A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Easy Espresso Balsamic Chicken Tenders

While in Breck, Kelley’s dad, Steve, had mentioned a local olive oil and balsamic vinegar store that just opened. Knowing his daughter was married to a passionate foodie, he figured this was great info to share with us….and he was right!

Olive Fusion is a warm and cozy store with fine naturally flavored and non-flavored oils and vinegar around the perimeter. Vinegars were on one side and extra virgin oils on the other. Their very aged and intense balsamic vinegar had its own location separate from everything else to let you know its important status.

The two women in the store were more than happy to help us and urged us to sample anything we wanted. The oils and vinegars offered were all displayed with labels and small cups beside each bottle for anyone to try. If you are put-off by the thought of sipping vinegar and oil alone, you have not tried the intense flavors Olive Fusion has to offer. But, they do provide bread for dipping if you just can’t stand the liquid alone.

Kelley and I enjoy vinegar more than oils, but we tried several flavors of each variety. There were a few white balsamic vinegars along with many of the more popular dark red types. We tried flavors like dark chocolate, maple syrup, honey ginger, raspberry, and our favorite…espresso! The sweet tanginess of the vinegars makes them useful for a variety of dishes.

Inside Olive Fusion with shiny vats of fine oils. Bottles filled to order!
Some of the flavored oils offered were wild mushroom, garlic, cilantro onion, and a very spicy red pepper-infused oil. Kelley’s parents enjoy using extra virgin olive oil for the health benefits and flavor, so we picked up a bottle of the garlic flavored oil to give as a gift for letting us stay in their condo. For ourselves, we purchased a small bottle of the garlic “evoo” and a big bottle of espresso balsamic vinegar. There were also multiple salts with concentrated flavors to try; we lovvvvved the black truffle salt, but didn’t purchase any.

Kelley loves pouring balsamic on a stack of whole grain toast almost every night to accompany dinner, but we decided to reserve the espresso vinegar for special applications.  With the intense garlic flavor of the oil, this will be great mixed into any cooked grain or simply combined wth vinegar and drizzled on a salad. There are more uses for vinegars than just as a salad dressing or bread dipper; here’s a breakdown of its uses by age:

3 to 5 years, this is the youngest group and is good for salad dressings, dipping sauces for vegetables and bread, and marinades.

6 to 11 years, this is the middle age group that is more viscous and versatile. Use it in sauces (at the end of cooking), in risotto and pasta dishes, in marinades and mixed with Greek yogurt or mustard for a sandwich condiment.

Well-aged balsamic vinegar is anywhere from 12 to 150+ years and is best used after cooking complete, and in mild dishes so it can shine on its own. Use it to flavor meat like chicken, steak, fish or veal. It goes well with fruit and cheese pairings like strawberries, peaches and pears, along with ricotta or feta cheese. It is also great enjoyed by itself (just a small amount) or added to water (sparkling or not) for a refreshing beverage.

This week I decided to use our newfound liquid treasure to cook chicken tenders. I didn’t even have to marinate these to make them shine with espresso balsamic vinegar. Any cut of meat, poultry, or fish would work for this and I plan on using the vinegar on each type. Try sautéing mixed vegetables and add some vinegar towards the end to allow it to reduce and caramelize on the veggies.

You can see how thick the balsamic is...YUM!

For the tenders, I seasoned each side with sea salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne, mustard, paprika, garlic powder (not salt!), oregano, and basil. I placed the chicken in foil, drizzled the espresso vinegar over and around each tender, wrapped up the foil and baked in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 35 to 30 minutes. Enclosing the chicken in foil with the vinegar allows it to absorb the steam created and makes for an intense flavor while keeping everything moist.

Great side profile of the tender tenders...

Love the look of seasoned chicken darkened with espresso balsamic!
I cut the chicken into cubes and placed on top of a baked sweet potato with a side of steamed veggies and drizzled with more espresso balsamic for one of our lunches this week. Just another food combo (sweet potato + balsamic) designed to make a happy wife!

It's hard to see, but there's a jersey sweet potato under that chicken.
Check out Olive Fusion's page on Facebook where you can e-mail them to order the products right to your home.  They have their own web page in the works and hopefully it will be up soon.

Have you tried flavor oils and/or vinegars before? 

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