Some foods just don’t make sense.
Some are oxymorons, like jumbo shrimp.
Others are food products that don’t exist in nature, like fat-free cheese, meatless chicken nuggets, and non-dairy creamer.
And then there are foods that flat-out laugh in the face of the laws of science: baked Alaska, fried ice cream, fried mozzarella sticks, Paula Deen’s deep-fried butter balls.
How do you heat something that’s supposed to melt–a substance that should barely survive room temperature, much less a 400-degree oven or a vat of bubbling oil–and end up with a cooked item that retains its shape like a solid rather than oozing like the liquid it rightfully should be?
I’ve never trusted myself to cook any of these nature-defying treats because, frankly, I have a hard enough time avoiding kitchen disasters when I follow recipes that do make sense.
The more I cook, the better I succeed at averting catastrophe, but some rules just weren’t meant to be broken.
At least, not by a klutz like me.
I’ve dropped entire pans of cookies on the floor; turned out many a busted Bundt cake or pan of crumbled cornbread; shredded wooden spoons with the whirring blades of my blender; burned my hands, arms, and face–yes, my face–making mashed potatoes.
Kitchens are minefields, and it’s a wonder I haven’t yet blown off my legs.
Over the years, I’ve come to terms with my kitchen clumsiness, often taking extra precautions to compensate for being accident-prone.
I make Micah pick up heavy things like Dutch ovens and cast-iron skillets.
I stand on stepstools instead of tiptoes to reach glass items on high shelves.
And I tend not to cook things like baked Alaska or fried cheese because, really, why push my luck?
So when the folks at Putney Farm shared gorgeous photos of a salad topped with golden brown and crispy baked goat cheese,
- I should have stopped before even reading the recipe.
- I should have definitely not commented on their post about how intimidated I am by science-defying baked cheeses, which only invited an encouraging reply from the friendly folk at Putney Farm.
- I should have absolutely not let the thought cross my mind that we happened to have goat cheese in the refrigerator and panko bread crumbs in the pantry.
- And, once instilled with ingredient excitement and a false sense of security, I should have without a doubt NOT attempted to bake that goat cheese myself.
Especially while also juggling a salad spinner full of greens, a pile of tomatoes and pickled beets to slice, a vinaigrette to whisk, a cast-iron skillet of bacon to crisp and pecans to toast and peaches to roast.
But I did read the recipe, did comment on it, did receive warm encouragement, did scan the contents of my kitchen for the needed ingredients, did bake my own goat cheese in the midst of all my other salad prep.
I tempted fate.
And when you test the kitchen gods, you’d better be prepared to deal with the consequence.
The consequence should’ve been a golden brown and crispy disc of firm but gooey cheese, solid enough to pick up and place atop my crisp, cool salad, but baked just enough to ooze creamy goodness into every green bite. A delicious trophy rewarding my culinary bravery.
Instead, my consequence was a searing hot baking sheet flowing with a lava-like lake of breadcrumb-speckled, melted, messy goat cheese.
My cheese didn’t defy the laws of science.
It followed them precisely.
But damn it, I wanted goat cheese on my salad, and I hadn’t endured that harrowing trial just to scrape my cheesy clustercuss into the trash.
Instead, I scraped that gooey, gloppy puddle together into two misshapen globs and slapped ‘em onto our salads anyway.
It wasn’t pretty, but we ate it.
And it was good.
What’s in it:
- 4 ounces goat cheese (use something kind of firm, NOT Humboldt fog ← this is where I went wrong)
- a little bit of olive oil
- a handful of your favorite herbs
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- 3-4 cups salad greens
- 2 slices bacon
- 1/4 cup halved pecans
- 2 small peaches, quartered
- 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1/4 cup pickled beets, sliced into slivers
- a quick vinaigrette (2 teaspoons brown mustard, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt & pepper to taste)
- Cut or mold your goat cheese into discs. Sprinkle the discs with herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and let marinate while you preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Dredge the discs of cheese in the breadcrumbs to lightly coat them on all sides, arrange them on the pan, and bake for about 6 minutes. Pray your cheese doesn’t spread like frosting all over your pan.
- Meanwhile, heat the bacon in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Cook it until it’s nice and crispy, then remove the bacon to cool–but leave all that tasty bacon fat in the pan.
- Add the pecans to the skillet and cook ‘em in the bacon grease until they start to smell warm and toasty–just a few minutes–then scoop out the pecans and add the peach quarters, cut sides down.
- By this time, your cheese should be out of the oven. That’s good, because now it’s time to put your skillet o’ peaches into that 400°F oven and roast the fruit for about 10 minutes while you assemble your salad.
- Divide your greens between two really big plates. Artfully decorate the greens with tomatoes and beets. Crumble one slice of bacon over each salad, then sprinkle on some toasted pecans.
- Whisk together your vinaigrette if you haven’t already, then drizzle it over the salads.
- Top your salads with warm peaches and your (hopefully lovely) baked goat cheese crouton.
What this salad wasn’t: easy to make, stress-free, boring.
What it was: a tasty mix of hot and cold, crispy and gooey, sweet and salty, light and hearty. Delicious, and pretty perfect for a summertime lunch.
Even if it was a disaster.