar, warm croutons with parm will be my bar snack. Croutons are also delicious on their own. You will have to slap peoples hands who will walk through the kitchen all nonchalant like and try to stealthily eat them without getting caught, but are not nearly as stealthy as they think they are. *eyes my mother* 

You're obviously not going to eat all the croutons all at once (unless you're hosting a big dinner party, and then you may make this recipe x6 and you will). If you aren't, put them in a storage container of some sort and the NEXT time you go to make Caesar, you can skip the crouton part and everything gets easier. I actually double the dressing recipe and put the reserve in the fridge so that I have it on hand on busy weekdays. Grill some chicken and throw it in and voila! "Healthy" salad dinner with no fuss!
Caesar Salad
1. Add salt and pepper to the salad bowl (this creates a sandpaper-like base that will make the next steps easier). I use lots and lots of fresh course ground pepper. I like mine peppery. I don't have a real ability to taste when things are salty so I go light on the salt. The anchovy also adds lots of salt flavor so I tend to go lighter with the actual salt. Add the garlic. Oh! We almost always double this recipe. It comes out slightly different every. damn. time you make it. And we've been making it for years. It's amazing. Now: I'm from SF. We LOVE garlic. But go light here. You've gonna wake up the morning after and taste nothing but garlic. Better to be conservative here. My dad has been known to use so much garlic the salad is damn near inedible. Don't do that. 3 cloves for a single serving of the recipe is about right. Don't do more than 6. I go less than 6 even if I double the recipe. You want garlic taste without people thinking you're trying to ward off Dracula. Use the tines of a fork to smash up the garlic, then use the back of a soup spoon to grind the garlic against the wall of the bowl until it is thoroughly pulverized. Seriously? We all own garlic mashers. Just mash it in there. Then use the back of the spoon to blend. Add anchovy and once again use the back of the spoon to grind it into a paste. I use paste because it lasts longer in my fridge. You may think you hate anchovies. You don't. They have an amazing flavor in this. Follow the same procedure, adding the Dijon, egg yolk, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce one at a time. Yep. Do that. Mash em all in one by one. Feel like you're the original Caesar in Tijuana making it for your fancy hotel guests and remember that this salad has NOTHING to do with Italy. Make sure that each ingredient is fully incorporated into the previous ingredients before proceeding. It should take about 15 seconds of muscle power to blend in each new ingredient. I doubt the order of things really matters, but I do mine slightly different than his: salt & pepper, garlic, anchovy paste, egg yolk, lemon, mustard, worcestershire sauce. In case you care.

2. Add the oil and vinegar. Blend well.  What? That's just madness. Add the vinegar, fully incorporate into the previous ingredients THEN add the oil last. Again, I truly doubt this makes a difference does in my mind and why would you put the oil first? On the vinegar: My dad uses balsamic vinegar. I like the acidity of red wine vinegar. It is absolutely 100% your call.

3. Tear or slice the lettuce into bite-size pieces and add to the salad bowl. Toss thoroughly with dressing. Lol who tears lettuce? Once when I was in college I saw one of Alton Brown's shows about how we weren't gonna damage hearty lettuces like romaine by chopping them and not tearing them. I have saved myself many hours since that moment by choosing to chop and rinse hearts rather than to tear them. Life is short, man. Chop your lettuce.

4. Add the croutons and cheese, toss again, and serve immediately. Go heavy on cheese and use a proportional amount of croutons. I like to actually have lettuce in my salad. I have scolded my dad for making panzanella (Italian for "bread salad") and not Caesar with how many croutons he adds. PROPORTIONAL. The cheese, however, can get a bit lost in the dressing. If you're gonna go heavy anywhere, go heavy there. The cheese will also stick to the side of the bowl. Use a good rubber spatula when dishes it out to make sure people get some. Or grate it over the top of each plate for a lovely presentation.

As with any of my recipes that I have written about before, the better the ingredients, the better the end result. Go buy good bread. Go buy the expensive top grade parmesan. Use good lettuce. (Did I tell you when I moved to the valley and bought farmers market romaine and what a freaking revelation that was over store bought? WHO KNEW?! If that's an option, do that too.)

1. If you don’t have a rough wooden salad bowl, the dressing can be made (with some sacrifice) in a blender or food processor: Add the salt, pepper, garlic, anchovy, Dijon, lemon juice, and Worcestershire. Purée. Add the oil and vinegar and pulse several times. Then add yolk and pulse a couple of times—just enough to blend it without causing the dressing to turn mayonnaisey. I disagree here. Why are you using a blender? I know I rejected the idea that you didn't have a wooden bowl, and maybe that was a bit flip, but use a standard ceramic bowl if need be. Hell, use your melamine mixing bowl that I know you all have. DON'T use your blender. Look. I'm gonna get cheesy here (no pun intended): but in our family the joke, not at all a joke, about the Caesar salad is that it's made with love. Pay attention to this recipe. Treat it with respect. Make it for those you care about. Take time to blend the ingredients by hand and make fresh made croutons and people will love you for it. Don't effing use a blender. 

2. If you are serving your salad to anyone over 100 years-old or to anyone with a compromised immune system, coddle your eggs to diminish the risks involved in using raw egg yolks: Begin with a properly refrigerated egg. Submerge the whole egg in a pot of boiling water for exactly 40 seconds, then remove from the water, crack, and separate the yolk from the white. I guess. He says so. If you have people super squicked out by eggs, fine. I just don't tell anyone I used raw egg yolk and go about my life. What they don't know...
3. I find that the flavor of olive oil overwhelms the dressing so I use safflower oil. Other light vegetable oils or a light olive oil may be substituted. I disagree. Olive oil is fine. HOWEVER! I've been known to run out of olive oil. Using some other light oil is fine in that instance. Again: your call. But I feel far better about shoving olive oil down my gob than vegetable oil. If it was good enough for the Romans sitting under trees discussing life eating this salad, it's good enough for me! (I'm kidding. About the Romans part. I remember above when I said it was first invented in Tijuana.)
4. The lettuce leaves should be coated, but not soaked, in dressing. To play it safe, remove and reserve one third of the dressing from the bowl before tossing the salad. Then add back as necessary until your salad is “dressed” appropriately. This is good advice. Like I said, I usually double the recipe, remove everything but a mere sheen from my special Caesar salad bowl, throw in the lettuce, toss, and add dressing as desired. You want it coated, not drowning Which is actually true of any salad but that's a longer discussion for another time. 

Alright. That's all I got on the Caesar salad. I make the croutons for presents. I actually considered croutons and a note card with the recipe as wedding favors. And then I realized, "HAHAHA! I'm throwing a (redacted but omg the money) per person dinner. WHY THE FUCK AM I SPENDING TIME/MONEY ON FAVORS?!" So I'm not. And didn't. And have a life, thank you very much, aspirational wedding blogs.

If you have any questions because I was wordy without clarifying, let me know. And feel free to tweak it to your liking, obviously. We never use the recipe anymore and even deviate within our family. 

NOW!: Tell me about you! What's up in YOUR world?!

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