Monday, September 28, 2015

Week 36 - Signature Dishes

The Week 36 theme, signature dishes, was a bit difficult for me. I haven't been consistently cooking "from scratch" for that long, so I didn't think I really had a signature dish. The challenge, however, didn't require you to make your own signature dish, just a signature dish. After going through this list of signature dishes on Saveur, I decided on baked goat cheese with garden lettuces from Chez Panisse. A has made salad with goat cheese medallions before, but not the same way, so I thought I'd try that one out and find out why it was so special. Lucky for me, The Kitchn had published the recipe for the salad from the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, so it was pretty easy to make that signature dish.

(Thinking about this in retrospect, I did make a sausage lentil soup the day after I made this challenge meal. I like to make it and didn't get it from a recipe, so maybe that's a signature dish? What makes something a signature dish and not just something you cook? Anyway, not the subject of this post.) 

For the salad, the ingredients I used (modified a little from the original):

- 11 oz goat cheese ($4.99)
- olive oil, about 1 cup plus 2 tbsp ($2.12)
- dried thyme, about 1 tbsp ($0.10)
- dried rosemary, about 1 tbsp ($0.10)
- panko, about 1 cup ($1.50)
- sherry vinegar, about 2 tsp ($0.30)
- salt, to taste ($0.05)
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste ($0.05)
- toasted walnuts, about 1/2 cup, chopped ($1)
- spring greens ($2.40)

The total for the salad was about $12.61. That's not super cheap for a dinner that is completely vegetarian, but sadly goat cheese isn't inexpensive (but it's so delicious!). It would have been even more if I had included the baguette from the recipe, but I didn't feel like going out for fresh bread that afternoon.

Prep for the salad started the night before dinner since the goat cheese had to marinate. I split the goat cheese into 8 (mostly) equal circles, covered them in olive oil, thyme, and rosemary, and stuck the dish in the fridge until an hour before dinner (maybe 17 hours total). Following the recipe instructions, I moved the dish from the fridge to the freezer an hour before we planned to bake the cheese.

After the cheese was out of the freezer, I set the oven for 400 degrees and then went to work at rolling the cheese in the panko. Having the cheese be a little firmer from the freezing made it much easier to roll. Once the pieces were all rolled sufficiently in panko, I put them in the oven and baked them for 8 minutes.

After 8 minutes, I took out the cheese to flip them over. It wasn't really that easy since the cheese wasn't that firm anymore. Some of them were just big (olive) oily blobs of cheese. But I did my best to keep them as together as possible. After that, I stuck them back in the oven for another 8 minutes.

When the time was up, the goat cheese looked pretty good. The panko had browned a bit on some of them, and after letting them sit and cool for a few minutes, the medallions had mostly solidified. At some point in there, I also made the dressing, combining whatever olive oil was left from the marinade, a couple more tablespoons of olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper. While the goat cheese was baking, I also toasted and chopped up the walnuts.

Making the salads was pretty straightforward once all the ingredients were done. We loaded the spring greens into the bowls, mixed the greens with the dressing until they were well-coated, and then added the cheese and sprinkled on the walnuts.

Overall, the salad was good, but that's mostly because the greens were fresh and light and crisp, and because baked goat cheese is always good. However, it wasn't really any better than the goat cheese medallions A made previously, which didn't require any marinating, freezing, or advanced preparation. We could probably just mix some of the spices into the panko and then coat them the way we usually do, and get pretty much the same taste results with a lot less work. A found the cheese a little more greasy/oily than the ones we usually have, probably because of all the olive oil it was marinated in.  I'm guessing there must be something about the ones at Chez Panisse that makes them that much better or maybe they were a revelation at the time they were introduced, but to us, these were just pretty standard baked goat cheese medallions. The walnuts and dressing were fine, but neither seemed all that special. There was nothing wrong with this recipe or this salad, and it did make for a tasty, healthy dinner, but I don't think I'll be adapting this into my own signature dish anytime soon.

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