Up until the last couple of days we have had a relatively mild winter here. Relative being the operative word as temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s on a sunny day can feel rather balmy this time of the year. As much as I am trying to stay in and enjoy the moment, I can't help but wonder what Mother Nature has in store for the remainder of the winter. With a stack of books I have yet to read, DVDs containing seasons of shows to watch either again or for the first time (move over Breaking Bad, Homeland, and Walking Dead, House of Cards and Downton Abbey are up next), a stack of wood to keep a fire going, and all of those bottles of wine I couldn't resist buying are all I need to get through any bitter cold or blizzard-like weather days. Secretly I am looking forward to taking in the beauty and silence of the first significant snowfall particularly now that I have rediscovered places to photograph the elegance of the winter landscape. The words of English novelist J. B. Priestley have always resonated with me. "The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of a world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, where is it to be found?'
With so many of the recently posted recipes skewing closer to the somewhat high in calories end of the food spectrum, I thought it might be wise to end the year with a healthier one. For those of you who may be in a bit of a salad rut, I am hoping this Spinach Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette will give you (and your family) a much needed reprieve from your same-old-same-old salad. As much as I too can sometimes be a creature of habit, I love finding something to give my habits a reason to change. Thinking I might now be headed for a new salad rut.
This Spinach Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette was the first course for this year's Christmas dinner. Having made a different salad not exactly getting rave reviews at a prior family gathering, there was a great deal of pressure on this salad to perform. Whether or not it was one of several Christmas miracles occurring over the course of the day, the salad was deemed to be 'great'. No one even mentioned their most recent salad eating experience here. Hopefully the Spinach Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette successfully erased that (bad) memory.
Eating more spinach in the year ahead is more of a goal than a resolution. Not only do I like how it tastes, it has a high nutritional value. Spinach is a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and iron among others. This just may be one of the foods to keep us all healthy in the cold winter months ahead.
The medium-strong blue flavor and creamy texture of the Point Reyes Blue Cheese made it the perfect choice for this salad and pairs incredibly well with the apples. If you are a fan of blue cheese but have not yet tried this one, you absolutely must.
Ever since discovering how delicious PInk Lady apples were in the Apple Galette, I cannot seem to get enough of them. Time had also come for me to add another apple to my perennial favorites, Honey Crisps and Granny Smiths. If simplicity is one of your goals for 2015, buy the praline pecans available at Trader Joe's instead of making your own.
When I looked at the list of ingredients in the Maple Cider Vinaigrette I wondered if the pure maple syrup would make it a little 'too' sweet. The dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar tempered its' sweetness, giving way to a vinaigrette that was both refreshing and rather delish. The vinaigrette can be made right before serving, early in the day or the day before. Stored in the refrigerator it lasts for several days.
The Spinach Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette would be great served either at lunch (all on its' own) or at dinner. The mild flavor of the shallots did not overshadow the flavors of the cheese or pecans, however, a thinly sliced red onion would also work in this salad. Technically by changing out the shallots with a red onion, using goat cheese instead of the Point Reyes Blue, or replacing the Pink Lady apples with either Honey Crisps or Gala Apples, you would be serving a 'different' salad each time (keeping you from getting into a salad rut!).
Wishing you all a very happy new year! Looking forward to inspiring you with more recipes in 2015!
Spinach Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette (inspired by the spinach-apple salad recipe on myrecipes)
Maple Cider Vinaigrette
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard (recommend Maille)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (could also use Kosher salt)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces of candied praline pecans (homemade or the ones from Trader Joe's)
10 ounces baby spinach
1 or 2 Pink Lady apples, thinly sliced (Honey Crisp or Gala apples would also work well)
1 large or 2 medium sized shallots, thinly sliced
6 ounces blue cheese (highly recommend Point Reyes Blue)
1. For the Vinaigrette: Whisk together the cider vinegar, pure maple syrup, dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil until well-blended.
2. On a large serving platter, lightly dress the spinach and sliced apples with the salad dressing.
3. Top the salad with the sliced shallots and crumbled blue cheese. Serve remaining salad dressing on the side.
December winter images taken at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe, Illinois.