Bleu Cheese Potato Salad

Here’s a truth I have learned in the past couple of weeks: you don’t realize how much you use all of your fingers until one of them is out of commission. It has been almost two weeks since my little accident with the mandoline slicer, and I’m constantly reminded of my limitations in the kitchen. I am not in any kind of pain, mind you, but the urgent care doctor was specific to instruct that I should not let my injured right ring finger get wet during the healing process. That means asking for help (not one of my strong points) with washing dishes, prepping vegetables and moving hot pots. Everything takes longer than usual, and my husband, Les, has done half (or all) of the cooking, or we have ordered takeout.

I am pleased to report that on Thursday, the two-week mark after my second COVID jab, we ventured out to a real, honest-to-goodness restaurant—one of our favorite casual, but delicious, places in our city. We sat inside (gasp!) and enjoyed a lovely dinner that included this incredible plate:

This plate was a work of art, and as delicious as it was beautiful!

OMG, it was sooo delicious! The grilled shrimp accompanied a salad of arugula with candied bacon and vinaigrette, flanked by walnut-crusted goat cheese medallions, chilled, roasted carrots and dollops of fresh pesto with microgreens, artfully arranged on a roasted carrot puree. We even ordered an appetizer and a glass of wine, and I literally wanted to lick my plate. It was a real treat, and so good to see the friendly, familiar staff at West End Cafe after such a long separation.

At the same time, with the CDC announcement last week that vaccinated people can relax a bit, we are eagerly anticipating some in-person time with friends, and excited that our social re-entry will coincide perfectly with the start of summer grilling season. For practice, we prepared one of our favorite grilled items—the coffee-rubbed grilled tri-tip steak that Les shared yesterday, and an easy side that takes a favorite steakhouse combination down into casual mode. This bleu cheese potato salad was Les’s idea, as we were pondering what to make as a side for the bold and spicy tri-tip. Think of it as a bleu cheese-stuffed baked potato, but cold. And creamy.

The slight funk of bleu cheese is such a great complement to grilled steak, and it worked out great in this easy potato salad.

The bleu cheese flavor is assertive, which is exactly what we wanted, but the combination of mayo with sour cream gives the salad a creamy texture without the slick greasiness of too much mayonnaise. This potato salad was a perfect complement to the tri-tip, and equally good over the next couple of days with sandwiches. I love that his creative flavor idea and my kitchen instincts made it such a winner on the first effort. Yeah, this teamwork thing is working out pretty well.


Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, boiled tender and chilled

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream

A few shakes granulated garlic

Kosher salt and black pepper

1/2 cup bleu cheese crumbles

2 large scallions, cleaned and sliced (white and green parts)

Small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Romaine or leaf lettuce leaves, for plating (optional)


Instructions

  1. Cut up the chilled cooked potatoes into bite sized chunks.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise and sour cream, plus granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Fold in bleu cheese crumbles and half of the scallions. Fold in chopped parsley.
  3. Add the chilled, cut-up potatoes and gently fold to combine with the dressing mixture. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Plate onto a lettuce-lined platter and sprinkle with remaining sliced scallions.

Easy to notice that I was working with one good hand. My lettuce-lined plate is a little lopsided!

Catering tip: When serving any kind of side or salad for a group, present it on a platter rather than in a bowl. It allows guests to serve themselves from both sides of the table, and it looks prettier and larger!



Cobb with Artichoke-Crab Cake

A good many years ago, a work colleague from my radio days shared with me about his unusual mental habit of assigning colors to the months of the year—not surprisingly, several of the months were given colors that matched a holiday within the month, such as green for March (St. Patrick’s Day). My buddy gave July deep red, for its blazing summer heat. Orange was obviously the color of October, reflecting Halloween pumpkins and fall foliage. But January? You guessed it. Gray.

He’s right about that. The whole month of January looks and feels gray and lifeless, with the Christmas decorations down, no leaves on the trees, no flowers to enjoy. Gray is bland and boring, the color of a steak cooked in the microwave.

As many millions of other Americans, I let go an enormous exhale this week as our battered country took its first steps forward toward what we hope is a new chapter of compassion, cooperation and unity. The installment of a new president has me feeling hopeful for the first time in years, as if gigantic gray clouds have parted to allow sunshine and color back into our lives. I’m not naïve about politics, and I have seen enough in my years to know that smooth-sailing government is a goal rather than a given, but attitudes and intentions must be positive for progress to happen, and we are overdue. I’m ecstatic and proud about the historic swearing-in of our nation’s first-ever woman vice president (I’ll be raising a toast to her in a day or two here), optimistic about making up lost ground in our relationship with the rest of the world (and the planet), and relieved at the promise of giving science a louder voice than ego in our battle against this wretched virus.

Things are looking up, and I’ve needed something to be excited about after so much gloom.

And so, here begins a fun and color-filled parade of recipes to brighten up your plate. Nutritionists will tell you about the benefits of “eating the rainbow,” for all its varying vitamins, antioxidants and whatnot, and it’s undeniable that bright colors in general make people feel happier. I’m determined to bring that color!

Color my world! 🙂

To kick things off, I’m chasing away the gray with a mostly classic Cobb salad, authentic in the sense that it has all the key Cobb ingredients—avocado, bacon, hard-boiled egg, bleu cheese and tomatoes. In step with my recent celebration of seafood, I’ve swapped out the usual chicken breast in favor of a homemade artichoke-crab cake. I love the flavor of artichokes, with their slight lemony tang, and the pairing with crab has been a favorite for years. To pull the flavors together, I’ve punched up the vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice and a few shakes of lemon-pepper seasoning.

The end result is fresh, bright and cheerful. The flavors all work great together, and the colors are breathing some much-needed sunshine into gray and gloomy January. Enjoy!


Serves: 2 dinner salads with extra crab cakes for another meal
Leftover idea: crab cakes benedict, with poached egg and english muffin, topped with sauce of your choice


Crab Cakes

1 1/2 cups lump crab meat, drained and picked over for shell pieces

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained well and chopped fine

4 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cracker or panko crumbs (I used seasoned crackers)

1/4 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning (or more if using bland crackers)

Small handful fresh parsley

Lemon wedges for serving

Mix it up!

  1. Combine all ingredients except crab and mix with a fork until mixture is completely blended.
  2. Add crab meat and fold gently about 6 times, just enough to fully incorporate the mixture.
  3. Cover mixture and chill about 2 hours.
  4. Shape crab mixture into 6 equal-sized cakes*, then cover and chill again 2 hours until ready to cook.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake crab cakes about 25 minutes, until set but not dry.

*I misjudged my portions and ended up with a smaller seventh crab cake. Better than trying to re-shape them!


Citrus vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s orange muscat champagne vinegar* (or substitute any light or citrus-y vinegar + a pinch of sugar)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

3 or 4 shakes lemon pepper seasoning (I used McCormick, which already contains salt)

1 Tbsp. expeller-pressed canola oil + 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

  1. Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and lemon pepper seasoning in a small bowl or measuring glass.
  2. Slowly drizzle canola oil into the mixture, whisking constantly to create an emulsion. Repeat with the olive oil. Cover and allow mixture to rest to “wake up” the seasonings. I typically make my dressings several hours or even days ahead, then bring to room temperature for serving.

Cobb salad

1 full romaine heart, washed, dried and chopped

1/2 cup finely shredded red cabbage (for color :))

1 small shallot, chopped (or substitute red onion)

8 baby tomatoes, halved

1/2 medium avocado, cubed

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, chopped and cooked crisp

1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped



Want to make this colorful salad?


If you’re a fan of the crab-artichoke combination, check out my easy recipe for Creamy Crab and Artichoke Dip!


Chunky Bleu Cheese Dressing

It’s natural, I suppose, for kids to assume the taste and preference of their parents—either based on what they are told or perhaps based on the fact that they don’t really get to experience the flavors of foods the parents dislike.

For many years, I had the impression that “bleu cheese is terrible” was truth. My mother does not have the sense of adventure for food that I have, and come to think of it, my father doesn’t either. Over and over growing up, I heard negative opinion about certain foods from them, and bleu cheese fell into that category, at least with my mom. It had not occurred to me that my own opinion of those foods might be different.

That is, until the day that my grandmother served a casual salad at dinner with a thick, creamy dressing we spooned from one of the Depression glass bowls that was not set aside for special occasions.

I love the creaminess of this dressing, and the fresh taste from the buttermilk and sour cream. And those funky chunks, oh yes!

“What kind of dressing is this, Gram?” I asked. She informed me it was her “homemade” dressing. And I really liked it! Later, when she dropped the truth that it was her homemade bleu cheese dressing, I felt betrayed and compelled to act offended, as I’d been taught. That wild, funky flavor though! Yeah, I couldn’t fake not liking it, and I guess that was one of the first “aha” moments when I realized I was a separate person from my parents.

I loved bleu cheese and I was not ashamed.

If you aren’t making your own salad dressings, you’re missing out on a simple joy and a world of flavor. For the sake of a true story, I can’t claim for certain that my grandma taught me how to make this bleu cheese dressing, but I know she made her own salad dressings quite regularly, and it was one of the first things I began to make on my own when I got serious about cooking. Whether a vinaigrette, Italian dressing or creamy dressing such as ranch or bleu cheese, homemade dressing is remarkably simple to make. I rarely ever buy it anymore.

This is my version of bleu cheese, and unlike most of the dressings you’ll find in a supermarket, it is not loaded up with soybean oil and preservatives. Unlike many restaurant versions, it is not just a mayonnaise-y mess with bleu cheese crumbles (I hate when it gets that awful greasy sheen to it when you serve it with something warm). No, mine is generous with the bleu cheese, both in the base and in chunky texture, and it has buttermilk and sour cream for a lovely, creamy tang. Gram would certainly have approved.

I hope you enjoy this dressing—for its simplicity and its flavor. Use it this weekend to dress up some mixed greens or a wedge salad or a tray of real Buffalo-style chicken wings. Oh yeah, now we’re talking!

Let me know in the comments section what dressings you like, and I’ll share more of my easy recipes. 🙂


Ingredients

3/4 cup mayonnaise* (see notes)

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 oz. wedge of deli-quality bleu cheese*

1 tsp. red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. white pepper


*Notes

My preference for mayonnaise is canola rather than soybean. If you have a Trader Joe’s, they make a terrific version of mayo that is made with expeller pressed canola oil. It keeps its creamy texture and doesn’t have a greasy flavor.

Bleu cheese is made in various places, and they all seem to call it something different. Roquefort, stilton and gorgonzola would all be acceptable substitutes, so choose your favorite. I usually go with Amish or Danish, and for sure, I recommend a wedge of bleu cheese rather than pre-packaged crumbles.


Instructions

  1. Trim the white, non-veiny part of the bleu cheese to blend into the dressing.
  2. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and white part of bleu cheese in a smoothie blender or regular blender and mix until smooth. No blender? Mash this portion of bleu cheese with a fork and whisk vigorously with the buttermilk and sour cream.
  3. Transfer dressing to a bowl. Stir in mayo, vinegar and spices.
  4. Crumble remaining bleu cheese and gently fold into the dressing.

This recipe makes about two cups of dressing. It can be served right away, but the texture is greatly improved after a night in the refrigerator. Keeps in a sealed jar or bowl for about a week.


Want to make this recipe?


Buffalo Chicken Pizza

For this western New York girl, Buffalo chicken pizza is a favorite non-traditional pie, for those times when you just can’t quite decide between pizza and Buffalo wings. From the authentic Frank’s “Red Hot” sauce to the funky bleu cheese crumbles, and right down to the crunchy bits of celery, this pie delivers. All. The. Flavors.

These pizzas move very quickly once the dough is shaped, so do yourself a favor and prep all the ingredients as much as a day ahead. You’ll appreciate having more space in the kitchen, and I’ve recently discovered that placing cold toppings on your freshly shaped pizza dough seems to make it easier to slide the pie off the peel into the screaming hot oven.

We bake all our pizzas on a steel, which has quite literally been a game changer in our quest for the perfect slice. If you use a pizza stone or metal pan, please follow the alternate baking instructions.

Ingredients

1/2 lb. lean ground chicken

1/2 small onion, chopped

1/3 cup Frank’s original red hot sauce* (see notes)

1 Tbsp. fresh garlic, chopped

1 stalk celery, ribbed and sliced thin on diagonal

1 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeno

1/3 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese*

1 ball real New York pizza dough (link to dough recipe)

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper (as you like it)

Notes

Not a fan of bleu cheese? Try feta instead, to mimic the texture and saltiness, but without the funk.

Don’t get confused when you see the selection of Frank’s sauces. They used to make only one (now labeled “Original”), and this is the one you want. Trust me, I’ve been eating it on wings since the 1970’s.

Frank’s has developed several new flavors since they began, but the “Original” red hot sauce is exactly what you want. True Buffalo sauce flavor.

Instructions

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and cook chicken with onions until browned. Remove from heat, stir in Frank’s Red Hot sauce and chopped garlic.

Shape pizza dough into 12- to 14-inch disk. If you missed the tutorial, here’s a quick recap for shaping your pizza dough.

Brush or spray with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread ricotta evenly over dough, keeping about 1/2 inch border on dough. As with any other sauce or base, you want to spread it thinly enough that you can see glimpses of dough through it.

Scatter chicken mixture evenly over ricotta base, then top with celery slices, jalapeno and pepper jack. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles over the top of the pizza and bake on a preheated steel at 550° F for about 7 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly.

See what I mean? ALL the flavors!
You might even go crazy and drizzle a bit of bleu cheese dressing right on top before you slice it.

For baking on a pizza stone, follow manufacturer’s instructions regarding maximum temperature. Some stones will crack or break at higher temperatures. For baking on a pizza pan, lightly grease the pan before placing dough on it, and bake in the lower third section of your oven for a few minutes longer than recommended in the above recipe.

Want to print this recipe?

If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, do you know the best way to reheat them? If you just said, “the microwave,” you’re excused from my blog. Just kidding! You can enjoy the leftovers as much as the original pizza, by placing the slices in a skillet or on a griddle, over very low heat. Place a vented cover over the slices, or lay a loose tent of foil over the top. This helps the cheese return to a glorious melty state, while the constant gentle heat on the crust surface brings back the crunch.

If you look at the spot right exactly in the center of this image, you’ll see the cheese getting bubbly again.