by Chrysa Smith

Nothing says Mid-Winter like Balsamic Vinegar & Soy Sauce. Well, maybe a box of chocolate truffles too. But like the canned tomatoes and the chicken stock, these condiments will take you a long, long way.

Most obviously, I like olive oil and a little Balsamic vinegar on my salads. I don’t know what the experts suggest, but I do about a 3 to 1 ratio of olive oil to Balsamic. Some salt and pepper on baby spinach with the oil/vinegar dressing—and it’s just plain bene. A Balsamic marinade also goes nicely on some out-of-season strawberries that just can’t go solo at this time of year. Cut them, let them sit in about a tablespoon +/- of the berries for about 1/2 hour or more. Sweeten to taste with a little sugar. It’s a nice sweet/sour dessert. Serve it with some Port or after-dinner wine and voila! A nice alternative to a heavy dessert.

On my turkeys and sometimes my roast chickens, I like to mix Balsamic vinegar, some orange juice and dijon mustard. Let it marinate for at least an hour, poking holes through the skin. Not only is the smell great and the flavor quite good, but it always comes out moist (as long as you don’t overcook the bird too long). You can find a good recipe for this from Chef Cristina Ferrare on http://http//

Soy and Balsamic go together well in other dressings too. Try 1 tbsp of each plus 2 tbsp melted butter and some salt and pepper on cooked asparagus. If you like that, experiment with other favorite veggies. Or try a combo of soy, grated ginger and some orange juice on salmon, scallops or shrimp. I also use my soy stark naked. For a change of pace from ravioli, I buy the frozen Chinese potstickers in a place like Costco or BJ’s. I boil them till ‘al dente’ (can you use that term for Chinese food?). Then I fry them in a little vegetable oil and serve with some soy sauce on top—absolutely delicious.

Now to up the ante a bit, check out white Balsamic vinegar. It’s got a lighter taste and is quite excellent in salad dressings. Again, I whisk a little with some olive oil and dijon mustard. It’s a bit sweeter than the regular Balsamic marinade—and is my own concoction based on a wonderful dressing I had at Mia’s at Caesar’s in Atlantic City(a must-do when in AC).

*Balsamic vinegar shares an aging process with wine. The older the aging, the more expensive the vinegar. I’m cheap. I’ve never purchased a $20 bottle of Balsamic. If you have, please share. I’d like to know if the extra bucks are worth the taste.