Caesar Salad {GF}: A Love Story

Of the 9 hens we bought this spring, only 1 has begun to lay. Since my neighbor and I share the hens and eggs, this means one egg per family every other day.

Come on, the rest of you girls, time to earn your keep!!!

Luckily I know a delightful way of feeding one’s family using just one homegrown egg: turn it into dressing for a Caesar salad.  My family’s been eating and making this salad forever — I’ve had the recipe memorized for at least 30 years.  To make it now with our own beautiful backyard eggs is a joy.

First though, I must share a little Caesar salad love story.  While living and working in Switzerland, I met a man I suspected was through-and-through wonderful; possibly even The One.  It was ridiculously bad timing, of course — I’d just quit my banking job and all systems were “go” for a return to the States.  Plus I hadn’t traveled all the way to Switzerland to fall in love with a guy from — dear Lord — New Jersey?!?!  But the attraction persisted and appeared to be mutual and finally one night he invited me to his (crappy bachelor pad) apartment to cook dinner. (It was not a good apartment.  A 20 minute walk — uphill both ways — from anything!  Surrounded by grumpy old Swiss neighbors with impeccable hearing; heaven forbid someone flush a toilet after 9pm!  Little did I know, that night, that this would be my crappy apartment, too, in just about 2 months’ time.)

Anyway, back to dinner: I’d decided to go bold and was starting with my mom’s Caesar salad.  We ate the salad — he said he loved it, but who knew, was he just being polite?  I went back into the kitchen to get the next course.  And then, glancing back into the dining room, a magical sight to be seen — my guy, salad bowl tipped to his mouth, drinking up every last drop of pungent, potent dressing.

At that moment, watching Bob pay our family’s favorite salad dressing the ultimate in respect, I knew: this was my person.

(It freaks him out a little when I tell this story.  He was just drinking good salad dressing.  The rocking of my world was unintended.)

So here it is, my recipe for a classic Caesar salad, adapted slightly from the way mom used to make it.  Mine’s garlickier; she takes the more refined (and classic Caesar) approach of rubbing the garlic around the bowl, then tossing it away, rather than mincing and adding it. If, post-Caesar, you plan on kissing a person that is not already in a committed relationship with you, you may omit the minced garlic.  You’d be silly though.  And misguided.  : )

Caesar Salad

1 tsp. freshly chopped garlic

2 2-inch long strips anchovy paste (available in most grocery stores, though you might have to look for it.  Can substitute 2 anchovy filets (or more.  yum.)

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (sherry or champagne vinegars work too)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

the juice of 1/2 lemon

1 egg yolk (Coddling the egg helps separate the white from the yolk.  Gently drop a whole raw egg into a mug of very hot but not boiling water for 2-4 minutes.  Remove egg, rinsing under cool water to cool the shell quicker; then crack it, using fingers to catch the yolk while allowing the whites to slip through.)

1 large head Romaine lettuce, rinsed and dried, thick (tasteless) stems and ribs removed, hand-torn into bite-sized pieces (hand-torn lettuce shows 64x more love than knife-chopped lettuce.)

Parmesan cheese, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

In the bottom of a large salad bowl, combine garlic; anchovy paste; Worcestershire and vinegar.

Add olive oil and lemon juice, whisking until mixture is emulsified.

Just before serving, whisk in 1 egg yolk.  Finish dressing with a tsp. or so Parmesan cheese.

Before adding the lettuce, taste the dressing.  No two Caesar dressings are ever quite the same. It should be tart and pungent, but balanced.  Too tart?  Add more Worcestershire and/or olive oil.  A little bland?  Maybe squeeze that 1/2 lemon 1 more time; add a touch more vinegar; a few drops more Worcestershire.  Add in lettuce and toss the salad well.

Serve immediately with additional Parmesan and fresh-ground black pepper.  Makes enough for 4 regular people, or the 2 of us.

And don’t be surprised if someone — a special someone — wants to lick the bowl.

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Summer Salad with Peaches, Prosciutto, Burrata & Candied Pecans {GF}

This salad matches perfectly ripe, sweet-tart peaches to peppery greens; rich, creamy burrata (a cream-filled ball of fresh mozzarella cheese); tasty, salty prosciutto; and the pure decadence of candied pecans.  It’s a perfect start to a Labor Day barbecue, or a super-satisfying meal on its own.

This photo is not my best work, but it does tell the story — there wasn’t time to go get the “good” camera, or try to get the “perfect picture”, because we just couldn’t wait to start eating!  And even the kids had seconds — incorporating fresh fruit into salad is a fine way to get kids eating unfamiliar greens.

IMG_7753

Don’t you just love “cooking” that simply combines gorgeous ingredients, to maximum effect?  There’s really no room for error when everything that goes into a dish starts out delicious.  Here’s the recipe, if you can call it that:

Summer Salad with Peaches, Prosciutto, Burrata & Candied Pecans

6 cups fresh salad greens; peppery varieties like arugula, mustard greens, etc. work well

3 ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized wedges

3 pieces prosciutto di Parma, torn into bite-sized pieces

1 mound burrata, cut into bite sized pieces

drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil

drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar (can substitute regular balsamic vinegar)

handful of candied pecans (toasted almonds would be delicious, too)

Place fresh rinsed greens on a platter.  Drizzle with a good quality olive oil.  Place peach slices, prosciutto, and burrata over greens.  Drizzle reduced balsamic over salad, then top with candied pecans.

Sources:  The greens and peaches are from my garden and from the grocery store (Jimbo’s to be precise). The prosciutto comes from Costco, where it is very reasonably priced; and the burrata, olive oil, reduced balsamic, and candied pecans are all from Trader Joe’s.  Which makes it so easy; and cooking on Labor Day should be easy!

Enjoy the holiday weekend!  Eat well & be safe.

Jen.

Bacon-Boosted Brussels Sprouts {GF, DF}

You know you’re finally, officially an adult when Brussels Sprouts are what you REALLY, REALLY want to eat.

I’m so adult, I’ve been known to order just a side of Brussels Sprouts for dinner.  This is not a dieting thing, I just love them that much.  (Cucina Enoteca in Del Mar, California makes heavenly sprouts.  Everything else there is good too!)

It’s true, I’ve kind of grown up.   But it’s also true that Brussels Sprouts have come a long, long way in the last few years, evolving from yesteryear’s tough little balls of undercooked cabbage-y yuckiness; to the roasty, savory morsels of yumminess our whole family currently craves regularly!

After much trial, error, and tasting, here’s my favorite (super-simple) way to cook Brussels Sprouts here at home:


Bacon-Boosted Brussels Sprouts

15-20 Brussels sprouts (depending on size), roughly sliced into slivers and shards

5 tsp.-sized dollops of rendered pork drippings (for the whys and how-to’s, see below)

1 tsp. garlic, finely minced

1 tbsp. Mediterranean capers (optional)

splash (1 tsp.) sherry vinegar (optional)

kosher salt for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 375.  Cover a rimmed baking tray with a Silpat liner (or you can skip this step).  Scatter slivered sprouts on baking tray. Place dollops of rendered pork fat on sprouts (fat will melt and spread and cover sprouts as they begin to cook). Toss on garlic. Place sprouts in oven to begin roasting.

After 15 mins., use kitchen tongs to stir the Brussels sprouts, pushing the browner outside bits to the inside so that all may cook evenly.  Add the capers and just a splash of sherry vinegar, if using. Roast another 10 minutes, stirring again.  At this point, depending on how well-done you like your Brussels sprouts, check them every few minutes, removing from the oven at the moment they have the right color for you. (We like ours verging into dark brown — crispy!)

Ideal done-ness: a mix of crispy brown and tender green.

Sprinkle cooling sprouts with kosher salt — they will benefit from a mildly generous sprinkling — and let them cool for a few minutes; this will also help them crisp up.  Serve immediately.

Rendered pork fat, you say?  Yes, I say — just like your (great-?) grandma probably used, before the sugar-cereal lobby told us bacon was bad for us and we should be eating sugar-cereal instead.  When cooking bacon (ideally no nitrates/nitrites added, organically and humanely raised — just like great-grandma would have eaten), I save the panful of rendered grease by carefully pouring it into a glass jar.  It keeps in the fridge for a long time, and is indispensable for cooking up crispy, bacon-boosted (but not bacon-overpowered) Brussels sprouts.  My little jars of rendered bacon grease have been passed all around the neighborhood, and we’re a pretty healthy bunch.  Bacon-boosted, in fact.  But if you must, or even if you like, by all means substitute olive oil for the bacon fat!

Here’s my crisp-tender, super-flavorful, nutrient-packed lunch:

Sprouts: they’re what’s for lunch!

For more on Brussels Sprouts, and how we grow them in our garden (hint — effortlessly), check out my article on www.windowbox.com http://www.windowbox.com/blog/2015/08/22/bacon-and-brussels-sprouts-are-the-best/

Thanks, and happy sprouting —

Jen.

Going back for thirds!

Lemonade “With Benefits”: Mint, Kale and Spinach

We just got back from a HOT weekend in the desert — easily 110 degrees in the shade.  Such weather calls for lemonade, and lots of it!  I’m calling this twist on a hot-weather classic “Lemonade With Benefits” because it brings a healthy dose of garden-fresh greens to a classic summer treat.  No one has to know this lemonade is spiked with kale, spinach, etc. — they’ll see the bright and beautiful green color, but all they’ll taste is lemon, bright sugar, and a hint of mint!  Here’s how it’s (quickly and easily) done:

Lemonade “With Benefits”

Toss into high speed blender (i.e. Vitamix):

6 tbsp. lemon juice (approximately 1/3 cup)

1/2 cup young, tender leaves of kale, spinach, or chard

1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)

Handful of mint leaves

Fill blender to 4 cups line with ice.  Add water until level reaches 5 cups.

Blend on high speed until all ingredients are thoroughly blended, and enjoy.  Makes 5 cups of ice cold, sweet/tart, green lemonade!

A few notes.  The ice is crucial in this recipe.  It provides grit to help break down the greenery into drinkable, not-the-least-bit noticeable bits.  Also, a powerful blender (I use a Vitamix) is key.  It breaks the sugar down so thoroughly, there’s no need to make a simple syrup, as would be required in a standard lemonade recipe.  Finally, don’t skip the mint, unless you want to taste the vegetables in your lemonade.  Which would be pretty hard-core.

You can try other sweeteners in place of the sugar.  For me, the clean, bright, old-fashioned flavor of sugar is unbeatable.  Stevia would be an interesting substitute (homegrown stevia would be a dream!)  Also, feel free to reduce or increase the amount of sugar to suit your taste.

Lemonade with benefits!  Enjoy!  (Oh and enjoying watching even vegetable-averse kids drink up kale, spinach and chard with green-tinged smiles on their face — I know I do!)

— Jen.

Captivating Cashew Milk { V, GF, DF }

Aliya photobombs the cashew milk pic!
Aliya photobombs the cashew milk!

Making cashew milk couldn’t be easier, and it’s the tastiest (non-)milk ever!  Cashew milk is simply wonderful in coffee; cereal or granola; adds healthy fats to a vegan smoothie; and has a creamy, smooth texture without having to be strained.   Here’s all you need to know to make this nutritious, non-dairy beverage at home: preservative-, additive- and of course dairy-free.


Ingredients:

1 cup raw cashews

3 cups filtered water

Optional but yummy: 3 dates, or agave syrup to taste

Optional but divine: 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (and/or 1 inch piece of vanilla bean)

Instructions:

Before making: soak cashews at least 4 hours (up to overnight) in the refrigerator, in enough water to cover them well. Drain and thoroughly rinse cashews with fresh water before placing them in blender.  Add three cups of filtered water.  Add extras like dates and/or vanilla, if using, and blend until smooth, smooth, smooth (I use the preprogrammed “smoothie” setting on my Vitamix).  Pour into serving cup(s) and enjoy!


Now, read on if you’re thirsty for the “fine print”, including “why’s” and “how-to’s”:

Soaking cashews at least 4 hours or overnight (but not longer than overnight, they could get slimy) — then rinsing them well — removes phytic acid, improving the cashews’ digestibility and making their nutrients easier to absorb.  It also makes them easier to blend, and removes “off” flavors — the more you rinse them, the cleaner the flavor in the end.  That said, I’ve made cashew milk without the soaking step, and it (I) was just fine — but others have reported tummy trouble.

Cashew milk keeps in fridge for at least three or four days, probably longer… I haven’t had a batch go bad in the fridge yet.  Cashew milk will begin to separate after a few hours; a quick shake will restore it to smoothness.

I soak my cashews in a glass container, and I store the cashew milk in glass containers, too.  A big stash of repurposed Bonne Maman jam jars contains my milk (and soups, and pesto, and leftovers of every sort) nicely.  You can drink out of them, too — and then, screw the lid on — you’ve got a plastic-free to-go cup for your coffee (or cashew-milk enriched smoothie!).  I don’t like to use plastic to contain our potables or our edibles.  Even “BPA-free” plastic containers are suspect, in my book; have you ever tasted water that’s spent a couple of hours in a kid’s “BPA-free” sippy cup?  It tastes like plastic.  That can’t be good.  At the very least, it doesn’t taste good.}

To make cashew cream, simply reduce the water in the recipe to 3/4 cup, then blend, adding more by the tablespoon until the desired consistency is achieved.

There you have it — Captivating Cashew Milk! let me know what you think of this simple recipe — and what terrific uses you put it to!

{crave-able} kale chips

The kale I started from seed in January has grown up; and kale chips are the perfect thing to do with it!  Do your body a favor and indulge in some crispy, crave-able kale chips, ASAP!  Here’s how i make them:

ingredients:

kale leaves (about 12 good sized leaves’  worth per baking sheet)

1 tbsp. olive oil

kosher salt to taste

fresh ground black pepper to taste

optional add-ons: paprika, parmesan cheese, red pepper flakes, dried garlic

instructions:

heat oven to 275 degrees

remove ribs from kale leaves.  wash and dry leaves in a salad spinner.  pour olive oil into your nice clean hands, then use hands to completely coat kale in a very thin layer of olive oil.  spread kale out on baking sheet(s) and sprinkle with salt (i love kosher salt’s flaky texture and light taste) and a little pepper.  bake for about 15 mins., then use tongs to stir, keeping the kale evenly spread out.  check for doneness every few minutes after that — the finished product will be very crispy, feather light, and much reduced in size.  remove from baking sheet and enjoy right away.

we’ve tried a couple of different flavors too; i don’t think you can go wrong.  our favorite variation: after spreading kale on baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, paprika, parmesan and red pepper flakes.  no idea on the quantities, but i use a light hand.

FYI, kale chips do not improve with age!  Serve them straight from the oven.  Also, the fresher the kale is, the better your kale chips will taste.  For best results, go with homegrown or farmer’s market kale — you will absolutely taste the difference!