Caesar Salad: Lessons Learned and Food Photography Blunders

Today, I attempted to try my own version of the Caesar Salad we learned in last week’s cooking class at L’Academie de Cuisine. I picked up some Baby Romaine Lettuce at the store over the weekend for my salad. In class we used the traditional heads of Romaine, but when I was shopping for my groceries, I found all the heads of Romaine to look kind of anemic, and opted for the dark greenish purple baby leaves instead. Although I know the French chefs would probably disapprove, I also decided to add in some Kale leaves for added texture, flavor, and nutritional punch. I happen to love the taste of raw kale in salads. I typically only buy the long slender Lacinato Kale leaves for this purpose, because of their taste and texture. To prep the Kale, I folded the leaves in half, and used my chef’s knife to remove the tougher rib from each leaf. I then cut the leaf vertically into two separate pieces, stacked the leaf halves, rolled the stacks up, and sliced them using a chiffonade technique. This leaves you with long thin ribbons of kale leaves. 

This may be a good time to mention, that I had borrowed my Dad’s very nice digital camera over the weekend, to finally get some photos to add to the blog. I was using a small tripod, and the camera’s timer function to try to catch capture the cooking action…but we’ll come back to this story later.

Back to the salad! Earlier in the day, I had made some Salt and Pepper Sourdough Croutons.

For the croutons I used:

Most of a loaf of slightly-stale Sourdough bread (although many breads would work here…Italian, Pumpernickel, Multigrain, etc.). I removed the crust, and cut the remaining bread into equal sized 1/2″ cubes

2 tbsp. butter

A good drizzling of olive oil

Salt and Pepper

I started by preheating the oven to 300 degrees. I melted the butter with the olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, and once melted, added the bread cubes. At this point I gave them a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. I let those go on the heat for a while, tossing them periodically, but allowing them to get a nice toasty color. At this point I tasted a couple to see if I wanted to add additional salt and pepper, which of course, I did. After I was happy with their color, I transferred the whole skillet into a 300 degree oven for about 8-10 minutes, or until they were uniformly crispy and dry throughout. I let them cool completely and then transferred them to an air tight container.

Parmesan Lollipops

I also attempted to make some Parmesan Lollipops which we made in class last week. These are very simple and fun. I used a Silpat baking  sheet liner, but I think you can easily use parchment paper if you don’t have a Silpat. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and get your Silpat-lined baking sheet (or parchment lined sheet) ready. For my stick, I used a small sized kebab sticks layed out on my silpat, spaced on alternating ends of the sheet, at least a few inches apart. Then, sprinkle about 1/8c. or so of parmesan at the end of each stick in an even layer. At this point, you can sprinkle chopped Kalamata olives in the center of each parmesan circle if you are the olive-loving type. Pop these in the oven and start checking after just a few minutes. You don’t want to leave these unattended very long, as they brown pretty quickly. Remove when golden brown and allow to cool. You could also skip the sticks, and just make a parmesan round, then carefully drape the hot round over a cup, once out of the oven and cooled slightly. In this way you can make a parmesan “cup”.

 

 

Caesar Dressing (enough for two individual salads)

* This salad has raw egg in it. If you are concerned about this, you can coddle the egg. I believe Alton Brown does this in his Hail Caesar Salad, found at http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/good-eats/hail-caesar-salad-recipe/index.html *

To make the caesar dressing, I used:

1 tbsp. dijon mustard

1 egg yolk

2-3 cloves garlic

2 anchovies (I used olive oil packed Cento anchovies with capers)

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/8 -1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Parmesan cheese to taste

In a large bowl, combine mustard and egg yolk. Chop your garlic, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Let the garlic sit for a minute or two while you do something else. The salt will work to “soften up” the garlic. Then use the edge of your knife to mash the garlic-salt paste against your cutting board. When your garlic is a paste consistency, add it to the bowl.

Finely chop and then mash your anchovies with the side of your knife and add these to the bowl as well. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into the bowl over a sieve, to catch any seeds. Whisk all this together throughly, and then add a few drops of warm water. The warm water will help to make your emulsion more stable when you add the olive oil. You will be using approximately 3 parts olive oil to 1 part lemon juice. If you have a squeeze bottle, this works well, or otherwise you can just hold you thumb over the bottle of olive oil, allowing only a few drops of oil to drip into the bowl at a time, while you whisk the dressing vigorously with the other hand. Your arm will get tired! The mixture will start to look lighter, creamy, and thicker. When you are satisfied with the taste and consistency of you emulsion, you can add the finely (it must be fine!) chopped parsley, and some fresh ground black pepper. At this point you can also add grated Parmesan cheese.

 

At this point in our Caesar salad story, my Dad’s camera which was attached to our small tripod, was positioned leaning a little too far over the cutting board and abruptly tumbled over. I was unable to catch it, but after picking it up, thought it was alright. It seemed in one piece, and had only fallen over to the counter, and luckily not the floor. It was a few short minutes later that my husband noticed the zoom lens was crooked within it’s housing, and was unable to turn. Not good news! I don’t know if you have ever broken an expensive something belonging to a loved one, but it gives you a sinking, nauseating, horrible feeling, which definitely makes it hard to try to concentrate on finishing lunch (or anything else for that matter). Anyhow, I decided that he would at least want something good to come out of this debacle, and I should finish making and documenting lunch. I grabbed my little point-and-shoot camera and pressed on with a knot in my stomach.

To dress the salad, you want to bring the dressing to the salad, and add a little bit at a time, until the salad is dressed to your liking. You can’t take the dressing away once it is added, so add slowly. If you want your bowls to look nice, you will also want to dress your salad in a separate bowl than your serving bowl, so that it is not covered with dressing, and doesn’t look like a mess. Use tongs, or better yet, your hands. This is what the pros do, so they can “feel” whether or not the salad is dressed correctly. So, in a large bowl I added the kale, baby romaine, and croutons, and brought my dressing to the bowl mixing it with tongs, until I was satisfied with the combination. I then portioned the salad to two large plates, and garnished it with some larger ribbons of Parmesan cheese, and the Parmesan lollipop.

 

It was delicious! I have to admit, that I like the idea of the lollipop, but I prefer to break these little Parmesan rounds into crackers and sprinkle around the salad.

We served it with Dijon Balsamic Grilled Chicken Thighs adapted from a recipe on http://www.plainchicken.com (http://www.plainchicken.com/2011/08/dijon-grilled-chicken-thighs.html).

I changed it up a bit, so here’s what I used:

1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cloves minced garlic
1/4 c. fresh finely chopped parsley
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/3 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. fresh chopped thyme

I let the chicken marinate for about an hour, and we cooked them on our grill pan on the stove, which took about 15 minutes on our stove.

They were really tasty, and I highly recommend them. They complimented the salad beautifully!

 

So, what of the camera mishap? Well, my Dad was amazingly understanding about the lens, as he is with everything. I feel awful about it, but hopefully you will use the pictures to inspire your salad-making, and it won’t be for nothing. He says he was looking for an excuse to get a new lens anyway, but I think that is just what nice Dads say.

Sorry Dad! I hope I can help you find a new lens, and thanks for supporting my adventures (and blunders) in cooking!

 

Happy Cooking!

Melissa

 

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2 thoughts on “Caesar Salad: Lessons Learned and Food Photography Blunders

  1. Hi Melissa!
    I like the parmesean with olives! The Hail Caesar food truck that my business partner owns has started using radicchio and endive in their caesar salads and I love the color and texture it adds. In addition they are adding a rosemary cayenne polenta shortbread biscuit to their salads. It is a delicious combination! http://hailcaesartruck.com/menu/

    I am enjoying your blog!
    Jennifer

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