So I know what you all are thinking. “Salad? No really… salad?”

Well, salad has gotten a bad rap. A lot of people think of them as boring, sub-standard, diet foods. This is probably because these same people have only been exposed to plain, boring, sub-standard, diet salads. Not many moons ago I, too, was under the “salad is for squares” spell… until I discovered the secret to making them fantastic and meal-worthy (with bacon of course). All you have to do to make a great salad is to do the following: Pick a leaf, pick a fruit, pick a cheese and pick a nut or meat. The possibilities are endless. Let’s try peppery arugula, thinly sliced pear, grated parmigiano reggiano and prociutto all tossed in lemon and olive oil. Or how about watercress with raspberries, brie and toasted pine nuts in a dijon vinaigrette? See? Not boring at all! You can deviate from this practice as you please, don’t forget. Imagination and creativity is ALWAYS welcome in the kitchen. Remember the bacon cookies? It is all up to your imagination.

I followed the same protocol here: baby spinach tossed in olive oil, caramelized apples, goat’s cheese and bacon (of course) finished with a balsamic reduction. I wanted to use apples because they are absolutely delicious this time of year – so sweet! You also might be thinking, “Ooo, a balsamic reduction. This guy’s trying to get fancy on us here!” Let me say this. A balsamic reduction is one of the easiest and most flavourful things you can make to top a salad – and it’ll impress your friends (or date) to boot.

Ingredients:

6 strips Maple Leaf Bacon

3 Apples (Gala or Golden Delicious work well)

½ tbsp Unsalted butter

¼ cup Brown Sugar

1 cup Balsamic Vinegar

3 big handfuls Baby spinach

¼ cup Olive oil

75 g Goat’s Cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Like always, prep first! Cut your bacon into little tiny pieces. We’re gonna make bacon bits – REAL bacon bits. Cut your apples into slices about a half inch thick and peel the skins. Don’t worry if they start to oxidize and turn brown before you get a chance to do anything with them, so save your lemon juice for another time. You won’t be able to tell once we’re done.

2. Dump your balsamic vinegar into a small sauce pan on medium high heat. To make the reduction, all we have to do is boil it to remove most of its water and strong “vinegary” flavour. All we have to do is boil this down to about a half to a quarter of its volume. You will know it’s ready when the bubbles begin to stabilize when it boils and it looks like it’s starting to almost grow out of the pan. At this point, the vinegar should be no longer runny and should coat the surface of a spoon. It will have gone super sweet and lost most of its pungent character. The whole process should take about 15 minutes.

3. While the vinegar is on the go, begin to fry your little pieces of bacon until they are nice and crispy. Transfer the bacon to a dish lined with paper towel and set it aside. Try to leave as much bacon fat in the pan as you can, because we’re going to use this to caramelize our apples.

4. Into the pan containing the rendered bacon fat add a touch of butter and all of our apples. Fry them on medium high until the outsides go slightly golden. This should take about a minute or two on each side.

5. Add your brown sugar and stir so it coats all of the apples. Turn your heat down to medium and continue to stir and coat the apples. Do this until they have gone soft and the sauce behind them is smooth. Transfer everything to a bowl and let it cool. You can add cinnamon or nutmeg to this mixture if you please.

6. While your balsamic reduction and caramelized apples are cooling, wash and spin dry your spinach. Toss it in a bit of olive oil and place a little bit down on each person’s plate. Top each mound of lettuce with a bit of goat’s cheese and then some of your cooled apples. Try not to get too much of the caramel onto the salad or else it will be too sweet… unless you like it that way. To each their own, really. Sprinkle on your bacon bits and finish with a drizzling of your balsamic reduction. You won’t need much of it – the flavour is quite strong. A small drizzling is plenty!

Conculsion

There you have it. A warm, hearty, fall-inspired salad that will be sure to please even the toughest salad critics. I’d use this as an appetizer or side to any pork dish. Apples and pork work extremely well together, as most know. There is a great balance between the sweetness of the apples and the tartness of the reduction. The spinach is flavourful enough to cut through these flavours, as well as lighten the creaminess of the goat’s cheese.