Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wedge Salad with Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing

So then there's Iceberg Lettuce.  There was a time when it ruled the roost of the salad world, but with the introduction of all those fancy greens and boutique lettuces, it's safe to say the salad days are all but over for Iceberg.  People consider Iceberg bland and unexciting, and if you shred it up and toss it in the old salad, it pretty much is.  Flavor-wise, it's about as exciting as tap water.

However, what is lost on many people these days is that the beauty of Iceberg is not in its flavor, but in its texture.  Left whole, or at least in large pieces, Iceberg has a wonderful crunch that is simply delightful, and in this usage it provides an nice and neutral vehicle to deliver other flavors to your taste buds.

The pièce de résistance of Iceberg implementation is definitely the wedge salad.  This salad was a big deal back in the fancy restaurant days of the 40s and 50s, but somehow, it disappeared from menus for a few decades.  Thankfully, it's making a comeback, and I couldn't be happier.  It truly is wonderful, dripping with bacon and rich blue cheese dressing, and it finally lets the much maligned Iceberg come into its own.  Here's my version.

First, the dressing:

Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing

1 Small Shallot, Minced
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
4 oz Standard Blue Cheese, Crumbled
4 oz Maytag Blue Cheese, Crumbled (or something even more bold, like Roquefort or Stilton

Note, we're using two different blue cheeses in this appellation--the milder of the two is blended in the dressing itself, the more bold is sprinkled on afterwards.

Dice your shallot and add it to a mixing bowl.  Add the Buttermilk, Mayo, Sour Cream, Vinegar, Worcestershire, and pepper.

Blend this with a whisk until smooth and well combined.

Crumble your blue cheese (the milder of the two) into small, coarse pieces.

Add this to the buttermilk mixture.

Whisk until just combined, then one minute more to dissolve some, but not all, of the blue cheese pieces.

Place in a jar and place this jar covered in the fridge for an hour or two to allow the flavors to meld.

Now, for the salad wedge:

1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
4 Strips of Bacon, Fried Crisp and Coarsely Crumbled
1-2 Teaspoons Fresh Chives, Minced
Several Plum or Cherry Tomatoes, Some Diced, Some Whole
Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing, as outlined above

The secret to making a good wedge salad starts with the cut.  If you're making four salads you might be tempted to slice the head half top to bottom, through the stalk.

Then you could slice this in half and have four wedges.  The problem with this cut is it is rather unattractive, and everybody gets part of the unappetizing stalk.

The solution, slice the head through it's equator, cutting off the top.

Then cut the top in half for two perfect wedges.

If you need more, just get more Iceberg heads.  The base can be discarded, or if you're really frugal, reserved for other uses like sandwiches or whatnot.

Now that you've got your prefect wedges, drizzle them liberally with the buttermilk dressing.  Sprinkle the crumbled bacon, chives and diced tomatoes on top of this.  Dress it with a few whole tomatoes and a side of extra dressing and you're done.

Serve with both a knife and a fork for this one.


Until next time,

May the Wedge be with you!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Bean Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas.  These were a staple in my house growing up.  Mom used to buy them still in the pods and we would spend Sunday afternoons at the tedious task of shelling them.  I always loved them, but for some reason, we don't have them much anymore.  They'd sort of been relegated to New Year's Day fare, and that's a shame, because these babies are tasty and traditional, and a little change of pace as well.

Here's a relatively simple recipe that really brings out the flavor of these beans.  (yes, they are actually beans, not peas)  Black-Eyes have a unique, almost earthy flavor that is accented here with a little smoked ham and a few simple flavorings.

I'm also cooking them in my new bean pot, which my wife got me for Christmas this year.

I've been wanting one for a while.  It's a charming retro cooking vessel that you might say was the world's original crock pot.  It's shape is conducive to long, low and slow cooking.  I'll be featuring it in several more recipes that I've got cooked up for the future.  But first:

Bean Pot Black-Eyed Peas

1 Pound Dried Black-Eyed Peas
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
6 Ounces Smoked Ham, Diced
1 Onion, Diced
4 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 Teaspoons Salt
1 Teaspoon Cracked Black Pepper
1/4 to 1/2 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
4 Cups Beef Stock
1 Can Consommé
1 Teaspoon Thyme

If you remember to do it, soak peas overnight until they have begun to get soft.   Or, if you're like me, and forget to do this the night before, but still want you're black-eyed peas for dinner, there is a 'quick method.'   Boil water in a medium sized pan.  Add peas,

let the boil recover and then boil for two minutes.  Remove from heat and let the peas soak for an hour.

Now they're ready to go.

Dice your onion,

And cube your smoked ham

And sauté them together in the oil.

Note, vegetable oil would be more traditional, but I generally use olive oil for just about everything savory that I cook, but use whichever you like.

After then onions and ham have simmered for 6-8 minutes, add the minced garlic.  Let this go for a minute or two, then add the salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic and onion powders.  Use just a hint of Cayenne if you're not into the heat.  That's what I do when I'm making these for the whole family.  But if it's just for me, I like to turn up the heat.

Also, you might wonder why we're using onion powder and garlic salt

when we've got fresh onion and garlic in the mix.  Well, I find each of these produce different flavor profiles in their fresh and dried forms, and sometimes I like to have both of those in the mix.  Rounds things out, so to speak.

Simmer this for a minute or so, then transfer it all to your bean pot.

Note, if you don't have a bean pot, a decent-sized Dutch oven will work fine.

Drain the black-eyed peas.

Discard the soaking water.  Add the peas to the pot.

Add the consommé.

Add the beef stock.

Finally add the thyme and stir everything up well.

Place in a 425˚F oven for 20 minutes.  After this, reduce the oven temp to 375˚F and cook for an hour and a half.

At this point, the peas should be cooked perfectly.

With a large spoon mash a little bit of the peas up against the side of the pot, then stir this in with the rest.  This will thicken things up and give the beans the proper consistency.

Serve them up hot, maybe with some hot sauce, or 'pepper sauce' if you want that Deep South authenticity.

Until next time,

Happy New Year,