salad with herbed baked goat cheese

I’m trying to cut down on the number of Cooks Illustrated recipes that I put in my blog. For one thing, I don’t want Chris Kimball to come over here and kick my ass. Plus, I feel like most Cooks Illustrated recipes are a no-brainer – they’re so dependable that it’s no surprise to hear another recommendation. On the other hand, I cooked almost exclusively from Cooks Illustrated for several years, so there are some recipes that I love so much that I can’t resist sharing.

In fact, I have entire dinner party menus of CI recipes to discuss. I’m going to spend the next few entries putting forth the recipes for one of my favorite meals. I’ve made this for a group of friends and for my parents, and it received great reviews both times. My parents had arrived at my house pretty pissed off after having their car broken into and getting stuck for hours trying to cross into the US from Canada, and after this meal (plus two bottles of wine and some beer), they were in much better spirits.

This salad is a great first course. It’s nice and light, but the goat cheese makes it interesting. The cheese rounds can be prepared up to a week in advance, which is always an advantage when you’re having company. I would also make the vinaigrette early in the day I plan to serve it and keep it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. That way, when it’s time to serve the salad, I can just shake up the dressing and mix it with the greens. I almost always use bagged greens, because I hate to wash lettuce. With pre-cleaned lettuce, cheese rounds that can be formed days before you plan to serve them, and a simple vinaigrette that can be made in advance, this salad makes for the perfect opening course to an elegant dinner.

Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese and Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I’ve used different herbs based on what I had available, and it was fine. I also usually forget to brush the rounds with olive oil before baking them, so if you’re stressed for time (like I always am when I have company), don’t worry too much about that step.

Serves 6

Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
3 ounces Melba toasts, white (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
12 ounces goat cheese, firm
extra-virgin olive oil

Vinaigrette and Salad
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced shallot
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives
Ground black pepper
14 cups hearty greens (mixed), washed and dried

1. For Goat Cheese: In food processor, process Melba toasts to fine even crumbs, about 1½ minutes; transfer crumbs to medium bowl and stir in pepper. Whisk eggs and mustard in medium bowl until combined. Combine thyme and chives in small bowl.

2. Using kitchen twine or dental floss, divide cheese into 12 evenly sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball; roll each ball in herbs to coat lightly. Transfer 6 pieces to egg mixture, turn each piece to coat; transfer to Melba crumbs and turn each piece to coat, pressing crumbs into cheese. Flatten each ball into disk about 1½ inches wide and 1 inch thick and set on baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining 6 pieces cheese. Freeze cheese until firm, about 30 minutes. (Cheese may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and frozen up to 1 week.) Adjust oven rack to uppermost position; heat to 475 degrees.

3. Remove cheese from freezer and brush tops and sides evenly with olive oil. Bake until crumbs are golden brown and cheese is slightly soft, 7 to 9 minutes (or 9 to 12 minutes if cheese is completely frozen). Using thin metal spatula, transfer cheese to paper towel-lined plate and cool 3 minutes.

4. For Salad: While goat cheese is baking, combine vinegar, mustard, shallot, and salt in small bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in olive oil; season to taste with pepper.

5. Place greens in large bowl, drizzle vinaigrette over, and toss to coat. Divide greens among individual plates; place 2 rounds goat cheese on each salad. Serve immediately.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini
Pain a l’Ancienne (baguettes)

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.

poached eggs with arugula and polenta fingers

This is the weirdest thing I’ve made in a long time. I think I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit and caught that I liked each component – arugula salad, poached eggs, polenta – but didn’t stop to consider that those items might not belong on the same plate.

I’m not really that close-minded. Someone obviously enjoyed this, so there must be something good about it. I just needed to focus on that good.

There were moments of doubt. The coconut milk in the polenta is unusual, not to mention fattening, but then tasted surprisingly good. The original recipe recommends frying the polenta fingers on high in extra virgin olive oil, which is silly. I used a mixture of olive oil (not virgin) and canola oil, and it still smoked on medium-high heat. I did find that the heat must be turned up pretty high to brown the polenta.

I doubled the amount of dressing and greatly increased (quadrupled maybe) the amount of arugula. It was all going fine until I was actually putting the egg on the salad, and then I realized that egg on salad actually might not be my thing.

But, never mind, I guess it is my thing, and maybe Dave’s too. The egg was quite a nice topping for the salad, and the polenta fingers were a great accompaniment, especially when they were used to sop up extra vinaigrette. So if poached egg on salad is your thing, or if you’re willing to try something new, this recipe is worth your effort.

Poached Eggs with Arugula and Polenta Fingers (adapted from Bon Appetit May 2008 )

Makes 4 servings

Bridget note: I’ve made the recipe a bit more detailed than it is in the magazine, as well as changing the polenta and poached egg method to those of Cooks Illustrated.

For the polenta:
1 13.5- to 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
water
½ cup polenta or coarse cornmeal
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon canola oil

For the salad:
8 cups arugula
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch salt
pinch black pepper

For the poached eggs:
4 eggs, each cracked into a small handled cup
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

1. For the polenta: Pour coconut milk into 2-cup measuring cup and add enough water to make 2 cups liquid. Bring liquid to boil in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting, add salt, and pour the cornmeal into the water in a very slow stream from a measuring cup, all the while whisking in a circular motion to prevent lumps.

2. Cover and cook, vigorously stirring the polenta with a wooden spoon for about 10 seconds once every 5 minutes and making sure to scrape clean the bottom and corners of the pot, until the polenta has lost its raw cornmeal taste and becomes soft and smooth, about 30 minutes. Stir in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour polenta into pan and spread to corners. Press plastic wrap directly on surface of polenta and chill until firm, about 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.)

4. Turn polenta out onto cutting board. Cut into 4×1-inch rectangles. Heat oils in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, add polenta fingers; cook until golden, about 3 minutes per side.

5. For the salad: While first batch of polenta cooks, whisk oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in small bowl until combined. In large bowl, toss arugula with dressing and divide among salad plates.

6. For the poached eggs: While last batch of polenta cooks, fill an 8- to 10-inch nonstick skillet nearly to the rim with water, add the salt and vinegar, and bring the mixture to boil over high heat. Lower the lips of each cup just into water at once; tip eggs into boiling water, cover, and remove from heat. Poach until yolks are medium-firm, exactly 4 minutes. For firmer yolks (or for extra large or jumbo eggs), poach 4 ½ minutes; for looser yolks (or for medium eggs), poach 3 minutes.

7. Top each salad with a poached egg. Break yolks with tip of knife. Sprinkle with black pepper. Serve with polenta.

asparagus and arugula salad with cannellini beans and balsamic vinegar

The combination of my upcoming beach trip and Tuesdays With Dorie has prompted a series of main dish salads for dinner. I’m surprising myself by how much I’m enjoying it. I was especially surprised by this salad, which I expected to be edible but not special. I’m so glad I chose the recipe even though I wasn’t excited about it, because it was so good that now I’m waiting for an opportunity to make it again.

The salad is composed of two rather distinct parts. The base is a bed of arugula, dressed with a very simple balsamic vinaigrette. This is topped with a mixture of red onions that have been browned, asparagus that is sautéed just until tender, and cannellini beans, all of which is dressed with the same vinaigrette. It’s an unusual but delicious combination.

I did drastically reduce the arugula. The recipe calls for 14 ounces (although I’m unsure if this is before or after it’s stemmed), but even one whole 5-ounce bag of pre-washed arugula seemed like a lot. Five ounces ended up being the perfect amount. That’s the only change I made, and I even used a cheapo balsamic vinegar, with no noticeable adverse affects on the salad.

Last time I made salad, I flaked out on the meal-planning and made bread to go with it, even though croutons are a primary feature of Caesar salads. This time, I didn’t serve anything else with the salad and realized half-way through eating it that there was no carbs involved anywhere. Next time I swear I’ll get it right.

Asparagus and Arugula Salad with Cannellini Beans and Balsamic Vinegar (from Cooks Illustrated May 2003)

Serves 4 to 6 as a first course or 2 to 3 as a main dish

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium red onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick (about 1 cup)
1 pound asparagus, trimmed of tough ends and cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces)
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (about 1½ cups)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, plus 2 teaspoons
14 ounces arugula (1 large bunch), washed, dried, and stemmed (about 6 cups lightly packed)

1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until beginning to smoke; stir in onion and cook until beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Add asparagus, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook until asparagus is browned and tender-crisp, about 4 minutes, stirring once every minute. Off heat, stir in beans; transfer to large plate and cool 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 3 tablespoons oil, vinegar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl until combined. In large bowl, toss arugula with 2 tablespoons dressing and divide among salad plates. Toss asparagus mixture with remaining dressing, place a portion over arugula, and serve.

caesar salad

I almost never make salads. Not because I don’t like them, but because I don’t like them as a side dish. To me, salad doesn’t coordinate well with other dinner items. I do like when it’s served before a meal, or as a meal.

I went the route of serving Caesar salad as a meal the day that I made the peanut butter torte. I figured that if I was going to eat peanut butter and cream cheese and oreos and chocolate and whipped cream for dessert, something was going to have to give.

In one of Alton Brown’s first Good Eats episodes (um, before the show was very good), he discussed the original Caesar salad recipe, which was built tableside at a restaurant by chef Cesar Cardini. The recipe starts with a thin coating of oil on the lettuce, then salt, pepper, more oil, lemon juice, and a coddled egg. I’m not all about this method. I like to at least attempt to emulsify my salad dressing ingredients, and I also think that putting oil directly on the leaves keeps the other ingredients from flavoring the lettuce. Instead, I whisked the dressing ingredients thoroughly, then dressed the leaves with the mixture.

The only ingredient in this recipe that struck me as unusual was the coddled egg. Coddled eggs are cooked in boiling water for about one minute, so, yeah, they’re still mostly raw. I didn’t tell Dave about the raw-ish egg in the salad, and I tried not to think about it myself. I’m not worried about salmonella, I’m just grossed out by eating raw egg white. But I really don’t think the salad would have been as good without it. The egg gives the dressing not only smoothness and body, but a pleasant rich, but not overwhelmingly eggy, flavor.

Alton’s croutons are really exceptional. I had my doubts that grinding the garlic into the oil and then straining the oil to toast the bread in would add enough garlic flavor, but they were extremely garlicky and delicious.

Because I’m a flake, and I forgot while planning this meal that one of the key parts of Caesar salad is the croutons, I made Deb’s pizza bianca to go with the salad. I used my pizza dough recipe instead of the one she gives (although they’re very similar) and followed the directions in the recipe for forming the dough. (Keep in mind that Deb rolled her dough out much thinner.) Also, because Peter Reinhart’s constant reminders that a slow rise is better for artisan breads has stuck with me, I made the dough the day before (with less yeast) and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I took it out and let it come to room temperature, then shaped it and put it back in the fridge until I wanted to bake it. It was very good. The only thing I’ll change next time is to use less olive oil on the top, because “Oh my god, there’s a fire in the oven!” aren’t words Dave likes to hear from me when I’m cooking.

Hail Caesar Salad (from Alton Brown’s Good Eats)

Bridget note: I made a few changes to the recipe. I dried the bread as slices instead of cut up into bite-size pieces, because they were easier to cut once they were dried. I didn’t use kosher salt. I found 2 cups of water to be far too little to be able to cover the eggs. I probably used a bit more Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.

1 loaf day old Italian bread
3 garlic cloves, mashed
9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
2 eggs
2 heads romaine lettuce, inner leaves only
7 grinds black pepper
1 lemon, juiced
6 drops Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut ½ to ¾-inch croutons from the loaf of bread and place on a baking sheet and put into the oven until dry but not browned.

Use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with 4 tablespoons of oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Strain the oil into a skillet over medium heat. Add the dried croutons and fry, tossing constantly until all of the oil is absorbed and the croutons turn gold. Set aside.

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the eggs and cook for 1 minute. Chill in ice water to halt cooking. Set aside.

In a very large bowl, tear lettuce and toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining kosher salt and the black pepper. Add the remaining olive oil. Toss well. Add the lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Break in the eggs. Toss until a creamy dressing forms. Toss in Parmesan cheese and serve with croutons.

creamy buttermilk coleslaw

It seems that creamy coleslaw has fallen out of favor. I think that if you only like vinegar-based coleslaw, then you’re eating the wrong creamy coleslaws. I didn’t like it before this recipe either. It was always too sweet or too watery or too heavy or too mushy. This recipe is none of that.

One key technique in this recipe is salting the cabbage and letting it set for an hour or so before mixing it with the dressing ingredients. The salt sucks water out of the cabbage so there’s less water to leach into the dressing. The cabbage has to be rinsed after being salted, which seems counterintuitive, but it’s easy to dry off the moisture outside of the cabbage shreds – there’s still less water in the cabbage, which is what will keep you from making a watery slaw.

Large shreds of cabbage keep this looking and feeling like a salad while eliminating any worries of mushiness. For those who think that creamy coleslaws tend to be too heavy, look at the ingredient list below – two thirds of the dressing base is low-fat buttermilk, with just a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream added for body and complexity of flavor.

I never liked creamy coleslaw growing up, and I still don’t usually like it at restaurants. But this recipe, with its creamy but not rich dressing, slight sweetness from the carrots and just half teaspoon of sugar, slight bite from the shallot, and overall balance of flavors is worth trying.

Especially if it’s an opportunity to use a fancy schmany monkey vegetable peeler. How cute is this guy? A friend got it for me, because, one could say, I have a bit of a thing for monkeys. (Or at least one.) And even better – it’s sharp. I love it.

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw (from Cooks Illustrated July 2002)

Serves 4

CI note: If you are planning to serve the coleslaw immediately, rinse the salted cabbage in a large bowl of ice water, drain it in a colander, pick out any ice cubes, then pat the cabbage dry before dressing.

Bridget note: The recipe says to salt the cabbage for 1-4 hours, but I’ve had better results when I err on the long side of that range.

1 pound cabbage (about ½ medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
table salt
1 medium carrot, shredded on box grater
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl.

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)