Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to eat was the Caesar salad at the Savoy Grill in Kansas City. The salad was prepared table-side in a large wooden bowl and I was fascinated that so many odd-smelling and -looking components could combine to make something so delicious.

I was thrilled to open my copy of Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal to find a very workable version of this classic salad, conveniently portioned for two.

With anchovies and egg yolk at the ready, I prepared to take on this classic… and won the day, with a few minor adjustments from the original recipe. Take a look:

It’s a Caesar salad from (mostly) scratch! I didn’t make the croutons, but I did make some kick-ass Caesar dressing. Wow wow wowee.

Perfect Caesar Salad for 2
Servings: 2 (just like in the title :) )

1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy, minced
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. sherry cooking wine
1 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper
14 croutons
1 medium head Romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed, cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch strips

Combine the garlic and anchovies in a jar or glass using a hand blender until smooth. Add the egg yolk and continue blending, then add the sherry and vinegar until fully incorporated. With the hand blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil and blend until mixture is thick, sort of like mayonnaise. Add half of the Parmesan cheese to the dressing and stir by hand, then season with salt and pepper. If the dressing should be thinner, add a little water or vinegar, depending on your preference.

Toss the dressing with the lettuce and the rest of the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Divide onto two plates, then divide the croutons between the salads.

A salad fit for an emperor, or just your average Monday night. Hail, Caesar!

In my previous post, I talked about my recent cooking adventure involving a compression vacuum and Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide. The pictures in that post don’t really do the process, or the final product, justice.

Last night I finally took a few minutes to unload the real camera (as opposed to my iPhone, from which the photos in the last post came) and the resulting pictures were too good not to share.

Here’s a BEFORE shot of the cucumber batons in their bag:

And here’s the same cucumbers, after being chamber vac’ed on HIGH:

Remarkable, eh?

This is what my red-onion relish looked like, after about 45 minutes of cooking:

And here’s what the cucumbers look like being chopped – try to picture what “normal” cucumbers look like – there’s quite a difference:

Finally, here is a better shot of the finished product:

It took some time to put this together, but the end result was worth all of the effort.

Thomas Keller is a food god. I’m not just saying that – he’s probably the best chef in the United States, and one of the best in the world. He’s a multiple James Beard award winner, and has two restaurants with three Michelin stars. For those of who who don’t speak foodie, he’s like the Michael Jordan of cooking. He’s Stan Lee. He’s Sir Laurence Olivier. He’s Hawking. He’s Gates. He’s the top player in his field, and his field is cooking.

Just like any top player, his techniques are innovative, inspiring, daring and difficult to master. While he has written several cookbooks, most of his recipes – and I use this term loosely – are not exactly what you would call “remotely doable” by a home cook.

But… Keller wrote an entire book about sous vide cooking – Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide.

And… I have a chamber vac, which is a key tool necessary to make most of the recipes in this book work.

Unfortunately… I don’t have a copy of Under Pressure on hand. The bookstore didn’t have it in stock, and my local library has it on order from another branch, so I won’t be able to fully dive into it for at least another week.

Thank goodness for Google Books! And for decent eyesight! Google Books has two recipe pages available for view, one of which looked like it would be perfect for my first foray into the world of Thomas Keller: Marinated Toy Box Tomatoes with Compressed Cucumber-Red Onion Relish, Toasted Brioche, and Diane St. Claire Butter. Sounds awesome, right?!

Here we go. First, here’s Keller’s recipe (keep in mind I had to transcribe this from super-tiny type):

Marinated Toy Box Tomatoes with Compressed Cucumber-Red Onion Relish, Toasted Brioche, and Diane St. Claire Butter
Servings: 4

Red Onion Relish:
100 grams small dice red onion
23 grams granulated sugar
125 grams water
12 grams red wine vinegar
1 English cucumber

Tomatoes:
35 grams roughly chopped basil
140 grams water
140 grams granulated sugar
290 grams Toy Box tomatoes, peeled

Extra virgin olive oil
Small basil leaves
High-quality unsalted butter, such as Diane St. Claire, at room temperature
Four 1/2-inch thick slices Brioche, crusts removed and toasted
Maldon salt

For the onion relish:
Combine the onion, sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 15 minutes. The onions should be tender. Add the vinegar and cook for another 20 minutes, or until there is only a very small amount of liquid left. Cool, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill.

Cut the cucumber into 3-inch lengths. Trim the sides away to square off the edges, then cut 8 even rectangles about 1 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick from each piece (2 per side); cut only until you reach the seeds, and discard the seedy centers. Lay the cucumber slices side by side in one layer in a bag. Vacuum-pack on high, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

Cut the cucumber into a small dice, about 1/8 inch. You should have about 85 grams of cucumber.

For the tomatoes:
Combine the chopped basil, water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Chill this simple syrup over an ice bath, whisking until cold.

Place the tomatoes in a large bag and strain in enough syrup to cover them; you may not use all of it. Vacuum-pack on high, then refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight.

At service:
Toss the cucumber and onion together. Drain the tomatoes and toss with a little olive oil and small basil leaves. Whip the butter until smooth. Serve with the brioche toast and Maldon salt.

Sounds simple, huh? ;) This is, by far, the most simple recipe in Under Pressure, and it’s still complicated as all get-out.

However… we have the technology.

We spent the better part of a Saturday shopping  and cooking. We visited the farmer’s market to find just the right tomatoes, cucumber and onion before heading home to our kitchen/science laboratory.

The first thing we did was peel the cucumber and cut it into batons. Then, we compressed the batons on HIGH. This, by the way, was the very first thing we’ve ever compressed on HIGH – that is, decompressing the chamber for a full 60 seconds before allowing the air to return, effectively slamming all the solid parts together. So, so cool. These went in the fridge and I turned my attention to the tomatoes.

At the market, we selected some heirloom cherry tomatoes in lots of different colors. Keller’s recipe calls for the tomatoes to be peeled, so I blanched them briefly to loosen the skin then set to peeling:

Peeling tiny tomatoes takes a little while, but it’s worth it. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with an unpeeled cherry tomato ever again.

After making the basil-infused simple syrup, we vacuum-packed the tomatoes and the syrup, on HIGH again. I was afraid this would crush the tiny little balls of summertime sunshine, but luckily Chef Keller knows best and HIGH was just right:

We let this chill for about 2 hours with the cucumbers. We then diced up the cucumbers, mixed them with the onion relish, drained the tomatoes, and put them both together in one bowl for a high-tech and highly delicious salad. And now… the big reveal:

Isn’t that cool-looking?! It tasted incredible, and the textures – I can’t even describe the textures because they are unlike anything I’d experienced before.

You’ll notice the absence of brioche and butter. I chose to omit those in favor of a salad, and had a burger with this instead. A perfect pairing, I must say.

I  think that my first experience with a Thomas Keller recipe was a big success. It took time, but I love spending time in the kitchen. It’s relaxing and exciting and so much fun. Keller’s recipes are complicated, but his flavors are so spot-on that they are worth the effort. I’m looking forward to exploring more of Under Pressure and expect to pick it up from the library this week.

In the mean time, I checked out another of his books, Ad Hoc At Home, and am already planning my next trip to the farmer’s market.

After we returned from Colorado last weekend (see part 1 and part 2 of our trip description), we were anxious to get cooking again. The first morning back, we headed to the City Market and stocked up on supplies for the week. This was our $26 haul:

Basil, beets, peaches, focaccia bread, blueberry jam, corn, limes, apples, onions tomatoes, mushrooms, thyme and a watermelon. Drool.

To celebrate our bounty, we whipped together a watermelon and tomato salad.

Lynn’s Watermelon and Tomato Salad
Servings: 4

A third of a seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 c. mixed small tomatoes, halved
1/4 c. red onion, diced
Juice from 1 lime
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

But the real hit of dinner was a burger. I got the idea from a website promoting Australian lamb and adapted it to suit our tastes (and what we had on hand)

Lynn’s Mediterranean Burgers
Servings: 4

1 Tbsp. capers, drained
1 medium shallot, peeled
1 c. fresh basil leaves
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/4 lbs. ground buffalo (or other lean red meat)
Cornmeal
1 focaccia bread, cut into quarters (for buns)
Soft goat cheese
Sweet-hot pepper relish (like Dickinson’s)

Preheat your grill.

Combine the capers, shallot, basil and pepper in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. In a large bowl, combine the buffalo with the caper mixture and combine well. Form into four patties.

Pour some cornmeal into a shallow, wide dish. One at a time, dust each patty with cornmeal on all sides. When the grill is ready, cook the burgers until done, about 5 minutes on each side. About 2 minutes before they are done, put the focaccia pieces, cut-side down, on the grill to brown.

Spread some goat cheese on the bottom “bun” of each focaccia quarter. Top with a burger and put a dollop of pepper relish on each burger before adding the top of the focaccia bun.

Serve with watermelon and tomato salad for one of the best meals ever:

Make sure you use good quality ingredients whenever possible while cooking. They make all the difference in the world.

Here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time:

Monday: Chipotle!

Tuesday: Longboards!

Wednesday: Macaroni and cheese with tuna and split pea and ham soup

Thursday: Makeshift “Hamburger” Helper

Friday: Baked Italian Salmon* with Lemon Spaghetti*

Saturday: Tuna melts with red peppers and leftover Lemon Spaghetti

Sunday: Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Buttery Herb Couscous

Treat Monday: Pumpkin Butterscotch Cookies

The goal for this week is to not overdo it with Thanksgiving. That means trying to eat a bit lighter on other days so the main event won’t be such a challenge. While my mom is doing the turkey, I’m taking on some of the more traditionally not-so-good-for-you fare in the form of stuffing and sweet potato casserole.

The stuffing recipe is one I used last year. It combines lots of fruit and veggies with wheat bread crumbs, broth and seasoning. There’s little fat to speak of, save the olive oil and light butter used to sauté the vegetables:

A photo from last Thanksgiving.

The picture above was taken last year, which was the first time I made this stuffing. It was so delicious that we’re breaking it out again this year, and probably every year for the foreseeable future. If you want more, it’s easy to increase the measurements – this is one of those recipes where it’s really about what you like.

So Good Stuffing!
Servings: 8
WW Points: 3 per serving

Cooking spray
9 cups whole-wheat bread cubes, toasted
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. light butter
1 small onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 4-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter together for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and celery; sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add thyme, sage, salt and pepper; stir to coat. Cook until herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute.

Transfer onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add bread, broth and chives, apple and cranberries; toss to combine. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, 15 minutes more.

As for sweet potatoes, while I absolutely love the marshmallow and sugar concoction that graces most tables, we’re going with something a bit lighter, but just as delicious. This casserole accentuates the natural sweetness of the potatoes with some apple juice and crystallized ginger. I’ve recently discovered how well crystallized ginger pairs with squash and sweet potatoes, and recommend you try some combination thereof soon.

Before the oven.

We tried this recipe a few months ago and knew it would be a Thanksgiving keeper. We’re going to double it, so I hope it turns out as good as the first time!

Sweeter Potato Casserole
Servings: 4
WW Points: 4 per serving

2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp butter, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange half of the apples in the dish; top with half the potatoes, then sprinkle with half the ginger and half the salt. Repeat the layers.

In a small bowl, combine the juice concentrate, brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves and water.  Pour over the potatoes. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes; dot with butter. Bake, uncovered, until tender, bubbling and lightly browned, about 15 minutes more.

My mom, in addition to the turkey, is making my favorite salad ever – 7 layer salad. She makes it with lettuce, bacon (turkey this time!), peas, red onion, a little sugar, shredded swiss cheese and Miracle Whip (reduced fat). It’s one of those salads that I could eat with every meal. The bad news is that it doesn’t do well as leftovers, but it’s incredible when fresh.

Frank’s parents will be joining us and will bring traditional green bean casserole (It’s my guilty pleasure and since it’s only once a year, indulge!) and a pumpkin pie.

After the meal, we plan on taking a nice long walk, assuming the weather cooperates.

What are your Thanksgiving must-have dishes?

When I was a growing up, I ate a lot of pasta. Spaghetti, Prego spaghetti sauce with extra canned mushrooms, and a whole load of Kraft Parmesan cheese (gotta love that green can) was, and still is, my idea of the perfect comfort food. Finding ways to incorporate my love of all things spaghetti with a healthy diet isn’t always easy, but every once in a while, magic happens.

I present to you one of these magic moments, in the form of a cold noodle salad.

With spaghetti.

And veggies.

And peanut butter.

Mmm hmm. Peanut. Butter.

You start by cooking up some whole-wheat spaghetti, then running it under cold water. You know, since we’re making cold noodle salad. Save a little of the cooking water – you’ll need it later.

Next, you get out your trusty blender and throw a bunch of stuff that will eventually turn into something delicious. By the way, my blender is all sorts of awesome.

Don't knock my blender. It's old school retro.

See all those speeds?!

Fun fact: Blenders like this one and just about every other one ever made only have two speeds. But they have special parts that make the pitch of the sound change when you change “speeds” so you, the unwitting consumer, think that beating is different from pulverizing is different from liquifying.

Another fun fact: I used to have two blenders, and neither was this one. One was a cute little chrome jobbie that I gave to my mom when she said she wanted to make smoothies. I gave it to her because I had a really fancy KitchenAid model that I thought would last forever. A week later, the KitchenAid went kaput.

Thank goodness my mother-in-law still had the blender my husband bought when he was in high school. Don’t ask me why he had a blender in high school. He’s always been into gadgets.

Anywho, once all the good stuff, like peanut butter, and red curry paste, and lime juice and some of that cooking water I mentioned before are in the blender, blend/pulverize/frappe/whatever until the mix is smooth.

Taste the sauce. Go on… it’s so delicious…

Then chop up a pepper, grate a carrot, dice a cucumber, mince some cilantro, and mix it all together with the spaghetti and the sauce.

Then chill.

Up close and personal with Cold Curry-Peanut Noodle Salad.

Then eat.

Then smile in smug satisfaction, because that stuff is freaking delicious! Right? Right!

Here’s the complete recipe:

Cold Curry-Peanut Noodle Salad
Servings: 4
WW Points: 4 per serving

Salt
8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
2/3 c. reduced-fat peanut butter
4 tsp. red curry paste (to taste)
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. fish sauce
Juice of one lime, plus wedges for serving
1/3 c. fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for sprinkling
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 medium cucumber, peeled, canoed and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, finely diced
Sriracha sauce (optional)

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Reserve about 3/4 c. cooking water, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Shake off excess water and set aside.

Meanwhile, puree the peanut butter, curry paste, vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, fish sauce, 1/2 c. cooking water and 1 tsp. salt in a food processor until smooth.

Toss the spaghetti with the peanut sauce, green onions, cucumber, carrot and bell pepper in a large bowl until coated. Season with salt and stir in some more water to loosen the sauce, if necessary. Transfer to serving dishes and top with more cilantro and some sprinkles of Sriracha, if desired. Serve with lime wedges.

This is so delicious. I crave it at least twice a month. This goes really well with Vietnamese Spring Rolls…

Tell Panda Express to shove it.

…and you know how to make those now, too!

I am in love, and thy name is Brussels sprouts. That’s right. Brussels sprouts.

I mean, just LOOK at these things:

Have you ever seen a pan of vegetables that looks so delicious in your life?

I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking that you will never try to cook Brussels sprouts because Brussels sprouts are disgusting. You’re right – Brussels sprouts ARE disgusting – if they are FROZEN and BOILED into that nasty, smooshy, bitter mess you think of when you think of Brussels sprouts. Those Brussels sprouts are a travesty against nature. Those Brussels sprouts are just wrong.

But… when they are FRESH and ROASTED, they are not just good – they areheavenly. Sweet, savory, tender… my mouth waters just thinking about them. Roasted Brussels sprouts are one of the best foods on earth. They are simple to prepare, incredibly good for you and delicious.

To wit:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Servings: 4
WW Points: 2 per serving

1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, cut in half with stems and outer leaves removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Olive oil cooking spray
2-3 shallots, cut cross wise into 1/8-inch thick slices and separated into rings (about 1 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat to 400 degrees.

Toss Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a couple of spritzes cooking spray if you need to. Spread out in 1 layer in a large, shallow baking pan. Roast, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, about 25 to 30 minutes.

While sprouts roast, heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and shallots to pan with a spritz of cooking spray over high heat. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are golden brown, about 5 minutes.

When sprouts are done, mix shallots and sprouts together in skillet and heat through. Serve immediately.

See? How easy is that?!

When we’re in a rush, I omit the garlic and shallots completely and just go for roasted sprouts with lots of salt. If we don’t have shallots, a diced red onion works really well. Throw a splash of red wine in there just for fun. There are so many variations with this dish you are bound to find a flavor combination that works for you. Lemon is one option. So are chestnuts. Oh, and for those who must do so, you can even add in some bacon. Or leeks. Or maple syrup. I think you see what I’m getting at.

So please – before you cast judgement over the Brussels sprout based on someone’s horrific abuse to the vegetable, try them the right way and then decide if they are really worth your scorn. Hint: they won’t be and you will love them, too.

I love fish. I love looking at them and eating them.

There are three fish living in our house. In a tank. We won’t eat them. That would be weird.

This is Jack. Or is it Jackie?

Jack.

Jack or Jackie?

Jack is a Jack Dempsey. We’ve had him since he was a wee tadpole.

We also have Coco.

Coco.

Team Coco.

Coco is a Midas cichlid. He’s fiesty.

Jack and Coco share their tank with a plecostomus (aka sucker fish) who we’ve dubbed Mr. Plecopostamus. Pleco is shy, so I don’t have a photo for you. Yet.

The fish tank is in our kitchen. The three guys don’t really seem to mind when we cook up some of their cousins, which we do often.

Like last night.

One of the easiest meals you can throw together is pan-seared fish, some sautéed veggies, some sauce and some couscous. The meal literally comes together in 15 minutes. One of my favorite versions of this is a pan-seared salmon with sautéed leeks, honey-balsamic sauce and couscous with herbs and Parmesan cheese. It’s so ridiculously easy, and tastes like something you’d pay big bucks for in a fancy restaurant. If I could eat only one salmon dish for the rest of my life, this would probably be it.

But more than just being easy. More than just being delicious. This meal isn’t terrible for you. It’s low in fat, and has lots of good stuff in the form of omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains and veggies.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Cheesy Herb Couscous
Servings: 4
WW Points: 11 per serving

For the salmon, leeks and sauce:
Cooking spray
1/4 tsp. olive oil
4 leeks, chopped, white and light green parts only
4 6-oz salmon fillets, with or without skin
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/4 tsp. pepper, divided
3/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. honey

Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add oil. Place over medium-high heat; add leeks, and sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until soft. Remove from pan and set aside.

Sprinkle fish with 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper. Add fish to pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove from pan; set aside, and keep warm.

Add vinegar, honey, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄8 teaspoon pepper to pan. Cook over medium-high heat 3 to 4 minutes or until reduced by half.

For the couscous:
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. light butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium green onions, chopped, white and green parts separated
2/3 c. whole-wheat couscous, uncooked
1 1/3 c. chicken broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Warm olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook garlic and white parts of the onion for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and salt and bring to a boil. Stir in couscous, remove from heat and cover. Let stand 5 minutes, then stir in basil, thyme, green parts of the onion and cheese.

To serve:
Divide the couscous evenly among four plates. Top with the salmon, some of the leeks and drizzle with sauce.

This couscous goes really well with all sorts of dishes, and the salmon can be swapped out easily for other fish you might prefer. Experiment!