Balsamic vinegar: two truths and a lie

Have you tried? Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic-glazed pork chops

Pork chop with special appearance by my mom's dishes

Pork chop with special appearance by my mom’s dishes

Spinach salad with salmon

mmmm...goat cheese and pecans

mmmm…goat cheese and pecans

The first two are a very nifty make-ahead combo.  You make a balsamic (side note: am I the only one who thought there was another “L” in that word?  As in “balsalmic?”  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people pronouncing it that way.  Have I been embarrassing myself?  …let’s move on) rosemary vinaigrette and use 2/3 of it to marinate and baste some pork chops and the other 1/3 as a dressing for a salad.  I loved the pork chops.  My mom is pretty much the master of pork chops, so I let her follow her own lead on how to cook these.  I believe she did use the broiler, but all of the times were out the window.  You don’t actually taste the vinegar so much as you just taste a nice richness.  It’s a good one.

The salad is so good. It has goat cheese AND pecans.  Come on.  I think you could easily swap something out for the salmon or leave it out entirely. The spinach and tomatoes are very good with the dressing.  This is definitely a good “look at me.  I’m so fancy” recipe.  And it takes 10 minutes.  We all need a couple of those recipes.

Balsamic-roasted pearl onions

With some kind of mushy beet and blue cheese risotto.

With some kind of mushy beet and blue cheese risotto.

And the onions?  Yeah, about that…They tasted ok.  It’s just that they burned so badly that they set off the smoke detector while the baby was sleeping.  I don’t know whether I’m relieved or deeply disturbed that he slept through it.  I will say that I immediately burst into action.  By action I mean swearing like a sailor, flapping a towel at the smoke detector and screeching something to D about opening a window.  What do the rest of you do when the smoke detector goes off?  And that was at about 15 minutes.  These things were allegedly going to roast for 25-30 minutes.

the scene of the crime

the scene of the crime

Maybe I had too few onions, which left a ton of open space on the sheet for vinegar to pool and start burning.  I’ve been through this with Everyday Food before though.  There was an infamous incident with some chicken thighs that were basted with marmalade and broiled.  Something about sugar and fire.  It just wants to burn.  D suspects that they have a super intense hood on the range that they use to test all of these recipes.  The hood on our range appears to just be a white noise machine.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t recommend this recipe.  Maybe it’s a good one for a foil-lined grill basket outside?  The smoke won’t bother you there.

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Needs a little protein

Brown-rice salad with spinach and tomatoes

Green vegetable stir fry

Thanks, feta!

Thanks, feta!

Kudos, tofu!

Kudos, tofu!

Here are two recipes that just need a little something to save them from themselves.  The first is the brown rice salad.  It’s not some great elements: cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, a nice dressing, and some nutty brown rice.  Know what it’s missing?  Some kind of protein, preferably of the dairy variety.  It’s got cucumbers and dill, so it’s already vaguely Greek.  In steps feta, and it’s perfect.

Then there’s the green vegetable stir fry.  So so good.  So so so little going on besides vegetables.  Leeks, snow peas, bok choy, celery, ginger.  I served it on brown rice, and that helped.  Again, it needed protein.  Delicious cheese didn’t really seem right (not that it ever seems wrong), but tofu was perfect.  Please take a second look at those cubes.  I have a slightly (read: extremely) anal trick for stir frying tofu.  Cut the tofu into cubes.  True cubes with nearly equal sized sides.  Heat up some vegetable oil.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them every 3-4 minutes.  I turn them by knocking them over on to another side and paying attention to which sides are brown and which are white.  This way, it all gets evenly fried.  You have to be willing to sit with a pair of tongs and gently bob tofu cubes on to their sides by a quarter turn.  If that sounds like madness, just stir them…like the lout that you are!  Either way, the tofu adds the protein and makes this a satisfying meal.

Something has happened with this green veggie stir fry that hasn’t happened with this blog in a very long time.  The recipe is not online.  Sonofa!  So I’m going to do you a solid and give you the recipe, adapted for to add the protein and brown rice that it needs.

Green vegetable stir fry (adapted from Everyday Food issue # 69 January/February 2010 p. 91)

  • 2 medium leeks (white and green parts only), halved lengthwise and rinsed well
  • 3 T vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 T minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head bok choy (3/4 pound), cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 c snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • coarse salt (omit if using normal broth or substitute a little soy sauce when you serve it)
  • 1/4 low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • cooked brown rice for serving
  • block of extra firm tofu, drained and cut into perfect 1-inch cubes
  1. In a non-stick skillet, heat 1 T of the vegetable oil on medium-high heat.  Place the cubes into the hot oil and turn them a quarter turn onto a new side every 3-4 minutes, browning them evenly.  Pay attention to the first turn, you may find you need more or less cooking time to brown the cubes.
  2. In the meantime, cut leeks into 2-inch pieces; separate layers.  Heat another large skillet (your biggest, widest saucepan is a good choice here) or wok over medium-high heat until hot.  Add another 1 T oil, swirl to coat skillet.  Add half the ginger, half the garlic, and half the leeks.  You’re doing the veggies in two batches because they are going to lose a lot of liquid.  Stir until the leeks begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes.  Increase heat to high; add half the bok choy, half the snow peas, and half the celery.  Season with salt or soy sauce, if using low-sodium broth.  Stir until vegetables begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add half the borth; toss until snow peas are bright green, 1 minute. Transfer veggies to a platter or big bowl.
  3. Repeat all of that stir frying with the remaining ingredients.  Remember that’s: ginger, garlic, and leeks, then bok choy, snow peas, and celery.
  4. Serve over brown rice with pan-fried tofu cubes on top.  Season with soy sauce, as desired (as they say in cookbooks)

Space Coyote?

Spicy Chard with Ginger Sauté 

Find your soulmate, Homer.

Find your soulmate, Homer.

Kale with Tomato, Garlic, and Thyme Sauté

Kale turns out to be delicious once you boil the weird out of it.

Kale turns out to be delicious once you boil the weird out of it.

Beet Greens with Bacon

points for bacon and pasta...

points for bacon and pasta…

On page 22-23 of this magazine, there are four sautés.  They just kind of look like blobs of dark green stuff, so it’s difficult to tell at first glance what you’re supposed to do with the “in season winter greens” pictured.  Just eat them?  A quick glance at the under 100 calorie nutrition information for all of them should tell you that, no…you’ll starve.  In steps the bubble on page 23.  It states, “Enjoy the sautés as sides, toss with pasta for a main course (the chard’s great with Asian noodles), or serve on crostini.”  I said, “Ok, bubble.  I’ll buy it.”  So I made the kale, the beet greens, and the chard.

I’m going to get the less than awesome experiences out of the way first so I can end on a high note.  Ok.  The bubble said (and when has a bubble ever lied to me?) that the chard is great with Asian noodles.  I still had a good amount of rice noodles in the pantry from the beef salad way back when.  I asked for suggestions on how to get these things out of my house, internet, and the silence was deafening.  Deafening.  Either we are all at a loss for what to do with rice noodles or someone has the secret and she’s keeping it from me.  *narrows her eyes…*  Easy peasy, I’ll toss the spicy chard with ginger sauté with the rice noodles.  Here’s the important word in that recipe that you must pay attention to: “spicy.”  The recipe has two sliced jalapeños in it.  There’s no mention of seeding them, removing the ribs, or anything.  That’s two jalapeños and to balance that out?… chard and ginger.  Fun fact about chard and ginger: they do jack squat to cool down jalapeños.  I made this recipe as written and it was physically painful to eat.  And I love spicy food.  I put it on the rice noodles thinking, “Here we go.  The noodles will cool it down.”  Nope.  At this point, it was either throw it out or start doctoring it.

Paging Dr. P. Nutbutter!

I added a pretty considerable amount of peanut butter to the sauté.  Maybe a 1/4 cup.  It was still spicy, but not punishing.  As the final touch, I served it with diced mangoes and pineapple on the side.  Finally, after all that, we ate dinner.  Whew!

The upside: if you’re going to make this recipe, I highly recommend making a peanut butter-based sauce to put on top.  I added a 1/4 cup of peanut butter.  I could also see a mixture of peanut butter, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar, not unlike my beloved Sesame Noodles.  You will also want to serve this on noodles.  I also recommend serving it with a cooling side.  If I did this again, frankly, I would also use only one jalapeño and take out the seeds and ribs.  Or coat your mouth with wax like Homer does before he eats the Guatemalan insanity peppers.  Upside to that plan, you get to meet a space coyote.

Then there’s the beet greens with bacon, which has the opposite problem.  It’s pretty boring.  Maybe the problem is that I tried to make all of these sautees into main dishes when this one should really just be a side dish.

With that out of the way, we have an unqualified winner of a recipe to report: Kale with Tomato, Garlic, and Thyme.  This one is as quick and easy as it is delicious.  Sauté some veggies, boil some kale, boil some pasta (I think I might have used the same water), and toss it with salt, pepper, and oil.  C’mon!  Also, with the nice garlic and thyme, plus the intense green flavor of the kale, this prevents this recipe from becoming one of those dreaded Everyday Food pasta with no sauce recipes.

This is why you bought a Dutch oven

Pork shoulder roast with tomatoes

Lookin' wholesome!

Lookin’ wholesome!

Wow.  This is a keeper.  This one is for real.  The one thing to know is that it does honestly take 2.25 hours and it’s not a good candidate to convert to a slow cooker recipe because it requires you to baste it every 15 minutes toward the end.  But, if you have a long afternoon at home and you don’t mind almost eating your own hand because the smell of this makes you so hungry, then you’ve got to make this recipe.

If nothing else, this recipe will make you feel super good for owning a Dutch oven.  There are those pieces of kitchen equipment that you look at and think, “Man, I’m not sure I need to own that thing…”  Gratin dish, Kitchen Aid mixer (I love it…I just don’t use it very often), mini bundt cake pan, immersion blender, melon baller, and so on.  But then that moment comes when nothing else would have been better.  This was that moment for my Dutch oven.  Here it is, rising to the occasion:

I'm proud of you, Baby!

I’m proud of you, Baby!

So if your significant other keeps hassling about why you own that giant, heavy pot, you make this recipe.

Side note: J loved this one.  He ate it up like it was cheese crackers and applesauce.  For real.