Let's face it, everyone loves a good Caesar salad. I have made many versions in my catering and restaurant days, starting at the Gulf Coast Oyster Bar back in the 1980's and up until now at Wren Catering. I have made dressing from scratch with raw eggs and cheated too, just using good mayo as a starting point. But THE best Caesar dressing I have ever tasted is the one made by my daughter Lily. Its zing-y and delicious. She works the garlic and anchovies into a paste with finesse and purpose, making all the difference between great and AWESOME Caesar dressing. She has graciously let me share her recipe and technique with you and I so appreciate that...every wonderful bite!
Lily's Caesar Dressing
2 cloves garlic
1 oz anchovies from a tin or jar
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 cup Best Foods mayo
zest of one lemon
2 lemons, juiced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 cup finely shaved Parmesan cheese (I use my zester)
Put the mustard, mayo, lemon juice and zest in a bowl with a grind or two of black pepper and a generous pinch of sea salt. Finely chop the garlic then sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and smash it with the side of your knife against the cutting board until you have a paste. Chop and smash the anchovies the same way, then add to the bowl with the mustard, mayo, lemon juice and zest and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil in a slow stream until you get the texture you want, not too thin, you want it to stick to the romaine leaves well. Add in the cheese, stir. Check for flavor. Does it need more garlic? Lemon juice? Olive oil? You want it to have a balanced flavor with all ingredients detected. Drizzle on well washed and dried romaine leaves, more Parmesan and homemade croutons. Add chicken or cooked shrimp if you like. This dressing is also good as a crudité dip!
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Toasted Pecan Goat Cheese and Palmiers - 2 Ways - Basil Pesto, Toasted Pine Nuts & Parmesan and Cream Cheese with ‘Everything’ Mix
Complicated, time consuming hors d'oeuvres have no business in our lives during this hectic holiday season, so grab some good quality, grocery store items and put them to work for you! These Palmiers are tasty, pretty and impressive and are a snap to make with store bought puff pastry. Add chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil to my recipe or spread dough with Dijon mustard, top with thinly sliced prosciutto and top with grated Asiago for a bit of a Mediterranean direction. The bacon wrapped dates are yummy and are so versatile - I used goat cheese here but you can fill them with blue cheese and walnuts or Manchego and smoked almonds or even Brie. The holidays should be an enjoyable, relaxing time to spend with family and friends, not for slaving away in the kitchen.
Happy holidaze everyone!
Bacon Wrapped Dates
4 oz goat cheese, softened to room temperature
2 T toasted pecans (optional)
a few grinds of black pepper
10 slices of applewood smoked bacon, cut in half, width wise (I used thick cut)
20 Medjool dates, pitted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or use a Silpat mat. Mix goat cheese, toasted pecans and black pepper together in a small bowl. Stuff the dates with the goat cheese mixture. Roll up each date in a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes then turn each date over and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until done and slightly crispy. Cool slightly and enjoy!
Cream Cheese with ‘Everything’ Palmiers
1 piece of puff pastry (from a package of two, store bought puff pastry) thawed
4 oz cream cheese at room temp
1/2 cup Everything mix (see below)
flour for your board
2 T sesame seeds
2 T poppy seed
2 T granulated garlic
2 T granulated onion
Preheat oven to 400°. Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to a
9" x 11" rectangle. Spread with the cream cheese all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with all of the ‘Everything’ mixture and then sprinkle with some sea salt. With 1 long side facing you, fold both long sides in toward the center line so they meet in the middle (do not overlap). Chill log for 15 minutes. Slice log crosswise into ½” thick pieces (you should have about 24). Transfer pieces cut side up to a greased baking sheet, spacing about 2" apart. Bake palmiers 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden all over. Let cool before serving. Palmiers can be baked 8 hours ahead. Let cool, then cover with plastic and let sit at room temperature until ready to serve.
Basil Pesto, Pine Nut and Parmesan Palmiers
4 oz basil pesto (store bought is fine)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (more if you like)
flour for rolling out the dough
1 piece of puff pastry (from a package of two of store bought puff pastry) thawed
Follow instructions in the recipe above using pesto, pine nuts and parmesan instead.
My friend Andrée used to call me "the Soup Master" back when we were cooking together at Parigi in Dallas ( I made most of the soups there ). So when it starts to get cold and rainy I naturally think of making soup, but which soup? You can literally make soup from just about anything! I happened to abscond with a ham bone with quite a bit of meat on it, the other night after bookclub (sorry Susie, thanks Cynthia), and this became my inspiration. This chowder has been a crowd favorite at both Alchemy and Wren Café over the years, it's super easy to make and the flavors are perfect together. Hmmmm, I still have the bone...split pea soup? Lentil? White bean? I love Winter. : )
Yukon Gold Potato, Corn and Ham Chowder
4 T butter
1 yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 dice
1 lb package of frozen corn (fresh if it's in season)
2 cups of ham cut from the bone or a chunk of ham
8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream, more to taste
salt and pepper
green onions for garnish (optional)
1 T curry powder ( see note )
Sauté the onion and garlic in the butter with a generous pinch of salt and pepper, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, corn and ham. Cook for a few minutes, stirring every so often. Add the stock and bring to a boil (skim if necessary). Let cook until the potatoes are soft and the flavors have a chance to blend, about 30 minutes (you want the potatoes to break down a bit to thicken the soup. Add the cream or half and half, stir. Simmer until ready to serve. Top with chopped green onion if desired.
NOTE: Add a tablespoon of curry powder while sautéing the onion for a different flavor direction.
An English-language proverb claims, "Necessity is the mother of invention." In life, and especially in cooking, I find this to be true. Case in point, I am in Puerto Vallarta visiting friends and I wanted to make poached pears with a créme anglaise for dessert. But when I went to the pantry, I discovered that my friends did not have any white sugar—Tari doesn't like it, she prefers the robust flavor of the molasses in dark brown sugar—so I found myself in a situation. What WOULD it taste like to use dark brown, Muscavado sugar in place of white sugar in the recipe? I proceeded to find out, and the results were delicious!
*Ginger Poached Pears
3 c water
1 c dry white wine
2 c dark brown sugar (you can use Muscavado or Turbinado but dark brown is just fine)
1 cinnamon stick
1 T peeled, sliced, fresh ginger
4 pears such as Bosc or D'Anjou, peeled (cut a thin slice off of the bottom so that they stand up easily, if necessary)
Place the water, wine, sugar, cinnamon stick and ginger in a pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Add the pears, turn the heat down to medium and cook, partially covered, turning frequently for about 45 minutes until you can pierce them easily with a knife. Turn off the heat and let the pears cool in the liquid. Remove the pears and set aside. Turn on the heat to high and reduce the liquid by a third, until it is a bit thicker and syrupy. Serve the pears on a pool of the créme anglaise, drizzled with the syrup. Add a crumbled ginger cookie or crystallized ginger if you like. The ginger that is in the syrup is also wonderful to chop and sprinkle over or just eat, mmmm spicy!
Dark Brown Sugar Créme Anglaise
2 c milk
6 egg yolks (save the whites for meringue cookies or an egg white omelet, they freeze!)
1/4 c brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
Microwave milk in 4-cup glass measure, uncovered for 3 minutes. In a mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Gradually add the hot milk into the mixture, beating vigorously, then return all to the glass measure. Microwave uncovered for 2 minutes.
Whisk vigorously for 30 seconds, then microwave 1 minute. Whisk in vanilla. Strain through a fine sieve into a clean bowl. Chill, tightly covered, until ready to use.
*The thing that I noticed the most about using dark brown sugar instead of white sugar is richness and intensity. The color of the pears and the créme anglaise was a bit darker, more flavorful and intriguing. I will definitely be thinking about dark brown sugar in place of white sugar in more recipes in the future!
Last week I picked up a selection of beautiful Fall veggies from my local farmer's market. At the time, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do with them, I was just purchasing by color. Rust colored sweet potatoes, purple eggplant, white and purple turnips, orange carrots, red onion and red and yellow bell peppers, they looked like a late summer sunset. I wanted to use them all together, the colors were so gorgeous, so I decided to roast them. Simply tossed with good olive oil, salt and pepper and some fresh sage leaves, they got caramelized, chewy and sweet. I served them to my book club group and then had enough leftover to do a salad for lunch (popular when I had Wren Café). A bit of mild goat cheese on the top and arugula underneath with a drizzle of apple cider balsamic vinaigrette and you're good to go. So delicious!
Roasted Veggies (leftovers make a terrific salad)
Any Fall veggies that you like such as:
a few sweet potatoes, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
1 yellow pepper, seeded and sliced thinly into rounds
1 turnip, sliced thinly
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 eggplant, quartered and sliced a bit chunky
add cauliflower and broccoli if you like!
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss all with a good amount of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper, place on a sheet pan (or two) and roast, stirring every 15 minutes or so until soft and caramelized, about 30-45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
For a wonderful Fall salad:
Chill leftovers and place atop arugula that has been tossed with some apple balsamic vinaigrette. Sprinkle with a bit more vinaigrette and some mild goat cheese.
Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette
2 T apple balsamic vinegar (available at Marisolio in Murphys)
6 T good olive oil
salt and pepper
1 t Dijon mustard
2-3 fresh sage leaves (optional)
Whisk Dijon with the apple balsamic, slowly add olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in some chopped fresh sage if you like, or sprinkle on top.
As a caterer for over 30 years, I have established a reputation for consistently creating original menus inspired by the occasion and the season, presenting them with an ease and elegance uniquely my own. Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are the basis of my creative “from scratch” menus, which range from the classically elegant to rustic and whimsical.
"Love your recipes! Pat made your avocado toast a few weeks ago, delish! I'm taking them to a party in a few weeks, although the mushroom crostata looks pretty darn good!"