Uh-oh, it’s Martin Luther King Jr. day. No school for the kids. Who will watch them while I’m at work? Time to call in the calvary. Time to call Dad! Yes, last night my Chicago father drove to Wisconsin to care for his grandchildren today. This loved and welcomed sitter comes cheap. I don’t pay him by the hour, or pay his gas money. I reward him with steak, spinach salad, and a medley of Wisconsin wild rice. And the great thing is, he’s happy about the pay. That’s because I’ve been learning to cook. And I’m learning from some great Wisconsin chefs.

I found a better spinach salad recipe than the one I’d used for years. This one’s called Spinach Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette and is served at the Stout Lodge, Island of Happy Days in Mikana, Wisconsin. Grace Howaniec reprinted the recipe in her collection of recipes from excellent Wisconsin restaurants. Her cookbook is called Encore Wisconsin in the hopes that you and I will be able to reproduce these marvelously delicious dishes at home. The chefs represented in this cookbook demonstrate their flare to cooking in their creative choices of ingredients. For example, I never would have thought to put hazelnuts and mandarin oranges in my spinach salad. But in this salad I did and …WOW! What a superior salad. Keep reading for the spinach salad and hazelnut vinaigrette recipe.

Spinach Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette

  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice, strained (Do squeeze a lemon into this rather than using juice concentrate from a bottle)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard
  • 3 Tablespoons honey (You’ll regret it if you use imitation honey with corn syrup; use REAL honey like the Wisconsin restaurant chefs)
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 10 Tablespoons hazelnut oil or olive oil

Salad

  • 1 pound fresh spinach leaves, stemmed, washed, drained, chilled
  • 4 strips lean bacon, fried until crisp, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup coarsely-chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 can (11 oz) mandarin oranges, drained
  • 4 oz fresh button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, sliced

“In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juices, vinegar, mustard, honey, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and finely-chopped hazelnuts. Slowly beat in oil in a fine stream until all oil is incorporated. Set aside.

“Divide spinach between four chilled salad plates. Top plates with one-fourth each of bacon, coarsely-shopped hazelnuts, oranges and mushrooms. Drizzle each salad with one-fourth of Hazelnut Vinaigrette. Garnish with mushrooms and oranges, if desired.”

Howaniec introduces this recipe for Spinach Salad with Hazelnut Vinaigrette by writing, “This pretty salad from Executive Chef Scott Maanum with its interesting components is substantial enough to make a satisfying lunch or light supper. Serve it with a whole grain roll, if you like.”

I enjoy salads well-tossed and with less dressing on them than perhaps is typical. So I tossed the salad in a large salad bowl and used only a fraction of the vinaigrette I mixed up. This is great because I have lots of dressing left-over for more salads in the weeks to come.

Encore Wisconsin

Last night I served this spinach salad as a side-dish to steak and a medley of Wisconsin wild rice and vegetables created by Rice River Farms. The combination of this special rice dish and the beautiful spinach salad made the simple steak dinner a gourmet treat. Serve it to your favorite baby-sitter and s/he will feel well-paid.