Posts Tagged With: cookbooks

supper tonight – 3.19.12 – Caesar salad from scratch

Four days after the Ides of March probably isn’t the best time to eat Caesar salad.

Well, okay, Julius Caesar didn’t survive the Ides of March, but he also didn’t invent the Caesar salad–they say it was actually a dude named Caesar Cardini. But I like to think our Roman friend caught the soothsaying bug when he said “Let me have men about me that are fat,” because a salad like this definitely won’t give you “a lean and hungry look” like the backstabbing Cassius had.

Unless you look hungry ’cause you want more salty, gooey, delicious salad, of course.

Anyway, ever since we opened a tin of anchovies for salmoriglio during that fiasco of a date night, we’ve been thinking about how real, made-from-scratch Caesar dressing pretty much always includes these deliciously salty little fishies…and how we also had some leftover sourdough baguette from the party sandwiches that would make perfect croutons…and how some of Micah’s home-cured guanciale (hog jowl bacon) would be so good if we crisped it up and crumbled it on top….

(Damn. Now I’m kind of craving some more salad.)

This hankering actually set in sometime last week, but we had to wait for Thursday’s Athens Locally Grown pick-up to get our romaine lettuce, and then I kept forgetting that I needed to make some more mustard (which needs to sit in the fridge for a day before it’s ready to use). So, even though we’d been gazing longingly at the recipe with our sad puppy-dog eyes for almost a week, it was last night before we actually had everything we needed to craft the perfect Caesar salad:

(Can you tell I finally found my real camera? Canon Powershot A520, only 4 megapixels, but WAY better than my broken iPhone 3GS.)

We had a few mishaps along the way, like almost burning the croutons (you can see in the photo that they’re a tad on the brown side)…not to mention a few issues getting the mayonnaise base for the dressing to come together correctly (apparently, a common problem).

Side note: You might be thinking to yourself…but I thought Tanya hated mayonnaise? And I do. Passionately. With the heat of a thousand suns. But for whatever reason, I love Caesar salad. And you have to admit, once you get all the other flavors into that dressing, it really doesn’t taste like mayo at all.

Anyway, in the end, this salad tasted even more delicious than it looks, and we will definitely make it again.

What’s in it (the dressing):

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 anchovies, minced (the recipe called for 2, but we were feeling adventurous)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used my own homemade–recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (but I bet apple cider vinegar would work well, too)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Step-by-step:

  • Mix together the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar in a small bowl.
  • In a larger bowl, put your egg yolk and a tiny bit of olive oil. Whisk quickly (or use an electric handheld or stand mixer). As the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken, continue to slowly drizzle in the olive oil while you keep whisking. Add too much at once, and this stuff will never fluff up. We learned this the hard way.
  • Once the olive oil is completely incorporated, blend in the garlic and anchovy mixture, then the Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, and pepper.
  • The recipe says this makes 2 cups, but for us it only ended up being a little more than one. Not sure why, but that just means we’ll need to make more soon!

Now that you’ve got some of this amazing dressing, here’s how we made the rest of the salad.

What’s in it (the whole shebang):

  • 1 head of romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup of that delicious Caesar dressing we just made
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3 big slices of bacon, cooked crispy, then crumbled
  • croutons (super easy! – cube some bread / toss with melted butter, salt, pepper, and minced garlic / bake on a sheet pan at 400°F until golden brown and crunchy)

Step-by-step:

  • Toss your lettuce and dressing together in a big bowl.
  • Split the dressed salad between two big plates for a meal (topped with protein of your choice, if you like!) or four small ones (as a side or starter).
  • Divide the cheese and crumbled bacon between your salads. Evenly, unless you’re looking for a fight. 🙂
  • Add croutons.
  • Enjoy!

And yes, you read correctly that the mustard I used in our Caesar dressing was homemade. I had no idea mustard was so easy to make until Micah and I won a copy of Vanessa Barrington’s awesome book from a drawing over at Punk Domestics:

image from indiebound.com

The cool thing about this book is that it includes recipes for all sorts of stuff I’d never thought to make from scratch: ketchup, tortillas, sauerkraut, kimchi, and the aforementioned mustard–and then it gives you different recipes for using all your delicious homemade fixins.

We haven’t attempted the ketchup yet. Micah did make the kimchi, subbing collard greens for the cabbage (pretty good). But the corn tortillas are yummy, the carrot and cabbage sauerkraut will rock your socks off, and the mustard…well, this is my fourth or fifth batch, if that tells you anything.

What’s in it:

  • 1/2 cup whole mustard seeds (mix of brown and yellow)
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) port wine
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Step-by-step:

  • Mix everything together in a glass or plastic bowl.
  • Cover and store overnight in the refrigerator. (This lets your mustard seeds soften.)
  • The next day, put your mustard in a blender or food processor and start blending. Your liquid-y, grainy mixture will magically thicken and smooth out to a lovely, spreadable consistency.
  • Taste it. It’ll be pretty spicy! If it’s too spicy, you can blend in a little bit of water and/or a little more honey.
This is how I made my most recent batch, but basically, you just need 1/2 cup of mustard seeds, about 3/4 cup of liquid, and whatever other flavorings you want to add. I’ve used different boozes (port, sherry, madeira, cognac, bourbon), different vinegars (cider, balsalmic, rice wine, sherry), different sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, molasses)–and it has always turned out amazing.

DIY Delicious is one of my very favorite cookbooks, hands-down. And not just because it taught me how to make mustard like this:

Nice and brown and grainy and spicy, perfect with a beer-braised bratwurst--or in that delicious Caesar dressing.

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lazy brunch – 3.16.12 – sweet potato grits with sausage and eggs

image from indibound.com

I don’t yet own this cookbook by Virginia Willis, but have a feeling I’ll have to stroll on over to Avid Bookshop very soon to buy a copy. Several recipes from the book were featured in American Profile a couple weeks back, including one for sweet potato grits.

Yep, you heard me right. Sweet potatoes + grits = Southern food heaven.

So yesterday, when Micah and I were brainstorming brunch ideas to use up the last of some leftover sausage, that sweet potato grits recipe dropped by and said, “Hey, y’all!”

I made a few modifications to Ms. Willis’s recipe because I had polenta in the pantry (but no grits–for shame!), I wasn’t really in the mood to season my already-sweet veggies with cinnamon and ginger, and I didn’t really want to be cooking my breakfast for 45-60 minutes. (Especially since we’d already slept until 11:00. Ah, spring break, I will miss you so!)

We made a meal of the grits and sausage by topping the dish off with a sunny side up egg and some fresh cilantro:

Doesn’t that look tasty? It was. But don’t take my word for it. Or Micah’s. (We both licked our bowls clean.) Try it for yourself! (This will make a reasonably-sized brunch for two, or a big ol’ brunch for one. :))

What’s in it:

  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup polenta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 pound of pork breakfast sausage
  • 2 eggs
  • a little more salt and pepper
  • a big handful of fresh cilantro

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven on warm (about 170-200°F).
  • Ms. Willis grates her sweet potatoes into the grits and then lets them cook for about an hour. I was too impatient for this, and it’s really quick and easy to bake sweet potatoes in the microwave–so that’s my recommendation. Get those tubers nice and tender, squeeze them out of the peel, and then mash them up real good.
  • In a small saucepan, heat your milk and polenta together over medium heat, whisking as it thickens. I’ve always heard that you should boil the cooking liquid first, then vigorously whisk in your polenta. But mine always turns out lumpy when I do it that way, and lumpy polenta ain’t good eats. (Well, actually, I’ve eaten and enjoyed lumpy polenta many times….but it’s even better when it’s smooth and creamy!) Yesterday, as an experiment, I tried whisking everything cold and letting it all heat together, and my polenta was nice and smooth. If you try this, please let me know if it works for you or if it was just a fluke for me!
  • Once the polenta is good and thick (about 10 minutes later), add the mashed sweet potato, butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. (Of course, you can always add more butter, salt, and/or pepper to suit your liking.)
  • Divide the cooked polenta into two oven-safe bowls and stick them in your warm oven while you tend to your sausage and eggs.
  • Brown and crumble the sausage in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Use a slotted spoon to top your bowls of grits with the sausage, then put those bowls back into the oven.
  • Pour off most (but not all) of the sausage grease from your skillet–you want to leave some to cook your eggs in!
  • Crack your eggs into the hot pan and cook them until the whites are cooked through and the yolks are just starting to firm up. To make sure the tops of your whites get done, you can put a lid over the pan for a minute or spoon some of the hot sausage grease over them à la the Pioneer Woman. Make sure to season your eggs with a sprinkle of salt and pepper while they cook.
  • Get your bowls out of the oven and slide the cooked eggs on top of the grits and sausage.
  • Finish with some fresh cilantro leaves on top.
  • Enjoy!

A note about the eggs: there’s some controversy over whether it’s advisable to eat them sunny side up. The odds are slim, but not quite none, that raw eggs could make you sick. And salmonella infections, from what I hear, are no fun. If you’re concerned, or just don’t like your yolks runny, then by all means, flip your eggs and cook ’em a little more.

But, anecdotally, I’ve been eating my eggs sunny side up or soft-poached for years (not to mention plenty of raw eggs in cookie doughs and cake batters), and have never once suffered a salmonella infection. Lots of other people do this, and I’d be willing to bet that the farmers who sell us our eggs are among this group.

Until I’m stricken with terrible salmonella poisoning, I’ll keep eating my lazy brunch eggs sunny side up, because there are few things in life that I enjoy more than piercing a golden egg yolk with the tip of my fork…letting it spill onto the rest of my food as a rich, thick, gorgeous sauce…and scraping up every last drop of that delicious stuff with a hunk of warm bread or (with a Southern-inspired meal like this) a fluffy buttermilk biscuit.

Categories: recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

muffins for Monday – base recipe #1 – chocolate persimmon muffins

image courtesy indiebound.com

The first base recipe I use is adapted from Kim Boyce’s book Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours, and I discovered it after buying a bunch of persimmons from the farmer’s market and having no idea what to do with them! The recipe is for whole-wheat chocolate persimmon muffins, but I’ll bet you could substitute mashed bananas, applesauce, peaches, pumpkin–almost any sweet fruit/veggie puree–for the persimmon to get a moist, yummy, chocolaty breakfast muffin. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 2-3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons room-temperature butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup pureed ripe persimmon
  • 1 10-ounce bar of dark chocolate, chopped

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • If you’re using metal muffin tins, lightly grease 18 cups or put some paper liners in there. I love my silicone muffin pans because I can usually make the muffins without cooking spray or liners and then pry them out with a silicon spatula (one of my other favorite kitchen tools.)
  • In one bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • In another bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer. Once this stuff gets light and fluffy, beat in the eggs, then the yogurt, then the pureed persimmon.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet stuff without over-mixing, then fold in the chopped up chocolate chunks.
  • Divide into your 18 muffin cups.
  • Bake for about 30-35 minutes, cool, and enjoy!

These are pretty tasty and not super-sweet, but the chocolate chunks give them a little extra decadence that I really enjoy. (And if you’re filling your muffins with whole wheat and fresh fruits, why not have a little chocolate for breakfast?)

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