Story last updated at 7/2/2014 - 2:56 pm
My family was not affluent or wealthy by any means. My father was a sergeant first class in the army and my mom worked occasionally until my brothers and I were teenagers and then she worked full-time and eventually started her own insurance agency.
Although we weren't millionaires by any means, we did as well as most average families. We didn't have top of the line things but we had good things that were very nice. If my brothers and I wanted the designer shoes or clothes we had to buy them for ourselves. My older brother Chris was the best dressed in the family. He worked part-time at a bank and dressed the part. I worked at a florist and spent most of my paycheck on eating out for lunch. Even then I had a desire for good food.
Our beginnings were modest, but my parents made sure we ate well. Both parents are fabulous cooks and I have learned much from them. A key tip I still use is that it's perfectly okay to buy an expensive ingredient for a special recipe. Something like a really fine olive oil or sea salt is great to enhance a dish. You may not use them for everyday cooking in a casserole, but to top a velvety soup or beautiful salmon filet - absolutely.
I've heard that the better the ingredients, the better the recipe. I'm on the fence with this. Naturally you want the best, but if it's a bit out of your budget, does that mean your dish will be less flavorful?
I don't think so.
I think using a few key ingredient switcheroos such as cremini mushrooms for the standard button mushroom, or Alderwood smoked sea salt for plain table salt can make a big difference. What I enjoy the most is using simple ingredients to create a dish with complex layers of flavors.
Last week, I attended a wine pairing dinner at the Rookery Café. The first course was a very simple - aged parmesan cheese with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar. Oh my gosh. Sweet, tangy, salty, savory, all in one delicious bite. It was incredible. When Chef Beau and Travis announced the opening of their new store, Panhandler's Provisions, which would stock imported Italian meats, cheeses and other products, I was over the moon with joy. Needless to say, I was even more ecstatic when they gave me a sneak peak before they officially opened.
The store is small and cozy and shelves are lined with oils, vinegars and other Italian goodies. The chilled display housed assorted cheeses and meats, including the amazing parmesan. I eagerly purchased a small portion of cheese and a bottle of the 12-year aged balsamic vinegar served at the wine dinner.
I shared the cheese and a drizzle or two of the vinegar with my coworkers and scurried home with the remainder. After sharing these delights with my neighbors, I started thinking about how else I could use the vinegar. It's a bit too rich and decadent for a salad and too expensive to be in a marinade. It is one of those ingredients that enhances the flavor of a dish and gives it that little sumthin' sumthin'. Ideas started flying around my head and I landed on grilled stone fruit - specifically, peaches and plums. The natural sugars in the fruit caramelized with the smoky embers from the grill. I drizzled a bit of the vinegar on them and topped with a simple homemade whipped cream. It was simple, it was delicious and it had two main ingredients: fruit and balsamic vinegar.
This week I present a simple dish with a sophisticated flare: Grilled Stone Fruit. I urge any foodie to splurge on a few high-end items such as a good balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. These few ingredients and make a simple dish extraordinary.
Until next time...
Eat and enjoy,
GRILLED STONE FRUIT
1 large peach
1 large plum
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
½ cup whipped cream
Preheat grill to medium high. If you do not have a grill, use a grill pan, it works great too. Cut fruit into wedges and remove the pit, or stone. Place on grill and cook for about 1 minute. Turn to grill other side additional minute. Remove from grill and drizzle vinegar to evenly flavor. Top with whipped cream. Delicious when served warm.