Spinach Salad with Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion & Toasted Hazelnuts

20121231_205228 (1)Happy new year to everyone.  I hope you  all enjoyed a well deserved day of rest, relaxation and perhaps some bowl game viewing yesterday.  Of course my idea of relaxation involved making slow cooker pot roast with mashed potatoes and reading some cooking magazines.

We had a lovely New Years Eve dinner with longtime friends, Kathy and Eric.   I couldn’t help but take a few photos, and they kindly obliged because, well we’re longtime friends!  We started out with these sausage stuffed mushrooms, which were out of this world good:

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I’m not sure what Kathy topped this brie with but I couldn’t stop eating it:

2012-12-31 19.27.31Always nice to have some fresh vegetables and olives before dinner.  Isn’t this serving dish awesome?

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Our entree was a tender beef tenderloin filet with a roquefort-pecan butter, a potato-parmigiano galette, roasted asparagus all served with some Layer Cake malbec.  Dessert was a show stopping cranberry-almond shortbread tart followed of course by a Prosecco toast at midnight:

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Somewhere in the mix we managed to squeeze in a beautiful spinach salad featuring sweet Comice pears, dried cranberries and crunchy toasted hazelnuts.  All dressed with a slightly sweet whole grain mustard/balsamic vinaigrette.  Some slivered red onions balance the salad, and for those who are raw onion-averse (myself included), try soaking the sliced onion in cold water for about 1/2 an hour before serving.  This takes some of the punch out of the onions and makes them kinder and gentler on your stomach and breath.

All in all, a very merry way to ring in the new year.  Very special thanks to our good friends and hosts for the evening.  If all my meals this year as good as this one, 2013 is destined to be my best food year ever!

Spinach Salad with Pears, Cranberries, Red Onion & Toasted Hazelnuts

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • 8 cups lightly packed fresh baby spinach leaves, stemmed if needed
  • 2 firm but ripe Comice or Bosc pears (do not peel), quartered lengthwise, cored, and cut into long, thin slices
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (see Note>)
To make the dressing, in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover tightly and shake vigorously to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside.
Place the onions in a medium bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain well and pat dry on paper towels.
In a small bowl, toss the cranberries with 2 tablespoons of the dressing to soften them. Set aside for at least 20 minutes or until ready to serve the salad.
To assemble the salad, place the spinach, onions, and pears in a large bowl. Give the remaining dressing a last-minute shake and pour over the salad. Toss to coat evenly. Arrange the salad in a large serving bowl or divide it evenly among 8 salad plates. Scatter the cranberries and hazelnuts over the top.  Serve immediately.
Serves 6-8 
Notes> Hazelnuts are most often sold with a thin, brown papery skin.  To toast, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 375°F oven. Toast for about 12 minutes until lightly browned.  Transfer them while they’re hot to a clean kitchen towel. (Use a clean towel that is old or you don’t mind washing with bleach, because the skins tend to discolor the fabric.) Gather the towel into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts to remove most or all of the skin.  

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