Valentine's Day is right around the corner and it's time for me to start thinking about what I'll be making my beautiful wife for dinner. We refuse to go out on Valentine's Day, since typically menus are limited, prices are inflated (but you get a free rose, after all), and the wait staff is in general not to happy to be working that night. Instead, we look forward to a quiet night at home, catching up on some dvr'd t.v. shows and a thoughtfully-prepared meal of dishes Asheley loves. Maybe we'll even go crazy and open up a bottle of wine.
Asheley has a love/hate relationship with these goat cheese bites, as she has affectionately named them. She loves to eat them. She hates that I have made her my permanent goat cheese bite sous chef. What can I say... she does a great job manning the breading station! You can see her skills in action in the photos below.
So here's a great recipe to start out any meal. It also makes an unreal party appetizer, since it's easy to eat in one or two bites and all the different parts can be made ahead of time and quickly assembled at party time.
The idea for these came about three or four years ago. I was having dinner at a little local restaurant and a salad on the menu caught my eye. Salads typically don't have that kind of power over me, but when you see the words fried and goat cheese, it's a pretty sure bet to be dynamite. Sure enough, the salad ended up being the part of the meal that, even days later, I couldn't get out of my head.
When recreating that salad at home, it kind of morphed itself into these perfect little tapas/hors d'oeuvres/appetizers. Who needs salad greens anyway? I mean, feel free to serve these with the addition of greens dressed in some olive oil if you wish (I certainly have when I'm in the mood for such). All by themselves, though, they are freaking delicious and one of the most popular and requested dishes I make when friends come over.
Making a balsamic reduction is quite easy. Just make sure to do it earlier in the day (or even several days before) you plan on serving it, and think about keeping a window or two open. I can wake Asheley up out of a deep sleep when reducing vinegar. It doesn't have the most pleasant smell in the world. If you are congested and want to clear up those sinuses, just stick your head over the pot and take a big whiff!
What results, though, is a beautiful balsamic transformation: thick, sweet, syrupy glaze! I keep mine in a little squeeze bottle, which makes plating a whole lot more whimsical and fun. You know you've successfully reduced your balsamic when it holds it shape really well, like:
Here's the part where Asheley comes in. She is an expert in the field of goat cheese cutting and holding down the breading station.
Here's an awesome tip for cutting soft cheeses: don't use a knife. The cheese will just start crumbling all over the place. Instead, use a piece of dental floss (preferably unused :)). It works perfectly every time. Just make sure it's not mint-flavored floss... I made that mistake once.
Before slicing the goat cheese with your dental floss, firm it up in the freezer for about 10 minutes. We use a 10.5 ounce log of goat cheese from Trader Joe's (they have great prices on goat cheese), and Asheley typically gets about 20 slices out of a log.
Make sure to use panko breadcrumbs, which are actually made from crustless bread. The large, airy flakes will give the goat cheese a light, delicate, crunchy coating. And panko breadcrumbs doesn't absorb as much grease, which helps the food stay crispy longer.
Although I think the goat cheese tastes best when it's served up right after frying, when making a large quantity for a party, I normally do my frying ahead of time. They still stay crispy and taste great when reheated, which you can do in a 350°F oven until warmed through.
There's something so perfect and comforting about these goat cheese bites. The creamy tang of the goat cheese, enrobed in the light crunch of panko. Fresh, sweet bosc pear. Crispy prosciutto. The delicate onion flavor of chives. And that sweet, syrupy balsamic reduction. Man, it's good.
Feel free to add some greens dressed in a little olive oil and Kosher salt for an amazing salad, or serve them up all by themselves. Either way, you'll be deemed a culinary hero.