Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gateway blue cheese

Blue cheese, I wasn't always a fan of you. I would watch as my mother dumped you on top of burgers and steaks, and cringe with involuntary taste remembrance. You would show up, without warning sometimes, stuffed in pastas or topped on salads, rendering otherwise good foods inedible. It didn't make sense to me; my palate was otherwise accustomed to strong tastes: dark chocolate, coffee, shellfish, even from a young age. Fans of yours would gush and goo, as if you were some kind of very addictive drug. But you, blue cheese, did nothing for me.

But then, one day, two years ago, maybe three, that all changed for me. I don't remember the exact moment, but I remember the exact salad: one with roasted baby beets, and endives, and bacon vinaigrette, and Bayley Hazen Blue. Bayley Hazen is a mild, dry cheese, gentle on the palate and a good supporter of other flavors; a beginner's blue: I call it gateway blue cheese. Because, now, just like all the blue cheese fans before me, I'm addicted.

Blue cheese, I adore you. I love putting you with all sorts of things: beets, carrots, figs, pasta, empanadas, burgers. With a slice of thick toast and a heavy hand of honey, there's no better treat. You can be fancy, all long silk and black gloves, served after an elegant meal, with a sweet reduction of port and a dash of pine nuts. You can be casual, ripped jeans and scuffed sneakers, mixed with mayonnaise and served with hot saucy chicken wings. You even allow for typos, bleu or blue, you blew me out of the water!, you silly old thing.

Even better, perhaps, is that instead of turning me off of foods I like, you turn me onto foods I'd rather not eat. Coleslaw, for instance: raw cabbage swimming in mayonnaise is something I tend to decline, at picnics, at barbeques, with burger orders. But! Mix a little blue cheese in, and something rather lame starts to sparkle. Every crunchy bite of this salad is rewarded with a proper tang from blue cheese, and a certain sweetness from the carrots. Last night, after a few forkfuls, Bennett swore: "This is the best coleslaw I've ever eaten."

Warning: this makes a lot. The two of us ate it all in less than twenty-four hours.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw
Adapted from The Boathouse: Tales and Recipes from a Southern Kitchen

1/3 cup mayonnaise (I used Hellman's light; I'm not sure if this makes a difference)
4 tablespoons light sour cream
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
6 cups white cabbage, thinly sliced (about 1 pound)
2 medium carrots, grated
1 small onion

Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, and cayenne pepper in a large bowl, mixing until smooth. Add the blue cheese, folding into the mixture.

Add the vegetables, and mix until well incorporated. Keep refrigerated until serving.