Dog-themed (doggone good) recipes honor Millan

April 6, 2011
Cesar salad gets its bite from balsamic vinegar and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. BY JACK CLEMONS

Last weekend we had the chance to see one of our favorite celebrities: Cesar Millan, the dog whisperer. Although the event was described as a speaking engagement, we thought he deserved billing as a stand-up comic. With uncanny timing and deadpan delivery Cesar shared his story – from a childhood in Mexico to his current success as an internationally recognized dog behaviorist. On stage, he imitated cats, dogs and untrained humans to illustrate how to effectively understand and direct your pet’s behaviors.

Where’s the food in this story? As part of the advertising campaign for the evening, the DuPont Theatre offered a preshow buffet featuring dog-themed dishes including “Cesar” salad, Chicken “Millan-ese” and Dogfish Head Bisque. Except for the fact that a dogfish is a type of shark, the menu inspired me to assemble a set of recipes honoring various dog breeds and the expert renowned for his ability to train humans and rehabilitate dogs.

Imitation being the purest form of flattery, the first course is a “Cesar” salad that gets it bite from balsamic vinegar and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Begin with a head of romaine lettuce, separated into its individual leaves. Some recipes have you stack the leaves and chop them crosswise, but I prefer to avoid mouthfuls of the tough center section.

I like to peel off the right and left halves of the leaves lengthwise, discarding the middle section. After tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces, rinse and drain them in a colander or salad spinner. When you’re ready to serve, whisk together the dressing ingredients in a serving bowl, toss in the lettuce and sprinkle with croutons.

The main course is an obvious one: hot dogs with chow chow. I’ll stay away from the questionable theory of how hot dogs came into their name (from their reputed main ingredient) but celebrate the spicy, all-beef beauties available at specialty butcher shops. The next debate is how to cook the hot dog – steamed in beer, grilled on the barbecue or (my favorite) sautéed in butter. We like to slice them lengthwise, leaving the halves still connected. Cook the cut side first, flip it over, and nestle chunks of cheese in the center to melt while the other side browns.

Instead of sauerkraut, we’ll keep with our puppy theme and serve these hot dogs with chow chow. This spicy relish shares its name with the sturdy dog breed known for its blue-black tongue and bear-like head. Traditional chow chow recipes call for green tomatoes and red peppers mixed with cabbage, onion and spices, but you’ll find all sorts of variations. The version I’ve included doesn’t require processing the canning jars; you may choose to add a 15-minute water bath. It’s a great sweet-sour accompaniment for grilled burgers and chicken, too.

If you’re not fond of hot dogs, you can still build a canine-named meal by serving pasta with Bolognese sauce. This hearty tomato sauce originated from the same place as the breed that shares its name – Bologna, Italy. A member of the Bichon family, the Bolognese is a small white dog with dark eyes and a long, wooly coat. While the Bolognese dog is known for its gentle temperament, the pasta sauce is its opposite with smoky hints of bacon, rich texture and spicy flavors. They both offer comfort in their own way.

After enjoying this set of doggie-themed dishes, we might consider Cesar’s three-pronged strategy as a great format for a diet: exercise and discipline to reap the rewards of affection.

“Cesar” Salad
1 head romaine lettuce
2 garlic cloves
2 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T white wine vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1 t Dijon mustard
1 T egg substitute
splash of Worcestershire sauce
3 T grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Wash, dry and tear the lettuce into bite-sized pieces; set aside. Press the garlic cloves into a serving bowl and whisk together with the remaining ingredients. Add the lettuce and toss gently to combine. Top with croutons and offer additional grated cheese. Yield: 4 servings.

Chow Chow Relish
1 head white cabbage
2 onions
2 green tomatoes
2 red bell peppers
1 T salt
2 C vinegar
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 t ground ginger
2 t celery seed
1 T mustard seed

Chop the vegetables and combine in a large Dutch oven. Sprinkle with salt, cover and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, rinse and drain the vegetables in a colander; set aside. Sterilize five half-pint canning jars, lids and seals; set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in the Dutch oven and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in drained cabbage mixture and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. Bring to a boil and immediately pack into prepared canning jars, leaving only 1/8 inch head space. Place canning lids on the jars and tighten rings. Turn the jars upside down until cooled completely.

Bolognese Sauce
2 strips bacon, chopped
1 chopped carrot
1 chopped celery stalk
1 chopped onion
1 lb ground chuck
1/2 C red wine
15 oz tomato sauce
2 T tomato paste
1 1/2 C beef stock
1/4 C cream

Sauté the bacon in a large, deep skillet until most of the fat is rendered. Add the carrot, celery and onion; sauté until softened. Add the meat and wine; cook until the meat is no longer pink. Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste and beef stock. Simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for about 30 minutes. Gently stir in the cream and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve ladled over pasta.

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