Cranberry Pecan Spinach Salad

Cranberry Pecan Spinach Salad with Balsamic VinaigretteDuring the summer we have salads a few times a week. Some salads are fresh and herb-y, some are a meal all on their own, and this one is a perfectly sweet and salty treat to have anytime. I like this salad best with chicken or steak off the grill; baby spinach gets a sweet kick from the glazed pecans, salt from the crumbled blue cheese, all tossed in a tangy homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette.

All salads are not created equal and this one is no exception.

Ingredients:
12 oz. bag of baby spinach
½ small red onion, sliced thin
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup glazed pecans
½ cup Balsamic Vinaigrette

In a large salad bowl, combine baby spinach, sliced red onion, blue cheese, dried cranberries and glazed pecans. Toss with Balsamic Vinaigrette to evenly coat and serve. Enjoy!

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cranberry Pecan Spinach Salad with Balsamic VinaigretteAs summer blazes on in Texas, we are having more and more salads with dinner.  Mixing up a cool, fresh salad keeps me from having to turn the oven on, and changing up the ingredients keeps them new and interesting. No same-old, same-old around here!

Homemade vinaigrettes > store bought vinaigrettes.  They are easy to make, inexpensive, and taste 100x better.  Once you experiment with making vinaigrettes at home, you will never buy them again.

Among the most popular is Balsamic Vinaigrette, and this recipe is my favorite. The tangy balsamic is balanced by the sweetness of the honey, and using a high quality olive oil really comes through in every bite. Perfect for tossing with some leafy greens, drizzling over fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, or using as a marinade for chicken, I have a jar of this in the fridge at all times.

Ingredients:
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey simple syrup
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
¼ tsp Italian seasonings (dried basil and oregano blend)
Salt and pepper

Steakhouse Chopped Salad with Balamic VinaigretteWhisk together balsamic vinegar, honey simple syrup, olive oil, Dijon mustard, pressed garlic, and Italian seasonings until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with a Steakhouse Chopped Salad, Cranberry Pecan Spinach Salad, or one of your favorites. Enjoy!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad

Maryland Crab Cake SaladThere is a restaurant in Austin called The Grove that was designed with me in mind. Extensive wine list, great salads, pizzas and charcuterie; it’s a wine lover’s dream. They make a fantastic crab cake salad – mixed greens, lightly dressed with a citrusy vinaigrette, topped with a crab cake and drizzled with remoulade. It’s light and fresh, but the crab cake and creamy remoulade make it just a little sinful.  And at about $20, it’s also kind of expensive. Luckily for me, the Central Market by my new house has a great seafood selection; they even have ready-to-make crab cakes that rival most restaurants in town. If I were feeling adventurous, I might make my own, but this easy shortcut gets dinner on the table in about 15 minutes.  Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner and much easier on the wallet than eating out!

Maryland Crab Cake Salad 2Ingredients (serves 4):
5 oz. container spring mix
½ red onion, sliced thin
Red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, sliced
Cucumber, peeled and seeds removed, sliced
4 tbsp. Citrus Vinaigrette (see recipe)
4 crab cakes
4 tbsp. remoulade

Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium-low heat, spray with cooking spray, and brown crab cakes until they are cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, in a large salad bowl, combine spring mix, red onion, bell pepper, cucumber and toss with Citrus Vinaigrette to lightly coat. Portion salad into 4 bowls, top each with a crab cake and drizzle 1 tbsp. remoulade over each. Enjoy!

Note: the easiest way to remove seeds from a cucumber is to cut off the ends, stick a butter knife in the seedy center, and turn in a circular motion to loosen the seeds. They should come right out.

Citrus Vinaigrette

Citrus VinaigretteSummer is the season for fresh vegetables, less cooking (inside anyway!) and eating a little lighter. This is the perfect citrusy dressing for a side salad, or my favorite entrée salad – Maryland Crab Cake Salad – fresh greens, red onions, peppers and cucumbers tossed with Citrus Vinaigrette topped with crab and a spicy remoulade. The tangy vinegar is balanced by the sweet honey, and it’s the perfect light dressing to enhance the flavor of garden fresh vegetables.

 

Citrus Vinaigrette 2Making vinaigrettes at home is really easy, and they taste so much better than store bought salad dressings. You can experiment with different types/flavors of vinegar to compliment your salad style – and the best part – have control over the quality of ingredients. Most vinegars are pretty tart, and store bought salad dressings are either too bitter for my taste or include some sort of artificial sweetener I can taste from a mile away. Using honey balances the vinegar naturally.

 

Maryland Crab Cake SaladIngredients (dresses 2 entrée sized salads or 4 side salads):
2 tbsp. citrus vinegar (I use Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar)
1 tbsp. honey simple syrup (or ½ tbsp. honey and ½ tbsp. water)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Pour over your favorite salad and toss to coat. Enjoy!