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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Not your average meat and potatoes

Steak au poivre with twice-baked sweet potatoes

with a spinach salad on the side...not too shabby

with a spinach salad on the side…not too shabby

Steak au poivre

Twice-baked sweet potatoes

UPDATE: This is the first post of a brand new month of Everyday Food.  B and G got together a few months ago and painstakingly chose an issue for December.  I’m not being sarcastic.  Pains were taken.  It was very hard to choose.  We settled on December 2011.  Without even realizing it, that was the month when B and her bear visited me and D!  There’s clearly something special about that month.  It’s hard to believe we’ve already made it through three whole issues.

D made the steaks, so a lot of this is second hand.  There’s one thing we both figured out:  There is too much pepper called for in this recipe!  D loves pepper and even he was picking peppercorns off of his steak. You could use 1/4 of a cup of crushed black pepper and have more than enough.  Also, this is a job for a spice grinder (or a spare coffee grinder that you keep for this purpose) not your kitchen pepper mill.  I started trying to grind all of the pepper with a pepper mill and D stopped me.  I would probably still be grinding that pepper right now.  Can you even imagine how long it would take to grind 3/4 c of pepper?  Anyway, use the spice grinder and only grind 1/4 c.  It will be plenty.

The sauce is heavenly.  I kept finding excuses to eat more of that sauce.  The fact that there was too much pepper on it just encouraged me to eat more sauce!  Wine, cream, mustard, steak drippings… the gang’s all here.  Ah, but there’s a twist.  We didn’t have any white wine on hand.  I told D that we could substitute dry vermouth like B did.  D wanted to experiment and try Lillet instead.  B asked me (and I definitely had to look this up) what Lillet is.  She thought it was maybe a fortified wine.  Welp, the series of tubes tells me it’s a “tonic wine” containing a blend of wines and mostly citrus liqueurs.  Now we know.

I made the sweet potatoes, and I’ve been dreaming about them ever since.  The recipe is amazing just as written.  The goat cheese adds the perfect amount of tang to cut the sweetness of the potato and the richness of the butter.  Add in those sharp chives, and you’ve got a nicely balanced side.  I really like the panko crumb and pecan topping.  All in all, I’ll be making this one again.  I think you could make it all ahead of time right up until the top the refilled potato and bake step.  Just make the topping right before you need it to keep the panko crumbs from getting soggy.

Oh, another note about making the sweet potatoes.  The recipe has you using a food processor to mix together the baked sweet potato (mine were microwaved, by the by), goat cheese, and butter.  That seemed wholly unnecessary to me.  Just leave the goat cheese and butter sitting out while you microwave the sweet potatoes and do other prep.  Between that little amount of softening and the heat of the potatoes, your arm can do the trick.  On the other hand, I have these insane mom-guns ever since I had a baby…  I still think the food processor is overkill, though.

J seemed to like the sweet potato the first time he ate it, but turned his nose up at it the second time.  “Oh no!” said his mother, “I guess I’ll just have to eat it!”  And, thus, G sat and ate a twice-baked sweet potato with a baby spoon.  Don’t judge me until you try these potatoes.

Ugh! Radicchio… (And a really super awesome chicken recipe)

So.  How to start?  The November 2007 issue featured radicchio in the “Have You Tried?” column.  The extent of my radicchio experience was the little shreds of it found in salad green mix.  From that experience, I thought “Great!  I love radicchio!  I bet it’s delicious on its own!”.  I was wrong.  Very, very wrong.

Looks good, right?!  Well, partly right...

Looks good, right?! Well, partly right…

In addition to the awfulness that is radicchio, none of these recipes appear to be online anymore.  I can only assume this is because Martha realized they were inedible (except the lovely chicken!!) and had them banished from her domain.

So, if you have the issue, you can find the recipe for Chicken with Lemon-Mustard Sauce and Seared Radicchio on page 156.  If not, I’ll do my best for you here because really, this chicken is worth a try.

Ingredients:

2 Tbs all-purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs chicken cutlets (or cheat like me and slice a couple of breasts into 3 or 4 pieces length wise)

2 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs dijon mustard

2 Tbs capers (drain them and rinse them so all that briny-ness doesn’t get into your sauce)

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs butter (keep it cold and cut into cubes)

2 heads of radicchio, quartered (feel free to skip this part)

Get a large skillet heating up on medium high heat and add 1 Tbs of that once it is heated.  Meanwhile, dredge your chicken in the flour seasoned with some salt and pepper.  Once the skillet it hot, toss those cutlets in! Don’t crowd them, do them in two batches.  They cook pretty quickly so just cook them until lightly browned on either side and cooked through.  Once cooked move them to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm.

Once you are all done with the chicken, add 3/4 cup water to the skillet and boil it until it has reduced to about 1/2 a cup.  This sucks up all the chicken drippings and floury goodness to lightly thicken the sauce.  Once that has reduced, remove it from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice, mustard and capers.  Once that is all combined, whisk in the butter a little at a time until the sauce gets glossy and beautiful. You can add a little salt and pepper at this point if you think it needs it.  Move the yumminess into a bowl and wipe out the skillet.

Add that last Tbs of oil into the pan and toss the radicchio in with cut side down.  Don’t turn it until it is lightly charred and then repeat on the other cut sides.

Serve it all together with a bit of the sauce on the radicchio as well.

*adapted from pg. 156, November 2007, issue 47

Now, I think I’ve made it pretty clear how delicious this chicken is.  It’s something special.  It’s something to make for guests.  The radicchio is not.  It’s just not.  The bear and I were both pretty excited about trying it.  It looked pretty awesome.  We each took a bite.  It took every ounce of will power not to instantly spit it out.  It was so intensely bitter that my body was literally rejecting it as poison.  The bear’s reaction was the same.  We tried again.  Same result.  We tried again with a bit of chicken on the fork thinking that might cut the bitterness.  No, it just ruined the flavor of the chicken.  We gave up.  The leftovers went straight in the trash.  We gorged on the chicken to forget the wretchedness.

The bear vowed we would never eat radicchio again!  Then G came for a visit.  We were certain that the Radicchio Slaw would be better.  Perhaps it was the searing that made it so repulsive.  If you are interested in giving it a try, you can find the recipe on page 158.  We were still wary so we cut the recipe in half so in the off chance it was just as bad as the seared radicchio, we wouldn’t have to throw so much out.

It's a pretty purple...

It’s a pretty purple…

Here’s the recipe:

In a large bowl,  whisk together 3 tablespoons cider vinegar and 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar.  Once the sugar is dissolved whisk in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Add in the radicchio that has been halved, cored, and thinly sliced along with a couple of scallions thinly sliced on the diagonal.  And finally add in 1/2 celery seed and toss it all together.  Let that all marinade together for at least 10 minutes.

*adapted from pg 158, November 2007, issue 47

Then throw it all straight in the trash.  We tried to save it. We coated it in gravy.  It was edible that way, but not worth wasting the gravy on.  I won’t say it was quite as bad as the seared radicchio, but it wasn’t good.  It was still incredibly bitter, we even went a little heavy on the sugar trying to compensate.  No luck.

Radicchio, you are not my friend.  G, the brave soul tried the third and final recipe…

G, here.  I think B is giving radicchio slaw smothered in gravy (aka “crunchy gravy”) short shrift here.  It was great!  All the texture of cabbage with the taste of gravy!  Who wouldn’t love it?

Anyway, as B said, the final recipe fell to me, Radicchio, spinach, and apricot salad with goat cheese.  B and the bear had already been traumatized enough.  Wouldn’t you know it?  This recipe also isn’t available online.  Trying to hide it, are you?  Nice try.

Radicchio, spinach, and apricot salad with goat cheese

You can see the purple, right B?

You can see the purple, right B?

*adapted from Everyday Food issue #47 page 152 (November 2007)

  • 1/2 c. dried apricots, halved
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 head radicchio (~8 oz), halved, cored, and cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 bag (5 oz) baby spinach
  • 2 oz. soft, crumbled goat cheese
  1. Place the apricots in a small bowl, cover with boiling water.  Let stand 5 minutes, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.  Try not to eat them.  Try
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together vinegar and oil; season with coarse salt and ground pepper.  You could also do this in a small bowl and toss the dressing with the greens when you’re ready.  That’s what I did.
  3. Add apricots, radicchio, and spinach to bowl with dressing; toss to combine.  Serve topped with goat cheese.

And?! And?!?!  The suspense is killing you, right?  It was really good.  How did my good friend B take this news?  Was she happy for me?  Well, first she accused me of eating mostly spinach in this salad.  And then…

B: How is it?

G: Are you ready?  It’s good

B: I hate you.

And for that, you get the robot face 😐

G: Robot face all you like.  There’s no getting around this.  Radicchio has been just barely redeemed.

We ultimately agreed that all of the other flavors worked together to practically mask the flavor of the radicchio.  So we wound up where we started: appreciating radicchio for the small supporting role it plays in salad mix.  And that’s where it belongs.

You’re welcome.

It’s a potato

Baked Potato Bar

G here, kicking off the potato post.  The post-tato!

Peer and Pedro Potato or Sven and Salvador Spud

Peer and Pedro Potato or Sven and Salvador Spud

I took the Scandinavian toppings and the Tex Mex toppings.  The Scandinavian one had smoked salmon, sour cream, and chopped green onion.  It was great.  Smoked salmon is delicious and sour cream is a natural choice for a baked potato.  The Tex Mex one has black beans (which are dry), goat cheese (which is pretty dry), and salsa.  The salsa isn’t juicy enough to make up for the rest of it.  It was quite dry.  I wound up scraping all of the stuff off of it, adding butter and sour cream, and adding the toppings back.  There’s really not much to report here.  If I was going to have smoked salmon, I’d want it on a bagel.

G out.

B here.

I don’t have fancy names for my spuds, but if I did, this one would be Giovanni.

Not my best photo here...

Not my best photo here…

This one consisted of ricotta, spinach and pepperoni.  Instead of using frozen spinach as called for, I sautéed up some fresh baby spinach with garlic, because obviously any kind of spud that can call itself Italian needs some garlic.  I also chose to mix my spinach in with my ricotta like you would for a lasagna filling.  And I used turkey pepperoni, which may have been a mistake.  It was fine really, but I think it would have been tastier with the real thing.  I also think a small amount of marinara would have gone a long way here.  Like G’s Mexican potato, it was a bit dry.  Overall, the flavor was pretty enjoyable, but maybe not to the point I would think to make it again.

And what the heck, I may as well follow through with this naming thing to the end of the post. So here is Jake Spud, the All-American Quarterback potato.

IMG_0690

This one was really classic!  Melted cheddar, peas and cubes of a really delicious ham I had made earlier in the week.  This is the one that reminded me of dinner as a kid.  The melted cheese sort of helped keep the peas in place, but not enough so you didn’t still have to chase a few around the plate.  The obvious solution: MORE CHEESE! I think I am far more likely to make this one again  than the Italian one.  I could see it being a really satisfying dinner on a night when the Bear I live with is at a work function (this happens a lot).