I realize this salad repeats itself in restaurant after restaurant and home after home. It is a bit of a standby: mixed greens with candied pecans, blue cheese and cranberries. Sometimes pears sneak in to replace the cranberries, or sugared walnuts dance among the greens in place of pecans. It is a common thread to piece sweet and acidic, pungent and crunchy all in one plateful of goodness. It is, in the end, a very good idea.
That being said, you know that despite the redundant nature of this salad, it is far from boring—and I will always look for ways to make a recipe more efficient, by cutting corners and improving on taste where possible. I used to make candied pecans with a process that involved egg whites and brown sugar and the oven (plus a few other ingredients, though I cannot remember what). They tasted great, but it took awhile to make them. Then, years ago at a dinner party we had a similar salad; I asked how they made their pecans. I was overjoyed to find a little trick that has remained in my kitchen for years:
You candy the pecans with maple syrup over the stove. That’s it.
2/3 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (I use the handy, quick garlic press)
1 T minced fresh herbs OR 1 T dried Italian herbs
2 T either balsamic, port or sherry vinegar
Place dressing ingredients in a jar, screw on top, shake it all around.
Toss mixed greens, blue cheese and dried cranberries with dressing. Top with candied pecans. I didn’t put exact amounts, just figure in how many greens/cran/nuts/cheese will be needed per person/serving and go from there. To make the pecans: I throw about 1 cup pecans and 1/4 – 1/3 cup maple syrup (I eyeball it) in a small skillet over medium heat. Let it sizzle a bit, stirring to coat the nuts all for 5-8 minutes or so… off heat, let cool and add to salad. Enjoy!