Balsamic Honey Vinaigrette

Mike and I went to a horrible restaurant for his birthday. We were starving and exhausted from moving all day long. We chose the restaurant because it had a gluten free menu and because we wouldn't have to go to far to get there.

We pulled up to the restaurant and saw an empty parking lot. Not a good sign. "It is Sunday," Mike said. "Most people eat in." I could hear the doubt in his voice, mingled with the hope that he was dead wrong about the place. Still, exhausted and hungry as we were, there was no going hunting for another restaurant. We slid out of the truck and trudged to the door.

The inside was better than expected. It was clean at least, but there was only one other table occupied. To her credit, the waitress knew exactly what to do when I asked for the gluten free menu.

We ordered a caprese salad to share. It came out with a great big slab of garlic toast on it. I cringed, but rather than send it back, I took a deep breath and picked up the cheese, tomatoes, olives, and onions farthest away from the bread and put them on my plate, leaving the rest for Mike. Besides the tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes in early May, the salad was pretty good. It was just the bread that had me on edge.

Mike and I both ordered pasta dishes-me from the gluten free menu and him from the regular one. My pasta was undercooked and the meat incredibly tough. Mike's pasta was fine, though he nearly gagged on the tough meatballs.

What a meal. I thought a hard day's work could make just about anything taste satisfying, but I was clearly wrong. It was awful.

And yet, this awful meal inspired a new favorite dressing. Our caprese salad came with a honey-balsamic dressing that was just the right balance of tart and sweet, and it mingled beautifully with all the ingredients in the salad.

I've been using this dressing all week, trying to recreate that salad and make it better. That means no bread, of course, and it also means no tomatoes, since fresh ones are still months away. I've also learned there's a balance between letting the cheese soak up some of the dressing and letting it sit so long it becomes leathery.

Slice up some red onions if you like. Make sure they're very thin.

Mix a tablespoon of good quality balsamic vinegar with a teaspoon of honey and a tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the onions, if using, some olives, and a chiffonade of a couple of fresh basil leaves.

Slice a few rounds of mozzarella, then tear them into bite-size pieces. Mix lightly into the dressing, but don't let it stand too long. A few minutes is perfect.

Put some lettuce on a plate if you'd like to eat it as a traditional salad, or eat straight out of the bowl for something that tastes really decadent and delicious.

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