January 10, 2012

Winter Pear Salad with Blue Cheese & Candied Walnuts

Call me crazy but I love a good salad. Good = satisfying, light and tasty all at the same time. Sounds simple right? But you'd be amazed at how hard that is to find! Of the few truly memorable salads I've had lately, this is one of my favorites. It's a combo of some great winter flavors - juicy pears, candied walnuts - with tangy blue cheese and a creamy vinaigrette. Throw some grilled chicken on top and you've got a filling dinner salad.

The only thing you can really do wrong when making this salad is probably using that bland iceberg lettuce - so don't! You can also substitute a sweet apple (Fuji, Honey Crisp) for the pear. Making the candied walnuts is probably the hardest part, and it's not even that hard. Just watch the walnuts during the last 5 minutes to make sure they're not burning. Remember that they continue to cook after you pull them out of the oven. So if they're still a little sticky after 20 minutes in the oven, don't worry too much. Make sure they have good color and the sugar will crystallize once they cool down. You can always stick them back in the oven to continue cooking, but you can't un-cook something that's been overcooked. The following recipe makes a big batch but you can keep them in an airtight container to throw into other salads or to snack on.

Winter Pear Salad with Blue Cheese & Candied Walnuts
(2 servings)

2 handfuls salad greens
1 Anjou pear, cored and sliced
2 tbsp crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup candied walnuts
Grilled & sliced chicken breast (optional)
Dijon vinaigrette

- Divide all the ingredients onto two plates. Dress with the vinaigrette & enjoy!

Candied Walnuts
(2 1/2 cups, ~10 servings)

10 oz walnuts
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

- Preheat oven to 325F. Line sheet pan with parchment paper/foil.
- Bring water to a boil. Boil walnuts for 2 minutes. Drain well.
- Mix together powdered sugar, salt, cinnamon & nutmeg in large bowl. Set aside.
- Toss cooked walnuts with sugar mix until evenly coated. Spread mixture out onto prepared sheet pan in one layer.
- Bake for 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely. Gently break apart with your hands. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. 

Dijon Vinaigrette 
(4 servings) 

1 tsp Dijon mustard (grainy)
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

- Whisk everything together until creamy. You can easily halve this recipe for 2 salad servings. 

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