Creative Caesar Salads

creative Caesar salad topped with serungdeng kacang

When I was growing up, we lived in the small resort town of East Glacier Park, Montana, which is the east entrance to Glacier National Park; there were only 250 residents at the foot of these glorious Rocky Mountains.  Because of our town’s minuscule size, it was necessary to travel to larger cities to take care of our major shopping needs, such as school clothes every late summer.  Usually we traveled within our State, 150 miles east to Great Falls; on special occasions, we ventured as far away as Spokane, Washington.  I can still feel the thrill as we prepared, in the early morning dark, to leave on these revered journeys.

During the extra special trips to Spokane, the Ridpath Hotel captivated me; we ate many dinners in its plush dining room, always partaking in their Caesar salad, which came with the pomp and flair of table-side service.  My young heart was even then preparing for my career in food history, for I was fascinated by the coddling of the egg, with the torch used for that purpose; in like manner, I rhapsodized over the delight of the powerful garlic on my tender tongue.

To this day I love Caesar salad; I share a recipe here that lives up to this enduring mental monument.  Be prepared to enjoy.

There are several accounts of how this famous dish began.  After much research, I chose to attribute its origin to the Italian chef Caesar Cardini (1896-1956), who created this American classic at his well-known restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, when in 1924, he was serving an unusual number of Californian visitors, escaping there for the Fourth of July weekend during prohibition.  This original production was served table side, without anchovies, and included whole lettuce leaves, which were eaten by the stems, using one’s fingers.

Caesar salad enhanced with beans

There are numerous opposing views on the safety of coddled eggs.  Some profess that they are not a threat: it is adequate to place the eggs in rapidly boiling water, remove the pan from the heat, and then allow the eggs to cook for 60 seconds; indeed, this technique provides the best taste.

Others propound that holding eggs at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for five minutes kills potential contaminants, such as salmonella; this can also be achieved instantly by heating them to 160 degrees F (71 degrees C).

Still others declare that uncooked and under-cooked eggs are not safe at all; they rigidly promote the use of either hard-boiled or pasteurized eggs; the latter are available in some grocery stores.  Note: it is important to use caution in highly susceptible populations, such as small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with health problems.

Here I cover this dilemma with two good solutions: my favorite version of this dressing is made with coddled eggs, which have been cooked for 60 seconds; nonetheless, for times when extra special care is needed, I provide a method of heating the prepared dressing to 160 degrees; this last procedure, however, thickens our treasured concoction quite a lot.  With both of these two options, the powerful recollected taste from my youth is maintained, which is heightened even further with strong combinations of foods in my creative Caesar salads.

References:

https://whatscookingamerica.net/CaesarSalad.htm

www.reluctantgourmet.com/caesar-salad/

www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/we-can-thank-tijuana-and-prohibition-caesar-salad

www.ochef.com/447.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/coddled_egg

www.safeeggs.com/blog/will-the-real-safe-caesar-salad-recipe-please-stand-up/

finished Caesar dressing (feeder tube in lid at right side)

Caesar Salad Dressing  Yields: about 1 1/2 cups.  Total prep time: 30 min.  If cooking the dressing, total prep time is 45 min.

3 fresh, free-range eggs, at room temperature  (Place in warm water for 10-15 minutes.)

2 tbsp fresh garlic

1 tbsp cider vinegar  (Raw is best; available inexpensively at Trader Joe’s.)

1 scant tbsp Dijon mustard  (Aioli Garlic Mustard from Trader’s is also excellent.)

2 small lemons, juiced

3 dashes of Tabasco

3 dashes of Worcestershire

1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

1 anchovy, optional

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available available at Costco for $4.95 for 5 lbs..)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

3/4 c olive oil  (Personally I prefer a light olive oil for flavor; Trader Joe’s brand, fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Bel’Olio, from Costco, are both great.)

  1. Use room temperature eggs, by placing them in warm water for 10-15 minutes.  For health reasons, it is important that they are washed, free-range, and fresh.  I feel comfortable with coddled eggs, which makes the best dressing.  If, however,  you are sensitive to them (or storing this dressing for more than 4-5 days), take the extra precaution of cooking it as described in step 6, or better yet use pasteurized eggs, which are available in some grocery stores.
  2. coddling eggs

    For coddled eggs, bring a small pan of water to a boil over high heat; prepare an ice bath, using a bowl of cold water with ice cubes.  Place eggs in rapidly boiling water; quickly remove from heat; let them sit for 60 seconds; then, immediately transfer to the ice bath, to the stop cooking process.  Crack them on side of bowl, scooping coddled egg out of shell with a spoon, set aside (see photo).

  3. Meanwhile mince 2 tbsp of garlic: peel cloves, cut in halves; then, chop this in a food processor by repeatedly pressing pulse button; measure 2 tbsp of chopped garlic and place this back in processor.  Set aside.  (TO MAKE DRESSING BY HAND: chop the garlic with a sharp knife; mix all ingredients, except the oil, in a med/small bowl; then, beat in the oil SLOWLY, to emulsify the dressing.  May also make this in a VitaMix or blender.)
  4. Juice the lemons, set aside.
  5. Add all ingredients, except the oil, to the garlic in the processor.  Turn on machine and blend; place oil in the feeder, which is located on the top (see this feeder in above photo of finished product); thus, oil will drip in slowly for an emulsified dressing.  Adjust seasonings.  This will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days; for longer storage, go to the next step.  Serve on the creative salads given lastly.
  6. For cooked dressing, prepare an ice bath, using a large bowl with a smaller one inserted in center (see photo).  Prepare Caesar dressing as described in steps 2-

    cooked dressing cooling in ice bath

    5; transfer this mixture to a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan; cook dressing over low heat, stirring constantly, until this egg mixture reaches 160 degrees F (71 degrees C); immediately place in the ice bath to cool, adding more ice as needed.  Note: the dressing will thicken as it cooks. Serve on salads described below.

  7. I like to be creative with my Caesar salads; here are two suggestions for using foods that highly complement this excellent dressing.  First: mix greens, sweet onion, avocado, Parmesan cheese, and homemade croutons (2016/08/15); then, top this with serungdeng kacang, which is crispy coconut chips and peanuts sautéed with a garlic/onion puree (2017/01/09).  Second: mix greens, Parmesan cheese, homemade croutons, and beans; legumes really accentuate the flavor of this dressing!  Enjoy.

Serungdeng Kacang

serungdeng kacang

serungdeng kacang

The condiment serungdeng kacang first completed my varied dishes in the early 1980’s, when I was catering historical events in Billings, Montana.  In those days, I sought recipes that allowed me to offer thematic meals from diverse cultures and times. To my joy, I discovered a host of receipts from Indonesia; thus, I presented an Indonesian rijsttafel to my eager audiences.

A rijsttafel is a banquet of delicacies from this southeast Asian republic, formerly known at the Dutch East Indies.

Serungdeng kacang is a condiment for rice dishes in these ethnic feasts. My particular recipe comes from Java, one of the many islands in Indonesia. These coconut crumbs, spiced with onion and garlic, are spread liberally over the rice portions, in addition to a variety of other garnishes.

For me, serungdeng kacang has multiple, inventive benefits: it is compatible with Indian curries, acts as a delicious hors d’oeuvre, and-my favorite-provides the crowning touch to salads!

I always keep this enhancement to tossed greens on hand, by making a double batch and storing it in a sealed storage bag.  The beauty of this topping is it lasts a long time, if you are disciplined.

Prior to my doing this rijsttafel, I presented a gala event, a Moroccan affair, which was to  become one of my favorite memories in the history of my business; it best defines what my work entailed back then.

I loved to act in my youth and knew the Billings’ theatrical community well.  As an aside, actors often make a living in the restaurant business; they are adept at waiting tables.  Then my creative dinners needed both excellent service and improvisation.  An incredible fit was made with my Billings’ thespian friends; thus, I frequently employed them in my catered dramas.

My most treasured memory using this partnership was a fundraiser for the Billings’ Children’s Theatre, in which I presented an authentic Moroccan dinner, for a staged “Night at Rick’s Place”.  The five winning tickets, from those auctioned off-each with their three guests-were transported back to World War II in the theatre’s upstairs.

This large room had been converted into Rick’s Place, from the movie Casablanca.  It was furnished with a bar off to one side of the restaurant, while the dining room consisted of five tables of four, clothed with white linen.  The city’s leading actors peopled the bar scene. More of these, dressed in tuxedos, served the sumptuous meal to the unsuspecting partakers in this suspense.

Broadway arts resulted!  Numerous brawls took place in the bar; the Gestapo arrived; guests were pick-pocketed, and on and on.  Talk about fun.

My part was the researched African meal.  That afternoon, after weeks of cooking, I showed up for the final preparations in the theatre’s limited kitchen. Behold, the limits escalated upon my arrival, for the stove wasn’t working!

The true test of my creativity came.  Nevertheless, God’s grace broke through: makeshift occurred as a call went out and citizens brought in hot plates.  The event came off triumphantly, as I, in  Moroccan dress, told the innocent company the colorful history as each dish was served.

I repeated this dinner numerous times in my career, but this show never again reached the thrill of its original occurrence.  That night in “Casablanca” best exemplified what I did with my work then.

Now my food history presentations entertain larger audiences, but still guests participate in dinner theatre type events. They engage by eating authentic foods; I, dressed in period costume, narrate their careful stories.

Today my grand affairs mostly involve Northwest history, for which I was trained in graduate school.  However back in the 80’s and 90’s, I presented other cultures and times in my gala occasions.  Among these many thematic experiences was this Indonesian rijsttafel, from which today’s entry originated.

simple mincing of onion

simple mincing of onion

Serungdeng Kacang  Yields: 3 c.  Total prep time: 1 hr, plus 1 hr for cooling/ active prep time: 30 min/ cooking time: 30 min.

6 tbsp yellow onion, minced  (You will need a med/large onion; follow directions below for simple mincing-see photo.)

6 med/large garlic cloves, chopped fine

2 tbsp sugar  (Organic cane sugar is best; available at Trader Joe’s and Costco.)

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available inexpensively at Costco.)

1 tbsp oil  (Coconut oil is the best for flavor and quality here.)

2 c unsweetened coconut chips  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or in a 12-ounce Bob’s Red Mill package at local supermarkets.)

1 c roasted, unsalted peanuts  (Also available at low cost in bulk at our local Winco.)

  1. An easy way to mince onion is to peel it, leaving the root on; next, score it by cutting slices close together across the top one way, going 3/4 of way down into the onion; then, turn it and cut slices the other direction.  After onion is prepared thus, shave the minced pieces off the end of it with a sharp knife (see photo).
  2. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  3. Measure 6 tbsp of minced onion and place in a mortar; save rest of onion for other cooking.  With a pestle mash onions, garlic, sugar, and salt.  When this is a thick puree, set aside.  (See mortar and pestle in photo.)
  4. Place a piece of the coconut in oil; when it begins to turn brown, immediately lower temperature to med/low; oil is ready for cooking.  Meantime mix together coconut and onion mixture in a large bowl. Make sure coconut is completely coated.
  5. When oil is hot, add coconut mixture; mix well with spoon to evenly coat fruit with oil.
  6. Cook about 20 minutes (over med/low heat), or until golden brown in color and slightly wet, stirring every 5 minutes, so as not to burn.  Let it, however, cook for full 5-minute increments, without stirring; this allows for the coconut to brown.  As you stir it, carefully scrape bottom of pan with a spatula.
  7. When coconut is light golden brown, add the peanuts and cook for another 5 minutes; stir twice in this last 5-minute period.  Note: it will get a darker brown and drier, as it cooks more with the peanuts and then cools in the heat-retentive cast iron pan.
  8. Remove from heat and be sure to leave in skillet to cool; this completes the drying process.  (See top photo for finished product.)
  9. This lasts for months, kept in a sealed storage bag.

Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing

Mom, my siblings, my great nephew, and me at Mom's 93rd birthday

my siblings, mother, great nephew, and me at Mom’s 93rd birthday

This is the world’s best blue cheese dressing, which was made in my family’s restaurant for nearly 50 years.

My heavenly Father bestowed the best parents in the whole world upon me!   Many gifts have been mine through  them: the biggest from my earthly father was his grand heart, while Mom’s was her beautiful faith.

My 93-year old mother always responds to my gratitude for these holy blessings: “Your most treasured present to me was bringing my husband to the Lord.” This took place in a Starbucks two years before Dad passed.

My parents visited me in Portland every October starting in 1986, until age prohibited their travels.  The momentous day of my father’s salvation took place on their last trip here in 2004.  Note: the jubilance of my family’s glorious reunion will reverberate throughout heaven one day soon.

My father and I hung out during their blessed visits, while Mom shopped ‘til she dropped.  My beloved papa always did one thing: he stocked my larder to the brim every year.  I hopefully anticipated this godsend long before their arrival, as times were lean back then.

Dad taught me how to make his famous blue cheese dressing during one of these hallowed, shared days.  It has graced my refrigerator ever since; there is nothing like it; even people who don’t like blue cheese love this!

Buzz’s recipe has a history. My parents purchased our family restaurant in 1954. Traveling salesmen often stopped at our business in the little tourist village of East Glacier Park, Montana, which is on Highway 2.  I was just approaching puberty in the early sixties, when one of these self-promoters sold Dad a mammoth cook book for restaurant owners.  This huge culinary account was about 10 inches thick.  It contained all that was needed to train my father to flawlessly run his eatery, which grew exceedingly in fame over the years.  Thus, a lone man’s fervid, cold call brought a lifetime’s bounty to me and many others.

I share this magnificent recipe for blue cheese dressing, obtained from this book, with great joy!

easy juicing of lemons

Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing  Yields: about 1 3/4 quarts.  Total prep time: 30 minutes.

.5-.7 lb. blue cheese, frozen and thawed for easy crumbling  (For quality, do not use pre-crumbled cheese; Cave Age Blue Cheese from Trader Joe’s is ideal; keep thawed cheese refrigerated until ready to use.)

5 extra lg cloves of garlic, or more if smaller, to taste

1/2 med yellow onion, cut in large chunks

36 oz Best Foods mayonnaise  (Use 1-30 oz jar plus 1/5 of another jar.)

2 small lemons, juiced

3/4 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive, Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

3/4 tsp fresh ground pepper, or to taste

6 vigorous shakes of Tabasco Sauce, or to taste

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce, or to taste

  1. Freeze blue cheese ahead of time; thaw in refrigerator before using; this makes crumbling very easy.  Keep cheese refrigerated until ready to use.
  2. In a food processor, puree garlic and onion; stop processor and scrap down sides twice; set aside.
  3. Place mayonnaise in a large bowl.  (Set aside empty mayonnaise jar.)
  4. Roll lemons on counter, pressing down hard with palm of hand; this loosens the juices in the meat.  Juice fruit, straining seeds, and add to mayonnaise. (Handheld lemon juicers, such as the one in the above photo work really well.  Watch the marketplace to acquire this and a small strainer for bowl.)
  5. Add onion/garlic to mayonnaise to taste-this should taste REALLY STRONG, as the flavor mellows much after several days.  Blend in salt, pepper, Tabasco, and Worcestershire.
  6. Crumble blue cheese into mayonnaise mixture and stir gently, mixing only until blended.
  7. Adjust seasonings.
  8. Fill a sterilized, quart-size, wide-mouth canning jar with dressing.  Place the rest in the empty mayonnaise jar.
  9. Refrigerate, keeps well.

Healthy Green Salads

building a healthy salad

building a healthy salad

Strength-giving salads have been the mainstay of my evening meals for many years; they delight me. Recently I taught a class on how to maintain robust bodies by building wholesome salads.  This next series spells pleasure in hearty recipes for glorious greens and more.  Here I begin with the basic steps for creating these leafy dishes.

Healthy Salads

A variety of vibrant greens are good for the body. Spinach is high in iron, but too much of this raw vegetable is not wise.  So balance raw and cooked spinach.  A little vitamin C (tomatoes, citrus, pineapple, etc.) helps the absorption of the iron.

Beef or chicken can be added.  These meats are high in iron and protein.  Good quality eggs, beans, tuna, and cheese are also excellent protein sources.

Dried fruit (dates, cranberries, apricots, figs, raisins…organic is best) add a beautiful contrast of sweetness.  Avocados are dynamite!

Choose an assortment of fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery, radishes, bell peppers, etc.  It’s important to use organic peppers, as this vegetable really absorb pesticides.   Organic carrots are really inexpensive.

Roasted agave nuts (see recipe below) and homemade croutons (see recipe below) add texture and protein.  Note: organic bread is a good protein source.

Nourishing homemade dressings save lots of money and explode with good flavor. (Recipes to follow in upcoming posts.)

Roasted Agave Nuts  Yields: 1 lb.  Total prep time: 50 min/  active prep time: 10 min/  baking time: 40 min.

  1. Buy 1 lb of an assortment of whole raw pecans, almonds, walnuts, and cashews in the bulk food section.  (Cashew pieces work well and are cheaper.)  I like to weigh out ¼ lb packages of each at the store.
  2. Preheat oven to 265 degrees.
  3. In a large bowl, pour 1/4 cup Organic Raw Blue Agave Sweetener.  (Available at a good price at Trader Joe’s.)  Blend in 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste) and 2 tsp cinnamon.
  4. Add 1 lb of mixed raw nuts.  Stir well, until all the nuts are coated.
  5. Cover an 11 ½ x 17 ½ cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Spray parchment really well with spray oil (Pam Coconut Spray Oil is best.)  This is essential, or nuts stick to the paper.
  6. Spread nuts evenly on oiled parchment.  Bake for 40 minutes.
  7. Remove from oven.  Sprinkle generously with salt WHILE HOT.  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)
  8. Nuts must be hot for salt to stick.  IF you forget to salt while hot, place them in hot oven again, until they are reheated.  Then salt and cool.  Break apart and store in sealed container at room temperature. Keeps well.

Homemade Croutons  Yields: 1/2 gallon-size storage bag.  Total prep time: about 1 1/4 hr/ active prep time: 15 min/  baking time: about 1 hr.  Note: dry bread out, for 8 hr ahead of time, on a cookie sheet.

  1. May use gluten-free, homemade bread, Dave’s Killer Bread, or Franz organic Great Seed. (I grind my own organic wheat berries for my bread, however, croutons from store-bought bread aren’t as hard as that made from my homemade bread.  I prefer Franz organic bread, which makes an excellent crouton high in nutrients and protein.)
  2. Make sure bread is stale.  May partially dry by leaving it exposed to the air for up to 8 hours.  You may store bread in a sealed plastic bag after drying, if you are not ready to bake immediately.  Don’t get bread super stale, or the butter won’t distribute evenly.  Expose slices for about 8 hours in the humid Northwest; adjust time for a drier climate.  Bread should be somewhat dried out, firm to the touch, but not hard.
  3. Preheat oven to 265 degrees.
  4. Cut bread in cubes.  Use 1/2 of 1 lb loaf of bread for one large cookie sheet.
  5. Melt 6 ounces of butter in a large frying pan.
  6. Add 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste.  Stir in 1 tsp salt (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is best).  Mix seasoning well into melted butter.
  7. Add bread cubes.  Stir thoroughly, until bread is fairly evenly coated.
  8. Place bread cubes on an 11 ½ x 17 ½ inch cookie sheet, distributing evenly so heat can reach all.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes.  Check for dryness; if not crunchy, bake for 15 more minutes.  Repeat this last step until croutons are completely dried.
  10. Cool and store at room temperature in a sealed gallon-size storage bag. They keep indefinitely.