Warm Goat Cheese Salad

Warm Goat Cheese Salad  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Warm Goat Cheese Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

As inspiration for more adventurous culinary efforts I’m following along with Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, in my tiny New York kitchen. Let’s see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Girls Day Out”

The Set-up: Ina decides that she and her friends Donna and Antonia need a day off for some lady activities like eating lunch, chatting, and shopping.

The Menu: Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Sunrise Smoothie, Warm Goat Cheese Salad, Grilled Peaches with Amaretti

0:42 – The ladies (ahem, Girls) are arriving for breakfast so Ina’s making Sour Cream Coffee Cake. I like how this day off is shaping up already.

1:51 – Ina is sifting cake flour and honestly I have no idea what the difference is between flours – all purpose, self rising, say what?

2:13 – She says that cake flour can be replicated by combining all purpose flour with cornstarch. This will require some nerding out, aka research.

3:35 – As the mixer whirs away Ina mentions that the key differences between cooking - “throw everything in a pan” - and baking - “use just the right ingredient and measure exactly.” I feel like there’s a whole philosophy on people here…

3:59 – Research topic number two: sour cream. It’s the magic ingredient in this cake and in our traditional birthday cake, but I have no idea why?

5:07 – I’m glad to see that Ina is also sort of a messy cook. Honestly, that’s the hardest part about cooking in a small space – I run out of clean countertop real estate really fast!

6:16 – Since I’m in the mood for scientific discovery I had to Google the reason for the little prongs/feet on tube pans and learned that they’re for Angel Food cakes which need to cool upside down to keep their fluffy volume. File that one away for your next trivia night.

10:22 – The Sour Cream Coffee Cake is out of the oven and the “Things Are Afoot” music is playing – with good reason, that cake looks so good.

11:15 – I was right; things are afoot in the form of a Maple Drizzle addition to the cake. Yum. Points for realism as Ina adjusts the consistency of her glaze – it takes me about 4 rounds of adding powdered sugar, then more liquid, etc., etc.

11:58 – Time to make Grilled Peaches with Amaretti and I think know what’s going on my new cast iron grill pan next!

12:23 – So here’s my question: how did Ina get the pits out of the peaches without a ridiculous tussle? I always have the worst time with that step, but hers look perfect.

13:04 – This dessert looks amazing – peaches + rum + amaretto + vanilla sugar.

14:46 – Now for the Sunrise Smoothies and Ina is sneaking in raspberry sorbet among the strawberries and mango as the thickener. I know my smoothie in-take would increase if they contained more sorbet.

15:17 – These smoothies are the most gorgeous shade of orange – even without the sorbet I want one.

15:43 – We get a brief interlude in the garden over breakfast and then it’s time for shopping! PS: What time did Ina get up that she has three recipes done before noon?

19:50 – Ina and her friends shop and then she heads home to make lunch, apparently without buying anything, although she does try on a fetching hat.

20:11 – Warm Goat Cheese Salad is next and Ina’s MacGyver-ing the slices of goat cheese with a piece of dental floss. Tricky.

21:25 – After the goat cheese slices have been dipped in egg whites and breaded she recommends chilling them, I assume to help the coating to set?

22:19 – Apparently the inspiration for this salad is one Ina and Jeffrey had at a café in Paris. I’m 100% on board with trying to recreate great restaurant meals.

23:48 – Goat cheese is sautéing and the breading looks lovely and golden in the pan.

27:52 – The “Getting Things Done” music is on as Ina assembles lunch. Mesclun mix meets vinaigrette, goat cheese rounds nestle into the salad leaves.

28:10 – We retire to the garden to have lunch and Ina makes a shocking remark about “not being crazy about goat cheese” except when it’s warm – this is one place where we differ. Bring on the goat cheese!

29:34 – Back inside to put the finishing touches on the Grilled Peaches with Amaretti and I had a moment of clarity: this is basically a really stripped down crumble. Think about that for a minute – cooked fruit, crumbled cookie topping, a dollop of cream? Brilliant work.

Final Thoughts:

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but I’m serious this time - I really want to make vanilla sugar!

The idea of lightly breading and frying cheese has me considering what other cheeses should be treated this way. Cheddar? Mozzarella? Smoked gouda?

The only way Ina’s girls day could get better is with a splash of champagne with lunch instead of Pellegrino.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Warm Goat Cheese Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:

Since I’m still trying to master pan-frying breaded things and since I have literally never separated an egg (shocking I know) I decided that the Warm Goat Cheese Salad would be my assignment for the week since it involves both. I’m happy to say that I think I’m starting to get the hang of it! I managed to resist crowding the pan – always a tough one - and instead cooked the rounds in batches, which did result in a nice, crispy golden crust.

I do think that chilling the goat cheese rounds after they’ve been breaded makes a difference – something about the contrast of temperatures and letting the coating set up a little is a formula for success.

One little note on the ‘fresh breadcrumbs’ since the recipe doesn’t specify: I’d estimate 1 slice of plain white sandwich bread for every 2-3 goat cheese rounds planned. And, I’d definitely cut off the crusts before putting the pieces in the food processor to help with consistency of the texture, and finally they should be quite finely ground. Mine were a little on the large side, but if you’re skipping that step I bet panko crumbs (not regular breadcrumbs) would work pretty well too.

Warm Goat Cheese Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Warm Goat Cheese Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Yes, assuming a medium or large food processor is available. I used one medium sauté pan, a small cutting board, a small paring knife, a 4 cup food processor (washed in between the breadcrumbs and dressing steps), a small bowl, and two dinner plates. I also used a liquid measuring cup and measuring spoons.

For some reason we only have mint dental floss and since I didn’t want the goat cheese to taste like toothpaste I had to come up with another way of slicing the goat cheese neatly. My solution: chill the log of cheese in the freezer for 10-15 minutes until it’s firm, but not frozen solid, and then use a sharp knife to cut into pieces. Works like a charm.

 The Verdict:

I made Warm Goat Cheese Salad for myself on a night when Mike was on a work trip since a salad with just a few pieces of goat cheese - warm or not - isn’t likely to count as dinner in his book. For me this recipe is perfect for that kind of night – it’s special enough that I felt a little pampered, (I guess fancy salad with homemade dressing does that for me? Oh dear.) but simple enough that I didn’t wonder why I was bothering and just order pizza. I would definitely make this again either just for me, or as an appetizer before a main course. 

Warm Goat Cheese Salad   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Warm Goat Cheese Salad | Image: Laura Messersmith