Saturday, December 30, 2017

Caesar Salad: The Real Deal

In May of 2011, I posted a Caesar salad recipe that I had been using for years. And I was using it all the way up to the end of 2017, when I stumbled upon the original recipe for Caesar Salad. The Caesar Salad I had been making was heavy (2 egg yolks) and very garlicky (4 cloves of garlic). For Christmas dinner this year, I made Caesar Salad using the original recipe. It was light, zesty and very refreshing...a completely different experience.

The original recipe was created by Caesar Cardini. Most people think the salad originated in Italy. I know I was shocked to find that the salad was created in Tijuana, Mexico. Mr. Cardini opened his restaurant, Caesar's, in Tijuana in 1927. Tijuana was a popular destination then as many Americans crossed the border to escape Prohibition.

Caesar's became one of the most popular restaurants in Tijuana. And it's most popular menu item was the incredible Caesar Salad. It was a salad made with romaine lettuce, lots of anchovies and a surprise ingredient...lime juice. Yes, you read that right. I had been making Caesar Salad with lemon juice for the last 45 years. The original recipe used lime juice...and it absolutely transforms the salad!

The salad was served on a plate with several large croutons. There were no utensils accompanying the was meant to be eaten by hand like a plate of French fries. For the croutons, I find it best to use a baguette of crusty bread. A hard crust and chewy interior makes the best croutons. And they should be big. As you can see in the photo above, I cut a 1-1/2 inch slice from the loaf and then cut that into 6 large croutons after toasting the bread in a skillet. Each person should get 3 to 4 croutons on their salad. This recipe makes 4 side salads.


For the Croutons
1/2 baguette, cut into 1-1/2 inch slices
1 garlic clove, halved
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the Salad
1 clove garlic, minced
8 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and finely chopped
1 large egg yolk
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
1 head chilled romaine lettuce, leaves separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Make the croutons. Rub bread with garlic. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bread in a single layer and toast until crisp and golden, 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat, sprinkle with salt and Parmesan. Then cut into croutons.
  2. Make the dressing in a large wooden bowl. Use a spoon to mix garlic with anchovies to form a paste. Add egg yolk and squeeze lime over egg yolk and then stir to blend (the lime juice will partially "cook" the yolk). Add the Worcestershire, mustard, pepper and half of the grated cheese and mix to form a loose paste. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, vigorously stirring until dressing is thick and glossy, 2 minutes.
  3. Make the salad. Gently roll whole lettuce leaves in bowl with dressing until coated. Transfer to  salad plates and top with the remaining Parmesan and croutons. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pairing: Anchovies and lime juice make this salad very difficult to pair with wine. Any red is certainly off the table. Wine drinkers would best be served by selecting a very dry, white wine like Mer Soleil Unoaked Chardonnay ($19.99 at Total Wine). If you fancy beer, this salad goes great with a Belgian-style blond ale like Duval.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Spicy Roasted Chicken Breasts with Lime

Chicken roasted at very high heat is one of life's simple pleasures. And this is one of the tastiest and simplest recipes you will find. After you make the rub, this meal is on your plate in just 30 minutes.

The rub is spicy and is complemented perfectly by the lime juice. I like serving this with a neutral side, like Rice Pilaf. For roasting at high heat, I always use a cookie sheet with a screen as it allows the heat to circulate completely around the breasts.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 whole skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
2 limes, halved

  1. Preheat oven to 500ยบ.
  2. Mix cumin, turmeric, paprika and salt in a small bowl.
  3. Rub the skin side of each breast with 1/2 tablespoon of oil.
  4. Use half of the rub on the skin-side of each breast.
  5. Place chicken breasts, skin-side down on rack and then slide them into the oven. Cook for 10 minutes.
  6. After 10 minutes, flip breasts so that the skin-side is up. Cook for 15 minutes more.
  7. Remove breasts from oven. Tent them with foil and let them rest for 5 minutes. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over each breast. Then serve with another half lime on the side.

Wine pairing: You need a Zinfandel to stand up to these spices. If you have a close friend in the wine industry, see if they can score you a Turley Zinfandel from the Paso Robles Uberroth Vineyard. It's a 95-point wine that will set you back $48. If Santa left you only coal in your stocking, Rosenblum Zinfandel Vinter's Cuvee is a heck of a bargain at $7.99.

Merry Christmas to All!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Cincinnati Chili

Back in the late 80's and early 90's, I handled the advertising account for Valvoline. Their headquarters was in one of the most beautiful towns I have ever visited: Lexington, Kentucky. But in order to get to Lexington, you had to fly through Cincinnati. Since the little commuter planes that flew into Lexington were kind of few and far between, I was forced to spend a lot of time in the Cincinnati airport.

It's in the Cincinnati airport that I discovered one of the quirkiest regional mash-ups in cuisine. Their regional specialty was Cincinnati Chili....a mix of chili and buttered spaghetti noodles. I always ordered what was called 4-Way Cincinnati Chili: spaghetti, chili, onions and cheese. They had a 5-Way, but not being a bean fan, I never ordered it.

The chili is not really a Tex-Mex type of chili. Rather it has a distinct flavor and bit of sweetness to it, thanks in part to brown sugar and cinnamon. But it is incredibly delicious and once you have it, I can guarantee that you will be making this dish at least a couple of times per month.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons melted butter

1 yellow onion, chopped fine
16 ounces shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onions until soft and browned around edges, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and allspice and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chicken broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
  2.  Add beef and stir to break up meat. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chili is deep brown and slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. 
  3. While chili is simmering, cook spaghetti to al dente and when done, toss with butter.
  4. Season chili with salt. Serve with spaghetti noodles on the bottom, topped with chili, onions and cheese.

Pairing: If you insist on drinking red wine with this, I would recommend a Malbec from Argentina. But when it comes to chili, an ice cold beer is a match made in heaven. Make mine a Pacifico.

Me and Goldie, 1956

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Belgian Ale, Beef and Onion Stew

This dish is considered the national dish of Belgium. What's really odd to me, is that they always serve the stew with French fries. But Belgium is also credited with the creation of French fries, so I guess you should serve your two most popular culinary gifts to the world along side of each other.

This dish is also considered the national dish of France. In France it is known as Carbonnade Flamande....and they, too, serve it with French fries. As a life-long Minnesotan who has endured 65 years of arctic winters, I'm of the firm belief that you serve stew in a big soup bowl with a warm loaf of crusty French bread.

The dish is quite simple. The basics are ale, beef, onions and broth. The key ingredient here is the ale....and it must be Belgian. Fortunately, Belgium is considered the ale capital of the world and they brew over 1100 different versions there. You want a dark, very strong ale for your stew. My two favorites for this recipe are Trappistes Rochfert 8  and Chimay Grande Reserve.

This recipe is ridiculously easy to make. Brown the beef...cook the onions....then add the ale and broths. But there is one thing that I am fanatical about when I make stew. I want the sauce in my stew to be substantial. If it's watery, it's soup...not stew. So I always use a starch to thicken my stews. Not flour or cornstarch...because that takes chemistry. I cheat and pour in potato buds, 3 tablespoons at a time, until I get that thick, stew consistency I like. No chemistry. No cold water. Just old fashioned potato buds. How's that for simple?

3-1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1" cubes
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced 1/4" thick
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of flour
3/4 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup beef broth
12 ounces Belgian dark ale
1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Potato buds

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 300 degrees. Dry beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season generously with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat until beginning to smoke; add about one-third of beef to pot. Cook without moving pieces until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes; using tongs, turn each piece and continue cooking until second side is well browned, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer browned beef to medium bowl. Repeat with additional 2 teaspoons oil and half of remaining beef. (If drippings in bottom of pot are very dark, add about 1/2 cup of above-listed chicken or beef broth and scrape pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits; pour liquid into bowl with browned beef, then proceed.) Repeat once more with 2 teaspoons oil and remaining beef. 
  2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to now-empty Dutch oven; reduce heat to medium-low. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and tomato paste; cook, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, until onions have released some moisture, about 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are lightly browned, 12 to 14 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and stir until onions are evenly coated and flour is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in broths, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits; stir in ale, thyme, bay leaves, vinegar, browned beef with any accumulated juices, and salt and pepper to taste. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer, stirring occasionally; cover partially, then place pot in oven. Cook for 2 hours.
  3. Discard bay leaves. Thicken sauce, if desired, with potato buds. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wine pairing: This is hearty stew with big flavor. You're going to need the same in a big red wine. The list could be endless here: Barolo, Amarone, Bordeaux ...but to keep in simple I would opt for a big Syrah. Tops on my list would be a Plumpjack Syrah....94 points and $60 a bottle. If you still have a lot of presents to buy, get a McManis Petite Sirah. You just might pick it over the Plumpjack in a blind taste test and it will only set you back $8.99.

Me and Goldie, 1956.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Sparkling Water

I have always been a huge fan of sparkling water. I started drinking it in the last century. The first sparkling water I was drawn to was Gerolsteiner, imported from Germany. I switched alliances back in 2001 when I joined Costco. Costco did not sell Gerolsteiner, so I bought their featured brand, Pellegrino, imported from Italy.

For the last 16 years, I've been buying a case a week from Costco. I go through the it was water. I drink 3 liters per day. And last spring I came across a product that made me rethink my consumption of sparkling water.

There are two basic problems when it comes to Pellegrino. It is bottled in Italy. It weighs a lot. So each case must be shipped to the Eden Prairie Costco....across Europe....across the Atlantic...and then half way across America. That makes it expensive...about $1.25 per liter bottle.

The same weight issue causes another problem. A case weighs almost 40 pounds and I have to carry it to my car and then carry into my office once I get home. Every week...52 times each year....a little over a ton a year. The gods gave me a finite number of heartbeats and I began to ponder that I might be wasting a lot of them carrying water.

I live in Bloomington, MN. The city takes great pride in the fact that that they just won the National Tap Water Taste Test contest, as judged by the American Water Works Association. We do have great tasting tap water. If only they would carbonate it before they sent it through my faucets!

When SodaStream was first rolled out, it was sold with syrup for people to make "pop" at home. I didn't pay any attention to it as I don't like soft drinks. But Williams Sonoma had a vision that the technology could be used by sparkling water aficionados to make sparkling water at home. So they came up with a product called "The Penguin". It is sold exclusively through Williams Sonoma.

My wife, Becky, bought me one for my birthday and I have been smitten ever since. I simply fill up a one liter bottle with the country's best tasting tap water, slip it into The Penguin and press the beak down twice. Voila....instant sparkling water!

You have total control over how much effervescence you add to the water. The CO2 cartridge used to charge the water runs $14.99. Each cartridge holds enough CO2 to make 60, one-liter bottles of sparking water. So the cost per liter is just 25¢...compared to Pellegrino at $1.25 per liter. Given that I consume 3 liters per day, I'm saving $3.00 per day...almost $1,100 per year. Best of all, I'm not wasting my finite number of heartbeats schlepping 40-pound boxes of water all over town.

The Penguin costs $159 at Williams Sonoma. It comes with one CO2 cartridge and two, 1-liter bottles. I bought extra bottles so that I just need to make sparkling water once per day. Once my cartridge is empty, I take it to Best Buy and exchange it for a full one for $14.99. Target and Sears also exchange cartridges. A new cartridge runs $30...but when you exchange them, you just pay $14.99 (the price of the gas).