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.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Look Ma! I Baked! - savory apple tart


Sometimes I just get antsy. Sometimes I just need to cook something special occasion without having the occasion (because I might not actually have anyone to feed it to). This week has been like that a lot. I have been spending the better part of this week looking for a job - and the rest of it cooking elaborately to ease the stir-craziness of looking for a job. When I came across Elise Bauers' recipe on Simply Recipes for an Apple Walnut Gorgonzola Tart I practically fell out of my chair.

Last night I had a long discussion of whether I could only have one cheese for the rest of my life what would it be. The idea made me so sad to live with just one type of cheese that I had to use one of the cheeses that would have been sacrificed because it wouldn't have made the cut as my one and only.

I don't really use recipes when I'm cooking at home. I'm more of a "look at the picture and get inspired to make something kind of like that amazing thing in the picture" kind of girl. I'll read through a recipe for the main points (like oven temperatures and times). If I really respect the chef or have no where near the knowledge to make the recipe up on my own (like pastries), I try to follow the recipe most of the way exactly the first time I make it. I will probably never again make it that exact same way, but variation and experimentation are the names of my games.

I already have a pie crust recipe that I like, but this recipe is a 5 minute breeze if you use a pre-made pie crust. This recipe was just about the fillings for me. Fresh thyme, granny smith apples, Gorgonzola...?!? I might be in-love. I loved that it was an idea that would satisfy my elaborate baking kind of mood but wasn't another dessert.

Elise's recipe is beautiful in it's simplicity. Literally a handful of ingredients cocooned in a pie crust nestled together in the oven. I don't have any maple syrup in the house right now (ironically I've planned a breakfast-for-dinner dinner party for tomorrow) so I just used sugar (and reduced the amount by half). I also substituted pistachios for walnuts and it was a really pleasant change of pace (not trying to be fancy - it's just randomly what I happened to have).

I definitely don't think the lemon juice is optional and actually added some lemon zest to mine, which I loved for the added balance of tartness. Gotta love Granny Smith. I don't know the ol' lady, but I owe her a debt of love. I also added both salt and pepper (1/2 teaspoons each freshly ground) to the mix as I love the savory side of this story and salt enhances even the best sweets.

Being me I'm sure I ended up with almost twice the cheese she called for, but my tart was more than happy for it. This tart would be remarkable with goat cheese as well. :)

I topped it with some freshly grated nutmeg and put it in the oven.

See Ma - Packman likes it too!
I adore this tart! It's like a perfect cheese course served up in a pie crust (and who doesn't love pie crust!?!). That's kind of how I worked through my flavor changes. Despite having never made this tart before I have had a lot of cheese plates and it if sounded like it would work on a cheese plate then it will probably work out alright. Speaking of which - I think I'll use honey next time instead of sugar...

The Gorgonzola melted its way through every layer and still had enough pockets of creaminess to ooze. After my first huge slice, and I mean Packman's mouth huge, I had a revelation! The one thing that would take this tart over the top... a drizzle of a balsamic reduction of course. :)

My Version of the Savory Apple Tart
(for baking instructions please follow this link to's original post)
  • 1 packaged, flat pie crust
  • 1/2 cup pistachios (or walnuts), chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or blue cheese)
  • 1+ tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1.5 Tbsp honey
  • 2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice 
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • freshly grated nutmeg
Finish with a balsamic reduction. :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sometimes You Just Need Something Fancy - candied orange peels

I am not one of those people who shy's away from extraordinary ingredients. Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to go buying a Berkshire pig leg without knowing I have a seriously great recipe/occasion for one. Yet my heart thrills to see the fancy packaging of the Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread on my shelf and will occasionally concede in spending the extra $1 more than nutella just to have that moment of love for myself. 

My favorite "fancy" ingredients are my citrus sugar and an herb-infused butter (both of which I make habitually whenever I have the proper leftovers). They are both incredibly simple and inexpensive, but when you actually have them to use you can't help but feel a bit lavish. This week I felt in desperate need of a nap everyday. I felt drained and unfocused, so I set about making something elaborate just because, just to pamper myself.

I went to visit my friend Carolyn once and she was casually making candied orange peels like it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing. I, of course, thought she was extravagantly crazy. I've never even used candied orange peels, much less felt the need to make my own. It seemed an overly fussy thing to make. After Carolyn burned her first batch to udder black tar (I guess friends can be distracting) - we went to the store for more oranges. Not only was she crazy enough to make candied orange peels - but she was willing to make them again immediately!

I was intrigued. Apparently she has a bread recipe that makes all this worth it.

Sitting at her table helping her remove any signs of pith (the white stuff) from the peels - I was beginning to see the attraction to this recipe. It's like knitting - something simple that keeps your hands busy enough to slow your mind and clear your head.

Carolyn would remove all the pith to avoid bitterness, but I found using a pre-boil recipe much easier.

This is probably the only reason that, months later, the idea of making candied orange peels stuck with me. It has my required elements of being both cheap (therefore not a tragedy if it goes awry) and something I can keep around to use later in many variations of experiments. It also has a real element of being methodically relaxing to make and indulgent to have around. So fancy. I mean who really needs candied orange peels available at all times!?! (please take note - I am not an avid baker. clearly.)

Despite having no earthly idea what to do with them if I'm actually successful making these slices of citrus gold I randomly bought oranges for the project anyway. Maybe that's part of what I needed out of this project anyway - a little bit of an adventure. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is open the door to a small inspiration that leads to the need for another small inspiration. I might just end up this week with scones out of this journey into the world of a new ingredient. I could always use more scones in my life.

I have never really gotten into boiling things in simple syrup until it utterly transformed. That's really all it is to candy something like this. It can have all the complexity of caramel with just 3 ingredients. In the last minute there's about 30 seconds between perfectly done and starting to burn, but as I succeeded in grabbing it off the stove in time I can't imagine it's that hard to time. I only burned my fingers lightly on the caramel goodness they're coated in setting them to cool.

I might just have to start boiling things in sugar more often. This is where these experiments get me into trouble...

They look like glowing strips of sunshine. Almost worth making just for how pretty they are. Still not sure what to do with them. They held onto that bite of citrus oil without becoming overly sweet so I imagine they would be great to infuse into baked goods... definitely need to try some scones. I would have to make them thicker if I wanted to dip them in dark chocolate, but as that's a classic pairing - perhaps they need to also infuse some brownies in my near future... yeah - not a bad experiment at all. :)

As an added bonus - my attempt to simultaneously make candied orange slices completely failed (I think it was boiling too rapidly as it pushed all the fruit out of it's shells) and I made a spiced orange syrup to use for some new cocktail ideas. I love when good things come from something going all wrong. :)

Monday, February 7, 2011

National Man-Food Day - aka the Superbowl

I never quite realized how much Superbowl food could mean to me. I mean, I didn't even know what teams were playing until they turned on the game (I'm more of a classic connoisseur of Superbowl commercials kind of girl). But with all the food articles coming out and blog postings, like Smitten Kitchen's drool-inducing "if-you’re-going-to-do-it-you-might-as-well-go-all-the-way" meatball subs, to torture us. I was ready to go all in. I called up my guys and invited myself to their house to watch the game.

"Great. Come on over. ...but I'm already making dinner and I'm not sure if there will be enough for you..."

What's for dinner? Baked snapper, wild rice and broccoli with parsnips.

There was a moment of dead silence on my end of the phone as my head was shocked with the double-take of absorbing that menu.


I have never craved man-food more than hearing those words on a Superbowl Sunday. Where are the buffalo wings? The pizza? The nachos? All those amazing foods that will leave that beautiful orange grease* on my plate? (*a sure sign that it is man-food approved)

*How is it possible that this orange grease is so alluring? Don't over-think it. It just is.
No worries. I'll bring my own dinner.

I stop at BKLYN Larder and get myself a meatball and provolone sandwich (one of my favorite's from their artisan sandwich menu) and a side of macaroni + cheese. The shop is already getting cleaned up for the night, but their guys (and it was all the guys working Superbowl Sunday there - another odd conundrum) stopped everything to get me properly set up to celebrate as I was now referring to it - "National Man-Food Day." They even gave me a large serving of chili topped with melting cheese and red onion in appreciation of my newly discovered man-food reverence.

As I wait for the subway the bag of food is warm and the wafts of savory temptations making me excited to be celebrating properly. Even with all this it was still hard, walking past the pizza shops on my way to their apartment, to not stop and buy wings to top off my extravaganza, but let's be honest - for all of my man-food esteem - I'm still just a girl and probably won't even make it through to the chili.

For some people the Superbowl is actually about the football game. I can't really imagine that. For me it's the dude's version of Thanksgiving. It's an excuse to celebrate all the coziness of the rib-sticking foods we have a hard time allowing ourselves to love all year as much as we actually want to. It's a time to get together with friends and eat, drink and be merry. It has all the makings of a national holiday - including actually being celebrated by most the nation.

So for however gratifying it is to see the guys in your life eye your plate of steaming hot man-food while they eat baked fish - there's nothing quite like sharing the love. To my guys - next year I promise I'll host a full party.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Consider the Onion - a lesson in knife safety

I'm not actually someone with a lot of pet peeves. Sure ridiculously behavior and illogical arguments can annoy me (not loosing my patience with my roommate as I write this...), but most of these grievances don't actually build up on a list for me.

However, a few things do - and oh how do they! One of my biggest kitchen pet peeves is watching a friend or loved one being a danger to themselves while calling it cooking. I'm talking about the proper use of a knife.

Most people are scared of those big shiny sharp things hanging around in the kitchen and go for the smallest, dullest one they can find. They think it's less intimidating than the bigger knives, but their choice is actually much more dangerous.

Let's consider an onion. An onion has all the qualities of a perfect knife lesson.
  • it's round (oh the dangerous ways people try to cut potatoes - don't get me started!)
  • it's frustrating to chop (there are only so many tears I'm willing to give any one person/place/thing)
  • it's crazy delicious and therefore needs to be chopped all the time.
So how do you attack this beast of tears? To being with you need a plan. For cutting a round object the first thing you want to do is give yourself a flat (and therefore stable and safe) place to work from. So you cut the onion in half and place the flat side down. This is a good plan of attack for any chopping task.

Note: I haven't even bothered to peel the onion yet - I find efficiency is important when working with things that can make me cry.
After securing my onion in a safe position I can now go about peeling the pesky skin off.

Simply cut off one end of the onion halves.

Now you can reach under the layers and peel easily.
Clean as a baby's bottom after a bath.
Ok - now we have something to work with. Your onions may now be beautiful clean pearls of delicious-ness, but they will still make you cry worse than the first time you saw Titanic. So where do you go from here? Well now is a perfect time to NOT go hacking at these pearls with reckless abandon. Don't fear. Delicacy, economy and planning will get you through.

Putting your knife point down first - place slices down the length of your onion. Don't slice through the butt of the onion - the whole thing will fall apart of you if you do. Leaving the end in tact will give you something to hold while keeping your fingers away from the blade at the end. You will need to hold onto things - make a plan for it.

Now you can slice through your onion safely while it falls away from your blade in a beautiful little dice with minimal chopping and tears.

So beautiful. Just a pile of potential waiting to hit the pan...
It can be so easy - but let's not forget to use a knife that's the proper size for what we're cutting. It should be large enough to cut through your onion half with the tip touching down first and cutting through the whole thing without needing to lift the tip. Anything smaller and you might as well be whittling your vegetables.
My favorite all-around knife is a 7-Inch Santoku Knife
And most importantly - you need to always, always, always use a sharp knife. When you use a dull blade you have to apply more pressure and are more likely to maim yourself. Get used to using a sharp knife and slicing and dicing just your vegetables will be so much easier than you feared.

Someday I dream of these all being Wusthof Classic Ikon  *sign*