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.

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