Back in the day when I had 3 young children, there was one activity that I loved and still love, which was to attend cooking classes ! I have taken classes from a former Fresno Bee Newspaper food writer, Whole Foods Market, Erna's Elderberry House Restaurant in Oakhurst,Ca., Pascale Beal of Pascale's Kitchen in Santa Barbara, a language school in France, a B and B in Washington, and a wonderful catering company in Fresno called Love and Garlic, owned and run by Nancy Vajretti, a fabulous cook ! (You might enjoy taking cooking classes solo, with a friend, or with your spouse. I hope this list gives you some ideas of where you might attend.) Nancy had a cozy kitchen, where a small group of us would gather around a large, square table on stools. She would discuss the menu with us first. Often the recipes had history to go with them, like Gelsomina's Chocolate Pudding Cake, or her mother's Minestrone Soup, which consisted of pulling a variety of vegetables out of the fridge. I think knowing that a dish has a story behind it, makes it just a little more special, significant, interesting, and personal.
Well....Everything that we made in Nancy's kitchen was scrumptious, which brings me to recall her "This Season's Pear Salad".The reason I am writing about this salad, is because often when I make it, people go a little coo coo over the dressing ! I went berzerk when I first tasted the spicy dressing and the wonderful medley of ingredients !!! It was like no salad I had ever tasted before ! Nancy's version had poached spicy pears in it, white cheddar cheese, pine nuts, dried craisins (cranberries), and raisin nut bread croutons, with a red wine pear vinaigrette dressing.
I have changed the salad ingredients a little, as well as the dressing recipe, but I think both versions have that WOW factor ! The salad is also beautiful to behold with the eyes, because of it's variety of colors in the baby greens, blueberries, oranges, apples, raspberries, strawberries, cheese, and pine nuts. It's a lovely salad that fits in well with all seasons of the year, and any Holiday or celebration.This salad could also be a whole meal with some yummy muffins added to it.
Spicey Fruit, Cheese, and Pinenut Salad
1/2-1 large box or bag of baby greens
2 apples,sweet-tart, sliced thin
2 oranges,sliced or cubed
1 small carton raspberries
1/2-1 small carton blueberries
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 lb. Jack cheese, crumbled in 1/2'' pieces
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or raspberry vinegar)
1/4 cup cranberry juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 cinnamon stick, freshly ground (The 3 sweet spices can be ground together.)
1 whole nutmeg, freshly ground
6 whole cloves, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pink peppercorns
(or 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper)
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint and tarragon (optional but good !)
1 to 1 and 1/2 cups raisin bread, cut into cubes (optional)
Whisk all of the dressing ingredients in a large jar or a blender, plus 1 teaspoon of the ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove mixture. Taste to see if it needs more seasoning, honey, or juice. (Sometimes I also add some Xylitol, a natural sweetener, if the dressing is too tart. You also could add a little raw sugar.)
In a salad bowl, put the greens, 3/4's of each fruit, 3/4's of the pine nuts, and 3/4's of the cheese crumbles. You can slice the fruit with a knife, but I prefer a mandoline slicer, which makes gorgeous, thin slices. Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over the salad and toss. Do not overdress the salad. Arrange the extra fruit, pine nuts, and the cheese on top. Then lightly sprinkle some more vinaigrette over all. A plastic squeeze bottle works great for this.
P.S. As an option, you can lightly toast some raisin bread croutons in a frying pan,
on medium low heat, and add those to the salad.
P.P.S. At my daughter Brittany and son in law Jeff's house for a Holiday, we had wonderful Mexican tamales that were prepared by Casa de Tamales Restaurant in Fresno. Their Aunt Monique made brown and white rice with sautéed onions and a southwestern salsa added, that had beans in it ! It was delicious ! For a big holiday gathering, it can be a whole lot less stressful to order from a restaurant, if that floats your boat. People bringing food also is helpful !
I made a green salad that had watermelon radishes, orange slices,pears slices, pumpkin seeds,radish slices, toasted cracked hazelnuts, and dried cranberries. You could also add sliced avocados and sliced mangos, if you'd like. It had a south of the border flavor, so to the salad dressing recipe that I have written on this page, I added 1/2 teaspoon of dried chili flakes. You also could add 1/4 cup of lime juice if desired. Taste and see if this is a delicious, mildly spicy dressing for you, and if not, just adjust the seasonings !
Isn't Adonai amazing, good, and loving to have given us such a wonderful variety of colorful and delicious foods !! Thank you, thank you loving Father !!!