Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

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Did you ever notice that no matter what else you serve at a party, if you put out any kind of warm, melty cheese, it will be devoured in about thirty seconds? This Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs is no exception. It’s a serious crowd pleaser and a lighter alternative to baked Brie or Camembert. And with fresh rosemary, dried figs, chopped pistachios and a generous drizzle of honey, it’s the perfect festive appetizer for a holiday spread.

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I love fresh figs, but with their short season they can be hard to find. Dried figs, plumped up with balsamic vinegar, honey and fresh orange juice, are just as sweet and delicious.  I spoon them onto warm goat cheese flavored with rosemary and chili flakes for a spread that’s savory, sweet, and a little spicy. If you can find Mike’s Hot Honey or another spicy honey, it’s especially good drizzled over the goat cheese just before serving. 

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Serve this right from the oven (on a hotpad!) with plain crackers or crusty baguette slices. Then take a step back and watch it disappear before your eyes. In fact, you might as well make two while you’re at it! I’m making these for a Christmas brunch this weekend and am planning on doing exactly that. 

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Baked Goat Cheese with Balsamic Glazed Figs

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces plain, creamy goat cheese, softened at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup dried Calimyrna figs
  • 1 tablespoon honey, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon shelled roasted and salted pistachios, roughly chopped

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer) combine the goat cheese, cream cheese, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and salt. Beat for 2 minutes on medium-high speed, until smooth and lightly whipped.

Transfer to a small (7 or 8-inch diameter) ovenproof skillet or shallow baking dish. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and lightly browed around the edges.

Meanwhile, remove the hard stems from the figs and cut them into quarters. Combine the figs, honey, vinegar, and orange juice in a small saucepan. (The figs should fit snugly in one layer.) Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thick glaze, about 8-10 minutes.

Carefully spoon the figs and any remaining liquid onto the center of the goat cheese.  Sprinkle the pistachios over the figs, drizzle the cheese generously with honey, and serve hot directly from the baking dish with pita chips or thin slices of baguette.


Shaved Carrot and Asparagus Salad

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Last Saturday morning I went to the farmer’s market in New York’s Union Square, planning to check out what fresh green vegetables were finally in season and then decide on a side dish for an impromptu dinner party my boyfriend Joe and I were cooking at his apartment that night. Nice try, me! The market was still largely in winter hibernation mode, with lots of carrots, potatoes, mystery apples from last fall, and a lot of baked goods. It was important to try some of those to see if they might qualify as side dishes.

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The menu needed something light and bright, so I went with carrots and decided to make a fresh, lemony carrot salad.   I also cheated a little and pretended I found asparagus there, because you might already be able to find it, and because there was enough in the grocery store to convince me it’s in season somewhere.

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This is an easy, versatile and absolutely delicious side dish. The shaved carrots and asparagus are tossed in a simple lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette, which softens them slightly. The cumin in the dressing gives the salad an earthy, Moroccan air, and the mint, goat cheese and pistachios turn a simple bowl of vegetables into a dish bursting with flavor and lots different textures in each bite. If a vegetable side could be a showstopper, this would definitely be it.

The only real work here is the vegetable prep, which takes a little patience, but is so worth it, especially because you can make this whole dish ahead of time and let it sit in the fridge until dinner. (Then just add the mint, goat cheese, and pistachios before serving.)

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While the asparagus is shaved with a simple vegetable peeler, there are a few different ways you can cut the carrots. You can spiralize them, you can cut them by hand with a sharp knife (a little time consuming, but works!) or use a julienne peeler.  I bought one last week on Amazon for $10, and it was a total revelation.  If you like to make zucchini noodles, butternut squash noodles, or other vegetables cut into long strips (cucumber! radish! potato?) you definitely need this thing. The blade is a regular peeler on one side, and julienne on the other, and is much sharper than other peelers I’ve used. Just be careful with your fingers!

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Like many of my recipes, this salad serves 4-6 people, but you can easily double it for larger groups. Just get a friend to help with the vegetable prepping! (Winkie promised he would help, but he had trouble using the peeler.)

Shaved Carrot and Asparagus Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ pound carrots
  • 1 pound asparagus stalks
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup crumbled goat cheese

Directions

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the carrots into long, thin matchsticks. If you have a julienne peeler, or Spiralizer, this will be even easier. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Trim 1-inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into thin ribbons. (I lay the stalks flat against a cutting board, and holding the asparagus at the thick end of the stalk, shave through the flowery head.) Cut any remaining pieces of asparagus stalk you weren’t able to reach with the peeler into 1-inch pieces and add them to the bowl.
  3. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin. Pour over the carrots and asparagus and toss well.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to six hours. When ready to serve, add the mint and pistachios, and toss well. Transfer to a serving dish and top with additional chopped mint, pistachios, and the goat cheese. Serve immediately.