The ELA's Director's Favorite Recipes for Novice Cooks and Bakers

My mother was a fabulous cook, and like my four (4) siblings, we inherited her ability to throw together delicious, relatively easy to prepare meals. I owe my culinary and entertaining skills to [her], and I'm proud to say my friends and family consider me a decent cook.

The following are a few of the dishes I have perfected over the years. I hope you will try a recipe or two whether you continue to eat at home, or venture out to dine in a restaurant.

Caesar Salad
Growing up in San Diego we would travel across the border with our parents and friends several times a year to take advantage of the wonderful panaderías (bakeries) and inexpensive shops full of trinkets, leather goods, and colorful clothing. Restaurants ranging from simple outdoor cafes, to high-end establishments were frequented by our families as well. One of the best known for their cuisine and service, was a placed called Caesar's, started by three brothers from Italy. Take a guess what dish on their menu put them on the culinary map? If you guessed the Caesar Salad, you are correct! To this day, controversy surrounds the origins of the dressing. It's quite interesting and I encourage you to check out the story of Caesar Cardini and his brothers making a name for themselves with a salad, in Tijauna, Mexico.

Dressing Recipe

  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste (found near the canned tuna in the supermarket); or 3-4 whole anchovies, smashed 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking constantly to emulsify the oil and other ingredients. Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces works the best with this dressing. If you like, add croutons for extra crunch.

Mediterranean Sauce with Pasta
I created this sauce during a trip I took with friends to Southern Italy. We didn't feel like going out to dinner so I grabbed some ingredients we had purchased for a lunch a few days prior, and came up with a super easy, and tasty pasta sauce. The sauce was so easy, I found myself making it on subsequent trips and introducing it to friends here at home. As they know I typically have these ingredients on hand, the dish has become one of their favorites, and I always enjoy making it for them.

  • 12-15 grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half (or any type you enjoy)
  • A hand full of assorted Italian, Spanish, or Greek olives (pitted and chopped in half
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 3 medium garlic cloves chopped or pressed (if you like garlic add more cloves)
  • 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup semi-dry white wine or substitute chicken broth
  • Fresh ground salt & pepper to taste
  • Garnish with fresh basil or oregano
  • 1lb dry spaghetti

Saute the garlic in the olive oil (careful not to burn the garlic), gently toss in tomatoes, and cook until just losing their color. Add olives, capers, lemon juice, wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Let sauce cook down for maybe 30 minutes and adjust seasoning as you like by adding more capers, lemon, wine (be sure to give extra time for the wine to cook down), and so on. For the pasta, I prefer spaghetti. Be sure you don't rinse it or you lose the starch which helps all that yummy sauce stick to the pasta! A Caesar salad goes well with this dish by the way.

Chicken Thighs with Pepperoncinis
A close friend introduced me to this recipe years ago, and though I have altered it slightly, it remains pretty true to the original. More people have asked me for this recipe than I can count, and I laugh because I have to tell them it's ridiculously easy to make. I hope you will try it out, as I know you will have friends asking you for the recipe as well.

  • 10-12 medium-large chicken thighs (with bone-in and skin)
  • Large jar of pepperoncinis (if you can find the pre-cut ones it's preferable; whole will work
  • Fresh ground salt & pepper
  • Garlic powder

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place thighs skin-side up into a large, deep dish cooking pan, try to keep them from touching each-other so they brown properly; depending on the size of the thighs you may need to use two (2) pans. Salt and pepper thighs, then dump the entire jar of peppers, including the juice, over the chicken (try to distribute the peppers as evenly as possible). Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees (baste chicken once or twice with its own juices to keep chicken moist) and ten more minutes at 400 to get skin extra crispy. Serves: 5-6 people Cooking tip: do not wash chicken before cooking as there is a strong probability of cross-contamination- cooking at 375 degrees will kill bacteria.

Alligator Squares;
Growing up these cookies were considered "semi-gourmet" because they looked and tasked unlike other cookies. My mom would make a batch of these light, crunchy taste treats as a hostess gift for a dinner party, and we had to beg here to put some aside for us. Best part: the recipe is super easy and you don't use a mixer/blender!

  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup pecans (chopped)

Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add egg yolk and mix throughly. In separate bowl gently mix flour and cinnamon together (if you want to sift flour great, but not necessary). Add flour to creamed mixture. Do NOT use a mixer. Blend together lightly, but throughly. Spread in an even layer over entire surface of a greased 10"x15" cookie sheet. Smooth surface with the palms of your hands. Beat egg white until frothy and cover top of dough completely. Press nuts evenly into the dough.
Bake at 275 degrees for 50 minutes (test after 40 minutes as they may cook faster depending on your oven). While still hot, cut into 1-1/2" squares. Remove and cool. Yields about 6 dozen cookies.

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