I didn’t learn to cook from my mother. Not that she doesn’t know how to put a good meal on the table, because she most certainly does. I didn’t learn to cook from her because she is absolutely exasperating in the kitchen.
Take this Strawberry Bacon Spinach Salad, for example. It’s a recipe my family has been enjoying for many years. It didn’t really have a name, until just now, but my siblings and I refer to it as “you know, that spinach salad with the yummy dressing” and we would all conjure up an image of this particular salad and ask mom to make it.
It is a really delicious salad. The problem, however, is that no one but mom can ever pull it off because all of her recipes are in her head and they vary each time she makes them. She often jokes that she has never cooked the same thing twice . . . and the funny part of the joke is that it’s mostly true.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a little more of these. That’s how she cooks. It’s delicious, but exasperating.
I tried to get my mother to put this salad and dressing recipe on paper for me, but the recipe card she handed me was more of an idea card than an actual recipe. There was a partial list of ingredients, with no amounts specified, and no instructions. She thinks it takes all the fun out of it if you have to be so specific – better to just try a little of this and that and see what happens.
Though I am my mother’s daughter, I like a recipe – the kind with detailed instructions and specific amounts. I’m all for substituting this for that, experimenting with ingredients, and even making things up from scratch because I do agree with mom, it’s often more fun that way.
However, when I come across a dish that’s really good, I like to write it down, test it a few times, and make a recipe. I like to think that the ratty old notebook I keep in the kitchen is one of my most important kitchen tools. Thus, my mother’s “spinach salad with the yummy dressing” has finally been pinned down as this “Strawberry Bacon Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing.”
It may not be exactly like my mother’s grab bag version, but this salad is as close as I could get to the real thing. It tastes pretty darn good, but you don’t have to take my word for it – here’s the recipe:
- 1 pound of baby spinach
- ½ pound strawberries, washed, hulled, and diced
- 1 (10 oz) can mandarin oranges, drained
- ½ cup grated Swiss cheese
- ½ pound cooked bacon, chopped
- ½ pound button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced (optional)
- ½ cup candied pecan pieces
- 2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- ⅓ cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
- 2 tablespoons grated red onion
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- In a large bowl, combine all of the salad ingredients and toss well.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing. Pour dressing over salad just before serving and toss.