I was on a committee for our church Christmas party this year. Together, a group of women decided what to feed 250 people for the event. We were on a budget and decided along with an inexpensive main dish, to go the inexpensive salad route, but we didn't want to do iceburg salad with a bottle of Ranch and a bottle of Italian. We decided on a spinach salad. After looking through some recipes online, I decided to kind of improvise the nuts and I found a recipe with really good reviews for dressing (keep in mind...cooking for 250...never made candied nuts nor homemade poppyseed dressing...). During the party, no less than 20 people were requesting the recipe because it was the best spinach salad they'd ever eaten.
First, the nuts. I heavily altered a recipe I found online, and I can't for the life of me find the link. (When I find it I'll post it).
2 cups almonds (sliced, slivered, chopped, what-have-you)
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup sugar
Lay your almonds on a sheet pan in a single layer. Place them in a cold oven, then turn the oven on to 350 degrees. While the almonds are cooking, melt the butter and honey in a sauce pan over medium-high heat until boiling. Boil, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. When the almonds smell nutty (approx. 7-10 minutes), remove them from the oven and place them directly into the hot honey/butter mixture. Stir until coated. Pour in the sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated. Spray the same sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts from the sauce pan to the sheet pan. Turn on your broiler and place the nuts back into the oven for 2-4 minutes (again, until they smell deliciously nutty). Remove the pan and stir the nuts, then return the pan to the oven for another 1-2 minutes. Cool completely on the sheet pan. When it's cool, the nuts will be all stuck together. Simply break up any large clumps with your hands. These nuts store very well in an airtight container for at least a week.
Next, the dressing. I got the recipe in its entirety from allrecipes.com. It is so easy to whip together, and costs practically nothing. It's kind of tart, which makes it such a lovely complement to the sweetness of the dried cranberries and candied nuts.
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp grated onion
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp poppyseeds
Pour all the ingredients, except the poppyseeds, into the blender. Blend until your dressing is fully emulsified (until it goes from clear to opaque), about 30 seconds. Add the poppyseeds and pulse once or twice. Refrigerate until ready to use. The dressing may separate in the fridge. Simply, shake it vigoriously before using it or place it back in the blender and pulse it a few times.
Assemble your salad immediately before serving (otherwise it goes all gross and wilty). In a large bowl, add 4 cups spinach leaves with 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup candied almonds, and about 1/2 cup dressing. Mix until the salad is well coated in dressing. If it looks a little dry, add about a tablespoon more at a time until it is coated to your liking.