Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Caesar Salad Flashback

Into the hush of the Sonia Rose dining room, I roll the cart. I am dressed in the requisite tuxedo shirt with black bowtie (the easy, hook kind) and black slacks. On the cart before me is the mis en place for a Caesar salad. This is not just a salad, it’s a performance before the eager couple sitting at the white-clothed table. I am sweating, and hoping the wet underarms do not seem apparent to the eager couple.

This was the flashback I had the other night while making Caesar salad dressing from scratch. Even though I was not in public, I had a faint sense that someone was watching—making sure I did not skimp on the Tabasco or that, as I streamed the EVOO into the curdled egg yolk, the dressing wouldn’t break. It did not.

Between muscle memory and a glance at an online recipe, I recreated a fantastic, balanced dressing that would stand up to an encore.


(serves 4 salads)

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black peppercorns

3 anchovies

1 coddled egg yolk (Place a room-temperature egg in boiling water for a minute. Remove and place under running cold water to stop the cooking and cool it off so you can handle it.)

1/8 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Juice of one lemon

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed and dried and ripped into pieces

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup freshly toasted croutons

Kosher salt to taste

Tuxedo shirt with bow tie, optional

Make the croutons first: Set oven at 425 degrees F. Cut large cubes from a French baguette or country loaf of bread to make at least a cup. Place on a baking sheet and bake until just golden brown, about 5 minutes. Cool and set aside. (I do not season my croutons because I like that they take on the flavor of and absorb the dressing once mixed in with the salad.)

Preferably in a wooden salad bowl that’s seasoned or already broken in, mash the garlic, peppercorns and anchovies together to make a paste. Add the egg yolk, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, mix well. The lemon’s acidity acts to “cook” the yolk just a little. Slowly stream olive oil, one or two tablespoons at a time into the mixture, constantly whisking with one hand so the dressing does not break (the oil separate from the yolk). Taste at ½ cup of EVOO; if the dressing is too thick (It should resemble a thick bleu cheese rather than a runny dressing), add more EVOO. Add the red wine vinegar and whisk.

Add the lettuce to the bowl, lightly toss; add the cheese and croutons and toss again. Season with salt and more freshly ground pepper if desired. (I also wait to season with salt in the end because the anchovies and Parmesan are endowed with a saltiness that might be enough to season the salad on its own.)