Spinach Orange Cranberry Salad

I made the following recipe for our annual Holiday Party where our menu highlighted Floribbean cuisine. I chose this dish to be on my menu because I wanted to incorporate mandarin oranges somehow. I especially like spinach salads and thought the oranges and dried cranberries would not only add some sweet and tartness, but also for color. To me, the best salads incorporate some fruit, toasted or candied nuts and a good cheese to complement it all together.

Spinach Orange Cranberry Salad
recipe adapted from FoodNetwork.com

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 cans mandarin oranges, drained
1/4 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning salad
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
10 ounces baby spinach (6 cups), washed and dried
1/2 cup sliced red onions
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Lightly grease a 10-inch square of aluminum foil with butter or vegetable oil and set aside.

Combine 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, swirling occasionally, until the sugar turns a golden amber color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the almonds and stir to coat. Continue cooking until the almonds are fragrant and golden brown, about 1 minute. Transfer to the prepared aluminum foil, using a spoon to spread into a thin layer, and set aside to cool completely.

Combine 1/4 cup orange juice, the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, the Champagne vinegar, olive oil, orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the cayenne in a mixing bowl and whisk to blend. Transfer the dressing to a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid until you are ready to serve.

Put the spinach in a large serving bowl, then top with the orange segments and french fried onions. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, add dried cranberries, break the caramelized almonds into bite-size pieces and scatter over the top of the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and season with salt and black pepper, to taste. Toss to coat evenly and serve immediately.

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