Eager Caesar

We’re still not in beautiful 70° weather quite yet here, but many are already feeling the itch to eat lighter and sit someplace sunny. We had one really great Sunday afternoon recently of brilliant, perfect weather and it was as if the local parks/playgrounds spontaneously exploded with life. It was as if the whole city took the time to get outside for some free vitamin D and spend time with their families disconnected from gadgets for a change. It did my heart some good to see it. We need more of that. Winter — true winter — activities are fun, but I think we’re all ripe for warmer weather.

In the meantime, we’re getting a healthy dose of rain. I’m actually really enjoying the rain right now. It’s reminding me that new growth will occur. In fact, I already have San Marzano tomato sprouts started and about ready to transfer to their final home in a bigger container! After recently having a little fun learning about water bath canning and making my own homemade strawberry jam from Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table cookbook, I’m hoping to preserve some San Marzanos this summer!

With all of this freshness in mind, and trying to heal after some recent health challenges, we’ve been putting plenty more fresh produce on our plates. This week in particular, we opted for homemade Caesar salads from a recipe in the Betty Crocker Bridal Edition cookbook. With many versions of Caesar dressing on the store shelves laden with sugar and “junk” ingredients, it was rather fun and refreshing to make ours from scratch. Kraft has its place, sure. My brother, cousins, and I grew up on holiday weekend menus like taco salad tossed in Kraft Catalina. That was fine for then; but if I can make it myself now, you better believe I’m gonna try if I have the time.

Many claim to have first invented the Caesar salad and there’s really no irrefutable account of the origin. Frankly, I don’t care who created it. It’s delicious and has easily become a menu staple at restaurants all across the world. Fun factoid: the “original” Caesar salad was purportedly not made with briny, umami-imparting anchovies. Now, you can make all the faces you want at anchovies; but if you order a Caesar salad in a nice restaurant, the dressing is likely made with anchovy paste. Unless you’re eating Kraft Caesar dressing. In which case, enjoy your soybean oil!

I loved how this recipe was not only tasty, but fun to make as well. I was unable to find an exact copy online of the recipe from my book, but this one is the closest you can get. One difference is that my copy called for a wooden salad bowl (this acacia one works well and is a decent price) to be rubbed with half a clove of garlic. While this was a fun technique, I found it tedious and ended up just pressing the garlic through a mincer into the bowl halfway through. After rubbing the macerated garlic around, I expressed the juice from two small Meyer lemons from my garden directly into the bowl. The recipe calls for regular lemons, but I just love the extra sweetness and slightly different flavor of Meyer lemons!

The rest of the dressing ingredients are added and whisked around until you achieve a light tan dressing spread across the bottom of the bowl. The chopped romaine is then thrown in and gently tossed to coat each bite in the oleaginous goodness. The salad is finished with garlic croutons (I used New York Bakery Texas Toast Cheese and Garlic variety since we are after all in Texas) and grated Parmesan cheese. I cannot stress more to opt for Parmigiano-Reggiano here. It costs a little more, but is so much more flavorful than the powdered stuff in a can. Plus wouldn’t you rather eat a smaller amount of more satisfying and full flavor real Parm-Reg than a ton of the cheap can of mystery mix with wood pulp?

My modifications: I took a cue from the suggestions in the book to top ours with various proteins. One day we topped ours with Miners Mix Poultry Perfection seasoned-and-grilled chicken and the next was Mezzetta Basil Pesto marinated-and-broiled wild shrimp. They definitely enlivened the salads even more! Also, after making this dressing as suggested the first time, I cut corners the second go-round and just tossed all the dressing ingredients in my Tupperware Salad Dressing Shaker (you could also use a mason jar) for convenience. It was fun to whisk it all in the wooden salad bowl, but the shaker came in handy in a time crunch and didn’t alter the flavor one bit.

Though simple, this recipe was one of the most balanced ones in terms of dressing-to-ingredients I’ve tried! It ranks right up there with the awesome Caesar salad we had in Boston at the Fin Point Oyster Bar & Grille that came with marinated white anchovies. What is one of your favorite places to get a good Caesar?

Currently Reading: The Flipside of Feminism by Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly

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