Friday, September 30, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup with Apples and Ginger

      One of my reasons for creating this blog is to encourage people to share meals together with friends and family.  The meals don’t need to be gourmet, the setting does not need to be fancy and unplanned, spur of the moment gatherings can be a rejuvenating oasis in our busy lives. It is all about letting people know that you care about them and want to share life together. Too often we get stuck in a rut of just doing what we have to do – work, school, getting to various activities and we forget how wonderful it is just to relax together with friends and talk about whatever comes to mind. No agenda, no expectations and rules, just the joy of hanging out with people who make you smile. It is so refreshing!

       Yesterday, I found out a friend was in town for the day. He was staying with another friend of mine and I wanted to get together with them both. These two guys are both awesome people who see beyond boundaries and go for what they dream. Between the two they have traveled the world, been a wilderness guide, hiked, climbed and snowboarded all over the backcountry, ran an organic farm and made some incredible pottery… and they are still in their early 20’s!  Yet they make me feel welcomed spending time with them.

      Yes, I really wanted to see them but my life felt pretty busy-I had to babysit my two favorite little guys for several hours, get the house cleaned up for out of town guests arriving this week and prepare for a large wedding I am helping to plan and cook for this weekend, but I knew what was really important so I found some time for lunch.

Come play with us!
      That was so good, we decided we should all meet up for dinner. I wanted to get a head start on cooking since my friends had a busy afternoon of hiking and school work. What could I whip together in an hour or so while still enjoying some play time with the 3 and 5 year old boys that I babysit?

  I had spotted a spaghetti squash on my friends counter so we could cook that up at their house with some bacon later. I also had a butternut squash reclining on my counter so I decided to make one of my signature soups. I have been developing this recipe for Butternut squash soup with apple and spice for years. It is always a hit. I had some nice, fresh ginger root so I decided to give this batch a gingery snap…it worked great with the butternut and apple! With the addition of ginger, I decided to skip the tomato paste and milk/coconut milk. It was perfect.

Note the beautiful bowl!
      I will give you the recipe in just a moment but I want to share that it is so fun to have a meal together in such a laid back way. We all stood around the kitchen cooking together and then drinking soup out of beautiful clay bowls one of them had made. Then, after cleaning up, we just hung out and had some meandering conversation and fun.

      These guys just know how to enjoy life, getting the most out of every moment. Their lives are full of crazy adventures and challenges.  My life is full of a million things I do for the people I love. But we all took some time out just to catch up with one another and it was very, very good J Try it! Have a meal with friends you don’t get to see enough. Don’t plan anything elaborate, just get together and decide what to you have on hand to cook and do something fun you don’t usually take time to do. It is the spice of life.

Butternut Squash Soup with Apples, Ginger and Spice

Serving Size  8- 10   

   1      large  butternut squash -- about 4 cups or so prepared,

   1   Tablespoons   Butter

   1    Tablespoon    light olive oil

¾  cup onion, minced - optional

  2    Granny smith apples, peeled and grated or finely diced

About 1 ½ inches of fresh ginger, peeled and grated ( or use bottled 2-3 tsp)

Spice - 

For curry flavor: 1 ½  tsp. mild curry powder, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice, dash of ginger, red pepper flake, grated nutmeg

For Fall spice use 1 tsp. pumpkin spice, 1 tsp. cinnamon, dash of ginger, nutmeg, red pepper

 3-4  cups  vegetable (or chicken) broth

 1 cup  apple juice, optional for more apple flavor.

   1      TBSP    brown sugar,  optional

   1  tsp   salt and pepper

  2 -3     tablespoon    tomato paste, about ½ a can, optional
  water,up to a cup but only if needed to thin it out some-add a bit at a time

½ cup apple sauce, if desired for flavor and consistency

   ½ -1  cup  evaporated skim milk , milk, coconut milk or ½  cup cream, OPTIONAL  if desired for creamier soup

Wash squash, cut in halves (or quarters.) Use large chopping knife & BE CAREFUL. (If desired, squash can be peeled first) Discard strings and seeds ( or save for roasting) .Then choose oven or microwave.
OVEN: You may roast on 375 for ABOUT 45 minutes in foil lined pan Add a little water or apple juice. You may sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon and brown sugar. Don’t cook till crusty, just until very soft. For soup I like to roast cut side down, covered with foil.  Or roast it cut side just for 1st half of cooking then flip cut side up, check and add butter if it gets dry. Check at 35 minutes. Cook till very soft. Once cool you may scoop, dice or mash before adding to pan.
You may also peel and dice squash before roasting, toss with butter, spice and bit of liquid. Cover for first half of roasting. Uncover and stir. Check after 25 minutes, It cooks faster cubed.

OR MICROWAVE: you can quarter the butternut and place in microwave safe dish, add water or juice, cover and microwave until soft, about 18-25 Minutes. I would do this early in day or even the night before if you have time. Cool, then scoop pulp from peel. Dice, mash or puree in blender. Or also may peel& dice first and cover. Stir half way during microwaving.

In large pot, dutch oven or stock pot, heat butter and olive oil. On low heat, slowly cook onions until beginning to brown. Add apples and cook until soft- about 3 minutes. Add curry or other spices and cook 1 minute. Add finely diced or mashed squash. Mix in broth, and if using- sugar,apple juice, apple sauce or tomato paste. As it cooks, add a bit of water if needed. Cook about 30 minutes until soft-add more water if necessary.Smooth with an emulsion or hand held blender after removing from heat for a few minutes but you can just mash pieces if any remain. For a silkier texture, cool and place small batches in blender or food processor. Do NOToverfill blender or you may have explosive reaction. Best to hold top down with towel and do not open immediately. For creamier soup, reheat after blending and add cream or evap. skim milk or coconut milk.

If you don’t want to roast squash, it is okay to dice and cook entirely on the stove, just add with onions to carmelize a bit and add extra  simmer time.
Recipe By Denise Birdsall   

Yoga on the balance there nothing he can't do?

Very talented!
Think you don't have room for aquaponics? Build it in
the bedroom! There are tilapia in the bottom tank :-)
Sometimes it is harder to keep your balance
when other people are involved :-)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sweet Mini Peppers with Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola

I love it when company joins us for dinner!  It brings good people and lively conversation around our table. The menu does not have to be fancy. For this meal, we just had some potato, kale and sausage soup and glazed roasted vegetables. One thing that makes a meal seem company-worthy is that having a great appetizer. I just love making some nice little nibbles for people to enjoy as I am putting the finishing touches on dinner. It can make a simple meal seem fancy. Sweet mini peppers stuffed with Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola made a wonderful starter!
This little appetizer  is so full of flavor and color. It added a lot of pizazz to our rather thrown together meal yet  these little goat cheese stuffed peppers are  very simple to make!

 Sweet mini peppers are great raw as a snack and have lots of potential as appetizers. They can be used in all kinds of recipes.  I love to get these little sweet peppers whenever they go on sale. They can be rather expensive at full price but they are often a special deal at my market.

The goat cheese adds a mellow, creamy goodness while the gorgonzola gives it a bit of tangy bite. I love these two together, alth0ugh if you cannot get gorgonzola, you could subsitute extra sharp cheddar.

Sweet mini peppers with Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola

About 30 mini Sweet Pepper
About 4 oz. Goat cheese
About 4 oz. Gorgonzola crumbles
Olive oil

1/4 cup sharp cheddar, for garnish, optional

Wash the peppers and cut a slit from stem to bottom tip, leaving the stem end on. If needed, cut around the stem a little to loosen up. Wash and scoop out seeds if there are any. Another option, especially if the peppers are larger, is to simple cut the peppers in half and fill each half.

Place goat cheese in a bowl, slightly heat in microwave or let come to room temp to soften. Add gorgonzola crumbles. Blend well.

With a tiny spoon, fill the pepper with cheese mixture.

If desired, particularly if you are using pepper halves, you may sprinkle with a bit of grated sharp chedder cheese.

Cover baking sheet with foil and spray or brush with olive oil. Rub a bit of oil on stuffed peppers.

Place in 375 oven for about 6-7 minutes until heated through and beginning to brown.

Let cool a bit before serving, chees can be very hot!

Makes 10 appetizer servings of 3 each.

I love it when my daughter joins us for dinner!
She is the artist who paints the pictures around our home.
Ranger is a welcome guest

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A lighter Mac and Cheese with Butternut Squash

Fall meals call for comfort food. Mac and cheese is a wonderful comfort food but I have been staying away from dishes heavy on cheese or cream.  Once again, I am trying to lose some weight. Yet, I still am cooking for other people and so I need to make meals that are palatable and are filling. The Eggplant parmesan from a few days back was not fried and had less cheese so I felt better about eating it plus I think it improved the dish.
Now I am attacking my Mac and Cheese recipe, but only slightly. If you have seen my mac and cheese recipe on here, you know that one is definitely cheesy and buttery.  I wanted to cut down on those some but still make a company worthy dish.  I decided to try Butternut Squash after seeing it used in a recipe in Cooking Light September 2011. If you really want to shave off calories, check their recipe out. They cut back further by not making a béchamel at all. They also added Greek Yogurt and since I love Greek yogurt I threw in even more.  Since I was making this for a group of hungry, skinny people, I mostly just made it more nutritious by adding butternut squash and cutting back a bit on cheese and butter.  I may try the Cooking Light version one day and let you know what I think.

What I can tell you is that I would like to always add butternut squash to my Mac and Cheese from here on! I feel good about its nutritional value. It is a great source of vitamin A and C, fiber, plus contains a good amount of B6, E, potassium, manganese, magnesium and a bit of iron. But on top of that, it adds a beautiful color and creaminess to the dish! It seemed decadently full of cheese!

I also used whole grain Panko not just for whole grain goodness but also for extra crunch. If you can find it in your local health food or wholefood store, get it! It is great for stuff like this. You could further the whole grain by using whole grain pasta. I like whole grain spaghetti but don’t like the larger ones in this dish so up to you.
This will have about 400 ish calories per serving, a bit less than typical mac and cheese, which is more like 900 calories.  It looks and taste rich and flavorful but not overly squashy.  It is not obvious that it has butternut in it but it is MUCH more nutritious with the butternut squash addition. I think it is a good way to get extra vegetables into non –veggie eaters. I am happy when I can serve nutrient dense foods that people really like!
If you are not watching calories, you could add more cheese to this recipe and still get a higher nutrient value of the butternut and a bit less fat.

Mac and Cheese with Butternut
About 10- 12 side dish servings  

1 medium Butternut squash or buttercup squash or
kabocha or canned pumpkin  (about 2-2 1/2 cups pureed)

1 1/2 TBSP butter

2 -3 TBSP flour

2 cups low fat milk, slightly warmed (may need more)

2 cloves garlic, pressed

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, maybe about a tsp.

½ tsp.  fresh grated nutmeg, Onion powder, paprika, thyme 

¼+ tsp. garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper

1 lb. pasta, hearty variety cellantani or elbow would be good choices, whole grain if desired

1/3 cup Greek yogurt, optional

1 1/3   cup Swiss or gruyere cheese, shredded

1 1/3   cup sharp or extra sharp cheddar, shredded

1/3 cup parmegiano reggiano, grated

2-3 large tomatoes (or use 4-5 roma tomatoes)

About ¾ cup panko bread crumbs (whole wheat is best if you can find them)

Another 2 Tablespoons Parmegiano regiano

First, cook the squash. I prefer roasting it for added flavor and color. To roast, you may wash and cut it into quarters .  OR you could peel it whilst whole and cut into cubes, which will cook a bit faster. Discard seeds or save them to roast like pumpkin seeds. 
Place squash into a rectangular baking dish, which you may line with foil. Add a little water and cover with foil, baking at 350 for about 45 minutes (30 minutes for cubes) and then uncover and cook for 15 minutes more.  Let it cool and peel if you have not yet.
Another method you could use to cook squash: simmer squash cubes on the stovetop in a large pot with water, about 25 minutes and drain.
 Once butternut is cooled. You may mash by hand or puree in a food processor with a bit of water.
Squash may be cooked and mashed ahead of time. Keep refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 375.
In a large pot, melt butter and add flour, cook for two minutes.
 At the same time, heat salted water in large deep pot for pasta. Once it is at a lively boil, add pasta. Keep the water boiling. Check for doneness
 To the butter and flour, add warmed milk and whisk or stir vigorously. Add the mashed squash and spices. Stir and cook for 8 minutes or so. If it looks too thick you can add a bit more milk.
Remove from heat and add Greek yogurt. Then stir in cheeses, mixing thoroughly.
Add well drained pasta and then place into a large rectangular dish that is oiled ( I like to spray olive oil with misto sprayer).  
In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon butter and add panko crumbs stirring for about 2 minutes. Add 2  TBSP parmesan cheese, grated, salt and pepper if desired.
Thinly slice tomatoes and place on top of pasta. Top with bread crumbs and bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roasted Acorn Squash

There is a chill in the night air here in Northern Colorado. The days are cool enough to walk at noon without feeling too overheated. I have spotted a few leaves here and there changing color. The moon at night and the clouds at twilight are gorgeous.  Fall is meandering in and it is so welcome. The end of summer fun is bittersweet but I do so love fall!

Tonight we had a few lovely friends over and when I brought out the food someone said, “Ah, the first fall dinner of the season.”  I think that is because I roasted some acorn squash. Acorn squash is an easy to make and delicious to eat side dish that just announces fall. I also held on to a bit of summer as I grilled balsamic glazed chicken in the backyard.
Acorn squash is a winter squash, which means it is havested mature with a outer hard rind. It keeps for a long time in a cool place. It is nutritious, with high levels of vitamin A,C, potassium, fiber and other good things. Research indicates that winter squash have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as insulin-regulating properties.

So just in case you have not tried simple roasted acorn squash, I will share the technique with you so you can announce fall in your neck of the woods.

Sweet Roasted Acorn Squash

I usually plan for ¼ to a ½ squash per person. If you have several side dishes and large acorn squash, ¼ is sufficient. If you can find small ones, the presentation is prettier if each person gets a half. If possible, find organic, locally grown squash.

This time I had very large squash and plenty of food so it was a ¼ per person.

Wash the squash and place on a cutting board. With a large, sharp knife, carefully cut it in half, through the stem end. If you are serving it in quarters, cut each half in half again.

 Clean out the seeds and membranes with a spoon.
I like to line my large rectangular baking pan with foil. Place the cut squash, skin side down, on the pan.
Melt a good amount of butter. About 2 TBSPN per squash, but more is fine J
 In a small bowl, mix a half cup or more of brown sugar with about 2- 3 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice and 1 tsp. ground ginger. These amounts are just general guidelines. I actually never measure any of this so just go with what feels right.

Pour melted butter over the sliced squash. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mix. If you would like, you can sprinkle more sugar over the squash or drizzle with maple syrup.
Cover loosely with foil and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another  15-20 minutes until browned and bubbly but not dried out. During this time I like to baste the slices with the butter/sugar goodness from the center of each slice. If they look dry or not spiced enough, add more of whatever you need as soon as you uncover it.
To serve, plate and drizzle any sauce that spilt out over the squash.
To liven up this simple recipe, Add some chopped pecans or walnuts, a couple handfuls of date bits and/or raisins along with the sugar and spice at the beginning.

Okay, that is it for today’s recipe. Sneak peek at tomorrows— tonight I also served a mac and cheese with a surprise ingredient that is a more healthful and lower calorie version than my typical mac and cheese.

Okay in closing I'd like to share  a couple pictures of yesterday’s gorgeous fall sunset.
Is Fall beginning to be felt where you live?What are your favorite things to cook in Fall?

Here are a couple pics of our dinner guests.
Isn't he adorable!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kale and Cannellini Beans with pasta

I have a simple pantry recipe to share today. By that, I mean I threw it together based on what I had in my pantry that would go with Kale. I had three big bunches of kale this week. With one I made kale chips and one will go into a kale and potato soup so I needed to have an easy dish for the other. I have made a kale soup with Cannellini Beans (white kidney beans) so I thought I would try it as a pasta dish. Greens and beans are a great combination!

Have you tried Cannellini beans? They are my favorite! So creamy and pleasant. You could use any hearty green in this recipe but I think  various Kales would be the best by far. Perhaps mustard greens might work well also?

One more note, I made this with turkey kielbasa because my husband had been patient with mostly vegetarian meals for a week. I knew he was craving some meat. However, this would be just as good without any meat so feel free to leave it out!

Anyway, I figured I had better put up an easy, quick recipe to balance the labor intensive eggplant from yesterday J

Kale and Cannellini Beans with pasta

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch kale, washed, de-stemmed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 small red or yellow bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 package of turkey kielbasa, Optional
½ tsp. each marjoram, thyme, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 can fire roasted tomato, diced
1 can cannellini beans, (also called white kidney beans)
About 4-5 servings cooked pasta (spaghetti or ziti or whatever!)
Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large frying pan, heat olive oil to medium-low. Add onions and let them cook for about 6 minutes. Pasta should be cooking in another big pot of water with salt at this time.

 If you would like this to be a meat dish, you could add the turkey kielbasa or other sausage now and turn up the heat a bit to brown it. Once it is nicely browned, add kale, garlic, peppers and spices. Cook down for 4 minutes. Add tomato and beans. Heat, stirring gently for 3 minutes until kale is softening but not mushy. Mix with hot, cooked pasta.
Serve topped with Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eggplant Parmigiano

I love eggplant. It was a vegetable I was thoroughly unacquainted with as a child. I remember the first time I had eggplant Parmesan in a restaurant and I was surprised by how much I liked it.  However, the first time I made it at home I was less than pleased with all the frying and cheese that went into it. I now make Eggplant Parmigiano a bit lighter by doing away with frying and using less cheese. It is healthier this way, but guess what? I think it tastes so much better!!

Let me discuss a few key components to this recipe. One is Panko bread crumbs. I began using these in Japanese cooking, as they are Japanese bread crumbs. In the old days, I had to buy them at Asian specialty stores. Now there are several brands in every market around here. I love the crunchy whole wheat ones but the delicate original style is wonderful too! This recipe relies on the texture of panko baked on the eggplant slices to give it a crispy crunch. If you can get Panko, do so.

Second, while this recipe's main player is eggplant, its secondary focus is the parmesan cheese.  So please, if you can, get some real parmgiano-reggiano. I am going to quote my own blog on this one: “Parmigiano-reggiano is the best, official parmesan cheese from Italy. You could substitute other parmesan cheeses in these recipes but if you have the option, get parmigiano-reggiano! It is crazy good cheese in my opinion. Flavorful, complex, nutty, salty and tangy with a wonderful texture. Pick up a little square of it. This is real parmesan cheese as it was created to be, not some waxy, flavorless wanna-be.”

I read about adding ricotta cheese on the Cooking Light web-site. Their recipe was similar to mine. One big difference was they added ricotta. I add about half of what they did but I like the creaminess it adds.

Okay, I know this recipe has been around a while and people may not get too excited about it. But if you are breading your eggplant in plain breadcrumbs and frying it, I think this is a nice update on an old favorite. Plus, everyone should have this one in their repertoire for a great make ahead meal. You can prep this early in the day to bake later and left overs perhaps even better the second day!

Please, let me know what you think! I really do love it when you all comment!
Eggplant Parmigiano

2 small eggplants (or 1 large) - about 1 3/4  lbs.

1 egg, beaten (may need 2)

1/3 cup buttermilk OR 2 TBSP water or milk

3 cups panko bread crumbs, regular or whole wheat

1/3 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tsp. blend of Italian Herbs such as oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil…

1 tsp. garlic powder

½ -1 tsp. salt

¼ tsp. crushed red pepper

Oil, I use both canola and olive
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed

8 oz. part skim ricotta cheese, optional

2 TBSP Parmigiano-Reggian0

¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella

1 egg, beaten, optional

3 ½ -4 cups of your favorite Marinara or other tomato pasta sauce, Store-bought is fine but a home-made roasted tomato sauce brings this to new heights of goodness!

1/2 cup shredded low fat mozzarella

2 TBSP Parmigiano-Reggiano

First prep eggplant. I like to use two smaller ones for the size of the slices but one big one is fine. You will need enough for two layers of eggplant. Wash, cut off leaves and mostly peel. You could leave peel if you prefer. (BTW I don’t do the salting, pressing thing anymore to the eggplant. They seem less bitter than they used to be. )

With a nice sharp knife, slice eggplant a ¼ inch thick.
Beat 1 egg in a shallow bowl. If you have buttermilk, add a 1/3 cup. If you don’t use a couple TBSP water or milk. You may run low so have an extra egg handy.  
In another bowl mix Panko breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and next 4 seasonings. Panko is Japanese bread crumbs and is extra crunchy and light. Don’t substitute regular bread crumbs alone. If you can’t find panko, crush some croutons or use ½ cracker crumbs ½ bread crumbs although neither of these will be as good as panko. Ask your market to carry them if they don’t cause they are that g0od!

The other main ingredient is the Parmigiano-Reggiano. While you can substitute a good quality Parmesan cheese here, it will be inferior in taste and texture. Parmigiano-Reggiano is worth it! You can use less cheese to achieve the same tangy, salty, rich flavor. But it does cost a bit more so remember that you can use other Parmesan.
Heat oil in a large shallow pan. Dip in egg bowl and then place in panko. Pile panko on top and press. Shake off excess and place on a cookie sheet (lined with foil, if desired) that has been sprayed or brushed with olive oil. Place in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until browned a bit and crispy.

Whilst these are browning, mix together the ricotta and fresh parsley and basil and 1 beaten egg, garlic, 2 TBSP Parmigiano-Reggian0 ¼ cup shredded low fat mozzarella. While this does add a layer of creamy, tasty goodness, you can skip this entire step if you want, especially if you need to reduce the dairy. I would use the fresh herbs if you have them, though and just sprinkle on top when you pull it out of the oven. However, even these may be omitted.
In a large rectangular baking dish, pour enough tomato sauce to cover bottom of pan. Make a layer of eggplant slices. Dot with ricotta cheese mix.  Next comes the sauce, jarred store bought pasta sauce is fine for this, although homemade roasted tomato sauce would be wonderful J Sauce should be on the thin side so if it is thick, add a bit of water. Drizzle a bit of sauce and add another layer of eggplant. Pour the rest of the sauce over it and cover with foil. Bake in 375 oven for 25 minutes until hot. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano and return to oven, uncovered for 5-10 minutes till cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Let it sit about 5 minutes before serving.

I love serving this with a sautéed chard and onions or a green salad and perhaps a bed of pasta with some of the same sauce mixed in.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Balsamic Glazed Chicken

The recipe I want to share today makes use of one of my favorite and most versatile sauces- a balsamic reduction glaze. I use this for everything. I first made it for veggie kabobs on the grill. Then I used it to make turkey gravy darker and richer. Now I use it for everything, including grilled chicken and peaches- a great summer meal. I love the simplicity of this chicken with a nice baby greens salad and maybe a rice dish.

Balsamic glazed grilled chicken

2 -3 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs ( or boneless chicken breast)

Brine: 2 quarts water, 1/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar,
Optional- 1 tsp crushed garlic, pinch of red pepper

Glaze- About 6 oz balsamic vinegar, about 2 TBSPN brown sugar or honey-optional, 1 tsp salt, optional

Brining will improve the texture and make chicken juicier and more flavorful. However, if you are in a hurry you can skip this step. 
First make brine by heating 1 quart of water and then pouring into glass bowl or other non reactive container and adding salt, sugar and vinegar. You may add other seasonings such as garlic or red pepper flakes or leave as is. Mix until salt and sugar are dissolved then add 1 quart cold water.  I like to put  some ice and the rest cold water. Once this is cool, add chicken and refrigerate for 2-8 hours.  I think about 4 hours is optimal.

While chicken is brining, make a balsamic reduction sauce. This is a simple useful sauce, great for grilled meat, vegetables, fruit such as peaches. You can add to gravies and sauces or to sautéed veggies or meat. It is great drizzled over pasta dishes or salad or fruit or even desserts! I have used cheaper balsamic and more expensive and I think both are fine. A good flavor in the vinegar is important but reducing it makes something totally new- a slightly sweet glaze with rich flavor and dark, glossy color.

Okay, pour balsamic vinegar into medium sauce pan with somewhat heavy bottom. Heat to low boil, stir and reduce to simmer. Add sugar or honey and salt if you wish to use them. If you have a sensitive nose, you may want to turn on a vent for this. Do not put your face directly above it, it is very vinegary at this point. Stir often and watch carefully. You want it to reduce by about half. It takes about 10-20 minutes but may take more so just watch for a reduction of at least half . This can go from glisteny glaze to gooey mess quickly. Once it is thickened and reduce remove from heat.

Grill your chicken Thighs. I do this on a gas grill outside. Get the grill very hot. Remove chicken from brine and pat it dry. Brush with olive or veggie oil. Place on hot grill and reduce heat to medium low. Bring a little bowl of balsamic glaze out to grill. Grill about 4-5 minutes on side then turn over and brush with a little bit of glaze. Grill other side for 4 min then check for doneness. (Obviously, if you choose to grill chicken breasts, they will need to cook longer. I recommend flattening them with a mallet.) These times are just guidelines. Grilling times can vary but you want it done while not drying it out. If you prefer not to grill outside, these could be grilled in a grill pan or under the broiler.

Put chicken in dish and generously drizzle glaze over it. Let it sit 4-5 minutes.

Put glaze on table if you wish. Refrigerate left over glaze and use for another recipe. I try to make extra for this.

 Note: If you are making this in the summer, try brushing ripe peach halves with oil and grilling along with the chicken. Grill cut side first and then flip and brush with glaze.  You could also grill and glaze veggies like onions, peppers or summer squash in the same way.