Sunday, November 06, 2011

super quick and easy home-made Caesar salad

It's a rare night in our home when everyone wants to eat supper at the same time. Usually we have 3 out of 4, but the odd person out still needs to eat (earlier or later). I have found ways to power-cook something very quickly before one of us leaves for work or a meeting, and also to make "Part 1 and Part 2" dinners so everyone enjoys something reasonably fresh and tasty, regardless of start time.

Tonight I served/will serve pasta with tomato vegetable chicken sauce. I am not posting up the recipe for that. Maybe another day. I will post the instructions (not really a recipe) for the super quick and easy home-made Caesar salad that accompanied/will accompany the meal. (Alex ate supper at 4pm before leaving for his evening shift at the movie theatre. Lukas, Andrew and I will eat around 5:30 or 6.)

I should begin by saying that Caesar salad is a bit of a treat at our house. I mostly serve mixed green salads with a variety of whatever is fresh, and I favour made-on-the-spot olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress my salad. Caesar is Alex's favourite, and it's also a salad I can be counted on to make on the first Sunday of the month. This is a sure thing because we celebrate Communion at our church on the first Sunday of every month. I volunteer to prepare the elements for our Communion service. We use a loaf of french bread, cut into cubes, and Welch's Grape Juice. Did you know Welch's was invented to a provide a non-alcoholic juice for Communion? I kid you not. All of the juice stays at the church, but I bring home the leftover bread cubes which provide the inspiration and starting ingredient for super quick and easy home-made caesar salad.

Begin with a bowl full of bread cubes. You can use whole grain or white, whatever you have on hand. Day old is better than very fresh. It need not be blessed, but it's kind of nice when it is. Use a big bowl. In fact, use the bowl that you will use to make and serve the salad. You'll see why later.

Now melt a glob of butter or margarine, or use olive oil if you prefer. Whichever way you go, you should add a big clove of garlic, squeezed through your garlic press.

If you don't have garlic, or a garlic press, or if you want it to be really super quick and easy, you could use Watkins Spice Oil. It tastes just the same as freshly squeezed garlic, but for this recipe, the real garlic has another advantage. You'll see later.

Pour the melted butter (or oil) with garlic over the bread cubes and stir it all up to coat the bread.
Then put the croutons on a pan and bake them at 350 for about 10 minutes. I use the toaster oven unless I already have the big oven going with something else.

About now, you are probably asking, "What is so darned super quick and easy about making your own croutons? Croutons can be bought at the grocery store, ready to go, in a box!" My answer is that I have always made my own croutons because they are about a googolplex times tastier than store croutons. Once, at a restaurant, my kids encountered some commercially-made croutons and they did not know what they were! Home-made croutons are large, irregularly-shaped, a bit crunchy and a bit chewy, butter/olive-oily, and fragrant with real garlic. Store croutons are sad, hard little nuggets of salty yuk. So even though it takes time (not that much really), my super quick and easy caesar salad recipe features home-made croutons.

While the croutons are baking, wash the lettuce. Romaine is the traditional lettuce of Caesar salad. It's really the best choice because it stands up to the weight of the dressing, cheese and croutons, and its mild flavour and crispy-fresh texture is just perfect with the rich and garlicky coating and accompaniment. Some people tear their lettuce, then wash and dry it. I prefer to separate the leaves, wash them and spin them whole, then tear them. This way I get two chances to inspect them for any bits of soil still clinging, and if it's romaine from the garden, I can double-check for the little baby slugs that love it almost as much as Alex does.

It's November, so this romaine is from the California. Here it is, torn into chunks, and thrown back into the bowl that was used to coat the croutons. The beauty of this arrangement is that you don't have to wash two bowls later, AND the oil/butter and garlic bits left behind in the bowl make the salad even yummier.

This is an Alex-sized portion of lettuce. I saved the rest to mix up fresh later, just before supper time for Andrew, Lukas and me.

Stir in the dressing. Here is where I take my short cut. I could coddle an egg, chop some anchovies and get all fancy, but nobody at my houe would notice, and something about real Caesar salad dressing gives me a tummy ache, although I do notice the difference, and love it so. It just doesn't love me. So I use Kraft.

A quick substitute for bottled Caesar dressing is a glob of mayonnaise with a splash of Italian dressing. You could use home-made Italian and make it a halfway short cut, if that makes you feel better. We always have Caesar dressing on hand because Alex puts it on all of his salads.

By now the croutons are ready. Throw in a handful (still warm from the oven is heavenly) and stir the salad up together, distributing the dressing and croutons throughout.

Plate it up right away. Caesar shouldn't sit. Top with fresh grated parmesan cheese. (See, no shortcut here. Pre-grated jarred parmesan is pretty much as awful as store croutons.) Grind some black pepper over all. Serve.

That is a dinner plate full of Caesar salad, the right amount for Alex, the Caesar salad lover. Sometimes I make this and serve it with grilled chicken. It's good with salmon too. Alex gobbled it up while the pasta cooked, then he ate the pasta, then he went to work.

Now I will go boil up some more pasta to go with the sauce that has been bubbling away for a couple of hours, and I'll mix up another super quick and easy Caesar salad for the three of us who are not going to work tonight.

question: how quick is quick? and what's worth making from scratch?

mompoet - if you have a shortcut to Caesar dressing that doesn't give me a tummy ache and can be prepared while the croutons bake, please drop me a line


Fiona said...

This makes me so hungry for home-made, normal people food. Maybe a salad would stay okay if you express-mailed it.

mompoet said...

Oh Fi, I'm sorry for your sad state of gastronomical deprivation. Home made real people food is really the best. Maybe you can help cook at Thanksgiving?