preparing food

Let’s talk about cheating. Not “what kind of woman are you” cheating but “how did you make such an amazing meal in 20 minutes?” cheating. There are a couple of key ingredients that if you keep on hand will give you an amazing meal.

Reduced Balsamic Vinegar
Take a bottle of balsamic vinegar, a cheap one. Pour it all into a small saucepan on high heat. Now let that baby boil. As it boils it’s going to reduce, let it do it’s thing. Don’t stir it, watch it — don’t even think about it for about 10 minutes. And whatever you do, don’t stick your face over it and breathe it in. Flip through a magazine, read The Weekly Sauce, have a glass of wine. After that 10 minutes go take a look, you want it reduced by about half. As it cools it will continue to thicken into a heavenly syrup — sweet and rich. This is perfect on grilled meat, or drizzled over some thick slices of tomato and mozzarella.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
These guys are magic. They take a little time, like most things worthwhile. But oh the pay off! Preheat your oven to 250°. Take a bunch of Roma tomatoes, slice them in half, scrape out the seeds with a spoon or melon baller. Toss them with a generous drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and the smallest pinch of sugar. Maybe some dried basil, thyme or oregano… whatever you like. Dump them onto a cookie sheet in a single layer, skin side down, and let them dry in the oven for a couple hours. When they cool down, toss them in an airtight container and store them in the fridge. Amazing on a sandwich, tossed into pastas or a salad.

Lemon Zest
Grating some zest off a lemon takes about 5 seconds with a microplane grater and will dramatically alter whatever you add it to. Mix some lemon zest into softened butter and put a bit on steamed veggies… you’re a superstar. Throw some lemon zest into a boxed white cake mix and that cake will taste homemade. Mix some zest with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs and its an awesome marinade.

Of course, you can go out and buy that already prepared stuff in the grocery store. But why, when in about 60 seconds you can throw this together and seal it in an airtight container in your fridge. It will keep a few weeks and there are no limits to what you can do with it. Mix it with some mayonnaise for a sandwich spread, reduce some heavy cream and stir the pesto in for a pasta sauce, layer on top of goat cheese and to with chopped dried tomatoes for a killer cheese spread. All you need to do is throw these ingredients into a food processor: 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, 1 1/2 cups pine nuts, 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese, 3 cloves garlic, and 1/2 tsp salt. Pulse it all together till chopped. With the processor running, slowly add 1/2 cup of olive oil. Chill, and voila!

Chocolate Ganache
Take a pint of heavy cream and cook it on high heat to scald. Have 10 ounces of chocolate in a bowl — chips, shavings, pieces, whatever. I love milk chocolate but go to town with your favorite. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk till smooth. Let cool at room temperature. you can use this as it is to ice a cake or brownie. Fold into fresh whipped cream. Beat with some softened butter for a chocolate buttercream. Drizzle over ice cream. It’s chocolate — use your imagination. If you’re having a romantic dinner, make a little extra. Who says this has to go on food?

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