Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Everything Goes Better with Bacon

If I had to choose the perfect vegetable, I think I would vote for broccoli. It's available year-round, very nutritious and versatile, plus it has the ability to get lost in my vegetable bin and emerge a week (or two) later, none the worse for wear, ready for a dinnertime spin.

I usually steam broccoli and serve it smothered with cheese sauce, which makes it perfectly palatable for the youngest diners. I've even perfected my broccoli chopping technique, which took some work considering that the bottom of the broccoli head is quite different from the top. After rinsing the broccoli head, I hold it by the stem, with the florets on the cutting board. Using my ultra-sharp chef's knife, I cut the florets off, working my way around the head, until there's just a broccoli stump remaining. I then cut the stalk off at the base, just where it's beginning to branch, leaving two pieces: solid stalk, and branchy part. The solid stalk is peeled, then sliced into thin coins. The branchy part can be tricky, but I usually peel it the best I can, squaring up the sides, and then slicing it into squarish coins.

When steaming the broccoli, I put just an inch or so of water in the bottom of a pot, turn the heat up to high, then layer the broccoli stalks on bottom and tender florets on top. When steam comes up through the florets, I put a lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Let it steam off the heat for about 10 minutes or possibly more, but be careful not to let it go too long or you'll end up with mushy veg in a particular shade appropriate for camouflage. A simple cheesy sauce, butter, flour, milk and shredded sharp cheddar cheese, is the number one accompaniment for the little ones, but I like my green stuff simply seasoned and dressed with a squirt of lemon juice.

Casting about for more ideas for broccoli, I remembered a somewhat old-fashioned sweet and sour salad that includes bacon, raisins and sunflower seeds. In this house, we believe quite strongly that bacon makes everything better, so I knew this salad would at least get some interest. I checked an online recipe network and found the good old standby, one that used equal amounts of sugar and mayo. I tried it out and now understand why wonder diabetes is rampant in this country. A little recipe tinkering was definitely in order. At my husband's suggestion, the chunks of onion were pulverized in the blender, making for a more pleasant texture and certainly more child-friendly side dish.

Here it is:

Broccoli Salad for a New Generation
2 broccoli crowns, florets trimmed, stalk trimmed & cut into coins
6 slices bacon, chopped and cooked 'til crisp
a handful sunflower seeds
a handful dried raisins or cranberries
1 cup good-quality mayo, full fat or go home
6 green onions, chopped in 1-inch long pieces
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar

In a lovely serving bowl, put trimmed broccoli pieces, sunflower seeds, bacon and raisins. In a food processor, blitz the onions, mayo, sugar and vinegar together. Season to taste, remembering that the salad has salty bacon and sunflower seeds. Pour dressing over salad sparingly. Serve immediately to happy family.

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