Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maple Madness: Smoky-Sweet Maple Vinaigrette from Cleo Coyle

Stack your pancakes, everyone. All that frigid, white stuff that blanketed the Northeast this winter is going to give us a banner year in maple production, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal.

Cleo Coyle, mad for maple,
is author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries
"Icy nights and warmer days are essential to a good syrup season," wrote reporter Kristen Miglore. "The end-of-winter rhythm of freeze and thaw coaxes sap from the trees for as long as they can resist the urge to bud, usually four to six weeks..."

That's right, this is the season for tapping trees and boiling down maple syrup. For far too many years, I mistakenly thought winter was the time for maple syrup production. (My romantic notion was, no doubt, engendered by the plethora of bucolic photos showing snowy Vermont woods with slate gray buckets hanging from craggy, brown tree trunks.)

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Spring is the season of sugar! One fine year, I hope to visit a maple syrup farm in Upstate New York or New England. Until then, I'll have to content myself with the fruits of the farmers' labors via online shopping (or a trip to my local market). On the other hand, thanks to our friends at YouTube, we can take a *virtual* trip north anytime...

For those of you interested in how
maple syrup is made, take a *virtual* trip
with me to the Bushee family farm in Vermont...

With all that sweet maple syrup on its way, I’ll be sharing some maple recipes with you over the next few weeks, starting with a few suggested by chefs quoted in The Wall Street Journal...

Maple Ice cream Topping

New York Chef Gabrielle Hamilton (of restaurant Prune) told The Journal she enjoys serving butter pecan ice cream "drowned" in a pool of syrup, finished with a shower of coarse salt. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds like heaven—and surely looks like that legendary Yankee treat of "sugar on snow" when hot maple syrup is poured over a bowl of freshly fallen snow.

Maple Marinade

Once again, according to The Journal, the cooks at the Vermont restaurant Michael’s on the Hill steep trout in a maple brine, along with caraway, fennel, and celery leaves. The trout is then smoked over maple chips and served with a horseradish crème fraiche. A lovely idea to try at home with trout or pork or...well, The Journal suggests that anything from "duck breast to pigs’ feet" can benefit from long soak in maple and salt.

Maple Dressing

When Chef Tony Maws (at Craigie on Main in Boston) suggested maple as an "almost sinister substitute for honey in a vinaigrette," I had to try it that night for dinner. Unfortunately, Chef Maws didn't share a specific recipe, so I experimented with a favorite honey-mustard dressing and came up with a delicious smoky-sweet salad dressing that I've been enjoying for a weeks now. I hope you do, too...

Cleo Coyle's
Maple Vinaigrette

Maple can offer a smoky-sweet note to many dishes. In this salad dressing, it serves as a sultry substitute for honey.

For a free PDF of this recipe, along with a bonus recipe for my Leftover Champagne Vinaigrette, click here.

Servings: This recipe makes about ¼ cup of dressing, enough to dress 4 small salads or 2 large ones


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons maple syrup
4 teaspoons lemon juice*

Sea salt and ground pepper (to your taste)

*Yes, there is no vinegar in my maple vinaigrette, but I really do prefer the flavor of the lemon juice in this dressing.

Directions: First, please note that I'm using both Tablespoons and teaspoons in this recipe, so be sure not to confuse those measurements. Using a fork, whisk up the olive oil, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Pour over fresh greens and toss. Add sea salt and ground pepper to your taste. (See below for my favorite salad using this dressing.)

Cleo's Spinach Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Servings: This recipe makes 4 small salads or 2 large ones


9 - 10 ounces (about 12 cups) fresh, raw spinach (see my note)*
¼ cup maple vinaigrette (see recipe above)
2 - 3 slices bacon (I use thick-cut) cooked crispy and chopped
1 hard boil egg, chopped

*I often use the "triple-washed" packages for convenience. Fresh, bunched spinach is delicious, but be sure to wash at least three times to remove all grit.

Directions: Toss spinach leaves with vinaigrette. Garnish with bacon bits and chopped eggs, and...

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes, win free coffee,
or find out more about my books, visit me
 at my *virtual* coffeehouse:

Click on the book covers above
to learn more about Cleo's culinary mysteries.


A final, quick note for our mystery reading fans.
The latest Mystery Readers Journal with the theme Hobbies, Crafts, and Special Interests is now available.

The issue, edited by Mystery Fanfare's Janet Rudolph, includes many mystery authors who have guest posted for us over the past year. You can check out the contents by clicking here, which will also give you info on how to purchase a copy (hard or electronic) for yourself.



  1. I had no idea maple syruping was a spring activity! Very interesting--as is the fact that this will be a banner year for syrup! Great recipe here, Cleo. I've got a bag of spinach in the fridge, just waiting for it. :)

  2. Been there, done that--last year I tapped my own, lone sugar maple (a nice old one outside my kitchen) and harvested something less than a quart of maple syrup after all the boiling. Still tasted right, though!

    In the town of Granby, er, Granford, MA they still tap the maples that ring the town green (mostly for tourists, but still).

    Sounds yummy!

  3. I made a trek through Vermont in the spring once. If you get off the highway, and hit the small roads, you can smell the boiling process from miles away. Found one boiler who gave me the tour. The whole process is just amazing (hard to believe the final product is as cheap as it is considering everything that is needed to finish... but I digress).

    I love every ingredient about this recipe... spinach is my go to green, and a slightly sweet dressing (usually use raspberries somewhere in my dressing) sounds great... saving this one...

    great post!

  4. I love maple! Thanks a maple million for these keepers, Cleo!

  5. I'm saving this one too - it's full of some of my favorite foods, and I can't wait to put them all together a la Cleo! I always feel compelled to use maple syrup in every possible way in March; reminds me of the two "sugaring off" seasons I got to help some maple-tapping friends in northern Massachusetts. My annual maple indulgences are my tribute to all the work it takes to produce these little bottles. Thanks, Cleo!

  6. This sounds so much like the honey mustard vinaigrette that I usually make. I'm intrigued by using maple syrup instead of honey. Will be trying it. Thanks, Cleo!

    ~ Krista

  7. I love maple syrup on anything!!!!! I CAN'T WAIT to make this. Tonight. I need spinach and definitely could use a little sweetness like maple. :) Thanks, you sweet thing, for sharing.


  8. PS - I'm seeing eggs in your photograph. Are there supposed to be eggs in the salad dressing or just hard-boiled in the salad? Just making sure. (Yes, I also see a bowl of bacon...


  9. I just saw a notice in today's Oakland Press (our local newspaper) that the county parks are all offering classes and tours on maple syrup. Michigan is graced with lots of sugar maples!! Glad to know our cold, gray, cold, gray winter was good for something!
    This dressing sounds wonderful! Mr. Nanc just brought some homemade syrup home from work last week..I look forward to trying this out soon!
    Can't wait to get our spinach planted...but that won't be for a few months ;-)

  10. Wow, Cleo. Even when you're talking about something I'm not particularly fond of (which is rare), like maple syrup, I'm fascinated. Great post!

  11. Thanks to everyone for these wonderful comments. I'll pop back to reply to each of you individually in the AM.

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  12. Replies to…

    @Elizabeth/Riley – I’m glad to know I wasn’t alone in my assumptions about maple syrup production occurring in the winter (vs. spring), but then New England springs often have as much snow as their winters. Even here in the New York City area, we’re now under a “winter weather” advisory; and, yes, the first day of spring was last week. :)

    @Sheila – Wonderful to hear about the do-it-yourself maple tree tapping. The amount of work farmers go through harvesting maple sap gives me new respect for my little bottle of syrup, I can tell you!

    More replies to come…

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter