Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Like That

I found the best little shop the other day. I was wandering through Old Orchard mall (great outdoor mall here in Skokie, except when it's cold which is about 9 months of the year) and noticed a little store called Oil & Vinegar. As you can imagine, I love these culinary shops. Not because I buy a lot of food or cookware, but because they are INSPIRATIONAL. I see a muffin mix so I make homemade muffins. I see a bottle of fancy mustard and decide to make a tilapia filet with mustard sauce. I see a waffle maker and crave waffles but settle for pancakes. It's like that.
So I walked into Oil & Vinegar and was in heaven. On my right was a tasting table with tiny cubes of bread speared with toothpicks arranged on a plate and surrounded by plastic cups filled with vinegar. Another tasting table held cups of oil. Yet another had tastings of salad dressing. The back corner of the store had large vessels holding the oils and vinegars, and empty glass decanters were available for purchase and filling. Oil and vinegar on tap! The Turkish store manager had endless suggestions for every type of oil in his store - use the lemon oil on fish, rosemary infused oil for lamb, or walnut oil in a salad dressing. I wanted to be invited over for dinner. The store had other fun foods too, like specialty chocolate, flavored pasta (squid ink pasta anyone?), fig spreads, honey, spices mixes and rubs, olives, pickles and tapenades. All these foods that make me think of decadence, luxury, and concentrated flavor that satisfies on first taste and doesn't require stuffing myself.
But I wanted to stuff my shopping bag. I restrained myself and picked a only a single delicious white truffle balsamic vinegar to bottle and take home. That night I sprinkled it over a salad of mixed greens, granny smith apples, and goat cheese, letting the cheese soak up a good amount of vinegar. The white truffle adds depth to the balsamic vinegar and would also be delicious as part of a pan sauce for meat.
But if you're going to buy a good balsamic vinegar, there is one thing you must do with it - make dessert. Get some good strawberries or blackberries. You can soak them in the vinegar raw, or cook them down a bit and add the vinegar in to make a compote. Then go into your freezer and find that ice cream you've stashed. I know you have some in there. You don't? That's even better, because then you can get out the ice cream maker and make some almond ice cream in no time. Take a basic vanilla ice cream recipe which requires no cooking, and add in the same amount of almond extract as there is vanilla extract before pouring it in the ice cream maker. When the ice cream is almost frozen, add some chopped toasted almonds. Now serve up a scoop of the almond ice cream with a spoonful of your balsamic vinegar fruit mixture. Drizzle some extra balsamic over the ice cream, and if you're wondering now whether vinegar is really meant to be with ice cream, just put your mind at ease and try a spoonful. And then stock up on vinegar.

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