Sunday, March 20, 2011

On the Lighter Side

After moving only a week ago, Greg and I have already been spoiled with several days of beautiful spring weather here in St. Louis. We live across the street from a park and have been taking advantage of it on a daily basis. We've been walking, running (ok rogging, my version of the run-jog-try-not-to-die-because-you-haven't-worked-out-in-a-month, you know what I'm talking about), or biking almost every day and it actually has me thinking about healthy eating. Between wrapping up our old jobs, traveling to England and moving 400 miles away we've pretty much been living on fast food for about a month now. I know this rarely happens (those who know me know that I could *almost* live off of fast food and diet coke) but I actually started craving fruits and vegetables and good ol' home cooked food.

Fast forward to my first trip to the grocery store since moving into our new house. Although the layout of the store was new, I felt oddly at home amongst all the familiar produce options. The tall, slender asparagus bundles, crates of bright orange clementines and bunches of leafy romaine bursting from the shelves gave me a sense of calm I hadn't felt in weeks. The inspiration for a delicious salad came in the form of some of the most juicy, luscious looking strawberries I have laid eyes on since the peak of last year's strawberry season.

With my cart full and my heart happy, I headed home to make dinner. That container of strawberries never made it into the salad, but instead went straight to our tummies. So, another trip to the grocery store and another pound of strawberries later, it was time for action. I've been using balsamic dressing on my salads for ages but recently I've been reading about people using a balsamic reduction and wondered what the difference was between the two. A quick google search later and my research was complete. A balsamic reduction is simply a boiled down version of balsamic vinegar mixed with a touch of sugar. For me, simplicity is key on these precious warm spring days so this salad has only a few ingredients but boy do they pack a punch!

Summer Spinach Salad with Balsamic Reduction

Serves 2

- 2 large handfuls of spinach
- 4-6 large strawberries, sliced
- handful of blueberries
- 1/4 c. blue cheese crumbles
- 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp. sugar

To make the balsamic reduction put about 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of sugar to the mix and reduce to medium heat. (I give these measurements as rough estimates, but I basically put in a few good glugs of balsamic and a few pinches of sugar.) Stir the mixture frequently and keep an eye on it because it can go from sweet and syrupy to thick and burned very quickly. I would suggest taking it off about 3-5 minutes before you think it's done because it seemed to thicken up more as it cooled.
While your balsamic reduction cools, divide the spinach onto chilled plates and top with strawberries, blueberries and blue cheese crumbles. Drizzle with the balsamic reduction (don't go overboard here, a little bit goes a long way). Enjoy!

Branching out: After tasting this recipe, we both thought it was delicious as is. However, it is a great recipe for add-ins or substitutions such as toasted walnuts, dried cranberries or thinly sliced pears.

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