Zuni Cafe Caesar Salad

About two years ago, one of my favorite food writers Michael Ruhlman wrote a very entertaining rant on Chicken Caesar Salads… which led him to introduce the Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar… which then led him to challenge Chris Cosentino, chef of Incanto here in SF, to put the dish on the Incanto menu … which actually led to the development of an even more ridiculous version (as in ridiculously awesome) of the Caesar Salad by Chris Cosentino himself. If you haven’t seen it before, I suggest checking out this series of posts – if you’re not drooling by the end, then I regret to inform you that you must be a robot.

I will tell you right now that I’m not trying to one-up either of those guys by topping the salad with something even more ridiculous (fried bone marrow? Is that even possible??). But I will tell you about a basic Caesar Salad recipe so amazingly good that also happens to be amazingly simple and requires no frying of any kind. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork bellies and pretty much all things Chris Cosentino cooks (seriosuly, Nathan and I went to his restaurant three times in the span of six months). But thanks to Judy Rodgers and her Zuni Cafe cookbook, here’s a Caesar Salad so delicious and flavorful that you won’t even need to think about garnishing it with crazy proteins.

(Note that the dressing here uses raw eggs, so depending on your personal feelings on raw egg consumption, you may want to use pasteurized eggs. In full disclosure, I have not tried this dressing with pastuerized eggs, so if you do, please leave a comment and let me know if it works out!)

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Asparagus Bread Pudding

As you can probably tell by the infrequent posting, life has been a bit hectic lately and I’ve been having trouble finding the time to share my cooking adventures with you. What with a wedding to plan and grad school work ramping up, I haven’t been attempting many ambitious cooking projects at home. (Case in point: you should see my poor sourdough starter, which has been sadly sitting in the fridge unused for a couple of months now when I’m sure all he wants to do is come out and play. Hopefully, I won’t have to keep him pent up much longer.)

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking – it’s just the focus lately has been on simple, easy, super quick meals. After much internal debate, I’ve finally decided that I would write about these anyway and hope that one day, it’ll help someone (possibly even me, since I have the worst memory in the universe) whip out a quick dinner without running to the store. So you’ll start seeing posts about these improvised “recipes” soon – although I hesitate to even call them recipes since I’m never that careful with measuring things when I’m improvising.

But before I start busting out the improv (ha), I want to encourage all of you to try this awesome recipe from none other than Heidi at 101 Cookbooks, one of my all-time favorite recipe blogs. Take advantage of those gorgeous asparagus before they go completely out of season!

Of course, you can replace the asparagus and mushrooms with any other vegetables your heart/stomach desires that day. In fact, I’m day-dreaming about how mighty fine a bread pudding like this would be with some wilted leafy greens, capers, fresh tarragon, and maybe even some roasted fennel. Why, what a lucky coincidence – I have those exact veggies sitting in the fridge at home!

Baked Eggs

Recently, I’ve been having another bout of my so-called ‘brunchitis’, an unfortunate condition where I cringe at the thought of going to brunch. You see, brunch and I have what you might called one of those complicated love-hate relationships.

If you know me, you already know that I love brunch and have been known to declare this fact loudly and often. And let’s be honest here, if you don’t love the idea of a lazy morning lingering over cups of coffee (or Bloody Marys) and munching on deliciously eggy dishes with perhaps a ribbon or two of crispy-chewy bacon, I will most likely declare you to be a bit loco, especially if I’ve had a couple of those Bloody Marys. But like any relationship, my relationship with brunch every so often comes across an obstacle, one which makes my love falter and questions my devotion.

This obstacle is what is commonly known as the San Francisco Brunch Scene.

Like myself, it turns out that the city of San Francisco loves brunch. The overall result is, unsurprisingly, huge crowds gathering at brunch-serving locales all across the city, leading to over-an-hour waits and lines so long that I would feel bad doing any sort of lingering over anything. It only takes a few encounters with the SF Brunch Scene for me to develop this rather terrible condition of ‘brunchitis’ and I’m quarantined at home on weekend mornings.

Being a veteran of this condition though, I’ve developed a few trusty ‘home-opathic’ remedies, one of which is these baked eggs. I first had these in a little French cafe I lived near and have been absolutely addicted to them ever since. A while later, I saw Ina Garten prepare them on TV and committed the basic method to memory. Trust me, baking eggs is so easy that once you’ve done it, you won’t even need to look for a recipe next time – well, if you can even call what’s written below a recipe.

If ‘brunchitis’ should strike you too, baked eggs like these, enjoyed luxuriously slowly with a steaming cup of coffee, will cure you in no time and reaffirm your love of brunch. Before you know it, you’ll be back out there with the rest of the city, writing your name on that little clipboard at Zazie’s.

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Veggie Burger

So remember how I was wondering about wedding presents not so long ago? It turns out I must be really, really good at foreshadowing….because I have to talk about weddings again this time. This is, of course, my way of letting you know that Nathan and I are engaged!

Speaking of weddings, it was almost a year ago that my friends Brian and Michelle had theirs up in Banff. On top of the gorgeous mountains, beautiful wedding ceremony in this amazing castle, and yummy reception food (with sushi!), another thing I remember from that trip is this veggie burger recipe.

You see, Nathan and I got together with some friends and shared a vacation rental apartment up there. So while the boys were out on their bachelor’s party/hiking in the snow, I spent some quality time in the warm and cozy apartment with Food Network Canada. Did you know they have a bunch of Canadian-specific shows up there? Some of them are pretty good and definitely way better than that scary, creepy Sandra Lee. One in particular was by this chef Michael Smith and he was the one with this awesome recipe for veggie burgers, loaded with mushrooms, tofu, miso, and soy sauce. (To be honest, I think this should be called umami burger because that’s probably a way more accurate description.) He even showed how you can grow your own sprouts from various grains to serve with this burger – cool!

Anyway, yes, I’m one of those meat eaters who willingly eats veggie burgers because I like the taste, so imagine how excited I was to try this recipe. And this recipe really does not disappoint, although the first time I tried to make it, I made it way too mushy so I’ve now adjusted the recipe accordingly. Also, these burgers are a lot easier to pan-fry than to grill. But being the sucker that I am for grill marks and grilly flavors, I finally discovered that if you freeze the patties before you throw them on the grill, they tend to hold together a bit better. But still I say, grill at your own risk!

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Baumkuchen
Photo by Ben Rhau

One night last week, I sat at home wondering about wedding presents. It was the night before two of my friends were to be married at City Hall and I had no good ideas. The wedding was to be minimal and casual (both the bride and groom are from Germany and they are planning to have a more elaborate celebration back home later on), so good ol’ standbys like blenders and fancy plates just seemed wrong. In fact, the “reception” would just be a bunch of friends drinking at a bar, so imagine how out-of-place a gift of say, a giant silver serving platter would have been. Then suddenly, a brilliant idea!! I will bake them a cake!

Off I go, then, to search for some sort of German wedding cake recipe on the internet and that’s how I came upon Baumkuchen or to us Americans, “Tree Cake”. Apparently known as the “King of Cakes” (not to be confused with King Cake), this multi-layered cake is usually baked on this crazy, spit-like contraption that some professional bakeries have that result in a cylindrical cake with rings in it like a tree. While I might be an engineer, I’m also not about to fashion a spit in my kitchen and risk personal (and Nathan-al) injury. So thank goodness there’s a revised version where the layers are built vertically in a cake pan – even someone as clumsy as me can manage that!

This cake was so delicious and so much fun to make that I’m sure I’ll do it again sometime, for another special occasion. Except, next time, I won’t underestimate the amount of time this recipe takes and will start before 11pm. That is, unless I’m mentally prepared to stay up until 2am again.

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Tortilla de Patatas

Ahh Thanksgiving… an entire day devoted to cooking, eating, and hanging out with friends and family. My sister and I spent a relaxing and mostly lazy Thanksgiving day cooking various things from my ever-growing collection of cookbooks: roast chicken with bread salad a la Zuni Cafe, Heidi’s always-awesome brussels sprouts (you will not want to eat them any other way after you try hers), a simple creamed spinach from Alice Waters, plus freshly baked French bread (courtesy of The Bread Bible), topped with tapenade and white bean-garlic spread. To round out this already giant meal (remember, we only had two people!), my sister made a cranberry-apple crisp. Oh and let’s not forget the big pitcher of sangria to quench our thirst. Cheers to another successful Thanksgiving!

Of course, now that the big dinner’s over and I’m hiding out at home to avoid scary Black Friday madness (have I told you that I find crazed shoppers really, really creepy?), I’m no longer thinking about Thanksgiving recipes. And thanks to some self-restraint on our part, I don’t even have to think much about using up leftovers and my stove can get some well-deserved rest today.

Although… there are a bunch of unused potatoes sitting in the fridge that’s just asking to be used in a Spanish tortilla. Well… I’m sure the stove won’t mind doing a little more work.

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Many apologies for the severe lack of posts, but weirdly enough, I’ve been traveling an extraordinary amount lately. I find this turn of events quite strange because on the job description of a grad student, travel is usually at the bottom of the list (unless you’re in anthropology and work for someone Indiana Jones-esque, of course). I left in early October for two weeks in Hong Kong (3 days of conference, then 1.5 weeks of touristy fun with Nathan interrupted by 1 day of laying in bed with stomach flu – bleh!). Then, while still recovering from jetlag, I had to spend a weekend at Asilomar for my graduate program’s retreat. Now, I’m off again to Boston for another meeting next week. Whew!

It seems that while I was gone, summer has officially left us and we’re well into the rainy season here in SF. As much as I will miss the bounty of heirloom tomatoes, I’m excited for the arrival of winter squashes, which have already started appearing in our CSA box. I have grand plans to go totally soup-crazy soon enough, but until I have time to fill the freezer with tub after tub of chicken/vegetable stock, I have to think of other fun things to do with squashes.

So how about a simple butternut squash lasagna, to start?

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