My oldest sister's favorite salad is made with spinach, strawberries, and sprouts. And while it's possible to get local spinach from Blue Moon and sprouts from Tiny Greens year round, it's still too early for local strawberries.

So, I needed to make some substitutions for this week's big family dinner. Now that it is spring, fresh chevre goat cheese is readily available from Prairie Fruits. You also can add pieces of steamed asparagus, or diced roasted beets if you have a few hiding out in your refrigerator drawer. A simple balsamic vinaigrette makes an ideal dressing for the salad. But what really makes it are the maple glazed walnuts that are sprinkled over the top of it.

Once you've made the glazed walnuts, you can use them on salads, cakes and cupcakes, or as a snack on their own. Best of all, it only takes about three minutes to make them. Trust me this is far less time than it takes to boil down and filter maple syrup, but more about that in the coming weeks.

You'll need a small, heavy skillet for this recipe. But it need not be expensive, a cast iron one will do just fine. You'll also want to use a bamboo or wooden spatula or spoon for stirring.

Since you are starting with maple syrup, you're already working with sugar that's partially evaporated and caramelized. So, you need only heat it slightly longer to remove a bit more water so that it will coat the walnuts.

This process is amazingly quick and works best if you go by sight and smell and avoid watching a clock until the very end.

Maple Glazed Walnuts

  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 3 T maple syrup
  • Dash of Kosher salt

Have a cookie tray or baking sheet nearby by the stove. Measure out walnuts. Measure out syrup if you aren't confidant about eyeballing 3 T.

Heat a small, heavy skillet over moderate heat. When the skillet is warm to the touch, add the walnut halves. Stir the walnuts a few times to warm them through. Add the syrup. Once it boils, begin stirring constantly. The syrup will rapidly thicken and begin to coat the walnuts as you stir. Watch the syrup traces in the pan. Any syrup not clinging to the walnuts will turn from pale tan foam to a rich brown residue. You'll also notice a change in aroma as the syrup continues to caramelize. In very short order, the syrup traces in the pan will start to smell burned. Don't panic. This means you're almost done. Stir the nuts for 20 more seconds and sprinkle with salt. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the nuts onto the baking sheet, spreading them out to cool.

You can use the glazed walnuts immediately or store them in a sealed container in a cool, but not cold place for a week.

If you want to double the recipe, use a larger 10-inch skillet.