Classic Caesar salad with chicken “croutons”

Source: Fine Cooking #104 (also at FineCooking.com)

A Caesar salad is a classic, but it’s the real thing that’s deserving of that prestige. With a few ingredients (many that you’ll already have at home), it’s quick and easy to make a homemade Caesar salad dressing.

If you’re not familiar with the ingredients in a true Caesar salad dressing, don’t shy away from it or consider omitting any ingredients. Yes, there are anchovies in the dressing, but when combined with all the other ingredients, neither you nor your guests will know they’re there, but they’re critical to the final product.

I use the ingredients exactly as-is in the recipe linked above (although sometimes I’ll use anchovy paste instead of whole anchovies), but I simplify the preparation a bit. Instead of a blender, I use an immersion blender. I place all the ingredients in glass jar (I don’t even bother smashing the garlic) and whiz until smooth (which isn’t long). (I often make a double batch to have some leftover dressing for the week.)

The croutons in the recipe are delicious and easy to make. But when I want the salad to be a meal instead of a side dish, I omit the bread croutons and make my chicken “croutons” as a source of protein. I take coarsely diced chicken thighs, seasoned with salt, that I toss in corn starch to coat. I then fry these in a pan with a generous amount of oil until a dark golden brown and very crispy. They have the satisfying crunch of croutons, but the protein you want in a full meal.

Classic Caesar salad with chicken croutons
Classic Caesar salad with chicken croutons

Cold tomato and red pepper soup

Source: Fine Cooking #123 (also at FineCooking.com)

The cold soup recipes in the latest issue of Fine Cooking could not have been more timely. With more tomatoes on-hand than we can eat, this tomato and red pepper soup was perfect. (I used 1 red and 2 yellow peppers instead of 3 red peppers, resulting in an orange soup. If you had 3 red peppers, you’d get a much redder colour.)

The tomatoes and peppers are first broiled in the oven to both soften them and facilitate removing their skin. The vegetables are then puréed with a flavourful mixture of olive oil, garlic, water and bread (instead of baguette, I used panko crumbs). Once smooth, the soup is then strained and chilled before eating. For cold soups, the smooth texture of a strained soup really makes the difference.

This makes the perfect summer lunch or dinner starter.

Cold tomato and red pepper soup with bread and olives
Cold tomato and red pepper soup with bread and olives

Flank steak tacos with spicy slaw

Source: Fine Cooking #123 (also at FineCooking.com)

Tacos are such a fun and quick summer meal. And there are countless variations so they never get boring.

This version uses grilled flank steak with a spice rub. Get that on the grill while you prepare the rest of the ingredients, and by the time the meat is cooked and rested, you’re ready to eat.

The tacos get topped with a spicy slaw that combines cabbage with grilled onions and jalapeño peppers and a lime vinaigrette. (I cheated a bit by simply sautéing sliced red onion and chopped jalapeño.) Finish with a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime juice.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that corn tortillas are way better than flour tortillas, so go out of your way to find them. I got chipotle-flavoured tortillas to match the spice and smokiness of the steak.

Enjoy!

Flank steak tacos with spicy slaw
Flank steak tacos with spicy slaw

Buttermilk-yogurt pancakes

Source: Fine Cooking #102 (also at FineCooking.com)

Pancakes are such a comforting breakfast food. Nothing beats a warm stack of pancakes soaking in maple syrup on a cold winter morning. Or in today’s case, the morning after an April snow storm in Montreal.

Pancakes come together very quickly. Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients and mix only until barely incorporated. It should still be lumpy. If you mix more, the pancakes will be tough.

Ideally you’ll use an electric griddle, because this helps regulate the cooking temperature so you don’t have to fiddle with the stove settings. (Frying pans tend to get hotter towards the later batches, often resulting in burning.)

Once you’ve tried the straight-up version of this buttermilk pancake recipe, you can experiment with countless variations. We typically substitute half the buttermilk with yogurt. This makes a thicker batter and fluffier pancakes.

Other fun variations include adding small berries, crumbled crisp bacon, or adding some whole wheat flour for increased fibre content.

Buttermilk-yogurt pancakes
Buttermilk-yogurt pancakes

Pasta alla carbonara

Source: Fine Cooking #121 (also at FineCooking.com)

A few months ago, I made Fine Cooking’s modern twist on pasta alla carbonara, a pasta carbonara frittata. However, at that point, I had never made the original dish. So here we go!

Pasta alla carbonara, or simply pasta carbonara, or even just carbonara, is a roman specialty. It’s very simple, in both ingredients and technique, but is very delicious. I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so it has actually become a regular meal in our household. It’s basically spaghetti with bacon in an egg-parmesan cheese sauce.

It’s traditionally made with guanciale, an Italian cured meat similar to pancetta or bacon. For simplicity, I generally use bacon.

While spaghetti or another pasta is boiling, you cook the bacon. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and Parmigiano-Reggiano. When the pasta is cooked, reserve some of the pasta water, drain the pasta then toss it with the bacon. Add the egg-cheese mixture and combine well. Add a bit of the pasta water to thin the sauce.

Serve with some freshly-cracked black pepper. It’s said that this dish was popular with the coal workers in Rome and that’s where the name carbonara originates. The pepper is a reference to the coal dust that would fall off them.

Pasta alla carbonara
Pasta alla carbonara