PURA VIDA! Costa Rica’s Dreamy Peninsula Papagayo

Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons Costa Rica on the Peninsula Papagayo

Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons Costa Rica on the Peninsula Papagayo

“Costa Rica!” That’s what Christopher Columbus called it in 1502 when he showed up, still looking for gold in the New World, on Costa Rica’s east coast. Greeted by maidens bedecked in gold, cleverly sent out by the local chiefs to greet him, “Rich Coast” somehow came to Columbus’ mind and the name stuck.

Oscar Aguilar is a great example of the pride "Ticos" have in their country.

Oscar Aguilar is a great example of the pride “Ticos” have in their country.

“Ticos” (Costa Ricans) love their country, and so they should. This flower of democracy amid the banana republics of Central America has no army and no navy. Their “Guardia Civil” receives less funding than their schools and their roads. The right to vote is treasured and public education throughcollege is free, as is universal health care to citizens and permanent residents. Their National Parks are legendary and eco-tourism basically started here. Everyone speaks English from passable to articulate and Costa Rica’s literacy rate is over 90 percent. Of particular interest: Costa Rican presidents can serve unlimited, non-consecutive 4-year terms.

Costa Rica is divided into provinces and this trip takes us to a beauty:  Guanacaste, on the northwest coast, just south of Nicaragua. It is here, on the breathtaking Peninsula Papagayo that Four Seasons Costa Rica coexists in the natural habitat and, equally important, with the local residents.

The Arnold Palmer Signature golf course at Four Seasons is in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

The Arnold Palmer Signature golf course at Four Seasons is in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

Most guests fly into nearby Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, on one of the many daily flights from the U.S. Schedules can be seasonal but service is regular. The terminal is new and clean, Immigration officers polite and welcoming and Four Seasons folks outside the arrivals door are all set up for you.

I was met in the terminal by Four Seasons representative, Eddy, who escorted us to their van, piloted by Esteban. All the guests in the van checked in on a provided iPad via SKYPE on the way to the hotel, so no front desk rigamarole was necessary. Nice.

Getting away from it all is one reason to visit Costa Rica.

Getting away from it all is one reason to visit Costa Rica.

After a 30-minute drive along sugar cane fields, pasture and out along the ridge of the Peninsula Papagayo, I was greeted at the hotel entrance by the charming Pascal Forotti, General Manager and his colleague, Yerilyn, who presented us with a small glass of “Juego de Bienvenido” (“Welcome Juice”), a tasty mixture of orange juice, cilantro and ginger.

The casual elegance of Four Seasons Costa Rica lobby.

The casual elegance of Four Seasons Costa Rica lobby.

Poolside at one of the haciendas available.

Poolside at one of the haciendas available.

Every hotel room has a gorgeous, screened lanai.

Every hotel room has a gorgeous, screened lanai.

To behold the entire Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo, I would suggest giving yourself over to the experience of The Spa, the Trail of Giants Tour along the Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course (set in a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary) and the water sports available. The latter includes kayaking, paddle-boarding and boat rides on the beautiful Bahía de Culebra.

Seclusion and privacy make for a restful stay.

Seclusion and privacy make for a restful stay.

Serious surfers can head over to numerous, seasonally good, surfing spots, including nearby Playa Tamarindo.  Four Seasons partners with Tropicsurf, staffed on-site with experienced guides and instructors. Tropicsurf can easily arrange customized surfing experiences, with local, licensed boat skippers.

The Surf Shack run by the Tropicsurf pros.

The Surf Shack run by the Tropicsurf pros.

Costa Rican wildlife is abundant and, seasonally, you’ll see tribes of monkeys, iguanas and amazing avifauna (birds). In fact, nearly 900 bird species have been identified in Costa Rica – more than in the United States and Canada combined!

Lots of iguanas.

Lots of iguanas.

Magnificent birdlife in great quantities.

Magnificent birdlife in great quantities.

The resort wants you to relax. They want you to come back. Hence the activities that there’s no shortage of. For example, here is the schedule for Mondays through October 31: Guided Kayaking Tour, Spa Exercise Class, Bay Cruise Tour, Spa Boot Camp, Guided Morning Hike, Coco Water Taxi, Cardio Tennis, Spinning, Beach Volleyball, Cooking Class, Dance Class “Latin Rhythms,” Explore Scuba Diving, Guided Snorkel Tour, Artisan Market and a Guided Nature Hike.

One of my favorite activities is Quiet Poolside Sitting. And then along comes staff member Oscar Aguilar as “El Pipero,” the guy who lops off the top of a coconut with a machete, pops in a straw and hands you a delicious fresh container of coconut water with a smile.  !Pura Vida!

Hot and cold Hydrotherapy pools at The Spa, with screened jungle views, offered free of charge to registered guests.

Hot and cold Hydrotherapy pools at The Spa, with jungle views, offered free of charge to registered guests.

A word about the Spa and its facilities at the resort. I chose the Rainforest Aromatherapy Massage with one of the 15 professionally-licensed staff. It was a very relaxing experience, with a choice of ambient music and scented massage oils. The hydrotherapy pools, hot and cold, and gender segregated, are part of the Spa facilities. They are open, free of charge, to all registered guests, as are the dry and wet saunas. The menu of Spa services is extensive and catalogued nicely in the brochures provided in each room.

Children. They are more than welcome, as demonstrated by both the Kid’s Club or the Camp Papagayo Program (these for the age 4-12 group) and the Tuanis Teen Center (12 years and up). These supervised activities and locations give kids a great place to bond and be engaged and are a credit to the thinking of the resort. It is one of the reasons families return to Four Seasons.

Tico's Lounge is a great gathering place for guests.

Tico’s Lounge is a great gathering place for guests.

Cocktail making classes are fun and sociable at Tico's Lounge

Cocktail making classes are fun and sociable at Tico’s Lounge

Food. Yum. Drink. Yum Yum. Because of its central location right below the stairs from the main lobby, Tico’s Lounge is a natural place for guests to congregate for lunch, cocktail hour and beyond. They’ve got a zesty drink here called the Guajito, made with Cacique (“chief of the tribe”) rum, mint, Midori and lemon juice. Wow, where did that first one go? Like that.

The local brews are wonderful, too, with rich ales and pilsners. Tico’s features a mixology class and I found that to be fun and a good way to meet your fellow guests. A couple I met at the class was on a journey to play the most beautiful golf courses around the world. They picked a good stop. Adjacent to Tico’s is Papagayo Restaurant with a great breakfast service.

If you want to dine a little more formally, Di Mare Restaurant, located near Tico’s, is an elegant, Italian-influenced establishment with some creative platings of local, fresh seafood. Loved the sea bass. Another equally elegant restaurant is Caracol, located at the dramatic Ronald Zürcher-designed Golf Clubhouse. At Caracol I had a remarkable comparison offering of local and imported grilled beef, prefaced by a poke-like Ahi dish, and a delicious salad with greens locally-sourced, many right from the restaurant’s nearby herb garden which is worth a look.

Dinner in Caracol's herb garden.

Dinner in Caracol’s herb garden.

Early one night during my stay, some Four Seasons staff gathered children on the beach and launched paper lanterns, taken aloft by small flames into the dark sky. The staff explained that the local tribes used this custom to send off the souls of tribal members who had passed away. We all made wishes as the lantern kites were launched and the sky filled with ethereal bright objects as they drifted off in the night breeze.

An old Guanacaste custom is re-enacted at the beach.

An old Guanacaste custom is re-enacted at the beach.

Another highlight of this trip was Chocolate Making Class, conducted by Henrik Bodholdt who owns the nearby Beach Chocolate Factory.

Henry Bodholdt, Chocolate Maker, offers great hands-on chocolate-making classes.

Henry Bodholdt, Chocolate Maker, offers great hands-on chocolate-making classes.

A native of Denmark, Bodholdt came to Costa Rica over a decade ago and fell in love with the cocoa industry and its end product. Starting with roasting the sustainably-farmed organic cocoa beans, he took the class through the history, shelling, sifting, grinding and mixing process to produce our own chocolate. Mr. Bodholdt gives classes regularly at Four Seasons. It is very educational (and you get to eat your own handmade chocolate).

Two of several pools and beaches you can walk to easily at Four Seasons.

Two of several pools and beaches you can walk to easily at Four Seasons.

Be prepared to experience what returning guests have found:  Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo doesn’t fit into any traditional resort niche.  Sure, there is the usual attention to detail that comes with a world-class destination (such as a staff member asking a perspiring guest, “Would you like a cold towel”); but beyond this is the destination itself. The feeling of inclusion in the culture and the environment of this treasure of a country, even during a short stay, is palpable. The “Ticos” really love that you are visiting their country and want to let you know it. ¡Pura Vida!


Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo http://www.fourseasons.com/costarica/

Playa Tamarindo: http://www.tamarindo.com/

Tropicsurf: http://www.tropicsurf.net/

Costa Rica Surfing Spots: http://www.coastalspanish.com/surfing.htm

The Beach Chocolate Factory: http://www.beachchocolatefactory.com

Chef Tylun Pang, Kō Restaurant and Farm to Table in Maui

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Executive Chef Tylun Pang has successfully brought the traditional Plantation Cooking of Hawaii to his customers.

Those of you who have traveled to Hawaii for a while might remember when your dining out was frequently limited to a steak and lobster house, but you knew there was really good local chow being served in home kitchens and hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Times have changed as a wave of foodies and innovative chefs have discovered ways to make a good living serving trendy, fancy cuisine to island visitors. That said, it has still been hard to find da kine food that represented the cultures making up Hawaii.

On the island of Maui, Chef Tylun Pang and his talented coterie of multi-cultural chefs have created Kō, a place we came to call a “teaching restaurant,” where you can dine the way Mauians have for generations. It is a place where treasured family recipes have been adapted to principles of elegant cuisine and presented with service respectful of the histories and cultural influences of the food.

Ko Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

Kō Restaurant entrance at the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui.

It has been a long time since the first sugar mill started operation on Maui in 1828. Lewis and Clark’s historic cross-country trip across North America was still being evaluated and America was still forming, with a Civil War yet to come. Yet there on Maui, immigrant workers were arriving from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Portugal and other nations to provide labor for the expanding sugar operation.

Workers lived in camps on the sugar cane plantations and most raised a few vegetables and prepared family meals in the style of their homelands. From these very ethnic beginnings, combined at times with Native Hawaiian cooking, a unique “plantation-style” food style was derived. Hardy, nourishing food was required to restore the body from the arduous work in the cane fields and the sugar mills. The homemakers saw to it to provide sustenance in their home kitchens.

Chef Tylun Pang grew up on Oahu in a family that loved food and, in Chinese tradition, every meal was a family event, with cooking done by his father and grandmothers. He says he can “close my eyes and still see Dad in the kitchen.” His father took him shopping for food in Chinatown and inspired young Tylun with his amazing wok skills. “The wok is still the first pan I reach for,” says Pang.

Beginning his formal cooking career, Chef Pang started at the Ilikai Hotel in Honolulu, then, with generous mentoring from some European chefs, he went on to the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles before returning to Hawaii, the place he really feels at home. With this experience and resume, Chef Pang eventually became Executive Chef at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea, Maui and here is where the evolution of Kō started.

Heading a kitchen staff in the hotel’s then-upscale Italian restaurant, “I looked around and realized we didn’t have one Italian in the kitchen,” he says. This was also the moment when the Kea Lani wanted to make a change and the collaborations that ensued percolated the idea of a restaurant representing Maui by its traditional multicultural home cooking.

Chef Pang, with his culinarian colleagues, including Chefs Richard Ramirez and Richard Hoang, started collecting recipes from Maui families and other contributing chefs.

Pang’s team made multiple visits to the exhibits at the Maui Sugar Museum in Puunene which depict the cultures that helped build the sugar industry. Distilling and adapting the recipes into the new Kō menu turned into a labor of love as Chef Pang and his colleagues realized they had found, to a great extent, the down-to earth, honest cuisine of Maui.

Some items that made the Kō menu include starters such as Spicy Tuna Poke Bowl, Oishi Sushi, Lumpia Filipino Spring Rolls and Maui Cattle Company Kobe Beef Poke and Banana Ketchup BBQ Pork Skewers (an island street food favorite).

Soups and salads range from Portuguese Bean Soup to Chop Chop Sesame Chicken Salad (with Won Bok Cabbage and Won Ton Chips). Among the adapted Plantation traditional items are Sugar Cane Skewered Prawns and Scallops, Zarzuela (a kettle of lobster, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and chorizo in a saffron broth – wow!) and Maui Cattle Company Korean BBQ Strip Loin (with tempura shrimp and house made Kim Chee).

There is also the delicious Lavender Honey Macadamia Nut Shrimp and Painiolo Bone-In Rib-Eye Steak. Fresh fish, from local Hawaiian-waters, weather permitting, are offered with a range of preparations that include: Ginger Steamed, Macadamia Nut Crust, Kea Lani Garden Herb and Wok Seared. We tried Monchong (a deep sea Pomfret) and local Lehi, served with a delicious side of purple, Molokai mashed sweet potatoes.

Rounding out this multi-cultural mix are interesting items like edamame humus, Portuguese taro rolls and desserts like Maui Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Chantilly Cake and Coconut Gelato. Check out the entire menu at http://www.korestaurant.com

So where do all these ingredients come from? Chef Pang has long been committed to local sourcing (remember, his Dad took him shopping in Honolulu’s Chinatown as a small boy). He knows most of the small farmers on Maui and many of the fishermen people like Chauncy and Teena Monden who run Kula Country Farms on the slopes of Haleakala and produce amazingly sweet Kula Onions and delicious Kula Strawberries.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chauncy Monden, 4th Generation Maui Farmer, Kula Country Farms.

Chef Pang knows when Hana fishermen are catching Ahi Tuna, for example, and regularly talks by phone with chefs across the islands to find out how their fish and produce sources are managing.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention an over-arching awareness of local food  sourcing by the Maui restaurant community as a whole. From top-flight, award-winning establishments like Kō to smaller quality establishments such as Colleen’s at the Cannery in up-country Haiku, chefs are regularly receiving supplies from local growers such as Kula Country Farms, Otani Farms and even smaller boutique farmers like Patnode Farms, Haiku Organic Farms and Rainbow Specialty Organics. As veteran restaurateur Colleen Nicholas says, with a smile, “people walk in all day and sell us lemons, limes, avocados, star fruit, etc. They are the real unsung heroes because local citrus and produce is so much better.”

Colleen's Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

Colleen’s Beet Salad with fresh organic Kula greens, organic grape tomatoes, candied walnuts and goat cheese.

A trip to Maui these days is not only a trip to an astonishingly beautiful place, but it can be a great opportunity to learn more about Hawaiian history and the modern Mauians’ embrace of sustainable agriculture coupled with fine dining, plantation-style. Trip planners and resort concierges are available to help you plan farm tours and other excursions that will put you right on the farm-to-table route.


Richmond, B.C., Asian Food Lover’s Paradise


The Richmond Night Market runs May thru September

With so many readers traveling through Vancouver B.C. we like to inspire side trips and special places that we think our readership would like.  Richmond, B.C., is one those special gems we want to share with you.

Minutes from the Vancouver, B.C. airport, Richmond is an Asian food lover’s dream.

With a setting along the famous Fraser River, Richmond has about 400 Asian restaurants for its 200,000 residents, or, one for every 500 people, and the quality bar is very high, even in the mall food courts.


The bar is set very high for Asian food in Richmond, B.C., and that includes mall food courts.


Great store, with products not easily found in the U.S., abound in Richmond, B.C.
Yes, you can stock up on Malteesers, too!

With a nearly 70 percent Asian population, almost half of which are from China, a visitor can count on some scrumptious and varied fare.  Add to this amazing variety of restaurants the renowned Richmond Night Market with its 80 food stalls, and you’ve landed yourselves in the middle of a foodie heaven!


Many Richmond, B.C. restaurants put their fare right on the window.

We checked into the Radisson Hotel, just a short walk from the Aberdeen light rail station.  There are plenty of well-known hotel brands in Richmond, but the Radisson is particularly handy to the airport and light rail.  What this also means is that you can get to downtown Vancouver without getting into a car by walking the short distance to the light rail.


The Radisson at Richmond, B.C. is steps from the light rail station that will take you to downtown Vancouver.

A foodie friend and I found ourselves dining a deux on the first night of a 3-night stay and headed for the Shanghai River Restaurant after walking the borders of the main restaurant district.  Note: Walking, very good idea.  Much food. Fortunately Richmond is flat and great for burning off a big meal on foot or bicycle.


The Parker Place BBQ store.

The first thing we noticed at the Shanghai River Restaurant was that its gorgeous dining room was full of happy Asian families and tables full of intriguing looking plates of food.

Courteously greeted and seated, we tried the soup dumplings which were absolutely delicious, followed by vegetables wrapped in bean curd, pork with preserved vegetables and Black Cod.  That’s about all two people could handle, but it was exquisite and, reminded us that the best way to eat Asian food out is with a larger group so you can sample more menu items.

Soup Dumplings at the Shanghai River Restaurant

Soup Dumplings at the Shanghai River Restaurant

The large group issue was handled the next morning when the gracious hosts of Tourism Richmond gathered a table full of us for Dim Sum at Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant in the sprawling Aberdeen Center, another short walk from the Radisson.


O, boy!  And out came the prawn dumplings, 3 mushroom soup, pork buns, barbecued pork pastry. tapioca cake, turnip cake, deep fried prawns, egg custard and steamed mini-sponge cake, to name a few items.  A hearty Richmond, B.C. breakfast!


Dim Sum Breakfast at the Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant.


More of that Dim Sum at the Fisherman’s Terrace.


The OMG Egg Custard at the Fisherman’s Terrace Restaurant.


Yes, all of this!

Not only does Richmond have remarkable gastronomic attractions (more on those in a moment) but a short bus, bike or taxi ride will get you to Steveston Village, an engaging working seaport steeped in regional history. Plan to visit the beautifully restored historic Gulf of Georgia Cannery, built in 1894, at the Steveston Harbor. The Cannery reflects the multicultural heritage of the area and the guided tour will convince you of the rough and tumble life of the Gulf of Georgia fishing and canning industry.


Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Steveston, B.C.


Take the guided tour of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. The history of Steveston, B.C. is fascinating.

As you walk along the wharf on your walking tour of Steveston, check out the fresh fish being sold right off the docked fishing boats.  On the wharf numerous restaurants specialize in fresh seafood dishes and the friendly locals are welcoming. (It’s Canada!).


Fresh fish for sale along the Steveston, B.C. fishing docks.


And don’t forget the crabs!

Heading back to central Richmond, just about 2 miles away, perhaps it might be time for your afternoon Pineapple Bun at the intimate Lido Restaurant and Bakery.  This place is so popular that sometimes you have to order and pay for your Pineapple Buns in advance and the hostess will tell you to come back in 10 minutes when the next batch is due out of the oven.  The buns are a real treat, with a nice pot of tea.  There is no pineapple in them, but the tops resemble pineapples, hence the name.


Pineapple Buns at the Lido Bakery in Richmond, B.C.

While we are helping you burn off all this wonderful food, it is time to guide you over to the spectacular Richmond Olympic Oval, just west of central Richmond.  Built for the 2010 Winter Olympics and the speed skating events, it has been transformed into a public fitness center, in true Canadian fashion.  It is chock-a-block full of exercise machines, basketball courts, a climbing wall, badminton and, watch out, the best ping pong players you’ve ever seen up close!  You can get a day pass to use the facilities and it is big enough to not feel crowded.  The refreshing groups of young people engaged in athletics was wonderful to see.  This really is a “worth your time” attraction like Steveston.


You’ll see some rocket ping pong at the Richmond Olympic Oval.


The climbing wall at the Richmond Olympic Oval, now open to the public daily.


Exercise bikes open for public use at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

While on the subject of athletics, if you have ever been curious about Dragon Boating,the Richmond Rowing and Paddling Centre at the nearby University of British Columbia Boathouse offers visitors the opportunity to get out on the Fraser River, under the supervision of veteran coaches and trainers.  See sidebar for contact information.

All of these attractions can be reached comfortably by bicycle and there are several bike rental outfits in the Richmond/Steveston area to serve you. A good cycling map is available listing additional resources.

Returning to our foodie world, along Alexandra Road, (aka “Food Street”), are a couple of notable restaurants to try (among many).  The first is Jang Mo Jib Korean Restaurant.  The name means “grandmother’s house” and serves very traditional Korean cuisine and the excellent claypot cooking.


Pork neck soup at Jang Mo Jib Restaurant in Richmond, B.C.

We tried Pork Neck Soup, the delicious short ribs and Korean traditional sausage (Soon Dae Jub See).  The kim chee was varied and delicious as well.


East meets Northwest at Richmond, B.C.

Our moveable feast then lurched a block away to the Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ restaurant to have some fun with this great Cantonese-style cooking.


Claypot Hot Pot BBQ in Richmond, B.C.

In the middle of the large tables are gas burners divided into sections so that different broths can be used to cook the varied food items, which on our visit included soup bases of Szechuan Spicy, Parsley and Preserved Egg, Satay and Peppered Pork Stomach.  Into these sauces we cooked: Short ribs, pork belly, sliced lamb shoulder, and meatballs of fresh prawn and minced dace (fish).   We also deep fried some fish skin and spicy pork ear.   For our vegetarian palate we also cooked tofu, gluten, garland chrysanthemum and lotus root.  The tastes were amazing and this style of cooking is especially fun when you have a table full of people.


Famous Chef James, with his wonderful food and sparkling personality at the Richmond Night Market.


Lovingly cooked octopus at the Richmond Night Market.




Insanely delicious fried potatoes at the Richmond Night Market.

Lastly, if you are traveling to Richmond, B.C. between May and September, you are in for a special treat if you visit the Richmond Night Market, open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.   During our visit, there were 80-plus food stalls, ranging from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and varieties in-between.  Bring your appetite and be prepared for some real fun.  It teems with people from all over the region as well as tourists and the management monitors food prep and keeps the grounds very clean. The Richmond Night Market is accessible via the light rail (Bridgeport Station) and sits close to the Fraser River, so bring a light jacket or sweater to keep the night chill at bay. Be prepared for lots of food and fun.


The wonderful, colorful and meditative Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple in Richmond, B.C.


Some of the extraordinary art at the Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple, Richmond, B.C.

From now on, spending at least 2 days in and around Richmond, B.C. is going to be part of our trips to Vancouver.  Discovering the convenience of the light rail system and recognizing that Richmond is a full-on Asian food celebration were two highlights of our visit.  One thing that stands out is how most people of Asian descent appreciate a wide range of cooking styles from around Asia.  This translates into a large community support base in Richmond and it is enjoyable to see.  Food brings the world together.  Perhaps that accounts for the happy families we saw in Richmond.  Don’t miss it!

Some helpful links for you:

Tourism Richmond: http://www.tourismrichmond.com

Richmond Night Market: http://www.richmondnightmarket.com

Richmond Olympic Oval: http://richmondoval.ca

Steveston Village: http://www.steveston.bc.ca

Gulf of Georgia Cannery: http://gulfofgeorgiacannery.com/

Caesar Salad

Of course we have to credit Chef and Restaurateur Caesar Cardini for this one.  Chef Cardini opened his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920’s when Tijuana was a hot destination for the Hollywood movie and art crowd.  He was originally a restaurant owner in California and this was an expansion of his business to avoid Prohibition and to capitalize on a popular destination.  Later, he produced a line of dressings that can still be found on supermarket shelves.  This recipe was given to me by an old friend named Quito and I’ve used it for years.  Many Caesar Salad makers have their own personal takes on the salad and here is what I do:

First, you have to make really good croutons!  Your guests will love you for them.  You can even tease them with a small bowl of them with cocktails.

Here are the ingredients to make croutons from a full-size baguette:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons salted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced or through press

1 tablespoon dried basil flakes

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Taking a nice long baguette, such as the one shown here, sliced into four sections for

easier handling.  Note:  Always keep your eyes on the work when slicing and make sure

you develop a style to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Baguette Slicing for Caesar Salad Croutons

Slice length-wise in half

Slice the baguette sections in half, lengthwise, then make longitudinal cuts, minimum 2 cuts.  Most croutons are best savored if they are medium-sized, about 3/8″ cubes or so.

Then make the final crouton cuts at 90 degrees to the longitudinal cuts for get your individual croutons.

Longitudinal Slices



Final Crouton Cuts

Put all your croutons in a mixing bowl.

All your croutons in one bowl

In a sauce pan, over low heat, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the garlic and basil flakes, stirring until combined nicely.

Combined Oil, Garlic, Butter and Dried Basil Flakes

Then pour mixture over croutons a little at a time, tossing crazily so that everyone gets their fair share, until entire mixture has been added.  Continue to toss crazily.

Adding Mixture to Croutons

Tossing Croutons Crazily Yet Democratically

Prepare a cookie sheet  (I line mine with aluminum foil) and transfer the anointed croutons from the bowl to the cookie sheet making sure they are not lumped together too much, enabling uniform baking.

Croutons Ready for Oven

Now they can go into that 325 degree F. oven.  They will need at least 20 minutes but check on them periodically in case the oven is not temperature-accurate…and, ovens, you know who you are.

While the croutons are happily cooking away and the house starts to smell REAL good, I usually make the salad dressing.   I’ll tell you how to do that in a minute but first I’ll jump ahead to bringing the croutons out of the oven, and how they should look.

They should start looking golden brown.  Reach in and grab one and taste it when it cools off.  It should be crunchy.  It they are golden brown and crunchy, they are done.  Take ’em out.  I store the extra croutons in a plastic bag inside a plastic food container.

Golden Brown and Crunchy Croutons

Now lettuce make the dressing!  Note:  THIS RECIPE IS FOR A LARGE AMOUNT OF DRESSING, intended for a large group or for several Caesar Salads over a week period or so.  I will discuss storage after we make the dressing…

To start with, let’s list the dressing ingredients:

1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 can of anchovy filets or 1-1.75 ounce tube of anchovy paste

3 cloves garlic, finely minced or through a press

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons finely grated, aged Reggiano parmesan cheese

No egg in this recipe.

First, in a nice-sized mixing bowl, combine the anchovy and the garlic in 1/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil until you get a nice even mixture.  I tend to use a fork for this combining operation.  It should sort of look for like this.  Not pretty but nicely combined.

Combining The Anchovy, Garlic with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Next, add the Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and lemon juice and combine with the anchovy, garlic and oil mixture already in the bowl. I start using a whisk here as I find it works better.  After very thoroughly mixing these ingredients together, start slowly whisking in the cup of extra virgin olive oil and whisk away until all the oil is added, then start to whisk in the finely grated Reggiano parmesan and whisk more, really working to combine that cheese into a nice marriage with the rest of the family.  It should look like this:

Caesar At The Finish

Now, here we are with large quantity of dressing.  What do we do?  I use an array of jars from preserves, artichoke hearts, etc., etc.  Jars about 8-12 ounces in capacity. They should be glass and have a good sealing, screw-on cap.  If you are bringing a Caesar to your friends’ for dinner, these little jars are great (and you still can have some for yourself at home).

Carefully pour (funnels work here) the dressing into one or more of these storage jars and stir/whisk the dressing while you are pouring (you can do this) so that the ingredients of the dressing go into the jar proportionately.  In other words, when you go back to the jars, you don’t want it to be all oil and/or all anchovy.  Store these jars in the refrigerator.  I usually feel safe about the dressing jars, when properly refrigerated, for at least 8 days.  Take a jar of dressing out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving and be sure to stir all the ingredients in the jar uniformly before putting on the salad.

Nice!  We’re about ready to put it all together for your guests.

Wash and spin (get a spinner if you don’t have one yet) fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce leaves until dry.   I figure one head for every two people. If the salad is the main course, one head per person is what I use.  Remember the croutons will add bulk to the salad.

Break Romaine leaves into a large salad bowl. I try use a bowl that prevents salad and croutons from flying out while I toss.  Add croutons to your personal feeling about croutons per square inch, but remember that you can always add croutons to the salad.

Now, making sure that your dressing is stirred to make it uniform, start with about 1/4 cup  of dressing over the lettuce and croutons and toss thoroughly.  You’ll be surprised by the coverage with your tossing.  You can always add more, or even have a little mini-pitcher at the table in case a guest needs more.  No drinking directly from the pitcher, however.

So we’re tossing, we’re tossing and, finally, add some coarsely shaved Reggiano parmesan over the top and, right, toss some more, just enough to get that cheese married (there’s that word again) to the salad and TA DA!  Bon appetite!

Caesar Is Served

Special thanks to Chef Cardini, Quito and to La Muse, Lucinda, for the photography.

Also special thanks to the kitchen of Bino and Marty.