Friday, June 30, 2006

I HEART Cesar goes Up In Flames

We made a huge fire in the grill. HUGE. And grilled everything left in the fridge. It all went up in flames, so to speak.

My idea was to make a grilled vegetable salad. With a little protein on the side. Something quick, simple, healthy and cool.

But no one could agree on the components of the salad. Some were for eggplant. Some were violently opposed. Some were for Maui onions, others refused to consider them. I could not even get consensus on the meat.

So we made a huge fire in the grill. HUGE. With the intent of grilling everything possible, until everyone was either happy or the neighborhood burned down, in which case it wouldn’t matter anymore.

The sweet onions and eggplant were now both on the list. Along with red peppers. I didn’t think I could get the radishes on the grill. And grilled avocado seemed messy as well. Some other things had to be tossed or left off the list for grill-ability reasons, so our list got pared down quickly.

But beets offered up possibilities. I’d never grilled a beet before. Usually I roast them in the oven for one or two hours. But that sort of defeats the purpose of the grilling, which is to get outside and keep the house cool.

I have never microwaved a beet before either. I rarely, very rarely, use the microwave. But time was the deciding factor. So I tossed them in olive oil, set them in a covered ceramic bowl, and let them rip. Seven minutes on high, five minutes rest, and five more minutes on high. And they were done. Completely cooked. In just 17 minutes.

The only difficulty of microwave cooking the beets was that the skins didn’t come off easily. But once off, I sliced them, brushed them with olive oil, and set them on the grill. Just a few minutes per side and they were well browned. The microwaving and grilling developed a very nice sweet, roasted and smoky flavor in the beets. So we’ll be making that again soon.

The red peppers, I just set right over the coals, turning as each side got black and charred. They went into a paper bag for 10 minutes, got peeled, and tossed in some dressing. Delicious!

The eggplant was just sliced, brushed with olive oil, and grilled. And it grilled fast. We had as much eggplant charcoal as nice looking slices (and no – I didn’t do that on purpose, for the hundredth time!).

The Maui onions on the other hand grilled up very nicely. Also sliced, thickly, and brushed with olive oil. Maybe because of all the water in them, they went slowly enough that you could really turn them and take them off at the optimal time.

For the meat, chicken breasts marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. And sausages. A veritable orgy of grilled meat, at least for us.

And bruschetta croutons. French bread slices, again brushed with olive oil, grilled lightly, and rubbed with garlic.

The salad was just romaine, tossed in original Cesar dressing. With fresh raw egg yolks. And anchovies. And garlic, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Outstanding. I drizzled some more of the Cesar dressing on the top of the grilled veggies.

I HEART Cesar dressing. Homemade, by crushing the garlic in the bowl with the wooden spoon, using fresh eggs and anchovies. The whole production.

And that’s when I looked at my olive oil bottle. The one I had just bought yesterday. The one that was now almost empty. Because it was brushed all over all the veggies, and marinated into the meat, and tossed with the egg yolks on the lettuce.

Believe me, it’s not my girlish figure I’m worried about. It’s my heart, that is about to get a meal that was intended to be a low fat, light, healthy salad. Somehow we killed that deal!

So the light and healthy part of dinner was up in flames along with the grilled vegetables. Isn’t it always that way? Just when you’re really into something, and it’s turning out better than anticipated, boom. The reality sets in.

I drank a double dose of red wine with dinner so that the anti-oxidants in the wine would have a better chance to counteract all the Cesar dressing and olive oil (extra virgin – does that help?) I had consumed. Hey, I do the best I can!

A very nice Cesar dressing, which we used for this dinner, can be found here. We made a double portion, so that we could toss the lettuce in half, and drizzle the other half over the grilled veggies and meats.

Caesar Salad

This recipe is very close to the original version created in 1924 by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur in Tijuana, Mexico.

Serving Size: 4

1 large head romaine lettuce
1 cup olive oil
3 cups French bread
2 large cloves garlic
8 anchovy filets
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh is best)
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse ground salt
2 egg yolks for large eggs -- at room temperature*
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese -- shredded or shaved


Trim the romaine lettuce of bruised or browned leaves, then cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Wash and drain the lettuce, pat it dry and refrigerate for 30 minutes to crisp the leaves.

To make the croutons, cut the bread into cubes, heat the 1/2 cup olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Fry the bread cubes in the oil, tossing frequently, until they're crisp and golden. Drain the croutons on a paper towel until ready to use.

Peel the garlic cloves then put in a large wooden salad bowl. Mash the cloves against the sides of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon. Rub the pieces against the bowl until they begin to disintegrate. Remove most of the mashed garlic from the bowl and discard (oil from the garlic will remain in the bowl and flavor the salad). Add the anchovies and repeat the procedure you used with the garlic, but leave the anchovy pieces in the bowl. Now add the dry mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, black pepper, and egg yolks and blend well. Slowly drizzle in the remaining olive oil mixing with a wire whisk until a creamy mayonnaise type dressing forms. Add the lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese and salt. Toss everything together and serve directly from the salad bowl!

*Note: The original recipe may have called for coddled whole eggs (warmed to 120F degrees, to coddle simmer in water 1 minute and cool in cold water) so they are soft and runny. Some chefs who make this salad today use the whole egg at room temperature.

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