“Mold” and “delicious” are rarely uttered in the same sentence.
In an age of anti-bacterial obsession, blue cheese is an edible iconoclast. Esteemed for its stink and varicose-like veins, it flouts its stuff with defiant deliciousness.
My own introduction to blue cheese came early. My maternal grandmother (“Gran”), an otherwise vivacious and indulgent woman, was obdurate about the timing and elements of evening snack-time (which just so happened to coincide with cocktail hour).
At 5 o'clock, Gran presented the same snack tray, invariably comprised of the following: crackers (always Wheat Thins or Triscuits), Canadian Cheddar (she & my grandfather hailed from Manitoba), crudités (radishes, scallions, carrots, and celery—strings removed), and a dip, either French onion or blue cheese.
While it’s true I inhaled the crackers with a speed only 6-year-olds can muster, it was the blue cheese dip that sent me spinning. I double-dipped with abandon and glee, and on several occasions hijacked the entire bowl when Gran wasn't looking. And while I can't be certain, I'm pretty sure that my finger (not the carrots, and certainly not the radishes) was my preferred dipping implement.
This behavior came to a crashing halt when I discovered what I was eating: blue cheese. That’s right, my brother Sean (who wouldn’t touch it) informed me: you’re eating mold.
The spell was broken. Heartbroken, and slightly revolted, I turned to onion dip and Cheddar.
It was more than a decade later, in a crummy dorm room at two in the morning, when a friend finally convinced me to give blue cheese another go. With a stiff donut and a wrinkled apple as my only alternatives, it was an easy sell.
The cheese in question was an imported Gorgonzola, which my friend guarded with the ferocious intensity of a mother lion. I took a few timid bites. Tangy, peppery, piquant, and salty-sweet—in the space of a minute, I was a slave to the blues.
If you are one of the few who has yet to gather courage to try blue cheese, do. No two blues are the same, so there’s bound to be one worthy of your affection. Some are crumbly, others creamy, and a few are downright (and deliciously) gooey. But whether it’s American Maytag, English Stilton, French Roquefort, Italian Gorgonzola, Spanish Cabrales, or any other of the fifty-plus varieties, you can be sure that the single swift-flowing syllable that denotes them all ensures culinary riches.
For me, blue cheese harmonizes beautifully with my healthy eating agenda. It has so much flavor that a little bit goes a long way, whether as part of a meal, for a satisfying snack with a piece of bread and fruit, or sprinkled atop a salad.
It was via a salad that blue cheese made its way into our lives (and mouths) last night. It was a dark, rainy day, and by evening, the weather reports were warning against tornadoes, flash-flooding and electric outages. Weary from the weather and the past few weeks of sickness, a blue cheese-flecked spinach salad—paired with some chicken sausages and white wine—sounded like a just the intervention we needed.
I recognize that there is nothing revolutionary about a spinach salad, but I’m still going to pull for my particular take. Why? Because it requires little effort and minimal ingredients, yet tastes like you just took yourself out to dinner. It can be transformed into an entire meal with the addition of chicken, too.
And then there’s the matter of the nuts: I guarantee that once you make the candied pecans, you will make them again, countless times. They come together in minutes on the stovetop, no baking required, and make the blue cheese sing.
Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese, Pears and Candied Balsamic Pecans
You will only need half of the pecans for the salad; making the full batch means you have a second batch waiting next time you're ready for salad in a hurry. Store the leftover pecans in a an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (if the weather turns humid, place the container in the refirgerator or they will becme sticky).
Nonstick cooking spray
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided use
1 cup pecan halves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 6-ounce bag baby spinach leaves
1 medium, ripe pear, cut into thin wedges
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
Spray sheet of foil with nonstick spray.
Stir brown sugar, 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar in heavy medium skillet over medium heat until sugar melts and syrup bubbles, about 3 minutes. Mix in pecans. Stir until nuts are toasted and syrup coats nuts evenly, about 7 minutes. Turn nuts out onto prepared foil. Using fork, separate nuts and cool completely (coating will harden).
Combine spinach, pear and HALF of the cooled pecans in large bowl (save the other half for next time you make salad). Whisk Dijon mustard, remaining 3 tablespoons oil and 1 tablespoon vinegar in small bowl to blend. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Toss salad with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with blue cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition per Serving (1/4 of salad):
Calories 209; Fat 18.6g (sat 3.1g, mono 11.1g, poly 3.7g); Protein 3.3g; Cholesterol 5.3mg; Carbohydrate 9.8g; Sodium 120.1mg.
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Camilla’s Nutrition Notes
Blue Cheese: True, cheese has fat, but the flavor is so satisfying, it's worth eating when you want it. Plus, just one ounce of blue cheese provides 15% of your daily supply of calcium and 6 grams of protein.
Pecans: I’m so glad the ultra-low-fat mania of a decade ago is behind us, because so many good foods were singularly dismissed as “bad” for their higher fat content. Case in point, nuts, which are packed with so many good things, convenient to eat, and readily available.
Here’s the good news for pecans, in particular (one of my very favorite nuts):
Pecans contain approximately 60 percent monounsaturated fat and 30 percent polyunsaturated fat, both of which are the “heart-healthy” variety of fats.
Pecans also contain over 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, several B vitamins and zinc. Just one ounce of pecans (a handful or about 20 halves) has more zinc (an important nutrient for proper growth and strong immunity) than a 3.5-ounce piece of skinless chicken. Most good sources of zinc are foods of animal origin, but pecans offer an excellent plant-based source.
One ounce of pecans has about the same amount of fiber as a medium-sized apple, and provides 10 percent of the recommended Daily Value for fiber. Fiber keeps you fuller longer and keeps blood sugar steady.