Caesar Salad

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Historically, I haven’t been a fan of Caesar salad. If you took me to a restaurant and asked me to order a salad, and if Caesar was on the menu, I’d inevitably choose another salad.

There’s something about the thick, creamy dressing that always unnerved me. Plus, there aren’t that many sweet toppings. I like salads that make me forget that I’m eating salad, i.e., ones with lots of fruit, nuts, and other distractions on top. Or, it could be as simple as sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt. I eat that “salad” every Saturday during the summer for lunch with baguette.

However, I bought a huge head of romaine lettuce on Saturday at the farmers’ market and I needed to use it up. I thought about creating my own salad with lots of fruit and perhaps some other vegetables, but then I decided to give a homemade Caesar salad a chance. I shuddered a little at memories of restaurant Caesars with sprinkles of dried-out Parmesan cheese and lettuce drowning in dressing. I vowed that I would change my Caesar salad narrative starting now.

I succeeded. Granted, I felt like I wanted to puke in the salad dressing-making stage, but once I got past that, everything came together and was delicious.

The first step of making a Caesar salad is making the dressing. This is not for the faint of heart, or for people who hate seafood. To make the dressing, you have to drain six anchovies that are packed in oil, chop them with a head of garlic and salt, and then mash it together to make a paste. It looks as gross at it sounds. It smells even worse.

Then, you have to mix that paste with lemon juice, olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, grated Parmesan cheese, and egg yolks. Yes, you read that last part correctly. You use raw egg to make Caesar salad dressing, which might freak some people out but rest assured that I’m still alive and I ate huge helpings yesterday for dinner and today for lunch.

After that, the salad practically assembles itself. You cut up the romaine (or tear up, in my case) into bite-sized pieces, and then you top it with croutons, shaved Parmesan cheese, and dressing. The shaved Parmesan cheese makes a real difference in this salad. It adds a little heft and more flavor than shredded Parm.

You can make your own croutons but I opted for store bought because I wanted to eat the bread I have with the salad. I bet homemade croutons would also distract from the restaurant Caesar salad trauma, if you’re suffering from it.

As I’m reflecting on it, I think the real reason I hated Caesar salad so much before was because it obscured the ingredients’ best features. A poor Caesar salad masks crispy, crunchy Romaine leaves, which are one of the heartiest and most texturally-appealing salad leaves, and it can be underwhelming in terms of flavor.

I’d recommend using shaved parm, the crunchiest croutons you can find, and taking extra care with the dressing. Taste as you go along…although maybe not in the anchovy mash stage. I added more lemon to my dressing and it made a big difference.

Here’s the recipe I consulted for my Caesar salad. I followed it to the “t” except for homemade croutons.

Here’s a song to get you started on your Caesar salad journey.

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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Welcome to this edition of Dimanche (That Means Sunday), a roundup of things that caught my eye this past week.

I’m going to slightly gloss over this past week in favor of the one that came before it, because that week was more exciting. A couple weeks ago, I headed down to Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, MO, to catch a trout for a Missouri Life story I was working on.

Luckily, I have a boyfriend who knows how to fish because I don’t really know anything about it. I’d never caught a fish in my life, even though I’d been fishing once before. He showed me what to do and got me set up on the river, and then I tried all day to catch a fish. I’m not going to give away the ending (you’ll have to check out the Missouri Life story for that), but let’s just say that the day exceeded my expectations.

Being at Bennett Spring reminded me of why I love nature. Even though there were other people around fishing, I felt a connection with the land that was intensely personal. It was just me, myself, and I, standing in an icy cold river. Eventually, the cold wore off and it felt pleasant to stand in the water. Yes, it was frustrating to try to catch a fish, but I’d look around, hear the rush of water from the dam, see the beautiful green trees swaying in the wind, and realize that even if I didn’t catch a fish, at least I had this experience.

I know not everyone feels the same connection to nature but I strongly believe that beauty is where you find it. I’d recommend a day or two in a remote or semi-remote area to anyone who wants to recharge and unwind.

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

The morning after Bennett Spring, my boyfriend and I stopped at Elm Street Eatery to get one of their famous cinnamon rolls. It did not disappoint. Elm Street’s cinnamon roll is a veritable volcano with tons of icing dripping down all sides. We split it and surprisingly, I felt okay afterward. Check it out if you’re ever at the restaurant in Lebanon, MO. 55D2230D-7A36-4E7E-B46F-96BF2D334B13

I enjoyed this story about British culture and the traditional hot crossed bun. In the article, the writer makes the point that although the standard bun is becoming less common, new buns from different countries and cultures are making an appearance. British national identity if being reforged, so what is considered a “normal” bun has to change with it. Read more in Taste.

Apparently, a cat filter can get you into a lot of trouble. I had a good laugh at this story about a Pakistani politician live streaming a conference on social media with a cat filter after a staffer left it on. If only this would happen in America. Check out the story on CNN.

I love a good grilled cheese, and I had one of the best of my life a week ago at Druff’s in Springfield, MO. The restaurant specializes in out-of-the-box grilled cheese sandwiches and soups. I’d highly recommend the “Uncle Tatey” with goat cheese, pulled pork, and strawberries.550F517B-D5B5-4AE1-AD54-CA0415D84668

The Washington Post launched a new travel product and I’m very into it. “By The Way” includes city guides by locals, so you’re getting the most insider tips. I appreciate this because all too often, travel guides feel impersonal. Check out the product on the Washington Post‘s website.

This article saying that quesadillas are the best bar food is spot. on. When I lived in DC, I used to order a quesadilla every time I went to the dive bar down the street from my office. It was warm, crunchy, soft with melted cheese, and satisfying. Few other bar foods live up to this standard. Check out this Eater piece for more on why quesadillas are the best.

I turned the big 3-1 this past week and I celebrated by going to dinner at Bulrush. For those of you who don’t know, Bulrush is a foraging-forward restaurant that just opened in St. Louis. It celebrates traditional Ozark recipes and cooking traditions. Every course was better than the next. I left feeling completely satisfied, and more knowledgeable about Missouri culinary traditions. Visit Bulrush if you’re ever in town. DB1D3A21-983E-482A-873D-448A80D1BDD7

New Jersey is launching an official food trail in honor of Anthony Bourdain. The late TV host’s home state’s food trail includes 10 eateries that Bourdain visited on a 2015 episode of his series, “Parts Unknown.” Read more about it in this AFAR story.

Speaking of Anthony Bourdain… Bourdain’s friends, chefs Eric Ripert and Jose Andrés, are starting a scholarship in his honor that allows culinary students to study abroad. Get more details in this Eater article.

Last but certainly not least, an entire New York subway car started singing a Backstreet Boys song together recently. It’s the kind of story that gives you more faith in humanity. Read more about it and watch the video here.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

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A week ago, I ran a poll on Twitter asking people what I should make with my surplus of strawberries. Everyone voted for strawberry agua fresca. I ended up making a strawberry buttermilk cake.

Flash-forward to this weekend, when I decided to follow through on the voters’ choice and make a strawberry mint rose agua fresca. I’m so happy that I listened to everyone.

This drink is equal parts tart, sweet, tangy, and refreshing. It’s the perfect drink to have made up in the fridge, so all you have to do is get a glass, fill it with a bunch of ice, and fill it up with strawberry mint rose agua fresca. You can enjoy it while reading on the couch, while watching TV, or you can even take it to go. I bet it would be good at your desk in the morning on a Monday when you don’t want to be back at work.

Feel free to get creative with herbs and fruit for this drink. If you’re not a fan of mint, you could sub in tarragon. I’m thinking about doing a blackberry thyme combo this summer. Stay tuned.

Also, you can omit the rose water in this drink but I think it’s a welcome addition. It adds a subtle flavor punch to the water so it doesn’t just taste like berry juice. Orange blossom water would also work well.

Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry mint rose agua fresca journey.

Strawberry Mint Rose Agua Fresca

Ingredients

1 pound of strawberries, hulled
¼ cup mint leaves, plus sprigs for serving
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp rose water
lime wheels for serving

Directions

Purée the strawberries, 1/4 cup mint leaves, lime juice, agave nectar, and rose water with 2 cups of very cold water. Place the mixture in an airtight container and chill it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Fill glasses with ice and pour the agua fresca into each glass. This recipe makes about four glasses of agua fresca. Top with springs of mint and lime wheels. Enjoy!

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Dimanche (That Means Sunday)

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I’m starting to get that almost-summer feeling, which is one of my favorite feelings to get.

This year has been super weird weather-wise in St. Louis, with colder-than-usual temperatures and lots of rain and storms, but now we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. I always know summer is here when I go to Tower Grove Park and see the lotus blossoms (see above). They’re especially beautiful after the rain.

With summer comes lots of new activities and travel plans, as well as new recipes. I’m heading down to Southwestern Missouri later this week to catch trout for a story I’m working on for a magazine. In a couple weeks, I’m probably going to make my own birthday cake for the first time in a while. I have a yellow cake recipe with chocolate buttercream frosting and I’ve already been scouting out sprinkles to go on top.

Most of all, I’m looking forward to more relaxation this summer. I was at yoga the other night and my teacher was talking about how summer brings a lot of energy, which is true, but it’s important to balance that with some downtime. I’m envisioning many more afternoons with a good book and strawberry rose mint agua frescas (more on the those later).

Without further ado, here is Dimanche:

When I was at Tower Grove Farmers’ Market yesterday, I stumbled upon a pop-up stand from a New Orleans jewelry maker called Lux + Orleans. I saw the pair of earrings in the below picture, walked away without buying them, and ended up coming back and buying them because I couldn’t stop thinking about them as I ran errands. I can’t wait to wear them with everything this summer. A4429DD8-CA7E-48EB-80ED-359A237478C6

This story about tupelo honey is from a couple weeks back but I’m still thinking about it. Hurricanes and encroaching developments threaten the livelihood of the small group of beekeepers who are still producing the honey, but they keep at it, year after year. Read more about tupelo honey and honey makers in this New York Times story.

Everyone needs to watch “Always Be My Maybe.” I watched the movie on Netflix last week and I loved it from start to finish. Ali Wong was great as an ambitious celebrity chef but in my opinion, Randall Park stole the show as a stoner musician living in his dad’s house with no plans to move out. Check out this review of the movie in Eater.

I’m loving this “Writers’ Fridges” column from The Paris ReviewI laughed out loud more than a few times at this one about novelist Kristen Arnett’s fridge. Read the full article in The Paris Review.

I went to Nippon Tei for the first time last night and I was blown away. My boyfriend and I ordered bluefin sashimi and it was so good, I had tears in my eyes. I can’t wait to come back to the restaurant and order more sushi and sashimi soon. If you’re in St. Louis and you haven’t been yet, I’d highly recommend making the trip out to West County.
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This editorial about food delivery services is spot on. I’m all for companies being able to deliver meals to residences, but I’m definitely against the growing phenomenon of meal delivery replacing real cooking. I agree with writer David Tamarkin when he says in the article that the companies are trying to convince us that cooking is more time-consuming and complicated than it actually is. Read the full op-ed in The New York Times.

Now that I’ve made a strawberry mint rose agua fresca once, I’m going to be making it all summer. I riffed off a recipe I saw online and it turned out really well. Stay tuned for my recipe later this week on the blog. BAF79A54-FFDE-426A-8EAF-59D9806569E9

This story about chocolate companies using child labor broke my heart. I already don’t buy from these companies very often, but after reading this story and seeing the photographs, I don’t think I ever will again. I’d encourage you to vote with your dollars and do the same. Read the story in The Washington Post.

I stopped by AO&Co. for the first time yesterday morning and I’m already scheduling my next visit. The market is new from Ben Poremba, the owner of restaurants in St. Louis including Elaia and Olio. Check it out for gourmet food items, specialty products, and a wonderful tea and coffee shop next door that sells the best iced tea of my life. It comes with almond and orange blossom syrup. 58E868CE-03A8-411E-887D-2CE7650D2E9D

Last but certainly not least, ice cream trucks are having a meltdown in New York. The city is cracking down on numerous ice cream trucks that never paid fines for violating traffic laws. Read more about the situation in this CNN article.

Enjoy your week! Here’s a song to get you started.

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Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

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This is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made, and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve made *a lot* of cakes.

It all started yesterday when I was thinking about what to make with a surplus of strawberries from the farmers’ market. I took a poll on Twitter and everyone voted for strawberry agua fresca, which sounded great, but I realized that I didn’t have any lime, mint, or ice at home. I had some leftover buttermilk from when I made shortcakes. I impulsively decided to make strawberry buttermilk cake when I got home.

This cake is one of the easiest things to make. You mix together some butter and sugar, combine it with flour and buttermilk, and sprinkle some fresh berries on top. Make sure you put the berries near the center of the pan because they might stick to the edges otherwise.

When you’re mixing in the flour and buttermilk, alternate the two but make sure you start and end with the flour. This will keep you from overmixing your batter and it will prevent the batter from becoming goopy at the end (for lack of a better word).

If you’re not a fan of fresh strawberries (and who are you if this is true?), you can always sub in other berries such as raspberries or blackberries. The tart, sweet berries pair well with the cake, which is light, fluffy, and fragrant with just the right amount of lemon zest.

I had a slice for breakfast this morning and I literally swooned. The crumb is moist and light and the cake is not too sweet, so you can have a reasonable-sized slice and not feel like you’re going to go into a sugar coma. The berries are juicy, tart, sweet, and slightly caramelized from baking in the oven.

Another trick to baking this cake is taking it out of the oven at the right time. Stick a toothpick or a wooden skewer in the middle and make sure it only comes out with one or two crumbs. The cake will keep baking as it cools on the counter.

You’ll notice that I put most of the ingredients for this recipe in grams. I’ve been baking with a kitchen scale more the past year and I’d highly recommend doing the same. A good kitchen scale isn’t too expensive (I bought this one) and it makes a big difference when you bake. It allows you to be more precise with measurements and the resulting cake or cookies taste more professional.

Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry buttermilk cake journey.

Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

Ingredients

84 grams/6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
200 grams/1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 Tbsp lemon zest
2 large eggs at room temperature
209 grams/ 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
5 grams/1 tsp baking powder
1.5 grams/ 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup whole buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 oz fresh strawberries, halved

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch cake pan or skillet and coat it with flour. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the flour and the buttermilk to the bowl with the butter mixture, alternating between the two but starting and ending with the flour. Mix in the vanilla extract.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the strawberries on top and gently press them into the batter.

Bake the cake for about an hour, checking occasionally, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean (or or two crumbs is fine). Allow the cake to cool on the counter. Leftovers can be kept for a couple days in an airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!

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Bourbon Strawberry Shortcake

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This is one of many strawberry posts you’ll see the next few days on the blog. Consider yourself warned.

I have a weakness for strawberries this time of year. I go to the farmers’ market every Saturday morning and each week, the berries look more attractive. I like to buy the ones that you can pop into your mouth like candy. The best ones explode with sweetness and tartness. They’re slightly warm from the sun and humidity, but that’s okay. It makes the juice even sweeter.

A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went strawberry picking at Eckert’s and I got a bunch of the aforementioned berries. I made jam with four pounds of them but I still had some leftover. I decided to make bourbon strawberry shortcakes with the rest.

The strawberries in this recipe get a big boost from bourbon. It balances their sweetness and adds a rich, smoky flavor that normally you don’t get unless you roast strawberries in the oven. It also makes them even more soft and tender, so you can scoop them out and layer them over cake.

My other favorite part of this recipe is the mascarpone honey whipped cream. I was skeptical of using mascarpone because I thought the whipped cream would taste fine without it, and I hate buying one ingredient when I just need to use a little of it. But the good news is, the mascarpone adds a layer to the whipped cream AND it can be easily used in other recipes. It’s even good spread on toast in the morning with a little jam on top.

If you’re looking for a quick, delicious spring and early summer dessert that makes the most of seasonal berries, check out this recipe. Here’s a song to get you started on your bourbon strawberry shortcake journey.

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Strawberry Granola Crisp

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A national holiday and day off work means a fancier-than-usual breakfast. Yesterday, I decided to make this strawberry granola crisp first thing in the morning.

This crisp is technically breakfast but it could easily double as a dessert. In fact, it could also be lunch or dinner, but for the purposes of this blog post it’s breakfast and dessert. The strawberries are sweet and juicy, the topping is more on the savory side, and the whole thing is indulgent without making you feel like you ate too much. I had two large helpings for breakfast and I felt fine afterward.

Even though the strawberries are the star of this dish, the granola topping almost outshines them. I was thinking about making it my go-to crisp topping this summer because it’s slightly sweet, salty, and caramelized. It’s everything you’d want in a crisp topping and more. I’m wondering how a big batch of it would taste as regular granola stored in a container. I might explore this option soon.

I served the crisp with unsweetened Greek yogurt but you could get creative. Whipped cream, ice cream, and regular yogurt are also appropriate accompaniments. I’m thinking about serving some later with whipped mascarpone cream that I made to go with shortcakes last night.7F7A6A8E-D5B1-4914-BE08-47B4CBD45CDECheck out the recipe from Smitten Kitchen on Bon Appétit’s website. Here’s a song to get you started on your strawberry granola crisp journey.

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