Recipes and Me

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Arugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese Croutons

I see this salad all the time on menus at nice restaurants.  It’s become one of my favorites, and not because I order it much, if ever.  I had a strong craving for this salad one night and started thinking of some of the restaurants that serve it.  I hopped in the car and drove with ambition…to the grocery store.  I figured why pay $13 for a gourmet salad that I knew was so simple to make myself?  Sure it looks fancy but this salad contains a handful of ingredients.  It’s the marriage of those ingredients though, the peppery arugula serving as the base for the creamy warm goat cheese, seared to golden perfection, that makes this salad so exceptional.  I often make the dressing myself because it’s so delicious but you can certainly buy a good champagne vinaigrette at the store and make prep time even shorter.  Once you try this at home you’ll be kicking yourself for “splurging” on it at restaurants. Goat cheese has become a permanent fixture in my kitchen.

Arugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese Croutons
Serves 4

10 oz. Arugula, washed and set aside
½ cup panko bread crumbs
5 oz. herbed goat cheese (plain goat cheese is fine but the herbed goat cheese really punches up the flavors of the salad)
2 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon water
½ - 2/3 cup Champagne Vinaigrette (recipe below, scroll to bottom)
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon kosher salt (can always use table salt, just use half the measurement of kosher salt)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Special Equipment:
Cooling Rack (like you might use to cool baked cookies)
Dental Floss (you’ll just need about 8 inches)

In a small bowl lightly beat the two egg whites together with the ¼ teaspoon of water.  In another small bowl pour the panko bread crumbs.  Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt) and ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper to the bread crumbs and mix with your hand.  On a cutting board slice the goat cheese in ½ inch thick medallions using the dental floss.  Dip each medallion in the egg whites and roll in the panko crumbs.  Pat slightly to make sure the crumbs adhere to the goat cheese.  Do this twice for each goat cheese medallion (yes, double dip!).  Set the medallions on the cooling rack and put in the fridge.  Let the medallions chill for 20-30 minutes.  This will let them harden back up and will keep them from melting too much in the sautĂ© pan.

Shortly before you plan to take the goat cheese medallions out of the fridge, prepare the arugula salad.  In a large bowl place the arugula.  Add the chopped walnuts.  Drizzle the champagne vinaigrette over the salad until you’re happy with the amount and then toss to coat completely.  Prepare four salad plates with a portion of the salad and set aside.

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat.  Pan sear the goat cheese medallions 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown on each side.  Don’t sear them too long or the goat cheese will melt too much in the pan.  You still want them to have some structure.  Place the warm goat cheese "croutons" on each of the salads and serve.

Champagne Vinaigrette (Need a shortcut? Buy a good one from the store!):
¾ cup olive oil or vegetable oil
¼ cup champagne vinegar (can also use white wine vinegar if you can’t find CV)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon good honey
2 teaspoons shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

One day I was feeling particularly lazy about whisking a salad dressing I was making, vigorously as it always requires, and out of the corner of my eye my mini food processor caught my attention.  Perfect! One of the best tricks I have learned in the kitchen for making emulsified salad dressings is to throw it in the food processor and let it do the work for you.  The oil, vinegar, and mustard will be perfectly emulsified, and flavor components like garlic and shallots will be divinely amplified. And you can make it earlier in the day if need be and store it in the fridge until dinner time, huge plus.

So after that little blurb, you know what to do.  Literally dump all of the ingredients for the dressing in the food processor and let it rip.  In 10 seconds you’ll have a perfectly mixed dressing.  *If you don’t have a food processor just do it the old fashioned way and whisk away.

This recipe makes a little more than you’ll need for the arugula salad.  I always like to make a little extra to store in the fridge for other salad lunches and dinners over the following few days.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Two Way Pumpkin Bread

I have been making Pumpkin Bread for years so it’s kind of an oldie but goodie.  It is hands down one of my favorite motivators to get in the kitchen and bake, and eat.  The spices are an incredible combination, with a spicy bite of ginger and a healthy bit of cinnamon, which amps up both the sweet and savory flavors of the bread.  Fresh from the oven, it is such an incredible comfort on a cold and bleak winter afternoon spent in the house.  But the best thing about this recipe is its versatility.  You can eat it for breakfast.  You can eat it as an afternoon snack.  You can warm it for 10 seconds, top it with fresh whipped cream, and voilĂ  – an amazing dessert!  And it never goes to waste.  There is usually a strong feeling (sometimes more of an urging by friends) that I should make a second loaf as the first one always seems to disappear so quickly.

You know well my love of simple seasonal recipes.  One trick in my arsenal for taking a recipe to new heights, yet keeping that wonderful element of simplicity, is to add a second textural component of the “key” ingredient.  So, think bright tart lemon zest in a lemon buttermilk cake, or a beautifully woodsy green sprig of rosemary atop a dish that has chopped rosemary stirred throughout.  In this pumpkin bread, the simple use of crushed pumpkin seeds as a crust really elevates the taste.  The opposite textures are so good together.  Seriously, once you try this with the pumpkin seed crust, you won’t be able to go back to plain old pumpkin bread.

Two Way Pumpkin Bread 

Serves 6-8


1 ½ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
4 large eggs (room temperature)
¾ cup canned pumpkin
¾ cup vegetable oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup pumpkin seeds, chopped


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Grease and flour a loaf pan; set aside.  Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a medium sized bowl and set aside.  Chop the pumpkin seeds roughly and also set them aside.  With a mixer, beat the eggs, both sugars, and vanilla extract on high speed for about 45 seconds.  Turn the speed to medium and add the canned pumpkin and vegetable oil; mix until well combined.  You may need to scrape down the bowl a couple of times to make sure everything is incorporated.  Turn the beater down another notch and add the dry ingredients in thirds.  Turn the speed back up to medium just for 5-10 seconds until everything is incorporated.  Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan.  Rack (pound) the pan a couple of times on the counter to release any air pockets (you may want to put a towel on the counter and do it on the towel).  Sprinkle the chopped pumpkin seeds on top. Bake 60-65 minutes until the bread is nicely browned and a toothpick comes out clean.  You can cover the bread with foil towards the end if it starts to get too brown.