Today I'm taking a look at some familiar meals/food items that can sometimes get boring when done the old-fashioned way. But with anything from a few twists to an utter reinvention, you can get the dual advantage of eating something you know that you like, but still make it your own and make it new.
For the recipes in today's post, I want you to project yourself into any 'run-of-the-mill' restaurant you've been to and think of a few items that are inevitably on the menu. One's on the Salad menu, the other under Appetizers or Sides. Starting to get the picture? You digging what I'm talking about? Why, it's Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread, of course!
Now, what's interesting about Caesar Salad is that it's not from Italy at all. This well-loved salad has nothing to do with Roman emperors. It gets it's name from the chef who invented it, Caesar Cardini (who, to be fair, was an Italian immigrant, so I guess it's inclusion on Italian menus isn't completely off the authenticity mark) who, according to most of the stories I've read/heard/seen on TV, put it together in a pinch after running out of a lot of "normal" salad ingredients. Disputes abound, as with all recipes, as to who really invented it, but it is generally attributed to Mr. Cardini.
As for Garlic Bread, it would seem that it too has its origins in North America, at least according to the Internet...
Anyhoo, enough of the history lesson, let's get to the food dammit!
1 - Caesar Salad
So, why Caesar Salad as a meal? Well, Kari and I decided to make these classic "sides" as a main meal, mostly because we're trying to cut down on our meat intake (bacon doesn't count!) and eat more veggies. So, this seemed like a light enough meal to fit the bill.
The first step was figuring out a good recipe for Caesar Dressing. Now, there are a few basics to most salad dressings, namely vinegar and oil. But there are a myriad of variations on Caesar Dressing, so I had to cannibalize a bunch of them.
Thing is about "authentic" Caesar Dressing is that is calls for raw egg yolk. Which brings me to today's 'foodie rant'. Something that has been cropping up a lot lately in the 'gourmet realm' is the use of lightly cooked or raw egg yolk in dishes. Apparently the egg yolk is supposed to flow over other elements in dishes to tie them together and add a vibe of richness. Well, it's no secret that I'm not the hugest egg fan and when I do eat them I want them cooked to death. Runny yolk is about the least appetizing thing ever. Now this is just my taste, but I do wonder if there's a deeper split over the yolk issue out there... I encountered this phenomenon was when I ate at Beckta last year and a dish was supposed to have the "break the yolk so that it runs over everything" element to it, but much to my surprise and joy, the yolk was nice and firm. In other words, the cook might have screwed it up, but it was a screw-up I preferred.
So, with all grumbling on eggs being done, I'm still without a replacement for egg yolk in my salad dressing. Buuuuuut, then I realized that I had mayo! That would work!
So, with my egg replacement on hand and a few ideas rolling around my head, here's what I came up with for dressing (with a lot of guidance from the Food Network Web site):
Caesar Salad Dressing
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (that's mayonnaise, NOT imitation dressing-type crap. Why? THIS is why! - many thanks to The Oatmeal)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 2-3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
- 3-4 capers, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- pinch smoked paprika
- 1 tsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Blend all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl or jar. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or so.
Next step is making the salad itself, which is ridiculously simple:
- 1 head romaine lettuce, base cut off, leaves washed and torn-or-cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 portion Caesar Salad Dressing
- 3 strips well-cooked bacon (it should be crumbly)
- 3-4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup croutons (store-bought or homemade or Polenta Croutons - see below)
- black pepper to taste
- lemon wedges
- In a large non-metal bowl, mix lettuce, dressing and bacon with salad tongs or by hand.
- Serve salad individually with a lemon wedge and top with croutons, cheese and pepper.
NOTE: In an additional effort to be original, we made Polenta Croutons. Essentially we took some pre-cooked polenta, cut it into cubes, tossed it with olive oil and baked until crispy. The basics of cooking polenta can be found here: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Polenta. Essentially it's all about adding hot liquid into cornmeal a bit at a time and stirring constantly for 20-30 minutes. It's labour intensive, but think of how strong your forearms will be!
In the end, the use of mayo over egg yolk made it a lighter tasting salad, the Polenta Croutons were an interesting change of texture (crispy outside, slightly soft in the middle) and the addition of smoked paprika to the dressing added a little more 'oomph' to the whole thing. I was pretty pleased with the results! Also, it had bacon.