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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Parchment Aplenty

Issue 69 had a feature on using parchment as a cooking method.  It had full meals, main dishes, sides, and even breakfast in a parchment.  So, here we go.

The first recipe I made was for a dinner party with the lovely neighbor.  I made the Chicken with Mango and Ginger.

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Not being a huge fan of spicy foods, I went easy on the jalapeño on my packet.  Somehow it managed to impart a small amount flavor without much heat so it worked well for me.  The ginger infused the chicken breast and the mango kept it nice and juicy.  (Warning: the mango also made the entire packet pretty juicy so be sure to serve it with something that can absorb a lot of liquid — I went with coconut rice.  It was a good decision.)  This was a delicious recipe and I will most likely make it again in the future, especially when I need a tropical escape!  I also think I might start pairing chicken and mango more often, grilled for example, or in a sandwich.  Yeah, it’s a good match.

Next, I made the Eggs with Mushroom and Spinach.

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I’m not going to lie to you.  I didn’t think this one was worth the effort of cutting the parchment (let alone any of the actual packaging of the ingredients into said parchment.  To be fair, I did make this recipe on a day when I had chills and aches set in by mid afternoon (yep, the flu) so I may not have been a totally unbiased opinion on that day.  I definitely didn’t feel any desire to finish eating my packet.  I maybe made it through half.  It was really plain and more or less boring.  And when considering the effort put into fixing it, it just wasn’t worth it.  I think I’d skip the parchment next time and just make a scramble.  So much easier and the separate parts would work a bit better together that way.

Needless to say, after coming down with the flu, I didn’t do much cooking for a while.  I ate soup.  Soup from a can.  Because I didn’t have the energy to eat anything else.  And after the flop that was the eggs with mushrooms and spinach I wasn’t particularly tempted to make another parchment recipe.  But I did.  I made the Potatoes, Leeks and Carrots in Parchment

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It may not look that thrilling, but it tasted pretty decent.  This was another instance where I would normally have just roasted these vegetables together, because vegetables are more delicious when roasted.  But! This is the light issue (hence all the parchment) and by using steam trapped in the parchment to cook these veggies, they stayed pretty flavorful and required much less fat than when roasted.  In fact, the fat was optional in this method of cooking, so it has its perks.

Finally, I made the Broccoli, Asparagus, and Snap Peas in Parchment.  And as a bonus, I also made the Herbed Orzo.

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This is probably the one parchment recipe that I think really benefits from this cooking method.  Each of these vegetables is still super flavorful when steamed and don’t necessarily require anything added to make them awesome.  We liked it so much that we made it two days in a row.  Try it.  Trust me.  

The Herbed Orzo was slightly less exciting, but still an alternative to rice or potatoes so it might be a good thing to add to the mix.  The main issue with this recipe is that I found out after I made it that the bear doesn’t like dill.  And of course, I had decided that the main herb flavor would be dill… I ate a lot of orzo that week.

And now, G will fill you in on the final parchment recipe! Go G!!!

Thanks, B!  I’m winding this one up with the Salmon with Green Beans and Lemon Zest

There's fish under there somewhere...

There’s fish under there somewhere…

This was definitely good and certainly easy enough.  I like cooking things en papillote (that’s French for “No, G, not papillon.  You’re thinking of the dog…or the Steve McQueen movie.”), but I will admit it makes me slightly nervous.  I don’t think I’d be able to make B’s chicken dish without ruining it by busting open the packet and checking it.  But I grew to love the method by making a very similar dish from a Rachael Ray recipe.  She inelegantly calls it Spanish Fish in a Sack.  You’ll see that recipe is much more involved than the one in EF here.  I think this recipe is a good, simple option.  The wide pieces of peel are a nice touch.  But…if I’m bothering to make parchment packets, I’m probably going to go with the Rachael Ray fish sack.  It’s just too good. 

Broccoli and salmon, in that order

Glazed Salmon with Spicy Broccoli

"This is my daughter, Dottie.  This is my other daughter, Dottie's sister."

“This is my daughter, Dottie. This is my other daughter, Dottie’s sister.”

This broccoli will haunt my dreams.  D and I were both very angry that there wasn’t more.  The glaze was nice on the salmon, but the broccoli was the real star of the show.  It’s just soy sauce, vegetable oil, rice vinegar, garlic, and some hot pepper flakes, but the combination is magic.  You’ve never been more excited to eat broccoli, trust me.  Oh, D did bump up the amount of garlic by half.  That couldn’t have hurt.  The best way I can try to explain how this broccoli tastes is that it tastes like really good Chinese food.  It is sweet, sour, and salty, but not greasy.

It’s an easy and quick recipe too.  D felt that the big problem with this recipe was that it calls for cooked brown rice in the ingredients list rather than giving you instructions on when to start the rice, how to cook it, and so on.  I’m of two minds about this one.  On one hand, we don’t need to be told how to cook rice, do we?  On the other hand, Everyday Food recipes are always giving the instructions on how to cook pasta.  Boiling pasta is arguably easier and more intuitive than cooking rice.  It is helpful to know if maybe you should start the rice first or take care of some other prep first.  All this is moot, however, because we used the instant brown rice from Aldi.  No recipe is going to include instructions on how to make instant rice.

Back to the real issue here: why am I not eating that broccoli right now?  This cup of tea, could it be filled with broccoli instead?  I think D and I will keep this recipe in mind, but probably just for the broccoli.

Dinner You Really Can Make in 15 Minutes!!!

One irksome problem that I am finding with the November 2007 issue… lots of recipes that are not online.  Luckily this one is super simple and I can relate to you easily.

Salmon Steaks (or filets) with White-Bean and Olive Saute

*adapted from page 144, November 2007, issue 47

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Here’s the deal:

Take your salmon (we were cooking for two, but the recipe is based on serving four) drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper and pop them under your broiler.  My broiler is underneath my stove so I just made a little “pan” out of aluminum foil and slid them in.  The recipe suggests you line your pan with aluminum foil anyway.  I set the timer for 10 minutes, but I took them out after 9 because they were nice and opaque and getting a lovely golden crust.

Right after you put your fish in the broiler, open a can (or two) of cannellini beans and rinse them.  Add some olive oil to a frying pan and toss the rinsed beans in.  Add in a good handful of kalamata olives as you go.  I cut them in half  to spread the salty goodness.  Then I cut a lemon in half and one half of that into wedges.

After the 9 minutes, I took out the salmon and squeezed the lemon half into the bean and olive mix.  Then that was it!  I plated it up and served the fish with the lemon wedges.

I opted to go with salmon filets rather than steaks because the fish monger kindly informed me as I was trying to make up my mind that the steaks still had bones.  Obvious decision.

The end result, which literally took 12ish minutes was really good.  The fish was perfectly cooked.  It had a nice crust, but the fish inside was super moist and flaky.  The bean and olive mixture wasn’t anything that special but it also took less than 10 minutes to complete, so you can’t really complain.  I think maybe a little diced tomato and garlic might have gone along nicely with it.

Fennel! Fennel! Fennel! Fennel! (And an Acorn Squash and some salmon)

In case that title wasn’t clear, this post is about fennel.  Fennel in four different recipes to be exact.  G and I split the load again, so I’m going to start off by talking about roasted fennel and the acorn squash recipe that I served it with.

One of these days I will get some better lighting...

One of these days I will get some better lighting…

So the acorn squash is actually very similar to the way I grew up eating it.  My mom used to make baked acorn squash all winter long, except she would serve it with honey and a little butter.  Aside from the honey, the process is the same.  I found the molasses flavor of the brown sugar to be really pleasant with the acorn squash so I will probably be using it again sometime.  (Did I mention that I have a half bushel of acorn squash waiting in my pantry?)

I have also made roasted fennel before, but I usually serve it with fish.  This time I served it with a pork loin I made using a maple mustard glaze.  The fennel was a delicious complement to the pork flavor.  I’ll definitely be combining them again.

Next I made a Fennel and Potato Bake.

Still bubbling!!!

Still bubbling!!!

I have to say here, the recipe requires you to thinly slice two fennel bulbs.  If you have one, I would recommend using a mandoline for this.  Slicing with a knife is a bit rough because the fennel keeps falling apart and it is really difficult to get even slices.

The recipe itself is pretty simple, though it requires a decent amount of prep time if you are doing all the slicing with a knife (seriously folks, use a mandoline).  You just sprinkle some asiago, salt and pepper between layers of fennel and potato then pour a little cream over the top.

The outcome is awesome.  The texture is super satisfying and the flavor is amazing! As soon as I get a mandoline, I’m making this again!

Passing the torch to G!

Thanks, B!  First, of all, fear the mandoline.  I once came home from school to find nothing but a mandoline, some carrots, a lot of blood, and no mom.  This is back before cell phones.  She had cut off the tip of her thumb using a mandoline.  She was fine.  It was just a slice of skin, and it grew back.  How’s that for a good story for a cooking blog?  Anyway, it scared me off of mandolines for life.  I use a knife or the slicing blade on a food processor.  Mandolins on the other hand, are a lovely instrument.  😉

I made the linguine with fennel and tuna and the Fennel, orange, and parsley salad.  I served the fennel and orange salad as a side with the Salmon “steaks” with hoisin glaze, so I’ll talk about that too.  And you’ll find out why “steaks” is in quotes.

Linguine with fennel and tuna

It's difficult to photograph this many shades of off-white and biege in one picture...

It’s difficult to photograph this many shades of off-white and biege in one picture…

I adjusted this recipe by using thin whole wheat spaghetti instead of linguine.  Other than that, I followed the recipe as written.  It winds up being nice.  I don’t believe I’d ever had cooked fennel before.  It takes on a more subtle and nutty flavor than the sharp anise flavor you get with fresh fennel.  The capers added a nice briny bite.  The tuna grounded the whole dish and gave it some richness.  I like that even the bites that didn’t have a little of everything still tasted like something.  Too often with these Everyday Food pasta recipes, you get a mouthful of plain noodles and wonder why you bothered.  I’ll get to the whole wheat pasta with kale and fontina later…  The biggest problem with this recipe is how unappetizing it looks.  Aside from the green fennel fronds, it’s all kind of beige.  Ick.

Fennel, orange, and parsley salad

Salmon “steaks” with hoisin glaze

Salmon and fennel, new best friends

Salmon and fennel, new best friends

There’s also a video of this recipe online.  It looks like it’s from the old PBS show.  I miss that show.  The video teaches you how to segment an orange.  She (Allie?) points out that you can use the stalks to make stock.  That’s a good tip.  Mostly the video just serves to make me nostalgic for the PBS show and wish I had a knife sharp enough to segment an orange that quickly and cleanly.

The fennel salad is very nice and bright.  The recipe called for black olives, which I found confusing.  When I think “black olives” I still think of the dopey little olives you get on a pizza.  Taking a look at the picture in the magazine, it was clear that these were no pizza olives.  But what were they?  D wound up buying something at the store from the olive bar.  They were terribly salty.  The video says to use Kalamata olives, which makes perfect sense.  So why don’t you say that, Everyday Food?!?!  This recipe also represents the last gasp of the parsley from our garden.  Sunrise, sun barely shine on garden resulting in stilted growth and wan looking plants with no fruit on them, sun set.

As for the salmon, I really wish I would have bought salmon steaks.  That’s what the recipe actually calls for.  We had a giant side of salmon instead.  It was fine salmon, it’s just that when you broil a piece of fish that’s not uniform thickness, you wind up with an overcooked end and an undercooked end.  The glaze is awesome.  Why am I not putting hoisin sauce and orange juice on more things?  That could have been the dressing for the salad…  Of course, now that I have the 1/2 a jar of hoisin sauce, I’m facing the dreaded condiment glut in the fridge.  If I cook my leftover rice noodles, can I put hoisin sauce on them and kill two orphan ingredients with one stone?

Fastest salmon in the west

Salmon with mustard-dill sauce

served with snap peas

served with snap peas

Serves 4. Prep time: 5 minutes. Total time: 15 minutes (really)

  • 4 skinless salmon filets (about 6 ounces each)
  • coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 T grainy mustard
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 2 T snipped fresh dill
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  1. Preheat oven to 450.  Place salmon on a rimmed baking sheet; sea on with salt and pepper.  Roast until salmon is opaque, 8-10 minutes.  Seriously.
  2. Meanwhile, in a  small bowl, stir together the mustards, sugar, and 1 T water until smooth.  Stir in dill and scallion.  Serve salmon with sauce.  Do a cartoonish double take at the clock.  High five the nearest human or cat.

-adapted from Everyday Food, Issue 45, September 2007, p. 41

I love it when a recipe that says it will take 15 minutes actually takes 15 minutes.  This is one of those recipes.

How does it taste?  Quite nice!  It has a bright flavor.  I thought the brown sugar was a good touch to balance out the other sour and salty flavors in the sauce.  Plus, if you already bought the dill to make the dill feta scramble in this issue, then you might as well make this one too.