Caesar Salad with Spicy Croutons

In my opinion, there is rarely a time when a well-made Caesar salad is not welcome in my belly. It is so satisfying! And yeah, sure–I get that it has all those 90’s vibes and might even be considered outdated and outshined by a variety of new up-and-comers: shaved Brussel sprout salad, the resurgence of the Mad Men-era Blue Cheese Wedge or even an exotic mixed-green salad with all sorts of edible flowers and fancy things. Whatever. I will always have a soft spot for this Caesar that I’ve been making for decades now. A good quality mayonnaise takes the place of the traditional olive oil and raw eggs, with just a touch of anchovy paste for that all-important umami. Definitely take the time to make your own croutons and choose the darkest, leafiest romaine you can find! (Unless, of course, you’re a hearts of romaine fan, then adjust accordingly.)

DRESSING:

1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use Best Foods, or Hellman’s if you’re east of the Mississippi)

2 TB. red wine vinegar

2 cloves fresh garlic

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. anchovy paste (find it in most groceries near the canned tuna)

1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper, plus more to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix until thoroughly combined. (Immersion blender would also work, as would just whisking it really well in a jar or bowl.) Give it taste and adjust accordingly. I typically make this at least a few hours before I’m planning on serving and let it sit in the fridge to allow the ingredients to marry. This recipe makes enough for one enormous salad or several smaller ones. Pour any leftover dressing in a jar with a tight lid. It keeps well in the fridge for at least a week–just give the jar a few good vigorous shakes and it’s ready.

SPICY CROUTONS

2-3 cups cubed or torn rustic bread (fluffy French bread doesn’t work too well here, so look for something with a bit of chew and crust, even sourdough if that’s your jam)

1-2 cloves fresh garlic

2 TB. good quality olive oil

1.5 tsp. Cajun seasoning

1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread in large mixing bowl. Combine olive oil, garlic, Cajun seasoning and salt in a microwaveable dish. Heat the oil mixture in the microwave long enough to get slightly warm–it won’t take long. (I microwave mine for about thirty seconds.) Take the oil out, give it a stir and pour it over the bread cubes and toss well. Turn bread out onto a large baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and crisped, turning once, about 15 minutes.

SALAD

Romaine lettuce, washed and torn

1/4-1/2 cup good quality shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano (depending on the size of your salad)

Throw the romaine and the cheese in a large salad bowl. Drizzle dressing over the greens–not too much at once–give it toss until the lettuce is lightly coated, but not saturated with dressing. Add more if necessary. Add in the croutons, give it another toss and serve immediately.

I adore this salad so much that during quarantine, I’ve been keeping a jar of the dressing and a bag of the croutons prepared and ready to go at a minute’s notice. Add grilled chicken, steak or salmon for a quick and healthy meal.

 

 

Spicy Chorizo and Potato Tacos

(Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated.)

Filling:

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ chunks

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

3 teaspoons ground coriander

3 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Pinch ground allspice

Salt and pepper

6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

2 garlic cloves, minced

16 ounces ground pork sausage

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Tomatillo-Avocado sauce (recipe here)

Corn tortillas

Diced white onion

Cilantro sprigs

 

Steam or boil potatoes until they are just tender. (They will cook more once added to the chorizo.) Drain and set aside.

Combine oil, chile powder, paprika, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is bubbling and fragrant. Off heat, carefully stir in vinegar, sugar and garlic. Let stand until skillet cools slightly, about 5 minutes.

Add pork to skillet. Thoroughly incorporate spice mixture into pork, then return skillet to medium-high heat and cook until pork is broken into fine crumbles and juices are bubbling.

Stir in potatoes, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until potatoes have fully softened and have soaked up the pork juices, about 10 minutes. Off heat, mash about 1/4 of the potatoes in the skillet and stir until the mashed potatoes are evenly incorporated. Cover and keep warm.

Spoon filling into center of each tortilla, top with Tomatillo-Avocado sauce, white onion and cilantro.

 

 

Tomatillo-Avocado Sauce

(Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated.)

8 ounces tomatillos, husks and stems removed, rinsed well, dried and cut into 1-inch pieces

1-2 avocados, halved and pitted

2 jalapeno peppers, stemmed and seeded

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and stems

1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1-2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon salt

 

Process all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

Taste and add additional salt, garlic or lime juice to taste.

Harissa Chicken and Chickpeas

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, well-trimmed of excess fat

Salt and pepper

I medium onion, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2-15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/4 cup harissa paste

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup chopped, flat-leaf parsley

Lemon wedges, for serving

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, cook until well-browned, about five minutes per side; transfer to a plate.

Pour off all but one tablespoon drippings from pan. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until softened, about three minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until beginning to darken, another minute or two. Add chickpeas, harissa, and broth; bring to a simmer. Add more broth if you desire a more saucy consistency.

Nestle chicken, skin side up, in chickpeas; transfer skillet to hot oven. Roast until chicken is cooked through, 20–25 minutes.

Top with fresh parsley and serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.

Spinach and Chickpeas

(Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)

2-15 ounce cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound fresh spinach, washed

3-1″ slices crusty bread, cut into small cubes

4-5 ounces tomato sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch of red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt and ground black pepper

 

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. When it is hot, add the spinach and a pinch of salt. Stir well until leaves are just wilted. Remove from heat and set aside.

Heat 2 more tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the bread cubes for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, cumin, pepper and smoked paprika. Cook for 1 minute more or until garlic is nutty and golden.

Transfer the bread mixture to a food processor (or use a mortar and pestle) along with the vinegar and process (or mash) to a paste. Return to the fry pan, add the drained chickpeas and tomato sauce. Stir until the chickpeas have absorbed the flavors and are hot. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the spinach to the pan and cook until hot. If mixture seems a bit thick, add a little more tomato sauce or water. Taste and add additional paprika, if desired.