Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Salad Bar ~ Chicken Caesar Salad w/ Homemade Dressing

Howdy folks! I'm back! It's really good to be home after a month away, but I have to say that it was really hard to leave our beautiful new grandson. I miss my morning snuggle time and goodnight smooches like crazy, but it was time for the new parents to fly solo and for us to come home to our furry kids and for the Hubbs to return to work.

I've got several new recipes in the hopper, but this is one that I've had sitting partially edited in my drafts that I've been meaning to finish up and post for some time now. I'm also feeling the early stages of "Lupus payback mode" starting to kick in and I already had a good head start on editing this post, so let's get started shall we?

The real star of this post is the dressing recipe. It comes from Hubby's cousin, Jill. She started a blog of her own a while back, but with 2 teenagers who are both involved in sports and the arts, plus a full time job, she hasn't been doing much blogging these days. That being said, I do hope she comes back to it at some point, because she's an outstanding cook who can do things with crock pots and pressure cookers, that I never knew were possible! And if that wasn't enough, she's smart, has an awesome sense of humor and hands down, makes THE best Hummus I've ever eaten. When you're finished checking out her dressing recipe here in my post, please do yourself a huge favor and stop over and check out her blog. (The hummus recipe is linked above and her main blog URL is linked just below the recipe title) There aren't any new posts at the moment, but I assure you that every recipe you'll find there is a worth taking a look. You're welcome!

I made this dressing several times over the Summer and it's A W E S O M E! It's creamy, but not too thick. It has just the right amount of garlic-y, shallot-y flavor and it coats the lettuce perfectly. BUT... Before we get started, I suppose we do need to address the little furry, oily elephant in the room. The anchovies. Yeah, I know... they're hairy little fish that come packed swimming in a tin (or jar) of oil. Yup.

Normally, you couldn't get me to eat one of those little buggers on it's own. Not even if you promised me an all expenses paid trip to Fiji. But, whatever you do, please don't leave them out of this recipe. They completely disappear into the dressing and they give it a slightly salty depth of flavor that truly belongs there... not at all fishy tasting. Believe me. It wouldn't be the same without them.

Besides, I guarantee you that if you look at just about any of the bottles of Caesar dressing that you've used in the past, you'll find anchovies or anchovy paste in the ingredients. And no, you don't have to tell the kids that they're in there. All they'll know, is that they want more.

Oh, and you will too, so make a double batch. ;)

Caesar Dressing Recipe
courtesy of Jill Brock ~ "Can't Get Enough Of That"
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbls balsamic Vinegar
  • 3 Tbls Dijon mustard (only use Dijon)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Kosher Salt & Fresh Black Pepper, to taste
1. Combine and blend the first 6 ingredients in a food processor.

2. Give it a few good pulses, until the ingredients are well incorporated.

3. Slowly add, with machine running: the cup of extra virgin olive oil and then the cup of vegetable oil.

*Tip: Most every processor or blender that I've ever seen has an opening of some kind in the lid, but if yours doesn't just keep the speed low and maybe hold your hand over the top and pour through your fingers so that you don't end up wearing the ingredients.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (About 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp of pepper)

This dressing will be rather thick. I'd say it's similar to a thinned out mayonnaise.

5. Pour the dressing into an airtight container and pop it in the fridge, if you're not planning to use it right away. (This is why I wash out and save the occasional old condiment jar that has a tight fitting lid, like the mayonnaise jar that I used, above) It should keep very nicely in there for up to a week. (if it lasts that long)

Now... Let's get on with the salad, itself.

As most people probably know, the "classic" Caesar salad generally consists of romaine lettuce, bacon, Parmesan cheese and some kind of bread crouton. Some chefs/cooks also throw in a few capers and/or some whole anchovies, but as you've probably surmised from my comments in the lead-in to this recipe, we're not gonna go there. I'd have probably added the capers if I'd had any, but if you're an anchovy lover (like my culinarily daring better half) then by all means, go for it! I didn't have any croutons this time either, but I really do love them in this dish and when I think back on it, I don't remember why I didn't just make up a batch of my own.

Classic Caesar Salad
  • 2 to 4 Heads Fresh Romaine Lettuce, washed and dried
  • 1/2 to 1 Lb Bacon, cut into bite sized chunks
  • A Wedge of Good Parmesan Cheese (or 1/2 plus Cup Prepared Shredded)
  • 1 Cup Plain or Seasoned Croutons of your choosing
  • 1 to 2 Tbls Capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • 6 to 8 Whole Anchovy Fillets (optional)
  • Homemade Caesar Dressing (recipe above)

1. Slice the bacon into good sized pieces and place it in a pre-heated dry non-stick pan, set at medium high heat. Fry, turning or stirring often until it's dark golden brown and crispy.

*Tip: When I'm cooking bacon for a recipe that calls for it to be "crumbled", I cut it into pieces and fry it. But if what we're talking about is more along the lines of a breakfast side and I'm looking for full strips, I save my stove top (and my delicate extremities) from all of the hot spattering grease, by laying it out on a rack placed in a cookie sheet and bake it in the oven at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how thick t is and how much I have on the rack.

**Tip cont'd: Oh, and as long as you haven't over-cooked it, the oven is the best way to re-heat leftover bacon, too. Just place it back on that rack and heat it for 4 or 5 minutes at 350 degrees.

2. Drain the cooked bacon on some paper towels, while you prepare and dress the salad.

3. Cut or tear the romaine into bite-sized pieces. Depending on the size of the heads and whether or not this is going to be a dinner salad or a side salad, you can use anywhere from two to four heads of lettuce.

I usually buy the packages of pre-washed, organic hearts of romaine at my grocery store, except during the Spring and Summer months when I have access to fresh lettuces at my local farmer's market.

4. Start with small amounts of dressing and toss with the lettuce to incorporate. If you feel the salad is too "dry" then you can add a bit more. You want the lettuce leaves to be thinly coated with the dressing, but not swimming in it.

5. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, shave off several thin, wide strips of fresh Parmesan cheese. We almost always have a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano in the fridge and I do recommend it, if possible. But, if you happen to have a chunk of fresh Romano cheese, you can use that instead. Or, if all you have on hand is an "in-store" or a good brand name pre-shredded Parmesan, that will work as well.

6. Toss the lettuce, shaved Parmesan, (capers & anchovies, if using) and croutons lightly and scoop out portions onto each person's plate. Sprinkle the reserved cooked bacon pieces on top, add some more shaved Parmesan and drizzle just a tiny bit more dressing over everything.

*Tip: I also like to slice up some lemon to use as a garnish and to squeeze on top of the salad, to give it a bit of a fresh burst of lemon flavor.

On this particular night, I cooked and sliced up some chicken, because we were having the salad as a meal. I didn't take any photos of the chicken cooking, but my tried and true "recipe" for pan sauteed chicken breast is below.

For The Chicken:

I just season a couple of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and a some fresh or dried thyme and saute it in a teaspoon or two of light olive oil, turning it occasionally, until it's a light golden brown on both sides and is cooked all the way through. Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes and then slice it on the diagonal. For a dinner serving I allow one chicken breast per person, but for a light lunch, 1/2 breast per person should be plenty.



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