I think it might be a little weird that I don’t watch TV. (Except for two shows, which I am both insanely excited about since they’re starting up again soon: Game of Thrones and The Borgias.) I’ll admit it’s somewhat of a shame that I don’t know about the latest shows on the Food Network, and that the Real Housewives of Wherever are completely lost on me (ok, so maybe that second one isn’t really a shame at all). Movies are more my thing.
Along the lines of TV shows, this month’s Creative Cooking Crew Challenge was a Chopped-style basket of mystery ingredients that we had to use in a dish. Luckily, I wasn’t completely in the dark; I actually did see one episode of Chopped a few months ago in an airport. (Which goes to show, you never know what good may come from a delayed flight. I was also able to knit 3/4 of an entire scarf during that layover…and I promise I’m not 90, lol.)
Back to this month’s challenge. The basket contained Granny Smith apples, nut butter, vinegar, and bacon; we could also use any pantry staples we wanted. I was pretty happy with the components; beautiful Granny Smith apples with their refreshingly tart flavor have always been a favorite of mine, and I knew I wanted to keep them raw for this challenge to preserve their crisp, clean flavor. The bacon was a no-brainer for me; I went with turkey bacon because I don’t eat pork (if you’re looking for a fantastic nitrite-free product, Applegate Farms is my absolute favorite kind of turkey bacon…and they have it at Wegmans!).
Two ingredients down, and two to go; for the nut butter and vinegar, I wanted a theme to tie everything together. I thought about making a Thai-inspired sauce with peanut butter, rice vinegar, fish sauce, coconut palm sugar, and lime juice, but I wanted something a little different. Indian flavors came to mind; I could do a sauce with cashew butter, sugar cane or coconut vinegar, tamarind, dates, and maybe just a pinch of a spice blend like garam masala or curry.
Then my mind went to Spanish flavors like Marcona almonds, sherry vinegar, and smoked paprika. I don’t make enough things with Spanish flavors, so Spanish it was. I used store-bought almond butter, but of course if you prefer you can make your own nut butter with Marcona almonds (you’ll only need 1 tablespoon for this recipe though). I kept my pantry items to a minimum: canola oil, lemon juice, honey, water, spices, mixed salad greens, and Manchego cheese. If you’re wondering if Manchego really is a pantry item, all I can say is in my house, yes it is. At any given time my cheese drawer is full, containing a minimum of three different imported cheeses. (Right now I have an Irish Cheddar, Israeli Feta, and Spanish Manchego. And it would be four except we just polished off the last of the Ackawi last night.)
This salad is a wonderful balance of flavors and textures: tart, crisp apple; sweet, spicy, and creamy dressing; salty, buttery Manchego; salty, crisp turkey bacon.