Friday, April 24, 2015

Dictionary Caesar Salad

Growing up I had never had a Caesar salad. I had heard the term, but I had no idea what it was. This was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just look it up on wikipedia. So instead I checked my dictionary, which told me it was a mix of romaine lettuce, a coddled egg, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and parmesan cheese.

I decided to make that. Only without the anchovies because, well, because they’re anchovies!

I did not have a recipe. I owned a few cook books, but I never used them, because cookbooks are written by people who love cooking, and thus come up with really complicated, labor intensive ways to create very simple dishes. But I figured, I would just toss in the ingredients and hope for the best. And amazingly, it turned out great. This is the recipe I invented 30 years ago based on my Miriam-Webster dictionary definition.

Time: 15 minutes

Romaine lettuce, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
Grating cheese (parmesan, romano, or asiago)
Olive oil
Garlic (minced or run through a garlic press)
1 egg
Croutons, if you like (see recipe below)

Pour some olive oil into a large mixing bowl. I probably use a third cup if I’m making it just for myself. I probably should use more, as I explain below.

Put in the garlic. I use a garlic press - garlic presses are awesome – but mince it if you prefer. I like my salad very garlicky, so I usually use a couple of cloves per person (depending on clove size). If I have a cold I go crazy with the garlic, because garlic is supposed to be good for you. You should always put the garlic in the oil right at the beginning so it can infuse into the oil a little bit while you’re doing everything else.

Coddle an egg. I had to look this up in the dictionary too. It seems it’s just a barely-cooked egg. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, but what I do is boil water in a sauce pan, turn off the heat, carefully lower the egg into the water with tongs so it doesn’t break, leave it in one minute, take it out with the tongs and run it under cold water. This makes it mainly raw but cooked around the edges, which may or may not be what coddling is supposed to be like.

Crack open the coddled egg and pour it into the bowl. Mix it all up with a whisk or a fork.

Add grated cheese until you’ve got something that’s thick but still thin enough that you can toss the romaine in it.

Remember when I said I don’t use enough olive oil? The reason I believe this is so is because when I toss the salad at this point, it is never cheesy enough, and my theory is if I put in a bunch more oil I could add more cheese before I drop in the lettuce.  But instead I do this:

Grate more cheese over the salad and mix it in. Taste it when you think there’s enough cheese, and if there’s not, put in more until it tastes the way you like it.

One day when I was out of croutons I decided they ought to be easy to make. I’d heard they were made from stale bread, and since I had some bread that was a little stale, I figured I might as well try. Now I much prefer my croutons to store-bought ones.

Home-made croutons:
Stale Bread
Spices (basil, oregano, maybe some paprika)
Olive oil

Cut up your bread into crouton-sized pieces. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan, swish it around and heat it. Set the heat to medium, or perhaps medium high. Drop in the bread pieces, sprinkle some spices on top and stir it all around a little. Flip the croutons after a while so they can cook on the other side. Or, if they’re square, on several other sides. Keep doing that until they’re crisp and golden. Put on your Caesar salad.

The Great Search for the Perfect Multigrain, Fruit-Filled Pancake

Blah blah blah, just skip to the recipe

When I was a kid, I liked any old pancake, just as long as it was swimming in syrup. But as an adult, I began to find those standard, starchy, white flour pancakes a little revolting. Then one day I had these great multi-grain pancakes somewhere, and decided I needed to learn how to make those.

Sometimes it takes a lot of experimentation to get just the recipe you want, and it took me years to find the perfect pancake recipe. I’m not saying I was searching diligently – it probably would have taken me weeks in that case – I’m just saying it was something I had to figure out.

I tried one of these whole-grain mixes in a health food store, but I was unimpressed. I bought a whole wheat mix in the grocery store (the one you have to add eggs and milk to; I figure that’s better than a batter that’s just powder and water), but that was too whole grain. So for a long time I would buy one box of whole wheat pancake mix, one of standard, and combine them. That wasn’t too bad.

I used to always eat my pancakes with a side of sausage, but when I became a vegetarian I discovered that a breakfast of nothing but carbohydrates and maple syrup left me spacey, which is when I started slicing a banana into my batter.

One day it occurred to me that pancakes were probably a pretty simple thing that I could just make from scratch, and the Internet proved me right. I started mixing white and wheat flour with eggs and milk and the like, and that worked pretty well.

One day I wanted pancakes and I was out of white flour, but I did have some chapatti flour I’d bought at an Indian grocery store, so I tried that instead. And it was perfect. I’ve tried other combinations – during my gluten-free experiment I was mixing rice and buckwheat flours – but whole wheat and chapatti is still my favorite.

Time: 20, 25 minutes.

Flour (half whole wheat and half chapatti flour is good. Two thirds rice flour and 1 third buckwheat isn’t too bad. Feel free to try any flours you like and let me know how it works).
Baking powder
1 egg
Oil (I use extra virgin olive oil)
Fruit (bananas, strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all quite good. Cherries or kiwi are also kind of interesting.)

Put the flour in a mixing bowl (flour is one of the few things I don’t eyeball; I use about a half-cup per person). Add around a teaspoon of baking soda per half cup of flour. Mix it together (I just hold the bowl and flip the powder inside the bowl, which looks cool, but stirring it with a spoon is fine).

Toss in an egg (1 egg per cup or less of flour) and maybe a tablespoon’s worth of oil. Scramble the egg a bit in there and stir it all in. Now add milk and stir again. I just keep adding milk and stirring until I get something the consistency of pancake batter.

Now stir in some fruit. If it’s bananas I use moderately thin slices, if it’s strawberries I cut each one into four to six pieces. I read an interview with some chef on making the perfect pancake who said you shouldn’t put in too much fruit because it will negatively effect the constitution of your pancake in some way. I think he’s nuts. My pancakes are essentially a delivery system for fruit; I want fruit in every forkful. As a guide; with bananas you want at least half of one per person.

Some people claim you should let the batter sit for 15 minutes (or even an hour!) because it will make the pancakes fluffier, but I haven’t tried that.

Put some oil in a large, flat frying pan (unless you have a griddle, in which case I envy you). Heat up the oil; you’ll want to cook the pancakes on a medium or medium-high heat (I vary).

Pour in the batter. My pancakes are three or four inches in diameter, I would guess.

The ideal is to cook the pancakes until they start bubbling on top and then flip them over. Often I get nervous and turn them over before they start bubbling. Sometimes I wait for them to bubble and they never really do and they get a bit burnt.  You’ll figure it out.

Cook them on the other side for about as long as you cooked them on the first side.  Put them on a plate, butter them a little, then pour maple syrup on. Don’t use so-called “pancake syrup” unless your taste buds are dead. If maple syrup is too pricey, try combining it with agave syrup, an idea I got at Trader Joe’s).