Orange & Craisin Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette

See that? Glistening there on the beautiful green leaf of spinach?

Yeah. That’s bacon grease. Mmmm.

I knew that I wanted a small salad to go with tonight’s dinner (grilled chicken with twice baked potatoes… don’t worry, the potato recipe’s coming up soon), but had no idea what to throw together. In looking around the kitchen, I realized I had oranges, craisins, and a nonstick skillet full of warm bacon drippings. In my head, it seemed like a combination that just might work – and it did! It’s just not possible for me to let good bacon grease go to waste, and I’ve found that my favorite use, if I’m not going to saute something in it, is to mix it up into a little salad dressing. I tell myself that the greens at least partially negate the fact that I’m devouring pork fat.

I should mention here that, incase you aren’t aware, I have a thing against store-bought dressings (exception: I reserve the right to purchase and keep on hand Hidden Valley Ranch). I started making my own dressings a few years ago and never looked back. This forces me to be creative when I want a salad, which is quite often, as I love my salads (i.e. I often have a random assortment of ingredients that I can’t quite figure out what else to do with other than throw on top of some greens for lunch). Every time I want one, I’m faced with a little challenge: what combination of acid & fat will work best for this particular combination of ingredients and greens? Creating a dressing from scratch ensures that you’re thinking about the flavor profile of your meal, and with a little practice, you’ll just *know* what kind of dressing will work for what kind of salad you’ve thrown together. Dressings are just so easy to make, and if you keep a stocked pantry with at least a decent extra virgin olive oil & some sort of acid, you have no excuse not to be making your own dressings, too.

What kinds of fats/acids make good dressings? Mine are usually some combination of the following (with salt & pepper in each):

Fats: extra virgin olive oil, bacon grease, coconut milk, mayonnaise.

Acids: balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice

Sweeteners: maple syrup, plain sugar, brown sugar, honey

Mix-ins: soy sauce, fresh ginger, oregano, cilantro, garlic, shallots, basil, dijon mustard

See? If I could do basic math, I’d tell you exactly how many combinations of dressings you could invent with just those ingredients there. But, I can’t, so you can just figure it out for yourself. Suffice it to say: lots of creative and delicious and healthy combinations of dressings are at your fingertips with what’s in your pantry already!

Back to tonight’s challenge: invent a new bacon vinaigrette. Usually, this dressing follows a standard recipe for me: whatever bacon grease is leftover after cooking some slices of bacon, about a tablespoon of dijon mustard, couple of glugs of red wine vinegar, some honey, salt & pepper. But, since oranges were going to be the super star ingredient, I didn’t want the harshness of the red wine vinegar to overpower the sweet flavor of the oranges. Instead, I came up with this, and it was delicious:

Bacon-Orange Salad with Vinaigrette

(I didn’t measure out everything when I made it – surprise, surprise – so this is a ratio – approximated. Taste test along the way to make sure the flavor is to your liking.)

In a container fitted with a tight lid, combine the following:

2 parts bacon grease (at least 2 tablespoons; supplement with EVOO if you don’t have that much in the pan after cooking slices of bacon)

1 part orange juice

1 part dijon mustard

1/2 part brown sugar

pinch of salt & pepper

Shake vigorously until combined. Taste, correct seasoning, and pour over a salad made of the following:

leafy, dark greens (spinach & romaine were my lettuces of choice tonight)

orange slices

handful of craisins

optional: toasted walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, and/or crumbled bacon

Toss together until combined. Enjoy!

Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Thyme & Spinach Pizza

I’m gearing up for a triathlon on Saturday, which means I get to obnoxiously carbo-load all week long! Serious athletes would put a great deal of thought into what they eat the week or two before an event (or every day of the year for that matter). I am only concerned with eating enough, making sure I eat some carbs the day before, and staying away from Mexican and spicy food the night before a big race day (learned that one the hard way). This week’s meals are a good balance of carbs and protein. We start off, yesterday, with whatever I had in the fridge after a crazy fun weekend at St. George Island, and that turned out to be a caramelized onion pizza.

Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Thyme & Spinach Pizza

First, make your pizza dough. Yes, from scratch. I took this one from the now defunct Good Things Catered blog.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 package active dry yeast

1 tablespoon honey

3 tablespoons EVOO

3/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)

In a food processor fitted with a steel or dough blade, process the dry ingredients once or twice. Drizzle in the water. Then add honey and oil. Process until the dough comes together as a ball; you may have to add more flour (I usually do).

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead 5-6 times. Place in a bowl that’s been slightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge. It needs about 4 hours to rise, and the good thing is it’ll keep for a week, and be ready to use when you are. If you don’t have 4 hours, do the traditional rise method: cover with a dish towel and place in a dark, warm spot for 45 minutes. Punch it down, then let it rise again for another 45 minutes.

Next: prepare toppings. I sliced up one onion, and caramelized it. That means I cooked it down in EVOO, with some salt, pepper and a dash of sugar, over medium heat (don’t get antsy and put it on high), until they are caramel colored. It’ll take at least 25 minutes, so pour yourself a glass of wine and sit back & stir. I also cooked up some bacon, and washed some spinach for the toppings. Since I haven’t totally destroyed my garden yet, I decided to add some fresh thyme to the mix, as well as a few dollops of ricotta (sounded good at the time, and it was good).

Roll out the dough into whatever pizza shape you wish. I went for a traditional circle last night. Place on a silpat or baking sheet, and top with a little marinara sauce, a light sprinkle of mozzarella, onions, spinach, bacon, more mozzarella, parmesan and thyme. Bake at 350 for 18-20 minutes, and enjoy.