So it was hot here last week.
There's been a lot of grousing about the weather here in Northern California for the past couple months. Summer is a bleak time in the City of Fog, but this has been the coldest summer on record in, like, the past forty years.
My husband and I joke that the thermometer seems permanently stuck...at 57 degrees.
And it's August.
For those unaware of of the total lack of summer here, I give you Mark Twain's famous quote:
"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
I was reminded of just how strange this is not long ago when I was telling a friend who lives in New York about a particularly good batch of Bolognese sauce I'd made recently and she said, "ok, I can't even listen to you describe this because it's too damn hot." It reminded me of all those great hot weather recipes I used to rely on and I had a wave of sentimental longing for true summer heat.
Then things turned around a few days ago and the temperatures shot up into the 90s. We were having a little Bay Area heat wave and turning on the oven or stove was out of the question. Ahh, the good old days, I thought, and then ran through my old hot weather cooking repertoire in my mind. Ha! It was time for a salad.
The salad I'm going to tell you about is essentially an attempt to recreate a beloved pub salad from a favorite Chicago hangout of ours. A piece of grilled flank steak, sliced thin, is served on a crisp salad of romaine leaves, radishes, tomatoes and mushrooms served with a blue cheese dressing. That's it...so easy. So tasty.
And let me assure you, this salad is perfect for a hot day. Romaine has a cool, crisp snap that can hold up to creamy dressing and grilled beef. (And I'm here to tell you Romaine gets a bad rap in this era of fancy mesclun greens and heirloom varieties of arugula. Often, there's nothing better for a composed salad.)
Then there's the perfect flavor combination of beef, tomatoes and blue cheese dressing. Simply put, they were meant for each other. It's the season for tomatoes and we've been stuffing ourselves with the sweet 100s and little grape tomatoes that are plentiful this time of year. Oh, and don't let me forget... radishes. I'm crazy about radishes, and their peppery bite is exactly right here. Chives are a lovely addition, because, well, because I have a chive addiction. They make anything, better. The nice thing is, a composed salad is ideal for improvising...so feel free.
As for the dressing, let's just say you can't go wrong if you make your own. I won't be upset if you buy a jar of Trader Joe's Blue Cheese dressing, because I've done it myself, and frankly, it's not bad. But the version I've been making for the past year (thank you Cook's Illustrated) has the bonus of having the perfect balance between creamy and tangy while allowing you to feel the tiniest bit of Martha-Stewartish-I-made-homemade-salad-dressing smugness...and that's always kind of fun.
I pulled all the stops out that one hot, steamy evening. (There were actually two, if you'd like to know.) I put on a tank top and some shorts when I got home and assembled the salad.
Even had a gin and tonic.
What the heck.
When summer comes around only a couple of days each year, you've got to make the most of it.
adapted from The Four Farthings, Chicago, Illinois
a steak (your choice, flank, skirt, or a nice NY Strip, which is what I like to use), grilled or broiled
Romaine lettuce, about half a head, rinsed and spun dry
tomatoes, whichever variety you're partial to
white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
radishes, thinly sliced
other options: some sliced red bell pepper or thinly sliced red cabbage
For the dressing (adapted from The New Best Recipe--Cook's Illustrated):
2 1/2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons buttermilk
3 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder or garlic salt*
salt and ground pepper
Mash the blue cheese and buttermilk in a small bowl with a fork until the mixture resembles cottage cheese with small curds. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and taste to adjust the seasonings.
* I use a lovely Garlic Salt blend from my favorite spice shop in Chicago which gives the dressing a nice bit of zip.
Assemble the salad:
Tear the lettuce into bite size pieces and layer the remaining ingredients with the lettuce. Top with thin slices of grilled beef.
Drizzle with dressing.
Have a sip of an icy cold beverage and tuck in.