Monday, March 14, 2011

I've Moved!!

This blog has officially moved to it's new home:

Please check out the new site and leave me comments and feedback. :)

You can also leave me comments on my blog's facebook page. Looking forward to connecting with you soon.

~Balsamic Reductions

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shopping Hungry - the random meal

Did your mother ever give you the advice to never go grocery shopping hungry? Cause my mama did - and she was right! Not only will you end up spending a lot more money than you meant to, but you can also end up with some dangerously random food in your house. Even worse - I fall serious victim to longings that inspire lusts which in turn inspire more cravings. That is exactly what happened to me today.

There I was, innocently going to the store for some ginger ale (aw dang - I forgot the ginger ale!), when I think "I've got some unexpected extra free time today - why don't I make something to post about." Well that is just the kind of free pass I don't need to be giving myself! Distractedly wandering up and down the aisles, a theme starts to develop. Sauerkraut... that would be awesome! Yeah, on a rye grilled cheese with apple cider mustard... Well of course with this on the brain I can't pass up some kielbasa. ...nor could I honestly see the fresh pierogies and not pick some up. Butter fried onions anyone? I'm no saint - I'm just a girl who's clearly missing some good Pennsylvania Dutch food in my diet (though I don't really know how that actually happens to a person).

A few days ago I read Matt Wright's blog post about making his own mustard. Now I'm on a whole new inspiration whirlwind of food projects. Really as soon as mustard or a vinegar based food is a part of my craving (in this case the sauerkraut) there's no stopping it. I really want to get into making my own sauerkraut too - as I can never seem to find any potent enough for my tastes. Add cheese to this mess of cravings and it's all over. I give up. I give in. I can't help myself. I slab some butter in a pan and give in to the randomness.What else can a girl do?

Onions frying, I realize I've never made pierogies myself. Do I have to boil them before I fry them? I take my chances (in retrospect I'd say that's why they ended up rather dry inside and next time I'll boil them first, but no worries - it wasn't something a bit of extra mustard couldn't fix).

At the end of my meal though I have to say my mama was right. Don't shop hungry. I had to put this meal on a pretty blue plate just to distract from the fact that the meal itself was entirely the same brown color and covered in butter. Don't get me wrong, that sandwich might just start a grilled cheese habit in my life, I feel good having a few more portions of pierogies waiting for me in the freezer, and I'm never against frying an entire meal in butter... but I probably would have bought more vegetables for my money if I'd stopped for some tea and biscuits before heading out.

Thanks for the advice Mom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right - stuffed jalapeños

In a classic romantic comedy style - I didn't even like them when I first met them. They had such potential to be loved, but fell flat of any of the excitement that their name built them up to be. What's not to love about stuffed jalapeños? At the beginning of this story - plenty.

I had just moved to the east coast and was being introduced to wonderful world of fried snack foods. They sounded sexy. Starting with a scooped out shell of loveliness, they were filled to the brim with cheese then breaded and fried. I'm not normally one to ever be against something being filled to oozing with melting cheese. I should have fallen in love right there, but something had happened to those jalapeños. Something I wasn't prepared for. They were so filled with cream cheese they had no kick left to them and were fried so dark brown they had no texture of their own to stand on. I love jalapeños for what they are - spicy bites of happiness. Mine is a true love and enough cream cheese can take take the spice out of anything. This love story was not heading in the right direction.

I was prepared to love them, but this is act I and the hero is never ready for victory in act I. As with every good love story my champions were destined to overcome and win my heart, but it was a good ten years before I let them back in my life.

I had been ignoring these disappointing flavorless versions of eating peppers (I could barely buy hot salsa in these parts - what's with the obsession with mild?), but all that changed just a few weeks ago. An old roommate set out to make some jalapeños. They blended in some cheddar to their filling and had such failure at frying that they baked them instead. My interest was peaked (as real cheese will always do).

Cheddar? They could be baked? I'd never seen someone make them at home before... maybe they could be inspiring after all.

The pile of jalapeños I bought were sitting on the counter looking so tempting and flavorful. How could something so beautiful and full of potential have gone so wrong? Maybe they had just been mistreated or lead astray. Maybe they deserved a real chance.

A love like this deserves only what is good and none of what went wrong. I dropped cream cheese from the recipe altogether. Why not treat them more like stuffed peppers than the fried snacks everyone thought of them as? My cheese blend starts to get interesting. Cilantro, fresh corn, tomato, red onion in a minuscule dice... Hell - throw caution to the wind! If this could really be love let's just go all in. Bacon is the love potion that can turn this story around.

I mix everything together and fill all twenty of my jalapeño boats. Topped with cheddar to let them be as pretty as they deserve to be, I put them in the oven to work out their magic.

There's always a scene in every romantic comedy when the characters finally realize that they are made for each other despite their fighting and tension of the rest of the film. We already know it's coming. We saw the stars on the poster together. We know they will fall in love, it's just a matter of watching how it happens. We just hope that the scene is written well enough that we can endure the potential cheesiness of the reveal.


Well this story is no different. A girl like me was never meant to be without this love. Jalapeños with cilantro and real cheese? I never had a chance. I was just waiting for them to live up to their potential. The jalapenos actually taste like a vegetable. They still have some spicy left to them but are filled with flavor and texture. They still ooze (no one ever wanted them to loose that precious quality), but now they string out cheese between crisp pops of fresh summery corn and salty bites of bacon. Now I really am ready to go off and watch my sunset with my spicy bites of happiness.

I'll admit it - I'm in love.

The Madness

  • 14-16 jalapeño peppers*
  • 7 strips cooked bacon (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup red onion (tiny dice)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup diced tomato (tiny dice - discarding the seeds)
  • 1 ear of fresh corn
  • 1/2 cup shredded jack cheese
  • salt + pepper (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • cheddar cheese to top the filled peppers (slices would work more easily that the shredded cheese in my pictures)

The Method
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Slice the jalapeños in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and ribs from each jalapeño with a small pairing knife.

Mix together all the filling ingredients except the cheddar cheese.

Fill each pepper half with the mix and top with a slice of cheddar cheese. Arrange the peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned, and the peppers are cooked.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 28-32 servings*

The Warning
*I know that this is a potentially excessive amount of jalapenos. I myself was only rescued by a roommate coming home for lunch with perfect timing. I tend to always make too much food. You can actually sit and eat a pile of these - they're almost like tortilla free quesadillas, and is actually a gluten-free meal. I recommend waiting for a party or guests coming over if you're not really prepared for the love-fest that these inspire.

Aw yeah. What's not to love now?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Me - a most random bio

25 things you never knew about me (and quite possibly never needed to know).

1. My glasses slide down my nose every time both hands are full carrying something.

2. I only buy really good ice cream - but it will still die freezer-burned forgotten half-full.

3. I start 90% of my blog posts handwritten in a journal.

4. I always have a waiter's wine key at the bottom of my purse.

5. I'm the middle of 5 siblings.

6. My meat intake cut in half when I let a vegetarian move into my house.

7. My bacon intake doubled when I let a vegetarian move into my house.

8. I will always, always, always - no matter how hard I try to remember to pay attention - burn the last pan of cookies.

9. Most of the time when I'm cooking I feel like I'm on a cooking show explaining everything to my audience.

10. I think the only good beer is a sour beer (Yay Lambics!)

11. As a kid mustard was by far my favorite condiment - now it's joined by vinegar and hot sauce as my top three.

12. I think I'm nerdier than my friends realize.

13. I don't love eating my own cooking - I can't stop analyzing it for what I'd do differently next time.

14. I will finally consider myself cool if I ever own a forest green (or sky blue) 1970s VW Beetle and a white surfboard.

15. I think avocados are one of the truly perfect foods.

16. I once heard a quote about a woman saying if she were stranded on a deserted island she would want her mascara - I would want a knife, a pan and rope.

17. I excel at parallel parking.

18. I wore Chuck Taylors even when they weren't cool.

19. I spent most of my childhood climbing trees (preferably picking apples or plums).

20. If I could only have one lunch for the rest of my life it would be grilled fish and avocado over a salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

21. I will never throw away a pair of plaid pants I bought in high school at a thrift store because I never want to be able to deny to myself that I actually wore them.

22. I really like men who can cook - but I adore men who love to eat what I cook

23. Goldfish crackers are my stress food.

24. I take more risks in life than is probably healthy - but I will still never feel the need to go skydiving

25. The one recipe I will never give away is my mom's old-school spaghetti recipe (which even she has mostly forgotten).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An Excuse for a Dinner Party - fresh berry syrup over waffles

If you had an excuse for a dinner party on a Monday, and it was an excuse to upgrade said party to include several desserts and quite a bit more wine than a week day generally deserves, it would also be an excuse to invite new friends to the party.

The thing is, when you're single you can't just ignore Valentine's Day altogether no matter how much you may want to. Because if you try to ignore it you run too high a risk of being reminded it's V-day in the wrong way and it becoming depressing. All those facebook posts from your married friends gushing over each other ring a bell to anyone? Not that I'm holding it against them, it's just a darn good annoying example. The thing is - I don't mind being single on V-day. Cause I really can't imagine it being nearly as much fun if I had to spend it with a guy who felt obligated to get me flowers for no better reason. For me V-day is a day to get your friends together and laugh, eat, drink and solidify our friendships by supporting each other against loneliness. It's the best kind of day for friends sometimes.

We decided the theme for the meal should be bacon and we would make breakfast for dinner (still drooling thinking about bacon waffles...).

I was in charge of making the savory sides. I wasn't sure if I would be in the mood for a sweet dinner and hedged my bets against waffles with a bacon jalapeno hash. Turns out I bet wrong. The hash was completely forgettable when compared to the fresh berry syrup I invented for our waffles.

I had randomly gotten a pint of strawberries and blueberries that were abnormally well priced for February. Yes, I still try and infuse healthy elements to my meals even if it's a bacon-based dinner. It's about finding balance. I start munching on the berries while I'm cooking and to my shock they were the best blueberries I've ever eaten! (Apparently it must be blueberry season in Chile) Suddenly inspired by their bright almost citrus-y sweetness, I started to make a compote to top our waffles. My mom would just sprinkle a bit of sugar over berries and let them sit until they produced juice. That was as simple as it ever needed to be. However, I had just learned to candy orange peels and was sure I could do more to bring out their flavor than just adding sugar. I needed an experiment. 

I set a cup of water to boil with a half cup of sugar. For good measure I put in some of my candied orange peels for an orange flavor and then dumped what berries I hadn't already eaten into the pot (about half a pint each blueberries and chopped strawberries). When it started to make a beautiful purple syrup I tasted it. Ugh - just sweet. It was loosing everything that made those blueberries so irresistible! Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries... their appeal is so much more than their sweetness, it's their bold balance with tartness that makes them worth craving.

No worries, the perfect counterpart to blueberries is lemon. This just needed lemon juice. But somehow I was out of lemon juice (I know - how does that even happen?!!). Horror. Lime juice is the next obvious go-to, but I didn't really want it to taste like lime. I put a whole bunch of lime juice in anyway and set into looking through my cupboards for inspiration.

You can make fun of me later, but I tell you the truth - it's one of the most versatile ingredients in my kitchen... I pull out my white balsamic vinegar. Though brighter and less sweet than it's aged dark counterpart, white balsamic still has that ready-to-drink quality that make the sweeter vinegars balance. I start pouring it in. Not just a splash mind you, I pour in easily as much vinegar as I did lime juice. A revelation of flavors and balances erupts. Seriously the dessert makers of the world are underestimating vinegars as a source of beauty and inspiration. I am in love.

We told stories and laughed. We make plain waffles heaven with a bacon crumble and berry syrup. Who would believe that a Monday could be this good?

The Method & The Madness

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon candied orange peels (optional)
  • 1 1/2 pints berries (preferably blueberries, but a mix is great too)
  • about 1/4 cup lime juice*
  • about 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar* 
*add these to taste (as I didn't measure while making this) but keeping roughly equal portions of each
Boil the water, sugar and orange peels. Add your berries. When the syrup turns a lovely dark purple add your lime juice and vinegar. Simmer for another 2 minutes and let cool before serving.