Volunteering to bring a simple tossed salad to a potluck makes life easy, but it does not do much to boost your self-esteem as a creative cook. That's why I was happy to discover this great suggestion in Anne Byrn's 2007 What Can I Bring? Cookbook
(Workman, $14.95). The former Atlanta Journal-Constitution
food writer, best known for her hugely popular Cake Mix Doctor
cookbooks, shows how you can make a bigger impression with just a tiny more effort.
I only slightly adapted this recipe, and also followed her tips for toting. It's a keeper. Ingredients
3 slices sturdy sourdough bread
2 ounces soft goat cheese
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces mushrooms, lightly rinsed and patted dry (about 12)
1 large yellow or purple onion, peeled, halved, and cut in thin slivers
1 bag (10 ounces) baby spinach leaves (or 6 to 7 cups stemmed spinach leaves, washed and dried Instructions
1. Preheat broiler to high. Place bread in a single layer in a shallow metal baking dish and toast lightly on one side. Remove from the oven, place bread on a cutting board, and spread it with the goat cheese. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and return to the baking dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the bread cubes, then broil until the cheese bubbles up, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees.
2. Place balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium-size mixing bowl and stir to combine. Whisk in remaining 1/3 cup olive oil.
3. Trim off and discard tips of mushroom stems. Cut in halves or quarters depending on size. Add mushrooms and onions to the bowl with the balsamic vinegar dressing and stir to coat well. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms and onions to a small cast iron skillet or glass baking dish, setting aside the dressing. Bake the mushrooms and onions until they are golden, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring once.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the baked mushrooms and onions to a serving bowl. Pour the reserved dressing into the hot skillet or baking dish and stir until the heat from the skillet or dish warms it.
5. Add the spinach to the serving bowl and stir to combine with the mushrooms and onions. When you are ready to serve, toss the dressing with the spinach and season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Garnish the salad with goat cheese croutons.
Anne says: You can prepare the mushrooms and onions and the croutons a day ahead. Refrigerate the vegetables and the dressing.
Toting suggestions: Put the croutons in a small, plastic bag. When it’s time to leave, place the mushrooms and onions in the bottom of a serving bowl, pile the spinach on top, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Take the dressing in a microwave container.
When you arrive, warm the dressing covered with a paper towel, in the microwave on high power for 15 seconds, then toss it with the salad and garnish with the croutons.
Makes 6 servings.