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VOL. 37 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 01, 2013

$600 for balsamic vinegar? Probably not

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Two things I love: lamb chops and balsamic vinegar. Well, those are just two things. Seriously, though, anytime we go to a restaurant that offers lamb chops, that’s what I’m going to order.

But I don’t cook them much. I don’t know why, other than maybe I always want them to be a special dinner, so I save them for a nice meal out. Then there are times when I think I could never find a recipe to make them taste as good as a nice restaurant dinner, so I don’t even attempt. I know that’s crazy because there are some great recipes for lamb chops, like the one I’m featuring this week and have made.

Whatever the reason, my recipe (or recipes) for this week are a nice balsamic-glazed lamb chop and a dessert Brie with balsamic vinegar.

Have you shopped for balsamic vinegar lately? It’s crazy how many brands, ages and prices there are on the shelves. It’s enough to pickle your brain, but I’m going to try to enlighten you (and myself) on the reasons for so many varieties.

First, balsamic vinegar is a condiment originating from Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy. The original and traditional “vinegar” (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) is made from a reduction of cooked white grape “must,” and then aged into vinegar.

The difference in the prices and brands is due to the aging process and where it was bottled.

I have two different bottles of Modena balsamic: one aged eight years and the other 25. The 8-year-old balsamic is very flavorful and packed in a cute little corked bottle. It’s great for vinaigrettes and marinating meats. It’s dark, smells robust and doesn’t stand alone very well. It’s a bit on the thinner side, and has a vinegary aftertaste.

The other balsamic, also from Modena, is 25 years old. This stuff is super special to me, and I am extremely picky about how it’s used. In fact, when I know a certain someone is going to be in my kitchen cooking – someone on the Italian side of the family – I stick it back into a dark corner for safe keeping.

This balsamic is dark and sweetly aromatic. It comes in a fancy, squatty, silver labeled, foil-wrapped and corked bottle – a consorzio-mandated shape.

Just like with the finest virgin olives oils, this balsamic is not for cooking, which destroys its wonderful flavor.

Aged balsamics such as this one are for using right out of the bottle, which is exactly how I like to consume it. My favorite way is to pour a bit into a bowl and dip with some warm, crusty bread. It’s rich, smooth, syrupy, a bit on the sweet side and is great drizzled over vanilla ice cream. It’s like eating a fine chocolate. It is my stash.

There are older aged balsamics, but they get into prices I haven’t been able to talk my husband into spending. You can spend anywhere from $30 to $600 on a bottle of perfectly aged Modena balsamic, and those bottles are wrapped in a red, silver or gold label. The gold label is probably one I will never taste. I’m sure at that price it would cause me heartburn!

Balsamic-glazed Lamb Chops

6-8 lamb chops, cut about 1-inch thick

1/4 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon of pepper, black ground

2 cloves of minced garlic

1/2 cup of orange juice

1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon of honey

1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce

Trim the fat from the chops. Season with salt and pepper. Place the chops in a sealable plastic bag set in a shallow dish. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients; pour them over the chops. Seal; shake to coat the chops. Place them in your refrigerator and marinate them for four to 24 hours, turning occasionally. Drain the chops, reserving the marinade. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the marinade uncovered, until reduced to about a third of a cup; set it aside. Place the chops on the rack of an uncovered grill directly over medium coals. Grill them to the desired doneness, turning and brushing once with marinade halfway through grilling. Allow 12 to 14 minutes for medium-rare doneness [145 degrees] or 15 to 17 minutes for medium doneness [160°F]. Discard remaining marinade.

Puff Pastry with Brie and Balsamic Pears

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons of water
1 pear, sliced
1 pound of Brie cheese
Balsamic vinegar of Modena

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, blend the egg and water to make an egg wash. Cut the pastry into heart shapes about the size of a saucer. Place the pastry on a greased baking sheet and brush the top with the egg wash. Bake the puff pastry for 18 minutes or until golden brown. Once the pastries are done, cut them in half. Place a slice of brie on the bottom half of the pastry and top it with the slices of pear. Put the top of the pastry back on and place back in the warm oven to melt the cheese. Serve warm with some drops of balsamic vinegar of Modena.

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