Caprese grilled chicken

I’m a self-taught cook who’s learned a lot in the kitchen over the past few decades, most of it through trial and error. I’ve certainly had my share of blunders along the way. For example, the first time I made scotcheroo bars I threw away the bars, the pan they were in and the knife still stuck inside them, and one Thanksgiving I roasted a turkey with the little giblet packet still inside it.

You know, to name just a few.

Although fewer and farther between, those sorts of things still happen – most recently when we made this grilled chicken.

I love Caprese salads (or Caprese anything), with their mix of tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese. They’re the perfect late-summer combination. And, because I prefer trying to make my own recipe components, I decided to make the balsamic glaze instead of buying the ready-made version. Every recipe stressed the ease of reducing the balsamic and sugar mixture until thick and glossy.

The vinegar was simmering away on the stove when the hubby walked in. “Why does it smell like Easter in here?” he asked.

“No idea,” I said, puzzled. Then I realized he was smelling the overwhelmingly strong scent of vinegar, harkening back to childhood days of dying Easter eggs. Having been in the kitchen the entire time, I’d grown accustomed to the smell.

Then the kiddo joined us. “It REEKS in this house,” he said. “Please tell me that’s not something you expect us to eat later.” To quiet the peanut gallery, I took the pan off the heat in the hopes that the odor would dissipate and my glaze would continue to thicken up as it cooled.

A few minutes later, something obviously wasn’t right. The glaze was setting up far too quickly and had a faint burnt caramel scent (yet another mistake I’ve made in the past). It dawned on me that that’s exactly what had happened; my heat was too high and I wasn’t stirring the glaze often enough, so the sugar had caramelized, turning my luscious balsamic glaze into a sort of scorched vinegar taffy. (I tasted it, of course, just in case I’d created the latest food trend. Scorched vinegar taffy: Zero stars, would not recommend.)

I managed to salvage the pan this time – a big win in my book – as well as supper. It wasn’t quite the same but we drizzled plain balsamic vinegar on the chicken, although you also could use balsamic vinaigrette as a substitute.

Either way, take the easy route and buy your balsamic topping at the store.

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