Saturday, November 27, 2010

Grilled Caprese Sandwich

Here’s the way I’m making these at the House of Chez Casa.

(If you don’t want garlic on the outside of your sandwich, and thus on your fingers, read the first note for an alternative.)

Blend together:
  • ½ c. olive oil
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
Set aside. [1]
  1. Choose some good, flavorful bread. [2] Use two slices per sandwich.
  2. Cover each slice of bread with fresh basil leaves.
  3. Thickly cut fresh tomato slices (~¼" thick). Blot dry and then salt the tomato. Place on half the bread slices.
  4. Thickly cut bufala mozzarella slices. [3] Place on the other half of the bread slices.
  5. Close the sandwich(es) up and brush both sides with the garlicked oil.
  6. Toast, grill, or, as I do, press. [4] In a press, put the sandwich tomato side down.
When the cheese is starting to leak out of the sandwich, it’s done. In our press, the bread is also nicely toasted at this point.


[1] This was tonight’s refinement; it is a keeper, and is the reason I’m posting the recipe now, even though a recipe isn’t really needed. In the past I’ve crushed garlic and brushed it onto the bread with the EVOO. The flavor of the garlic just didn’t come through. But doing it this way, blending the garlic into the oil and letting it sit? Now we can taste the garlic!

An alternative that has also been very good is to very thinly slice the garlic (like Paul Cicero / Paul Sorvino in Goodfellas) and layer it between the tomato and mozzarella.

[2] Our normal bread in this market is Heather’s 50% Whole Wheat Sourdough. We pick it up either at the Rosewood Market (deliveries T, Th, Sat) or at the local market on Saturday mornings. But if we lived in a different market, I swear I could live on LaMadeleine’s seven grain bread. It’s one of the things we miss about living in Dallas, and we brought a loaf home from our Atlanta Thanksgiving trip. I used the seven grain bread tonight. Yummers!

[3] You really, really, really want the sort of bufala mozzarella that comes packed in water. It gets marvelously stretchy and has a flavor that the hard blocks of mozzarella do not have. I slice it with a kitchen tool that looks very much like this one.

[4] I suppose some day I’d like a sandwich press / vegetable grill with plates that remove for easier cleaning, but this one does me fine for now. Without the press, I would grill this open face to start with and then close it up partway through, finishing with the tomato side down.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ginger/Nut Sauce for Asparagus

I don’t know why I’m keeping the original recipe (below). I usually just edit and move on, but this time I feel compelled to retain the history. Perhaps I’ll discuss this with a therapist some day, but that would mean starting therapy, and heaven knows that’s a road with no end. So here’s the latest incarnation, which seems to be enough for ~10 servings or so.

Put into a blending cup:
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • ¼ tsp (heaping) red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium bulb of ginger root (~1 ½" diameter, looks like 2 Tbsp or so), roughly chopped
Blend until completely smooth. Add:
  • 1 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 Tbsp chunky peanut butter
  • 1 Tbsp (heaping) dry roasted peanuts
Blend until completely smooth again.

Toast 1 Tbsp sesame seeds (~3:40 did the trick for me) and put into the juice of ½ a lemon. Whisk into the mixture above.

Enjoy! (and consider adding more red pepper)

Some time back, when we were expecting a small crowd here at the House of Chez Casa, SWMBO opened a cookbook and found a sauce she wanted me to try for some asparagus. We didn’t have all the ingredients, and I was cooking about a dozen different things that day, so I adapted a bit for what we had around the old homestead. It was a hit, and now that I’ve been asked to replicate it for Thanksgiving, I figured I should try to remember what I did.

Toss all of these things together and puree them.
  • ¼ c. tahini
  • ¼ c. chunky peanut butter
  • ¼ c. crushed peanuts
  • ¼ c. olive oil
  • ¼ c. rice vinegar
  • ¼ c. water
  • ¼ c. soy sauce
  • ¼ c. sugar (I use the unbleached stuff; I might try honey next time)
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped ginger root
  • 1 ½ Tbsp. crushed garlic
  • ¼ tsp.crushed red pepper flakes
Taste the stuff & adjust flavors and consistency by tossing in extra little bits of the ingredients.


Our friend BoomBoom Cannon keeps an old mustard bottle on hand for drizzling pretty lines of sauces like this over the food. I’m lowbrow enough to just ladle it on with a spoon.

Edit, post-Thanksgiving notes:

On amount:
We had five bundles of asparagus to steam, and had nearly half the sauce and a quarter of the asparagus left over. Make less sauce.

On flavor:
I should have at least doubled the red pepper (proportionally). Even Gary, who admits to being afraid of Thai-level spice, thought it could have done with more pepper.

Mark brought broccoli steamed & tossed with lemon (juice & zest) and garlic — just the way Vincent taught us. The very sharp garlic there blended with the ginger/peanut sauce in a great way. Think about adding more garlic and substituting lemon for some of the vinegar.

Before he stumbled onto the combination of sauces, Gary suggested boosting the sesame flavor with some toasted sesame oil. I had considered adding some sesame seeds to the finished product to some texture interest. Perhaps some toasted sesame seed added at the end would do the trick.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Caramelized Sweet Onion Chutney

Some weeks back, SWMBO complained noted that she had quite a bit of trouble making my onion chutney. I can’t imagine why! Just because I never turned the thing into a proper recipe and she had to open (and juggle) no less than three posts to figure out what to do, that’s no reason to go and get all admonitory. (The originals are here: post 1, with red onion confit; post B, the first caramelized chutney; post III, caramelizing in the crock pot)

Still, her point was well-taken, and so dorky boy will now try to rectify the situation.

As soon as you get home from work one evening, put
  • 2 lbs. of sweet onions, thinly sliced, and
  • ¼ lb. of butter, cut into pats
into a crock pot on low. Stir occasionally throughout the evening, but otherwise keep tightly covered. Before you go to bed, make very certain that the cover is completely in place (our old Rival with a glass lid will let steam escape if the lid is not precisely centered; the new Hamilton Beach is more forgiving).

When you get up the next morning (some eighteen hours after you started cooking the onions), give them a stir and add:
  • ½ c. honey
  • ½ c. tawny port
  • c. white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c. golden raisins, and
  • 1 medium ginger root, grated (yes, this is new to the recipe, and optional; adding ginger to the blueberry chutney was a wonderful step and should be here as well).
Stir, recover tightly, and go back to work.

When you get home that evening (some twenty-four hours after you started), check for consistency. I find that I usually need to turn the temperature up to high and stir every now and again (while cooking dinner and annoying the cat with music turned up way too loudly) to let it simmer down and thicken up a bit. Seldom have I added salt & pepper at this point, although I’d be willing to bet that SWMBO would appreciate a bit of pepper. We’ll see next time.


Pesto is easy enough to make. Grind up some basil, pine nuts, sharp grated cheese, garlic, and olive oil. Adjust proportions to taste. Keep it on hand for spreading on crackers, for putting on fish, for tossing onto a quick pasta, for... Well, let’s just say that we go through a lot of the stuff here at the House of Chez Casa. So I’ve been playing with the proportions quite a bit. Here’s what works for us at the moment.

Grind together:
  • 1 loosely pressed qt. (1 tightly pressed pt.) basil, washed
  • ½ lb. (8 oz.) Locatelli Romano, grated
  • 1 ½ medium heads of garlic, crushed
  • 4 oz. (~1 c.) walnut pieces, toasted (in our toaster oven, about 4 min. 20 sec. gets them really dark & nutty without being burnt)
  • 4 oz. pignoli (~1 c. pine nuts), opened
  • ~1 c. EVOO, drizzled into the food processor slowly
Yield: approximately 3 c. of pesto.

I prefer doing this in a food processor, but have had nearly as good a result using a regular old blender.

You can adjust the amount of nuts and oil to change the texture. This version comes out thick enough that it doesn’t fall off a spoon when it comes out of the fridge. Too much oil, and it will flow off whatever you put it on. Too much nut and it won’t be sticky enough to stay on your cracker.