Friday, March 05, 2010

Cooking with Books: Spinach Salad with Deviled Nuts, Blue Cheese, and Bacon Dressing

I don't usually buy my cookbooks in a Western wear store. Heck, I don't usually set foot in a Western wear store. But while playing wingman for a friend looking for the perfect cowboy belt, I ended up picking up Grady Spears' The Texas Cowboy Kitchen. Boy, am I glad. I might just keep going to Western wear stores and check out their bookshelves.

This one's chock-ful of unusually refined recipes for manly man food. Some examples that I have a hankerin' to try: Barbecues Quail Tamales, Snapper with Ancho-Tomatillo Sauce and, my personal favorite, Dr. Pepper-Marinated Skirt Steak Tostados. Mmmmmm....

This recipe might seem "simpler" than any of those, but it's a perfect example of how Spears takes traditional foods and makes them more interesting and hearty. It's "big" enough that it could be dinner all by itself.

Spinach Salad with Deviled Nuts, Blue Cheese, and Bacon Dressing
From The Texas Cowboy Kitchen.
Makes 8-10 servings. (Clearly, this recipe is for a chuckwagon-full of folks. You can divide it all the way down to two if you need to. I did.)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds bacon, diced
1 red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups crumbled blue cheese
1 pound fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed and halved
2 cups deviled nuts (Spears provides a recipe for pecans spiced with cayenne and brown sugar, but frankly, I like my recipe better.)
1 cup grated caciotta or Monterey Jack cheese

In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the bacon and cook until well browned, draining as you go, to make sure the bacon isn't sitting in too much grease. Remove the cooked bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.

Using the same pan, cook the onion and garlic over medium-high heat until they begin to soften. Add the cider vinegar and brown sugar, and simmer over medium-high heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the blue cheese and half of the bacon, mixing well, to form the dressing.

Place the spinach leaves in a large bowl. Pour the warm dressing over the spinach and toss lightly until well coated. season with salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the warm salad among 6 plates. Finish the salad by dividing the remaining bacon, cherry tomatoes, deviled nuts and grated cheese on top of each salad. Serve warm.

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