Cheater’s win with this Caesar

One of the delights of shopping at the farmers market is the baby lettuce I’ve been getting from Blue Heron Farms.  These small heads of Little Gem lettuce look like miniature romaine. They’re just as crisp and crunchy at the heart, too, but the leaves are tender and sweet.

Lettuce this good cries out for a simple treatment.  It should be the star of the salad bowl.

I’ve been serving it in a Caesar with a garlicky dressing made with Greek-style yogurt in the place of eggs. Normally, I don’t like to mess with classic recipes. But Caesar salad has been subjected to so much interpretation that I don’t feel too bad cheating on the dressing as long as the end result is as good as this one.

It’s not that a traditional Caesar dressing is that hard to make, but I’d rather not use raw eggs and barely coddling them is a little tricky.  A moment too long in the simmering water, and the yolks get too firm to whisk with the oil.

Yogurt solves that problem.  It also reduces the fat in the dressing and makes a nice emulsion. The key is to use non-fat Greek-style yogurt, which has the right texture, neither too thick or too thin.  It’s fairly easy to find in ordinary supermarkets now.

The dressing whirls together in a blender or food processor in no time.  I like it with the traditional anchovies, although Asian fish sauce is a good substitute in a pinch.  If you absolutely cannot abide the taste of salty fish, however, add a bit more Worcestershire sauce.

Use just enough dressing to lightly coat the salad.  You don’t want to obliterate the great fresh taste of the lettuce.

Makes about ¾ cup dressing 

2 anchovy filets or 1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 garlic clove
½ cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

In a blender or food processor, whirl together the anchovies, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce until well blended.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in Parmesan.

Aleta Watson



A chicken on every grill, Italian style

Chicken is not usually the first choice for grilling at my house.  We’ve eaten far too many dull, dry chicken breasts over the years.

Yet a whole chicken was one of the best things we grilled this year.  It was rich, juicy and intensely flavored.

The secret is the classic Italian method of cooking chicken under a brick– or al mattone.  The skin gets incredibly crisp and the meat stays moist.  Add a lively rub of garlic and rosemary and it’s irresistible. Continue reading A chicken on every grill, Italian style

October is for beer–ice cream, that is

Most Oktoberfest menus are pretty predictable – oceans of beer, mountains of sausage, sauerkraut, and maybe freshly baked pretzels.

Santa Cruz, though, takes pride in leaning off-center.  The music at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery’s fifth annual Sausagefest last weekend was country.  Frauleins sported elaborate tattoos with their flirty barmaid drindls.  And the popular Penny Ice Creamery served beer ice cream.

There weren’t a lot of takers  for the Devout Stout-flavored ice cream early in the evening, but I couldn’t resist.  A scoop in a pint jar with a little of the same beer was the best thing I had all night.  It was thick, creamy and lightly sweet with flavors of coffee, caramel and a pleasantly bitter hint of burnt sugar.  Even before I left, I knew I was going to have to try to make it at home.

It turns out that beer ice cream isn’t that rare.  Mentions can be found all over the Internet.  Most of the recipes don’t sound very appealing, however.  Some don’t bother to cook the eggs.  Others add molasses or chocolate to round out the beer flavors.

I decided to riff off a basic French-style vanilla ice cream.  First, I reduced some good dark beer with a little brown sugar to make a syrup and cook off most of the alcohol.  Then I substituted the beer syrup for some of the cream in the formula.  It turned out even better than I hoped.

The secret to good beer ice cream, of course, is good beer.  A can of Bud just won’t do. But any well-crafted stout or porter is worth a try.

The artisan Devout Stout is a wonderful, dark and deeply flavored brew.  I would have used it if we could have found any in all the usual places.  When we didn’t, I turned to that reliable supermarket standby, Guiness Extra Stout, for the first batch.

It was very nice although a little rough around the edges.  If I hadn’t tasted the Devout Stout ice cream, I would have declared it a winner.

Still, I knew the ice cream could be better.  So I snagged some Black Butte Porter, my husband’s favorite, for the next try.  Smoother and more nuanced, it was just right.

The only thing better than this ice cream is a float made with the same beer.  Give it a try. You’ll be amazed.

Makes 1 quart 

1 cup good stout or porter beer
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup whole milk
1½ cups heavy cream
½ cup superfine sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, stir brown sugar into beer and bring mixture to a  simmer over medium low heat. Watch it carefully and reduce heat if beer foams and looks as if it will boil over.  Cook until beer has reduced to about ½ cup.  Set aside to cool.

Pour ½ cup of cream and cooled beer into a large bowl or 4-cup glass measure and place a mesh strainer over the top.   In a medium bowl, beat together the egg yolks with a whisk or fork.

Combine milk, superfine sugar and remaining cream in a medium saucepan  and warm over medium heat for a few minutes until tiny bubbles begin to form on the sides of the pan.  Pour the cream slowly into the egg yolks, whisking as you pour, then return mixture to the saucepan.  Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  (The temperature should read about 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer.)

Pour the hot custard through the strainer into the cream and beer.  Add vanilla and stir.  Chill for at least two hours.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Aleta Watson

Season’s last chance for figs

I can’t believe I nearly missed the best figs of the year.  I was out of town on family business during the height of the fabulous fruits’ late summer season in September. When I got back, the local harvest was almost over.

With any luck, however, luscious fresh figs should be available for another week or so in farmers markets and through the fall at specialty grocers. Let’s hope this week’s rains don’t wipe them out.  It would be a shame to miss at least one more opportunity to enjoy this easy fig tartlette.

The little tart is so simple that it hardly requires a recipe. The combination of buttery puff pastry, jammy figs and salty Gorgonzola is irresistible and works as well as an appetizer as dessert.  The figs soften and become even sweeter in the heat of the oven, so no sugar is required, although a little drizzle of honey after baking is a nice touch. Continue reading Season’s last chance for figs