Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cranberry, Pear, Walnut and Arugula Salad

My siblings and I are all pretty good cooks. My sister makes a mean roasted fennel salad and my Brother in Law makes incredible pies (and just about everything else). For Thanksgiving we were assigned different parts of the meal and I was assigned the salad. Okay, I don't do a lot of salads or very interesting salads but I accepted my assignment gracefully, meaning with little whining on the phone and began to plot out what to serve.

It had to be big and bold with a surprise twist of something insanely creative. In reality, I promptly forgot about my assignment until the day before Thanksgiving and had to do a scramble at the Co-Op to find some ingredients. Which strategy to choose- random grab stuff that looks good or compose in brain and purposefully move through the store? I used a relatively new strategy, let's just call it choose your own adventure shall we?

Choose your own adventure means that you go into the store with a few ideas and let the ingredients guide you. I started at the greens: good looking arugula meant a relatively sweet salad, good looking spinach meant a bacony and savory salad, and just plain old romaine meant a veggie heavy salad. Unfortunately the spinach looked pretty bad but luckily there was a lot of arugula. (In November, no one wants a tomato heavy salad since they're not in season).

Okay, we have Arugula. From here I wandered over to the dry good section since I already had a plan in mind. On my way I went past the cheese section and noticed that they had a lovely Shaker Farm Blue Cheese who's description read "Wow!". Now the salad adventure was closing in. Blue Cheese and Arugula meant pears and a hint of something startlingly sweet to balance out the cheese. I grabbed some cranberries, walnuts for crunch, and some pears on the way to the register. I didn't worry too much about the dressing since I usually just whip something together at the last minute.

So my "choose you own adventure" strategy led bring a classic fall salad to the Thanksgiving table that was almost all local (Except the arugula) and all organic.

Cranberry, Pear, Walnut, and Arugula Salad with a Cider vinegar vinegrette
Serves 6-8
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5-8 minutes

4 cups baby arugula
1 cup romaine
1/2 cup parsley, rough chopped
2 large pears, cored, sliced into 1/4 inch slivers
1.5 cups shelled almonds, broken into smaller pieces, roasted
1.5 cups dried cranberries with sugar
1 cup crumbled blue cheese (get the good stuff)

Preheat the over to 350F.

Wash and dry the arugula, romaine, and parsley. Wash and core the pears and slice into 1/4 inch slices. If they are large pears, meaning a slice would be unwieldy on the fork, cut the slices in half. Place the walnuts in a ziploc bag and crush into dime sized pieces. Cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and lay the walnuts out in a single layer. Roast in the over until they start to smell toasted. Crumble the blue cheese.

If I'm bringing this somewhere I put each of the ingredients in a separate container. When I arrive I toss the salad greens, then add each ingredient one at a time, tossing gently in between.

Cider Vinegar Vinegrette

I make my salad dressings with a 2:1 vinegar to oil recipe. Play with the proportions if you like yours a bit less tangy.

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 table spoon freshly minced herbs (I used parsley, thyme, and sage)
1.5 teaspoon fresh basil, minced
1.5 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1 tablespoon mustard
1 dash cayenne pepper.
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine in a container, shake well before dressing. I don't make an emulsion so you want to shake this up.

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