June 12, 2012

Fancy Shmancy: Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries, On a Weeknight

Gettin' fancy with grilled cheese.
Here's a little-known fact: I love balsamic vinegar. I may have an unhealthy obsession with it. If there's a bottle of it near me, I will pour it all over my plate and sop it up with anything—spinach, bread, crepes—until it's gone, or I can't feel my teeth, whichever comes first.

It might be my favorite grown-up flavor profile. Add something sweet and maybe something sharp, and I'm in heaven. So imagine my sheer delight, my beside-myself-excitement, to happen upon a very enticing recipe on Pinterest. (Oh yes, I'm addicted. You can follow my kitchen addictions here.) 

Back to my balsamic love affair. I saw this Pin for grilled cheese with balsamic-marinated strawberries and basil. Just so happens, I keep cheese in the fridge at all times (for emergencies, of course); a loaf of organic wheat bread was waiting for its time to shine; I'd just purchased fresh, organic strawberries at the grocery; basil is growing like a weed in our herb garden. 

I won't go so far as to say the stars were aligned... but indeed, the conditions were perfect. 

Dinner was ready in a flash, and as we sat to enjoy these seemingly fancy sandwiches, I looked over at my other half and remarked, "We certainly do eat well."

"Tooting our own horn, are we?"

Well, this one was worth it. Don't be afraid to add a little extra balsamic vinegar to your plate. And if at first you wonder, "Sharp cheddar? Basil? Strawberries?" Just relax, and understand that after you make this sandwich, your palette will be soooooo elevated. You'll practically be a food critic. Goodbye, pedestrian taste... Hellloooo umami!*

Strawberry-Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Five large strawberries, sliced 
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
12 leaves fresh basil
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
4 slices whole wheat bread
1 to 2 tablespoons butter or heart-healthy buttery spread**

Slice the strawberries and put them in a small bowl. Pour the balsamic over the berries, and let them marinate for about 30 minutes (they only get better with time). Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread.

Place two slices of bread, butter-side down, on the skillet. On each slice, pile on a little cheese, half of the marinated strawberries, and half of the basil. Finish it off with the rest of the cheese (so there's melting on both sides of your sandwich), and place the second slice on top—butter-side up this time.

Press down with a spatula and cook on one side until the bread is golden-brown and the cheese has started to melt. Carefully flip the sandwiches and cook on the other side until all the cheese has melted and both sides are golden brown. (The medium-low heat is the key here; don't get your griddle too hot! It's like pancakes!) Cut the sandwiches in half and serve with a side salad. 

Our side salad was simple—just some spinach, arugula, and one lovely garden tomato with an easy vinaigrette. Here's my fail-safe, super-fast, pantry-staple homemade dressing:

Quick Dijon Vinaigrette

4 ounces extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Whisk until combined, or shake well in a jar until the dressing has emulsified. Season with salt and pepper as you like. 

*Speaking of umami, we met this awesome little 3-year-old at the Draught House this weekend. She had a group of us enthralled for a couple of hours, telling us about her approaching fourth, or possibly fifth, birthday. She specifically requested the trip to the "Giraffe House," for the free bratwurst. Her parents explained that she actually had quite advanced taste for her age—a very umami-based palette. 

**Though I love real butter, we often use Smart Balance Light Original Buttery Spread With Flax. Why? Ryan's nutritionist recommended it. I'd like to switch us to the Earth Balance Organic Buttery Spread when we're given the green light to do so. Please let us know, Nutritionist...


Claire Jain said...

Pinja! Definition: A ninja-like, resourceful wizard who successfully concocts things pinned on Pinterest. Just keep saying it. It'll catch on.