Monday, January 6, 2014

Winter Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

I hope everyone had a lovely Holiday Season! I took a little hiatus after my Christmas ham, and headed to Cleveland, my childhood home, to see my family, and it was great. It snowed nearly the whole time, which is pretty much the main thing I want from a Cleveland Christmas, a whole boatload of fluffy white snow covering everything.

I partook in two other's hams and made a second ham of my own, so this was a four ham kind of Christmas for me, which is also supremely awesome. I baked gingerbread cookies, and ate almost a whole box of Malley's red sea salt dark chocolate caramels as well. Not to mention the Cambodian feast, and two fancy dinners out. And bar food with friends. Basically, I ate like there was an award for most calories consumed during the holiday season.

Which is why S and I have been on a salad kick since I returned. Not so much because I fear weight gain, but because my stomach has been rumbling the words "fresh greeeeeeeens" ever since I boarded the plane back to LaGuardia. 

With the bacon fat dressing this salad is hardly exemplary of a healthy, low calorie salad, but it is insanely delicious. When I was a kid my mother would make classic spinach salad, with bacon and onions and hardboiled eggs, and the vinegar-bacon fat dressing. This was basically the only way she could convince me to eat leafy greens. It wasn't until after college that I came to realize how delicious vegetables are.

Nowadays I don't especially like hardboiled egg or raw onion, so when I set off to make a salad with a warm bacon fat dressing, I knew I wanted to veer away from the classic spinach salad. I stuck to baby spinach because the way it wilts a bit beneath the warm oil is fantastic, but you could certainly try regular spinach. 

I wanted to stick to seasonally appropriate accompaniments for the spinach, and of course everything had to stand up well to a drizzling of warm fat. The apples retain their crispness, the nuts their crunch, and the cranberry's dried skin stands up well to the hot oil. The flavors play off one another well and their sweetness, paired with the warm mustard-y dressing is lovely, all the rich flavors and hearty nuts and dried berries make this a great wintery salad. 

This is a great main dish salad, first I devoured three bowls of it as my lunch, then S and I enjoyed it alongside bowls of creamy garlic soup for dinner. Between the nuts, bacon, and dried fruit it makes for a pretty hearty salad, and the warm dressing is just what a salad needs in this cold, wet season.

Winter Salad

5 Heaping Cups baby spinach (about 4oz weight)
1 C Walnuts
1/3 C Brown Sugar
1 apple
1/2 C dried cranberries
5 pieces bacon (preferably thick cut)
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp honey or maple syrup
Juice 1/2 lemon
1 tsp honey mustard
salt and pepper

First, the brown sugar walnuts. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the walnuts and brown sugar in a small saucepan and heat over low, stirring occasionally, until the brown sugar has almost all melted,  stir well for a moment to coat the walnuts, then pour them onto the parchment paper lined baking sheet. Shake so they all have a bit of room around them and leave to cool. 

Place the bacon in a skillet and cook over medium-low heat until crisp and cooked through.

While bacon is cooking, roughly chop the candied walnuts, and cut apple into shoestring pieces using knife or mandolin. I tossed my apple pieces with a bit of lemon juice to keep them from browning while preparing everything else.

Once bacon is crisp, remove from pan and place on paper towel on a plate to drain grease. I like to sprinkle a bit of brown sugar over my bacon as soon as it comes out of the pan. Once it's cool, chop or crumble bacon into small pieces.

In the bacon pan you should have about 4 tbsps of bacon grease, to this add the balsamic vinegar, honey or maple syrup, lemon juice,  honey mustard, a hefty grating of black pepper and a dash or two of salt. Heat over low while whisking until mixture is well combined and warm. 

In salad bowl combine spinach, apples, walnuts, bacon, and cranberries, toss lightly to mix.

If serving entire salad immediately, pour dressing over salad bowl while mixing the salad. If not serving whole salad at once, pour the warm dressing into a measuring cup or gravy boat and pour over individual bowls of salad. Dressing can be rewarmed and whisked before serving if you have leftovers. 

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