Suzi's Blog

Cobb Salad from Patricia Wells

I am, in a word, a fan of Patricia Wells. I love her cookbooks, packed with ideas that tempt me page by page. I relish her travel books: those Food Lover’s Guides to Paris and to France have given many of us perfect journeys along the timeless streets of cities or the rural byways of France.

Her twelfth book, Salad as a Meal, is out and simply extends her record of superb writing and recipe presentation. Her inspiration for this book was, truthfully, negative. At Brasserie Lipp on the Left Bank in Paris, there is a small sign saying: No Salad as a Meal. It struck Patricia as both humorous and totally at odds with French cuisine.

In love with salads, Patricia has a broad definition of that dish. Her salad does not have to include greens at all, and she prefers salads with protein. So, Salad as Meal is organized with chapters devoted to protein type including:

  • Eggs, Cheese and Bean
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Poultry
  • Meat
  • Bread
  • Classics

In that last category, Classic, there is this recipe for Cobb Salad, a robust, old-fashioned ride of iceberg lettuce, tomato, bacon, and blue cheese. [Yes, in the picture above we used romaine, not iceberg, but Patricia approves of creativity]. This salad was created in the 1930 by Robert Cobb, one of the owners of the Brown Derby restaurant chain. The main restaurant, nestled on the border of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, was famous for its Wilshire Avenue location. At night, it was the home to the famous stars, from Hollywood, and the infamous, dapper men from the Los Angeles underworld. Everyone, regardless of status in life, loved this salad.

Oh, I know you want to look at the recipe but let’s go back to Wilshire Boulevard for some great history. Wilshire runs 28 miles from downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific in Santa Monica. It was developed starting around 1900 in sections, one at a time, ranging from a few blocks to almost a mile. Each round of developers provided new ideas, architectures, and scenery.

When Wilshire began, there were oil derricks in downtown LA. Some entrepreneurs got a lease for a plot of land [an old Spanish ranch land grant] several miles west of downtown LA. They set up a derrick to drill for oil. They drilled and they struck. Water. They moved the derrick. They drilled. Water. Move, drill, water. Move, drill, water.

Water does not burn well, but it has, and had, value in land that was basically desert. So, running out of money but still having hope, the entrepreneurs laid out a grid of streets, planted a different species of tree on each main thoroughfare, and built some model homes. They advertised the water supply.

And, in the end, there was no oil but a nice little community grew up. The next time you are in LA, you can visit and see how it all turned out. Just ask anyone for the directions to Beverly Hills. Oh, and do stop to shop and eat. Try the Cobb Salad somewhere. It’s really good.

 

Cobb Salad

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients for the Salad:

  • 2 1/2 ounces smoked bacon, rind removed, cut into matchsticks (¾ cup)
  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped (4 cups)
  • 2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
  • 4 ounces chilled blue cheese (preferably Roquefort), crumbled (1 cup)
  • 4 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, trimmed, peeled, and cut into thin rounds
  • Yogurt and Lemon Dressing (recipe follows)
  • Coarse, freshly ground black pepper

Ingredients for the Yogurt and Lemon Dressing:

  • ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

Preparation of the Salad:

In a large, dry skillet, brown the bacon over moderate heat until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to several layers of paper towels to absorb the fat. Blot the top of the bacon with several layers of paper towel to absorb any additional fat. Set aside.

In a large, shallow bowl, combine the bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cheese and spring onions. Toss with just enough dressing to lightly and evenly coat the ingredients. Season generously with pepper, and serve.

Preparation of the Yogurt and Lemon Dressing:

Use a jar with a tight lid. Place all the ingredients in the jar. Cover with the lid and shake to blend. Taste for seasoning. The dressing can be used immediately or stored for a week (shake to blend again before serving).

Source: Salad as Meal by Patricia Well (published by William Morrow)

 

Bread & Water + Tomatoes = Gazpacho

bowl of gazpacho

“Do you hit your wife during the night?” the man asked me.

I hesitated to answer. The question was stark. And, I have always maintained that what happens between me and Suzen in the privacy of our bedroom is, well private.

“No, Doctor, he does not,” Suzen answered.

“Good,” the doctor responded. “That means you do not have Restless Leg Syndrome.”

Apparently, I am “restless” when asleep, and Suzen had joined me at my sleep doctor to trace down the source. I wake Suzen up in the middle of the night, never a good thing to do. But all I do is thrash. I do not bash my wife.

The doctor, who was simply doing his job, proposed a solution and we prepared to leave.

“Are you still trying to lose weight?” the doctor asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said as I bent to grab my bag.

“You are lying,” the doctor said to me.

I jerked up and looked at him. He pointed to Suzen, standing in the hallway with a very righteous look on her face.

“Your wife told me the truth,” the doctor said reproachfully.

Ratted out by my wife. Was I depressed at her faithlessness? No, I was damn angry. She thinks I’m restless in bed? Wait until tonight, baby. Your ass will be on the floor by midnight. That’s what rushed through my head.

No, wait. They are right. I need to drop a few. Okay, several. But it’s not my fault. Someone has to test brownies and my metabolism is way, way too efficient. I can’t burn enough calories.

So, I’m exercising like mad. And going on a restricted diet. Not bread and water. But close. Thank God for gazpacho. Wonderful, classic gazpacho.

Lydie Marshall has written a perfectly diverse collection of soup ideas in Soup of the Day. She presents two contrasting gazpacho recipes, and this one represents the very pure and simple style: tomatoes, garlic, and bread that has been soaked in water. This recipe, Melchior’s Gazpacho, is named for its creator, a Barcelona native. What we have here is authenticity.

I’m a fan of gazpacho and sample new recipes all the time. The variety of gazpacho flavors, styles, and textures is just a delight. I particularly love the distinct pale orange color that is achieved when white bread is combined with red tomatoes.

This gazpacho is not the chunky type you may have tasted. It’s immaculately thin, because the only veggie being used is the tomatoes and a food processor is used to liquefy the wet bread and the whole thing is sieved. You are left with this delightfully delicate liquid that can be adorned with toppings to extend flavor and give body.

Lydie suggests diced onions, bell peppers, cucumber and hard-boiled eggs for toppings. Plus, of course, croutons. [See yesterday’s blog for perfect homemade croutons!]. I added some options in the list of ingredients below.

I used the croutons, and the cucumber, but I added in sliced hot green peppers and some ripe avocado.

The brightness of all the additive flavors always makes gazpacho a surprising treat. The fact that gazpacho is healthy, too, is a bonus you can relish. You can retire to bed at night with no sense of guilt. You are free, of course, to thrash a bit in celebration. Just don’t hit the person next to you.

Melchior’s Gazpacho

Yield: Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

The Soup Itself:

  • 4 pounds very ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cups loosely packed bread, from the doughy part of the bread, not the crust
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and pureed
  • 4 tablespoons, red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt or more
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Options for Topping the Soup:

  • Diced tomato
  • Slice or diced onion
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sliced scallions
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced hot peppers
  • Sliced bell peppers
  • Dice hard-boiled eggs
  • Croutons, freshly made

Preparation:

Dice and reserve 1 tomato for garnish.

Soak the remaining tomatoes in boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain, peel, and chop.

Soak the bread in water for 5 minutes. Squeeze out the water and mix the bread with the tomatoes.

Puree the tomatoes, bread and garlic in a food processor until very smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve to remove the tomato seeds [and any tomato pulp].

Whisk in the 3 tablespoons of the vinegar, then drizzle the olive oil in the tomato mixture. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and stir the gazpacho. Refrigerate.

Just before serving, prepare the croutons.

To serve, taste the soup and correct the seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add ice cubes to thin it out. Pour the soup into chilled soup bowl or plates.

Serve the adornments in side bowls and allow each guest to add as they wish.

Source: Soup of the Day by Lydie Marshall