By Cheryle Finley
JOPLIN, Mo. —
I'm sure I could count on one hand the number of times I've used balsamic vinegar. Maybe even on just my thumb.
At last weekend's Taste of Home Cooking School, culinary specialist Jamie Dunn used balsamic vinegar in a couple of delicious recipes, so I went on a quest to find out more about this increasingly popular vinegar. More complex than red wine vinegar, it's made from the grape pressings that have not been allowed to ferment into wine, making it sweet and sour at the same time.
For the scoop on this, I turned to Wikipedia: Known only in Italy up until about 25 years ago, authentic balsamic vinegar is a rich, glossy brown color with a syrupy consistency, aged for 12 to 25 years or more, causing it to be pricey at anywhere from $50 to over $500 a bottle.
During the aging process, it's moved once a year from barrel to barrel, making the rounds among different barrels, each made from one of seven approved woods that add distinct flavor elements.
The second level of balsamic vinegar, condimento, is aged less than 12 years and can sell for up to $150 a bottle. The commercial grade that's used for sauces and dressings is mass produced with no aging involved.
Rule of thumb? If used alone, the expensive stuff is the only way to go, because it's good enough for sipping. But for our everyday dishes where balsamic vinegar is mixed with other ingredients, off-the-shelf quality does just fine. You may need to test a couple of bottles to find that most suits your liking, because they will differ a bit.
If you can find a commercial grade version made by companies that produce the good stuff, you are probably going to get a good product. I know I won't be buying a bottle of the aged balsamic vinegar, but I'll certainly go for a good bottle of commercial grade.
During the recent Taste of Home Cooking School, participants received a goodie bag that contained a case of Swanson seafood flavor boost. That's right, a case. Each box contains four flavor packets, and each case contains 10 boxes.
What to do with all that concentrated broth? Don't worry, I have found some great recipes, such as Asian shrimp stir-fry, seafood bisque, creamy seafood puffs, crab cakes and easy baked fish or shrimp. I will share some of these next week. I'm looking forward to using up the entire case. Look on your grocer's shelf for vegetable, chicken and beef flavor boosts, too.
This past week was a mixture of old and new. The old was the pork tenderloin lunch I enjoyed at Hot Rodz Grill, which brought back memories of a Big Ben at Goettel's drive-in many years ago. How much did I enjoy it? So much that I returned the next day and ordered the same thing!
The new salad I tried was prepared by my friends at McAlister's. The pecan-berry salad is so tasty, with fresh blueberries and strawberries, that it's sure to be popular. It's a close second to my fave, the Savannah chopped salad.
My family had a fabulous breakfast at Granny Shaffer's on Range Line over the weekend, and I'm not sure which was best Ñ the food or the service. Thank you, Shasta, for taking such good care of us, and thank you to the cooks for the best hillbilly hash browns ever.
I get to spend my birthday Tuesday with Carol Parker on KSN-TV for "Cooking with Carol." We will look at some of my mother's favorite recipes, just in time for Mother's Day. I will probably toss in some of my daughter's mother's favorite recipes as well as my grandson's mother's favorites and celebrate some of our cooking traditions.
I hope everyone who attended the Taste of Home Cooking School Saturday had as good of a time as I did. Thanks to The Joplin Globe for bringing them to Joplin for lots of door prizes, cooking tips and recipes. I left with the "Southern Favorites" cookbook and chose today's recipes from the more than 200 recipes available in its pages.
I recently read an article that gave reasons for not buying precooked bacon, which I do all the time. The only reason that I thought held any water was that precooked bacon doesn't leave any bacon fat, unlike when frying regular bacon in a skillet, which is what you need to do for today's potato salad recipe. The cooking school audience member who wanted to add bacon to everything should find this recipe appealing. You will also need some white balsamic vinegar. This recipe makes a big bowl of salad.
The addition of the Worchestershire sauce to the stuffed peppers adds a little zing. Be sure to drain the peppers upside down after their hot water bath, so they will be good and dry for stuffing.
For dessert, we dress up a box brownie mix with a little extra chocolate and crunch. Have a great week and happy eating!
Next generation German potato salad
4 pounds small red potatoes, quartered
10 bacon strips, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup water
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
Place potatoes in Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels with slotted spoon. In bacon drippings, sautŽ the onion, celery and green pepper until tender. Stir in the flour, sugar, salt and pepper until blended.
Combine water and vinegar; stir into vegetable mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Drain potatoes and place in large serving bowl. Pour dressing over potatoes; add bacon and toss to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers. Yields 14 servings.
Tangy stuffed peppers
4 large green peppers
1 pound ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
11/2 cups cooked long-grain rice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1/3 cup water
Additional Parmesan cheese, optional
Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds. Finely chop pepper tops; set aside.
In a large saucepan, cook whole peppers in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water; set aside.
In a large skillet, cook the beef, onion and chopped peppers over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender; drain. Remove from heat; stir in rice, cheese, 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and salt. Spoon into peppers.
Place in greased 2-quart baking dish. Combine tomato sauce, water and remaining Worcestershire sauce; drizzle over peppers. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the peppers are tender. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan cheese if desired. Yields 4 servings.
Peanut butter brownie bars
1 (9-by-13-inch) package fudge brownie mix
12 peanut butter cups, chopped
1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
11/4 cups creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
Prepare brownie batter according to package directions. Spread into greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with moist crumbs.
Sprinkle with the peanut butter cups and peanuts. Bake 4 to 6 minutes longer or until chocolate is melted. Cool on wire rack.
Meanwhile, in a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter; stir until smooth. Stir in the cereal, vanilla and salt. Carefully spread over brownies. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before cutting. Yields 36 bars.
Address correspondence to Cheryle Finley, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.