Thursday, July 5, 2012

Guest Post: Luscious Balsamic Vinaigrette by Amanda Usen

Usen Balsamic

Luscious Balsamic Vinaigrette

Fourth of July picnic, anyone? Since my husband and I met in culinary school, I always feel compelled to bring something people will love. My husband doesn’t have that baggage; he’d bring a case of high-class beer and call it good. But he’s a guy. I don’t want to have to admit that the professional chefs didn’t actually make food for the event. As a pastry chef, I usually offer to bring dessert. However, it’s pretty darn difficult to come up with a delicious and impressive Fourth of July dessert that doesn’t involve Jello, melty whipped cream, massive amounts of food coloring or painstaking placement of strawberries and blueberries. Some people delight in such things, and you know what – more power to them! For this one U.S. holiday, I’ll happily bring a salad.

My favorite green salad is made with balsamic vinaigrette, goat cheese, dried cranberries and candied nuts. It’s a classic and found on many restaurant menus. The best one I ever had was when my husband and I lived in New Orleans and we ate at Gautreau’s, where they added roasted potatoes and duck confit to an already divine combination of ingredients. Bliss. Heaven on a fork.

Now, don’t worry about being the person who brings a green salad to a barbecue. I’ve got a recipe for balsamic vinaigrette that can hold its own against gooey macaroni and cheese, bacon baked beans, loaded potato salad and creamy coleslaw. However, if you really can’t bring yourself to be the bearer of lettuce, slather the dressing all over potatoes, goat cheese, chopped fresh basil and some carefully selected veggies. Use it in place of the store-bought bottled stuff in a pasta salad studded with feta, olives, and diced peppers. It’s versatile! I’ve even used it as a veggie dip. Honestly, this salad dressing is so good, people will rave about it, talk about it for years and drop it into the conversation in the hope that you’ll either make it for them or give them the recipe. It was this balsamic vinaigrette I was imagining when the hero of my new book, Luscious, can’t get enough of the antipasto in Italy. Here’s the scene:

“Sean left them to argue and grabbed a plate. His mouth watered at the sight of the cured meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables on the platters. Suddenly, he was starving. He filled a plate and stood back, resting his hip against a dining table chair, and chewed blissfully. Oh, perfection. The olive oil was unbelievable. Fruity. Light and rich at the same time. He paused between bites to clear his palate with a sip of bubbly wine. He reached for another roasted pepper, a slice of mortadella, then a slim wedge of hard cheese. He could make a meal of the offerings on this table.”

So how do you make this wondrous stuff? It’s easy, but you do need a blender, small food processor or immersion blender.

Luscious Balsamic Vinaigrette

(1 cup batch)

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar (more if you like it sweet)

1 teaspoon salt (I use kosher)

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried basil, or 6 leaves fresh basil

2 tablespoons juice (orange, cranberry, apple, etc)

½ clove minced garlic

¾ cup vegetable oil, or a vegetable oil and olive oil mix

Combine all ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender.

Pulse until well-combined. With the motor running, slowly add the oil in a thin, steady stream. Continue to run the motor until all of the oil is emulsified. Taste for seasonings.

Since this is an emulsified dressing, it gets pretty thick, especially after it has spent some time in the refrigerator. Sometimes I thin it out with a bit more juice. In the summertime, I omit the dried herbs and substitute a handful of fresh basil and thyme from the garden. The last time I made it, I added about a quarter cup of red wine at the end, and it was a particularly good batch. Feel free to use my recipe as the jumping off point and create your own signature balsamic blend. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the size of your blender!

Do you have a favorite summer barbeque dish? I’m a sucker for a good salad but I also love to hear about all the creamy, ooey-gooey stuff too. Or *gasp* do you have a red, white and blue dessert that is easy to make, holds up in the sun and doesn’t turn your tongue blue for a week? Please, please share!

Author Bio

Amanda Usen knows two things for certain: chocolate cheesecake is good for breakfast and a hot chef can steal your heart. Her husband stole hers the first day of class at the Culinary Institute of America. She married him after graduation in a lovely French Quarter restaurant in New Orleans, and they spent a few years enjoying the food and the fun in the Big Easy. Now they live in Western New York with their three children, one hamster, two guinea pigs, a tortoise and a new-to-them beagle. Amanda spends her days teaching pastry arts classes and her nights writing romance. If she isn’t baking or writing, she can usually be found chasing the kids around the yard with her very own luscious husband. If you want to chat about romance, writing or recipes, please visit her at where you can find recipes for many of the yummy dishes in her books. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter!/AmandaUsen


A sizzling second book in a new contemporary series featuring sexy chefs. Newly divorced chef Olivia Marconi is balanced on the knife-edge of a major meltdown. A week in Italy with Sean, her hot divorce attorney–not to mention the fantastic food and wine–sounds like the perfect getaway. If only she wasn’t there to break her parents’ hearts by quitting the family business. Sean’s attention makes her feel brave, desirable, and adventurous again. But Sean is hiding something, and Olivia is short on trust these days. Can a romantic interlude in Italy turn into something more, or will it all go up in smoke?

Advance praise for Luscious! “Usen expertly blends engaging characters with a swoon-worthy Italian setting right out of Under the Tuscan Sun (1996) and an abundance of delectably described Italian dishes to create an irresistible literary treat for fans of sizzling hot contemporary romances.” –Booklist




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Also by Amanda:


Joe Rafferty is just as mouthwatering as the food he cooks. But if he thinks he’s going to waltz in and take over her kitchen, he’s denser than a thick slice of chocolate-ripple cheesecake. Marly has invested too much of her life in Chameleon to hand off the restaurant to someone else—especially a cocky-as-all-get-out superstar chef.  But there’s no denying the man knows how to light her fire. Question is: Can she have the sizzle without feeling the burn?

Louisa Edwards, author of the popular Recipe for Love series, loves Scrumptious! “Every page of Amanda Usen’s debut sizzles with the heat of a raging kitchen fire–and the combustible passion between the chefs! You can practically smell the smoke and feel the burn as Usen plunges the reader into the pressure cooker of a professional restaurant, and the characters are as real and memorable as their kitchens. This is the kind of book that makes you want to dig out your pots and pans…or tackle your honey to the nearest horizontal surface. A sexy, heartfelt, laugh-out-loud culinary romance!”




  1. My favorite holiday food is pumpkin pie with whipped cream. When it comes to Thanksgiving, Christmas and my birthday, that's the one food I have to have. :D

  2. Favorite holiday dessert is pecan pie; favorite appetizer, sausage and cheese balls!

  3. You two just named my two favorite Thanksgiving desserts! Sometimes I even make pumpkin pie in July! I think it's time...


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