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.

The merriest granola

Granola with pecans and dried fruit

We gave a little as a gift.  Doesn't it look festive?

We gave a little as a gift. Doesn’t it look festive?

D, my darling king of the granola, made this one.  I came home from a holiday lunch with a friend to see a pan of it on the stove top.  I proceeded to eat it as often as possible until it was gone.  This stuff is so good.  The pecans got nice and toasty, but didn’t burn.  That’s a problem D and I have had with some other granolas that ask you to toast the nuts with the rest of the ingredients.  The granola is wonderful with some dried fruit in it, which we added as desired rather than mixing it in with the entire batch.  D and I must both note that the chocolate chips are wholly unnecessary.  This is enough of a yummy treat already.  Oh, and we can’t forget the awesome vanilla paste B got for me.  It made another star appearance in this one.

Ah, It’s been gone for a couple weeks, and I miss this granola already.

Gluten-free pound cake with cranberries

December 2011, pg. 70

Gluten-free pound cake with cranberries recipe

Gluten Free pound cake

I rarely make gluten free sweets, but more and more people are staying away from gluten for different reasons.  There is no time like the present to try out a new recipe that is gluten-free.

I bought Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Baking Flour.  I think it was my only choice, or maybe it was the only brand I recognized (I don’t remember).  Any how I didn’t realize that the December 2011 issue did a taste test with several gluten-free flours and published their thoughts on pg. 64, until I was in the process of making the pound cake.  I read the taste test for the gluten-free flour I purchased.  “…the flavor tasted slightly off in sweets; save it for pancakes or crackers.  The texture of the items we tested was spot-on when we added xanthan gum, as the package suggests.”  After reading that I was positive my pound cake was doomed because I chose and/or bought the wrong flour for sweets and I most definitely didn’t have any xanthan gum laying around my kitchen. DARN.

I continued mixing together the ingredients and my attitude began shifting to a more positive one.  The batter smelled amazing.  The orange zest really kicked it up a notch.  The batter looked delicious with the dried cranberries and chopped pecans.  How was it going to taste?

I ended up putting foil over the pan because it was beginning to brown too quickly.  I took the pound cake out of the oven after 1 hour and 5 minutes and it was browner than I would have liked it to be.  Now I’m back to thinking the pound cake was a flop…

It was a flop.  It did taste good but the texture was all off.  My husband tried it first and he said it was dry and the texture was strange.  I decided to toast mine and add some butter.  I didn’t help, the pound cake dissolved in my mouth.  Not something I was expecting or enjoyed.  The pound cake went into the trash.

Lesson learned: Pay attention to the taste tests when using new and unfamiliar ingredients.  Who knows how it would have turned out if I added xanthan gum or used a gluten-free flour that was recommended for sweets?  It really did smell and the inside looked delicious!

Gluten free pound cake Inside

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.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Baked Brie with Pecans

The spread.

The spread.

Just a quick Thanksgiving teaser!  Since we are having a later dinner, I decided to make the Baked Brie with Pecans.  It was so worth it!  Once the cheese has softened in the oven (or in my case toaster oven), you toast the pecans and then basically make a thin caramel sauce out of the brown sugar and maple syrup.

Mmm... Gooey...

Mmm… Gooey…

It gets super gooey once you cut into it and kind of all melts out, but that just makes it easier to scoop up cheese, nuts, and sauce all in one go.  It’s so good.  Maple and pecans might be best friends.  I really hope all of you make one of these this holiday season.  It’s so much easier than a brie en croute but definitely a crowd pleaser.

I also hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving!  Expect to see an epic post from me soon featuring my Thanksgiving dinner!

Pecan Pie with a twist…

Delicious piece of Maple-Nut Tart

Delicious piece of Maple-Nut Tart

Maple-Nut Tart*

  • 1  our favorite pie crust (recipe follows)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1.5 cups pecan pieces
  • 1.5 cups walnut pieces

Step 1. Preheat oven to 350°.  On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll chilled dough into a 12-inch circle.  Carefully fit into 9-inch tart pan, gently lowering dough into bottom and sides of pan without stretching.  Roll rolling pin over edge of tart pan to cut off excess dough.  Set tart shell aside.

Step 2. In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, and salt.  Then whisk in maple syrup.  Add nuts, and mix filling to combine.  Place tart pan on rimmed baking sheet, and pour in filling.  Bake tart until filling is set and crust is slightly golden, 55-60 minutes.  Cool completely in pan.  Remove tart from pan before serving.

*adapted from Everyday Food Issue #47, pg. 114, November 2007

Our Favorite Pie Crust**

  • 1.5 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons ice water

Step 1. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients. Then using a pastry blender cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining.

Step 2. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of ice water and continue to work dough with pastry blender, continue adding 1 tablespoon of ice water at a time until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed with fingers.

Step 3. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface, forming a ¾ inch thick disk.  Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (Or wrap in plastic, place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months.  Thaw in the refrigerator before rolling.)

**adapted from Everyday Food Issue #47, pg. 88, November 2007


Raw dough

Raw dough

I offered to bring the Maple-Nut Tart to my husband’s cousin’s house for Early Thanksgiving Dinner.  I didn’t want to mess the tart up and I only had one chance to get it right.  We were going to the Syracuse football game on Saturday leaving me with a couple hours that night to bake before we headed out the next morning.  While reading the recipe for the Maple-Nut Tart I realized it was just a Pecan Pie with a few changes.

I usually avoid baking pies because I have some difficult shoes to fill.  I can’t compete with my mom and mother-in-law, and my mother-in law was most certainly going bring a few pies to Early Thanksgiving Dinner as well.  I guess it’s time to start practicing my pie skills…

I don’t own a tart pan and have no intentions of adding such a pan to my collection until I have a larger kitchen.  Considering the crust for the tart was just a pie crust I thought it would be fine to turn the ‘Maple-Nut Tart’ into a ‘Maple-Nut Pie’.  The pie crust was very easy to make and I really liked using butter instead of shortening.  I love using simple ingredients.  I know how butter is made, but I can’t say the same about shortening.  I was pleasantly surprised how easily the dough rolled out and did not stick to the counter.  I fit the crust into my Pyrex pie pan with NO problems.

MapleNut PieCrust

The maple nut mixture was also really easy to throw together.  Again very simple ingredients: eggs, pecans, walnuts, brown sugar, and maple syrup.    It was awesome to use pure maple syrup instead of corn syrup!  I like to eat maple syrup off a spoon (I can’t say the same for corn syrup)!  Although using a cup of maple syrup almost cleaned my supply out.  Good thing we always get some pure maple syrup from Lewis County every year for Christmas!

Uncooked Maple Nut Tart

Uncooked tart/pie

I baked the maple-nut pie for 60 minutes in my little unreliable oven.  The temperature ranged from 300-400°F.  I was a little nervous that the center was either going to be under- or overdone, but the outside looked delicious.  Only time would tell if my contribution to dessert was a success.

Finished product!

Finished product!

The following day when it came time for dessert I made sure P and I had a piece of Maple-Nut pie.  It was amazing.  The crust was done to perfection the outer layer of nuts and syrup was crisp and the center was nice in gooey.  Everyone else liked it too.  SUCCESS!

In the future if I ever need or want to make a pecan pie I am going back to the Maple-Nut Tart recipe!  Maybe next time I could even add some chocolate…