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Black Bean Soup

I cannot think about black bean soup without thinking about the woman who taught me how to make it. She was 180 pounds of soul in her shiny combat boots 20 years before Doc Martin's adorned the more slight of foot creatures that track South Beach.
Her name is Betty. She was the breakfast cook at The Pier House Restaurant in 1978 when I was brought in to assist her. It was like having a female Lou Gossett Jr. as your unofficial tour guide to hell's kitchen.
When you are a breakfast cook your day starts out with a sense of sheer panic. The alarm clock seems to gyrate your aortic valve. You fear every minute you delay getting set up will multiply the number of eggs you will be ordered to make by a factor of 500. I was always relieved when breakfast officially ended and it was time to make the lunch menu come together...and one of my jobs was to make the Black Bean Soup.
It also meant that Betty would get her allotment of two 16 ounce Busch beers which had an ability to reverse the string of colorfully graphic instructions she would have directed at me for the previous four hours into a comically sweet, mischievous flirtation.
The way Betty taught me to make black bean soup dramatically affected my cooking. I was reading French classical recipes where you often started a sauce with a mirepoix of leeks, carrots, celery and white onions. Delicate in contrast to the bacon, bell peppers, garlic, red onions, spices and chilies that were the foundation of our black bean soup. I realized that many of the sauces that I would eventually make to go with the robust flavors of our New World Cuisine would begin with these "bean soup" vegetables.
Black Bean Soup. Thanks Betty! I owe ya a beer...and then some.



Caesar Salad

Without a doubt this is history* most unconquerable of all Caesars!
Go anywhere in the U.S. and this is the one salad from truck stops to haute spots, outside of a "small tossed" you are most likely to encounter.
There are fairly worthy contenders that could have been king. The Cobb Salad, the Waldorf salad, HEY!, what about the Chefs Salad!?!
But no. You can go to a Latin-Caribbean chicken fast food restaurant here in Miami or an Oriental diner in Oklahoma and Caesar would be rendering onto you.
And the story did not start in old Italia, but was created by an Italian immigrant in Tijuana, Mexico named Alex-Caesar Cardini on the Fourth of July weekend of 1924. It seems Mr. Cardini had a series of restaurants there in Tijuana, one of which was named "Caesar's Palace".
The salad became very popular with Hollywood stars who visited Tijuana. The Caesar salad was once voted by the International Society of Epicures in Paris as the "Greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in fifty years."
Back in 1995 we decided to re-test the Caesar salad dressing for my first book, "A Feast of Sunlight". Our recipe testing results caused us to fine tune it a bit. The testing of a recipe really gets you inside the structure and balance between ingredients and that is the beauty of a properly made Caesar; balance.
When you are working with things as robust as anchovies, mustard, garlic and Parmesan it's important that there is the proper proportioning going on or it won't be the conquest you'd hoped to achieve with any Caesar.

*Works consulted: Memory Lane.



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