Apple-Cranberry Manchego Salad with Caramelized Walnuts

Sunday we woke up to sunshine, blue skies, brisk air, and our black border collie/chow begging for a walk. Instead of her usual quick morning stroll, we hopped in the car and headed for Gambrill State Park for a quick hike up the mountain. It was a truly GORGEOUS day and we were thrilled to be outdoors soaking up the beauty of nature.

Later that evening Ric turned to me and said, “I’m happy”. It was a simple statement that said so much. It was a comment on the present, meaning, “Right now, at this very moment, I’m happy, I recognize, acknowledge and appreciate my current place of joy”.  I smiled at him and said, “I’m happy, too”.
So much of our relationship has been magical. How we met, the power of our feelings, the synchronicity at almost every turn and our ability to just go with it. There was every reason for us not to have met or for us not to have continued our relationship past that first meeting as we lived over 1600 miles apart. Just after we met, a friend whose decades long marriage began as a cross country affair said, “Don’t make the distance an issue. Don’t find reasons for it not to work”. I never did and neither did Ric. And so this evening as I was driving home from work to my husband, my pup and kitty, craving my favorite cool weather salad, it was no surprise to me when Ric pulled into the driveway shortly after me with a grocery bag filled with the ingredients for that salad…cranberries, walnuts, Manchengo cheese. We both laughed and asked each other,” Did I vibe that to you, or you to me?” Either way, we are in sync and in constant amusement and gratitude of life’s serendipity and our good fortune.

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup walnut or olive oil
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
6 cups baby field greens (I like chiffonade my greens so they are in slim ribbons – they can also be chopped or left as is)
2 Red Delicious or Fuji apples, cut in a medium to thin julienne style
6 ounces Spanish Manchego cheese, shaved
3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1 ½ cups caramelized walnuts

Boil balsamic vinegar in small saucepan over medium-high heat until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes.

Whisk oil, white vinegar and honey in bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Toss greens, apples, half of cheese, cranberries and walnuts in large bowl with enough vinaigrette to coat. Season salad with salt and pepper.

Mound salad in center of each plate. Drizzle balsamic syrup around salad and plate. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of salads.

6-8 servings

Caramelized Walnuts

1/2 cup sugar
1 ½ cups raw walnuts (whole or halves)
1/8 teaspoon salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F

Use middle rack in oven. Lay walnuts out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 5 minutes. If not quite toasted enough, toast for 1 or 2 more minutes. Be careful not to burn. Remove from oven and let cool in pan on a rack.
Pour sugar into a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom. Cook sugar on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Keep stirring until the sugar begins to melt and the color turns a medium amber. As soon as sugar is melted, add the walnuts to the pan, quickly stirring and coating each piece with the sugar mixture.

Once the walnuts are coated with the sugar mixture, spread them out on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Use two forks to separate the walnuts from each other, working very quickly. Let cool completely.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.


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