Thursday, 15 March 2012

SmartCooks Treat with Black and Bleu Caesar Salad

March 2012

SmartCooks here.  Janis Joplin.  It was her birthday recently and, had she lived beyond 1970, she would have been almost 70 years young this year.  'Twas not to be so she and her music lives on forever in our hearts.

For some reason, I was listening to her music a few weeks back and did some research on favourite foods (... but last I checked Southern Comfort is not yet a food group...). But I came up with some curious little factoids about her short life, including a Southern Texas restaurant where she got her start, and one of its signature menu items  called "Black and Bleu Caesar Salad". 

Janis Joplin 

First, a bit of foodie folklore about Janis Joplin.  When asked once why she used drugs, Joplin is famous for singing: "You can't eat yogurt and sing the blues."  

Don't think she found much yogurt at Threadgill's Restaurant, where she got her start on the Wednesday evening open mic sessions and where she developed her brassy style, bluesy rock and roll singing voice and taste ... for Southern Comfort in particular.

Threadgills is a legendary Austin, Texas restaurant that was converted from a gas station and was among to first establishments to obtain a liquor licence post-Prohibition.  It became a quintessential beer joint until the 1960s, when it re-invented itself as a diner and southern music restaurant, inviting folkies, hippies and beatniks to its own unique Wednesday night bluegrass and country jam sessions.  

A young Janis Joplin quickly became the star attraction, singing Joan Collins, Joan Baez and 1920s blues singer Bessie Smith songs.  Janis never forget Threadgill's and its owner, Kenneth Threadgill, returning there in July 1970 after a five-day Festival Express music extravaganza train trip across Canada. (A difficult movie to watch with all the drinking, debauchery, and drugs.) She died a few months later.  

Today, one of the semi-private dining rooms (pictured right) at Threadgills is dedicated to her memory, and various memorabilia and a jukebox filled with music.  The restaurant continues to thrive today.   

Black and Bleu Caesar Salad

Warning:  This recipe is NOT a low calorie, low fat, low anything salad.  Threadgill's has always featured food fare like 'chicken-fried porterhouse steaks' and 'fried catfish' and 'fried shrimp'.  Fried is everywhere.  Threadgills, in particular, and Texas-American food in general, are not high on my list of must-try food places for low-fat, low-calorie, mostly vegetarian fare I been cooking and eating.

So, consider this a treat in memory of Janis Joplin... here's a take on the Caesar salad, tweaked to be as healthy as possible, especially by doing the salad dressing, croutons and spice mix. It can be both a salad and a meal.
Depending on the size of your portion you may get 100% of your daily value of fat, protein, sodium and carbs.... so eat sparingly. 

One final suggestion, I suggest you make this tweaked Canadian version while listening to 'Another Piece of My Heart' (below).  Enjoy!


For the Salad:
1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
3 ½ cups chopped romaine lettuce
3 slices roma tomatoes 
1 (6 ounce) sirloin steak
2 T margarine, melted 
1 -2 T Cajun seasoning (ingredients below)  
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup cooked diced bacon
1 1/4 cups large croutons (ingredients below)
Dressing (ingredients below)
2 1/2 T salt

For the Cajun seasoning:
1 T dried oregano
1 T paprika
1 T cayenne pepper
1 T ground black pepper

For the Croutons:
3 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, mince
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 3/4-inch-thick country bread slices, crusts cut off, bread cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 4 cups total)

For the Caesar Dressing:

1/4 cup vegetable oil 
2 T grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 T white wine vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 T light mayonnaise


1.  Make the Cajun seasoning by mixing the spices in a small plastic bag and shaking.  Label and store any leftover seasoning in the spice cupboard.  

2.  Make the Caesar dressing by putting all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

3.  Make the croutons by preheating oven to 325°F. Heat 3 T oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, thyme and rosemary; saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add bread cubes to skillet with garlic-herb oil and toss to coat. Spread out bread cubes on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake just until croutons are golden, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

4.  Assemble the salad by putting the romaine lettuce in a large bowl and sprinkling about half the parmigiano-reggiano cheese and half the croutons over romaine; add dressing and toss well.  After tossing, sprinkle with remaining cheese to create a "snowcap" effect.  Add tomato slices on one side and refrigerate.

5.  Brush one side of sirloin with melted margarine; sprinkle to taste with Cajun seasoning. Place seasoned-side down in skillet.  While first side is cooking, brush second side with melted margarine and sprinkle with additional seasoning.  Cook for about 2 minutes; turn and cook 2-3 minutes more, or to desired degree of doneness.  Cut into 1/2-inch slices. 

6.  Fan sliced steak over salad; top with blue cheese, bacon and remaining croutons.

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