A year ago, we celebrated Mother’s Day in Los Angeles, CA. It was, as you might expect, a stunning day with brilliant blue skies and billowing cotton candy clouds as far as the eye could see. We strolled through Hollywood reading off the names on star after star on the sidewalk. Mr. Second Helpings and The Little Helping grinned while I snapped their photo with the “feet” of R2-D2 and C-3PO in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. For lunch we had our very first In-N-Out Burgers and they were as good as everyone told us they would be.
From Hollywood we drove into Griffith Park and visited the majestically appointed Griffith Observatory. The view from the observatory is unmatched. I posed for a picture holding the Hollywood sign in the palm of my hand. Little Helping loved climbing around the base of the rooftop telescopes while Mr. Second Helpings and I took in the magnitude of the city below. If not for the boundary of the Pacific Ocean who is to say how far the tightly packed buildings could have sprawled!
I have many other treasured memories from last year’s trip. This week I have been thinking about visiting the Calabasas Farmers’ Market. It is a wonderful market, and close enough to our friends’ house that we left our car and walked. I kept my eyes peeled for movie and television stars. The Kardashians must be regulars to their neighborhood Saturday market! I wondered if they would be carrying designer canvas grocery bags. (Insert your own inappropriate fruit-squeezing joke. I couldn’t come up with one.)
There were no celebrities to be seen; just incredibly normal looking people browsing berries, veggies, and flowers and carrying normal canvas tote bags. I was only briefly disappointed. One glance at the variety of produce and I forgot all about anything else. The rainbow of fruit and every shade of green imaginable spread abundantly across folding table after folding table. We sampled dripping citrus, swollen berries, thick crusted bread, and then we stopped in front of a booth with no produce – a vinegar booth. Manned by a clean-cut middle-aged man in a white polo and pressed khaki pants he drew us right out of the crowd with a pitch so smooth we didn’t even see it coming. Before we knew what was happening we were having our first tastes of slowly aged balsamic vinegar. I think I saw fireworks! Thick and sweet like molasses, but bold and sharp like regular balsamic vinegar. We were totally hooked. He nearly talked us into a case of the intoxicating syrup, but at the last second we regained control of our thoughts and picked only two. Bottles of traditional and pomegranate-flavored vinegar were slid into nondescript paper bags. Walking away there was a little bit of, “who was that polo-shirted man?” lingering in the air.
I have been rationing the vinegar, using it as a last moment drizzle on pretty much anything from salads to roasts. Now surrounded by rhubarb I started to think about how amazing an infused super-concentrated balsamic vinegar might be. Not long ago a friend mentioned making reduced balsamic and cooking it down to a syrup before bottling it to give away. It sounded simple enough.
Making the Reduction
One night after dinner I rashly emptied what remained in my bottle of liquid balsamic vinegar (around 2 cups) into a heavy bottomed saucepan. I let it simmer on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes until I could see it begin to reduce, then I dumped about 2 cups of diced rhubarb right into the pot. With the heat low, the rhubarb slowly broke down and the vinegar became thicker. It reduced beyond the drizzle stage to become a rhubarb balsamic jam.
Wowza! It was incredible! I took a spoon out to Mr. Second Helpings expressing my delight and saying it would be great even over ice cream. He took one look at the lumpy tar-colored substance and may have flat out refused to taste if not for me practically shoving it into his mouth. His eyes got round and he joined me in exclaiming over the creation. Then we sampled a little bit over vanilla ice cream just to test my hypothesis and it was confirmed.
As of writing, I have only used the rhubarb balsamic reduction for one meal. I used a basic vinaigrette formula to make a glaze for grilled pork. I cooked the pork until nearly done before brushing the sweet and tangy paste over it and then let it cook just a smidge longer to caramelize the sugars. It was a really, really good idea. The vinaigrette glaze also livened up some thick stalks of asparagus that I roasted in the oven with a few stalks of plain rhubarb and sliced shallots. Once again, I waited until the asparagus was nearly cooked before tossing it in some of the glaze and putting it under the broiler. Another really, really good idea.
It was also a good idea to heat up the leftover asparagus the next morning and top it with a poached egg. The sharp vinegar flavor seemed more pronounced after sitting for several hours and the simple mild flavor of the egg balanced it marvelously. I may even try the roasted asparagus dish one morning just to have with eggs over it.
Rhubarb Balsamic Vinaigrette - Glaze
Hardly original, but this is a simple method to make homemade dressing for salads, to use as a marinade, or to accompany whatever sounds good. Can be made in any number of containers; a 1 cup sized mason jar works very well.
- 1/4 cup Rhubarb Balsamic reduction (2 cups of balsamic vinegar and 2 cups of diced rhubarb reduced over medium low heat until it resembles jam – see above.)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon spicy deli mustard (the brownish one with visible seeds)
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- a sprinkle of salt and a healthy dose of freshly cracked black pepper
Combine all the ingredients into a 1 cup mason jar (or similar container). With the lid on firmly shake the jar to mix the vinaigrette. If desired, thin with red or white wine vinegar and another tablespoon of olive oil.