Kitchen Accomplice Simply Salads

By John Kirkendall

 I have to share this.  

I downloaded a book entitled, “Simply Salads,” on my Kindle.  It has become the inspiration for many an evening dinner when our family was trying to make up for indulgences earlier in the day.  Now, what I am sharing with you is in no way penance.  In fact, it stands on its own as a wonderful dinner treat.
I call it a “bacon, lettuce and tomato” salad but you will recognize it as a simple salad with blue cheese dressing.  The difference here is the detail.  And isn’t that always what separates the 5 star from the lesser stars.  I think if you follow the plan I have stumbled upon after trial and error, you will detect a certain clamor when it is served.  It is wasted on the kiddies.  They would prefer apple sauce.  Cheaper anyway.
The first rule is the treatment of the lettuce.  The lettuce in this case is Romaine.  Not just any Romaine, but the short tender, light green, inside leaves, 3 per person.  You will have a lot of leaves left over.  That’s ok, too – you’ll find many uses for them – containers for tuna salad, ham salad, egg salad and the like for lunch.  I like to dampen a tea towel and place the leaves on one short side of the towel.  Roll up the towel and refrigerate.  It can easily be kept in the fridge overnight – but a couple of hours works, too.  The object is to have chilled and crisped leaves for your salad.
While the leaves are crisping, you have time to prepare the bacon and dressing.
Have you grown as weary as I with the bottled bacon bits which seem to have a ubiquitous presence in salads?  These should be verboten.  Have honest and fresh bacon, thickly sliced and slowly cooked until crisp and dried on paper toweling.  It is easier to cut the bacon into small bits, not too small, before cooking.  But that is not essential.  What is essential: do not rush the cooking.   And when finished, it will crisp nicely as it cools on the paper toweling.  You can also pat it with another layer of toweling to eliminate as much fat as possible.
The secret to the tomatoes – you won’t believe it. Do not use fresh tomatoes.  The petite diced canned ones, refrigerated, drained and lightly seasoned with coarse salt and pepper work best.  I have tried them all—vine ripened, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes.  The canned ones defy a cook’s intuition, but trust me, these are the faithful standbys and will not let you down.
Now for the piece de resistance.  The dressing. This is one for your index files.  If you enjoy a blue cheese dressing for salads and baked potatoes and haven’t found the perfect one.  Stay tuned.  This is it.  The bottled ones are pale and bland by comparison.  Your friends will ask for the recipe.  And if you are like my grandmother, you will give it to them – although she always left out a major ingredient – which left recipients wondering why their renditions did not measure up.  I have left nothing out.  Here it is:
Blue Cheese Dressing
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 T minced yellow onion
1/2 t minced garlic
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 T lemon juice
1 T white vinegar
1/2 C Maytag blue cheese
3 T buttermilk
Kosher salt; pepper
In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, mayonnaise, buttermilk, lemon juice and vinegar. Add salt and pepper, onion and garlic.  Stir in the chunked blue cheese. Cover, and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving. 
All that is left to be done is to compose the salad before your guests are seated.  Place three Romaine leaves on a salad plate.  Drizzle a line of dressing about midway across the salad’s width.  Parallel to that place a very thin row of diced bacon.  Next to that place a thin row of seasoned tomatoes.  
That’s all there is to it.  (You could use chilled salad plates and chilled salad forks if you wish to gild the lily. I do that sometimes, but only when I am trying to make up for something.)
 
Judge Kirkendall is a retired Probate Judge. He presently serves on the Elder Law Advisory Board of the Stetson University College of Law. He has taught cooking classes for more than 25 years at various cooking schools in the Ann Arbor area and has himself attended classes at Cordon Bleu and La Varenne in Paris, as well as schools in New York, New Orleans and San Francisco. I am (thankfully) past president of the National College of Probate Judges. He can be reached at Judgejnk@yahoo.com