Peanut Sauce, Goat Cheese and Trader Joe’s
I had been looking forward to dinner all day. You know, in that “Yes, it’s pouring down rain here in Cleveland but I still have to go to the grocery store, and NO we can’t have something different for dinner tonight” kind of way.
Dinner tonight was not supposed to be difficult. (If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said that in the last 10 years, I wouldn’t need to be on a food budget.) The reality was a little different though, and resulted in a frank conversation with the other member of my household whereby I committed to only do the cookbook project two or three times a week, for his sanity as well as mine. After all, since everyone’s gotta eat, he participates in the project by default.
The rest of the time, we’ll be eating what I imagine many families across the country eat regularly as well. The old stand-bys like leftovers, grilled cheese and soup, tuna salad, stuffed baked potatoes, quesadillas or burritos, pasta, etc. Which really, though I don’t want to admit it, all sound pretty darned good.
The Cookbook: Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s, by Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati, Brown Bag Publishers LLC, 2008
I love Trader Joe’s. In fact, it’s one of my favorite places in the whole world. In my next life, I want to work there, preferably as a food buyer. The store inspires me, so imagine my delight when I discovered there are two ladies out there who not only might love TJ’s even more than I do, but who have written several cookbooks using only ingredients that can be found there! And – get this – they include a beautiful picture along with EVERY recipe, so I can tell exactly what the dish is supposed to look like when prepared by the experts (which isn’t necessarily how it looks when prepared by me). Check out their amazing Web site at www.cookingwithtraderjoes.com
Trader Joe’s is the kind of place where I don’t feel embarrassed to buy prepared food items. The store is just so supportive that I pick up that bag of pre-diced butternut squash with no shame whatsoever. (By the way – I absolutely HATE to peel butternut squash, so a recipe has to look pretty darn yummy for my eyes to not glaze over when I see “2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced”). But Trader Joe’s gets me past all that and on to the business of cooking – followed by the even better business of eating!
The Recipe: Warm Goat Cheese Salad
Other Menu Items: Roasted Root Vegetables with Peanut Sauce, Brown Rice
Cooking It Up:
I was incredibly excited about this particular meal because it involved not only cheese (and goat cheese to boot!) but peanut butter. I love peanut butter, and frequently eat it directly from the jar when I think no one’s looking. So the opportunity to combine two of my favorite things in one meal (though luckily not in one dish) made my heart flutter like a schoolgirl on her first date.
And roasted vegetables too…this is such a beautiful concept. Chop up the veggies of your choice, toss them with some olive oil, salt and pepper and whatever other seasonings you like, and put them in the oven on baking trays until the veggies are tender. And it’s so very flexible – you can roast larger or smaller pieces depending on how fast you want them to cook. You can roast summer vegetables or winter vegetables. It’s one of the things that gets me through the dreary season.
In this case, I was trying to use up some turnips and parsnips, so my mix looked like this: 3 turnips, 3 parsnips, 3 potatoes, 2 sweet onions, 3 carrots, and about 2 1/2 cups butternut squash (peeled and chopped, though luckily not by me). Cut everything up, mix it in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat. I only seasoned with salt and pepper since the peanut sauce is so flavorful. Spread it all out on a baking tray (or two, if your oven is small) and bake at 400 or 450, depending on how aggressive you are. Make sure everything is basically in a single layer on your tray, so you’ll get that nice caramel-y browning. I usually turn the veggies every 15 minutes until they’re done. I think this batch took about 45 minutes in a 425 oven, switching my two trays on the oven racks once or twice.
Meanwhile, I whipped up the peanut sauce (inspired by the Moosewood Simple Suppers cookbook which we’ll cover in great detail in a later post). This involves whisking 2/3 cup natural creamy (or chunky) peanut butter, 3 TB cider vinegar, 2 TB dark sesame oil (MUST be dark…similar in color to soy sauce), 3 1/2 TB soy sauce, 1/8 tsp ground red pepper (or more, to taste) and up to 2/3 cup water in a medium bowl. When you first start doing this, it looks like a curdled mess, and you’ll want to throw it out the window. But be patient – within a minute or so, it will smooth out into a glorious velvety sauce that requires absolutely no cooking. I recommend adding the water last, and whisking it in gradually until you reach your desired thickness.
So with the vegetables roasting beautifully, the brown rice done and the sauce mixed up, I turned my attention to the Warm Goat Cheese Salad.
You’ve probably had a warm goat cheese salad in a restaurant before. Beautifully breaded and browned goat cheese rounds atop some exotic mix of baby greens…oh yum, oh yum. Well, now you can easily recreate that experience in the comfort of your own home.
Warm Goat Cheese Salad (from All Things Trader Joes): Since Ms. Miniati was kind enough to give me permission, I’m including the original recipe from this cookbook, followed by my (very few) changes.
- 1 (5.4 oz) pkg Chevre Medallions, or 1 (8-oz) log Chevre goat cheese, sliced
- 1 egg white, beaten
- 1/2 cup Just Almond Meal or breadcrumbs
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 (5-oz) bag Organics Baby Spring Mix salad
- 1/3 cup refrigerated Champagne Pear Vinaigrette
Dip each goat cheese round in egg white and then coat in almond meal (or breadcrumbs). If you’re prepping ahead of time, place breaded goat cheese rounds in refrigerator until ready to cook. Cheese rounds should be cold and firm so they don’t melt when fried.
Heat olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Fry cheese rounds for 1 minute on each side or until browned. Promptly remove from heat before cheese melts.
Pour vinaigrette over salad mix and toss until coated. Place warm cheese on dressed salad and serve immediately.
And, folks, I’m pleased to say it actually worked, despite a couple of tense moments. My Chevre medallions, though I kept them in the fridge until the last minute, really just did NOT want to come out of their neat little individual packages, which left me with slightly crumbly incomplete discs to bread. (And yes, I was bitter enough to eat all the cheese remnants that were left in the packages.) But I was determined. I molded them back into shape, and went on with the breading. One of my medallions did start to melt slightly, and my finished result was not as lovely as the photograph in the cookbook, but it was delicious anyway!
Definitely something to make again. The only slight changes I made to the original recipe were to use breadcrumbs rather than almond meal (because I had no idea what I would do with the leftover meal if I bought it), Balsamic Vinaigrette instead of Champagne Pear (because that’s what I had) and some beautiful little grape tomatoes in with the greens for added color.
That’s it – a winner that’s really quite easy but makes you feel like you’re eating in a restaurant. Next round, though, I think I’ll just buy the log of Chevre, and slice it into my own medallions with dental floss as suggested by the authors.
Until next time,