Friends and family provide some of the best recipe feedback, which often steers me towards sharing a particular dish sooner than later–or in some cases, going back to the drawing board. Sometimes, however, it helps to have an unbiased recipe tester with a little cooking savvy to offer honest feedback and constructive criticism. (If you’re itching to volunteer, I have a backlog of pasta and egg dishes that I’ve been meaning to fine tune!)
My friend Emilie, author of The Clever Carrot blog, recently published her first cookbook, The Clever Cookbook. As she was nearing her final deadline, Emilie asked if I would help her by testing out a recipe or two. Geared towards the busy home cook, Emilie’s gorgeously photographed book offers time-saving tips and clever shortcuts that help make cooking more approachable and less stressful.
I originally tested the following dinner salad on a warm night last summer. With its crunchy candied walnuts, sweet red strawberries, creamy goat cheese, protein-rich chicken, and tangy dressing, this salad is a wholesome trifecta of flavor, texture, and color.
I felt no need to tinker with Emilie’s creation but was happy to report a typo–it made me feel as though I had something meaningful to contribute! Though the recipe is perfect as written, it is inherently flexible and easy to customize based on personal preference and what you have on hand. To date, I have remade this crisp, fresh meal several times, adding a handful of snow peas or chopped avocado. Plump blueberries are an option after strawberry season has passed, and a cupful of cannellini beans offers mild flavor and added protein.
My cheater move is to keep a box of healthier chicken tenders on hand for a quick protein addition. (I love Bell & Evans all-natural chicken tenders, and they happen to have a spot-on gluten-free option for those who need it.) For added convenience, the jam jar dressing relies on basic pantry items–and both dressing and candied walnuts are quick to prepare and can be made well in advance.
Word of caution about the candied nuts: keep them out of sight until ready to serve. Sneaky hands have been known to make them vanish before serving time…and my son who doesn’t care for walnuts always asks for more. For her part, Emilie serves any extras in the morning over Greek yogurt with granola. Yum!
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) butter
- 1/4 cup (50 g) light brown sugar
- 1 cup (100 g) walnut halves
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons ( 85 ml) olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt & a few grinds of the pepper mill
- 1 head of Boston or Bibb lettuce (for dinner-size portions, figure 2-3 cups of greens per person)
- 2 cups (280 g) cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
- 2 cups (330 g) sliced strawberries
- 1/2 cup (120 g) crumbled goat cheese (may substitute feta)
- Optional: 1 cup fresh snow or snap peas, 1 diced avocado, 1 cup drained and rinsed white beans, 1 cup blueberries instead of strawberries or 1/3 cup in addition
For the candied walnuts, line a baking tray with parchment paper–you’ll need this for the walnuts to cool. Melt the butter and sugar together in a small skillet over low heat. Add the walnuts and salt. Stir constantly until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken, about 1 minute. Continue to stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. (Quick tip–Resist the urge to sneak a bite; the sugar is very hot and you could burn your tongue.) Spread the walnuts out on the lined tray. The glaze will set as the walnuts cool.
To prepare the dressing, add the mustard, both vinegars, olive oil, salt and pepper to an empty jam jar. Screw the lid on tightly and shake vigorously to blend. You will most likely have more dressing than you need for this salad. Store the leftover in the fridge for future salads during the week.
For the salad, gently tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. (Tearing the leaves with your hands instead of using a knife prevents bruising, especially with tender Bibb lettuce, baby mesclun, and other soft greens.) Add the chicken and sliced strawberries to the bowl. The salad may be prepared to this point, covered with a damp paper towel, and refrigerated for up to two hours.
When ready to eat, toss the salad lightly with the vinaigrette. Top with crumbled goat cheese and candied walnuts. As an option, you may plate the tossed salad and top individual portions with the cheese and nuts.
- The candied walnuts and the vinaigrette can be made in advance. Store the walnuts in an airtight container up to 3 days (try not to eat them all!). The vinaigrette will last in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Easy jam jar dressing and candied walnuts add amazing flavor to this crisp, fresh plate. Leftover chicken makes it a satisfying, complete meal.
Geared towards the busy home cook, Emilie’s debut cookbook offers time-saving tips and clever shortcuts that will make the most out of your time in the kitchen.