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French Onion Soup

Well, let’s call it Frenchish Onion Soup. Onion soup for sure. French? Eh. Not so sure about that.

As I’ve said, I eat a lot of soup. It works for two out of three meals. I wouldn’t really eat it for breakfast, but it’s done in some part of the worlds.

Because I make a lot of soup, I tend to make bigger batches so I’ll have something to take for lunch during the week. Not only do I spend a lot of time at my desk, but the only food options around my office are fast food, pretty much. While I enjoy the occasional drive-by burger and fries, it tends to just leave me feeling crappy and cranky. No one wants that.

Now where was I going with this?

Oh right. Soup. Soup.

So I make a lot of soup. And sometimes when I don’t feel like making anything, I open up the freezer to see AHHH, I DO have some forethought. I love it when I’m smart.

This was one of those times.

I don’t have the step by step photos. But you know what onion soup looks like. It’s brown and has onions in it. The best part about this dish? Well, aside from just pulling it from the freezer and thawing it … is that I made the croutons. Now don’t roll your eyes. I cut up a slice (or two?) of whole wheat bread, tossed them with some salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and olive oil then crisped them up in a skillet over medium(ish) heat. When one side is toasted, give it a flip and toast the other side. You could also do that in a toaster oven, or the real oven.

And the cheese? Well since you asked. That, my friends, is the Quattro Formaggio from Trader Joes. It’s quite possibly the best cheese in the world. And it also makes a great quesadilla. It melts, but not too much like, so it still has a little of that elasticity when you bite into it. MMM. I don’t eat quesadillas for breakfast either, but I could start. Cheese and tortilla. Yum.

Sorry, my mind wanders sometimes. Back to the soup. This soup is quick and simple. Butter, olive oil, onions, garlic. A little red wine, beef broth, salt, pepper and thyme, bay leaf. If you want, you can turn it into a French Dip sandwich in a bowl. I got that idea from Rachael Ray.  Cut up pieces of roast beef and toss into a bowl. Ladle on some onion soup. Top with toasted bread cubes and  cheese. Perfect. (You could also put the bread on the bottom, but it gets really soggy. If you put it on top, it won’t happen as quickly.

French Onion Soup

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 6 cups beef stock

Optional:

  • 1/2 loaf crusty bread, torn into bite-size pieces and toasted
  • 1 lb deli-style roast beef, shredded
  • Quattro Formaggio (Trader Joe’s) or Provolone

Heat a deep pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter. When it’s hot, add the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Add thyme and bay leaf. Cook the onions for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender, sweet and deep caramel-colored. If the onions are burning in spots before browning all over, add a splash of water and stir every now and then, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Once the onions are tender and brown, add the wine and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the beef stock and cover the pot to bring the soup up to a quick boil. Once the soup reaches a boil, remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Ladle into bowls and enjoy! Or take a few extra steps and make this soup into an even more satisfying meal.

Optional: Place a few chunks of the toasted bread into each of four deep soup bowls or crocks and top the toast with a handful of the shredded roast beef.  Ladle soup into bowls to cover the roast beef. Top it off with grated cheese and enjoy!

— Adapted from Rachael Ray.

The first time I made this cake, I think, was for our housewarming party in 2002. Since then, it’s become David’s Official Birthday Cake or the more aptly titled Evil Birthday Bliss. He’s been known to talk dirty to this cake. One year I begged to not bake the birthday cake. I offered an ice cream cake, a cake from the Fancy French Bakery (not its real name). I kicked. I screamed. But no. It had to be this cake. I’m sure there was some whining from the kitchen that day.

I’ve since learned not to even ask. I just pull out all the equipment, measure, pour and mix and viola! An hour and a half later, this luscious beauty comes steaming from the oven. The drizzle, of course, comes after the cake has cooled.

This sinfully rich confection is a once-a-year treat. I’ve even “lightened” it up a little. Instead of all bittersweet chocolate, I use half bittersweet and half semisweet. Bake this evilness at your own risk because you will love yourself for how fabulous it tastes. But you will hate yourself if you eat too much of it. One bite too much and you’ll be on the express train from heaven to someplace not so nice, with a tummy ache.

This barely even resembles cake. Notice there are barely any crumbs here.

That’s because it doesn’t really crumb that much. It’s super moist and fudgy, held together by butter, melted chocolate and coffee. And a little flour for good measure. Its texture is how it got its real name, Fudgy Chocolate Cake. It’s from the Spago Chocolate cookbook.

I’ve flipped to that recipe so much that the book opens to it automatically. And now the page has even come out.

Here’s how they serve it in fancy Spago-ness…

But here’s how we serve it.

Add a little pshhhht. (What? You don’t call it that? That’s code for whipped cream from the can.) Or some vanilla ice cream. With the chocolatey cake and the extra rich ganache poured on top… You’ll need something a little lighter to accompany it. Unless you’re so awesome that you can take all that chocolate and still remain standing.

Tall glass of milk anyone?

Evil Birthday Bliss

Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate pieces
  • 6 ounces Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate pieces
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups brewed coffee, cold
  • 3 tablespoons Kahlua (optional)

Glaze:

  • 4 ounces Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 ounces Ghiradelli semisweet chocolate
  • 3 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup

Cake:

Preheat the oven to 325, making sure the rack is in the middle of the oven. Butter and flour (or use baking spray) on a 10-inch bundt pan, making sure you coat all the ridges and the center tube. If the pan doesn’t have a nonstick coating, dust it with flour. Set aside. (I’ve used a stoneware pan and a metal one. I like the metal one better for this cake. For some reason, it comes out taller. Maybe it needs to bake a little longer in the stoneware pan.)

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In microwave-safe bowl, add the chocolate and butter. Microwave for 1 minute. Stir. Depending on how melted everything is, give it another 30 seconds or a minute. Then stir again. That’s all it should take. Don’t overheat it, or you’ll ruin the chocolate. If there are just a few bits remaining unmelted, stir and let it sit for a minute. It’ll continue to melt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you don’t have a stand mixer), whip the eggs. On low speed, gradually pour in the sugar and continue to beat until well incorporated, raising the speed when all the sugar has been incorporated. On low speed, scrape in  the chocolate mixture. Add vanilla and mix well.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the coffee, starting and ending with the flour mixture (three additions of flour and two of the coffee). Do the additions on low speed then turn the speed a little higher. Not too high though, the batter is really thin and will splatter everywhere.  Stop the machine and scrape under the beater(s) to make sure everything gets mixed in. Add the Kahlua, if you’re using it. I use it if I have it, but it tastes just as good without.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, distributing it evenly around the pan. Tap the pan on the counter to level the batter. Bake for an hour, or until a cake tester comes out clean. (When you start smelling it, check on it. It takes 45 minutes in my oven in the metal pan.) Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto a large plate to cool completely. Remember you’ll need room for the pools of glaze.

Glaze:

When the cake is cooled, prepare the glaze.

In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Microwave for 1 minute, then stir. Microwave another 30 seconds if needed, then stir. If it’s not mostly melted,  give it another few seconds. But if just small bits, remain stir and just give it a moment to melt on its own.

When everything’s melted, whisk in the corn syrup until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into a clean medium bowl and reserve, covered, in a warm spot until needed.

— Adapted from “Spago Chocolate.” The cake’s real name is Fudgy Chocolate Cake.

Some friends and I wanted to have dinner together. It’s been a rough couple weeks. A car wreck, an earthquake, a pretty bad cut, a hurricane. Someone make it stop.

We were going to go out for dinner, but see, I’m sort of a home body. And I’m a little cash flow-less these days. So I said hey, why don’t you come over for dinner instead. Going out for dinner — what I think of first is paying a LOT for a glass of wine. I mean, with a glass of wine and the tip, you’re pretty much at $12 (at least) without even ordering food.

So they brought wine and we cooked. Yes, we. I was a little sneaky and made them help when they got here. It’s always nice when you can get someone else to peel the roasted red peppers for you. Ahh, now I see the appeal of the sous chef. As we were cooking, we decided we needed gin and tonics. So we went out for gin, Rose’s lime juice and tonic. (The Rose’s is really the key, I think.)

Kim’s a vegetarian, so I had to factor that in while I was planning. But hey, I love vegetables, so no trouble there. A while back, I’d made the Onion Pan Bread from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” thinking I’d get a focaccia-like bread that I could use for roasted-veggie sandwiches. It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. And thank God because it ended up being so much better! I love it when that happens. I’d been looking for an excuse to make that again. When I made it the first time, it was kind of an open-faced sandwich. A wedge of bread, some pesto, roasted veggies and then lacy swiss cheese melted over it. Mmm. This time, it was more a pizza, but with a softer crust. Almost the consistency of cake, but savory instead of sweet.

But wait. Let’s back up a little. First off, I made some roasted artichokes with olive oil, garlic and lemon.

I got the idea from Pinch My Salt and her photos and instructions are so great, I won’t try to recreate them. So go here if you’d like to know how to do it. It was pretty simple and I’d never done it. Actually, I’d never even eaten artichokes before.

I would definitely eat this again.

I’d maybe make some kind of dipping sauce next time, but it wasn’t essential. They were delicious on their own, as evidenced by the aftermath.

The remaining parts are very interesting to me. My first artichoke? A success, I think.

Now for the main course. This is kind of a multi-stepped process, but it’s not hard. First off, you prep the veggies you want to roast.

Preheat the oven to 450. Split the red peppers and remove the seeds, stems and membranes.

Put them sliced-side down on a jelly roll pan and flatten them with the heel of your hand. Then brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Scatter some unpeeled garlic cloves on the pan too.

Get another pan for the mushrooms and red onion.

Just look at these shrooms. Aren’t they gorgeous?

Cut those up and some red onion. I don’t know what I was doing when I was cutting the onion. Since I was roasting it, usually I would have cut them into wedges so they’d be bigger.

Put them on a pan and drizzle some olive oil over everything and give it a good toss with your hands. Try to keep the mushrooms in one layer. I put some salt and pepper on the onion, but not the mushrooms because I don’t want to draw the water out of them.

When your pans of veggies are ready, put them into the oven. The mushrooms and onions will take about 20 minutes. The peppers and garlic need about 40. When the mushrooms are done, remove them from  the oven. After cooling a few minutes, toss them into a bowl. When the peppers are done, take them out of the oven, put them on a plate and cover with plastic wrap so the skins will steam a little. That’ll make it easier to remove the skins.

Chop them up and add them to the bowl with the rest of the veggies. I should have taken photos of that, but I was a little distracted by the girl talk. Also, when the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze them into the bowl with the other veggies.

Start the pan bread. Reduce the oven to 350. Melt butter in a large ovenproof skillet.

Slice two vidalia onions. The recipe says large and I’ve seen really really large vidalias. Mine came in a bag and they weren’t huge. More regular-sized onions.

Add them to the pan with the melted butter and caramelize them.

Add some brown sugar to the onions, stir. Then make the batter for the bread. Then pour the batter over the onions and bake for 35 minutes.

When it comes out of the oven, you need to flip the bread. Remember the handles of the skillet are HOT. Put a plate over the skillet and turn it over, then slide the bread back into the pan so the onions are on top.

Spread some pesto over the bread. Start adding the veggies.

If you’re like my friend Lauren, who worked for a pizza shop, you’ll have exceptional distribution skills. Just look how even the pesto is! And the veggies!

And the cheese!

Then pop it into the oven for about 10 minutes till the cheese is melted.

Then cut into wedges and serve.

This shot is from the first time I made this. I wanted you to see the bread.

Roasted Vegetables

  • 2 red peppers
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • Garlic cloves, unpeeled (as many as you want)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Heat oven to 450. Cut the red peppers in half and remove the seeds and white membranes. Put the red peppers cut side down on a jelly roll pan and squash them flat with the heel of your hand. Brush with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the unpeeled cloves of garlic to the pan.

On another pan, put the mushrooms and onions. Drizzle with oil and mix with your hands. Sprinkle the onion with salt and pepper. I don’t salt the mushrooms because I don’t want to draw out all the water. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong. It’s just what I do.

Put both pans in the oven, the red peppers on the bottom and the onions and mushrooms on the upper rack. Check the onions and mushrooms after about 20 minutes. If they’re done, remove them. Continue roasting the peppers and garlic for another 20 minutes, or until the peppers are collapsed and the skins are blackened. Remove from oven and put the red peppers on a plate. Cover with plastic wrap, which will make it easier to remove the skins. Let them rest while preparing the rest of the veggies.

Put the mushrooms and the onions into a mixing bowl. Squeeze the garlic into the bowl. Add a little salt and pepper. Stir.

Remove the plastic from the peppers and peel off the skins. Cut into chunks and put them into the bowl. Mix it all up, cover and set aside. Make the Onion Pan Bread.

Onion Pan Bread

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

  •  3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil like grapeseed or corn

Preheat oven to 350. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Use the remaining butter to coat the edges of the pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the onions and stir to combine.

In a a mixing  bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In another bowl, beat together the egg, milk and neutral oil, add to the dry ingredients and stir together quickly.

Spread the batter over the onions and bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.

To assemble the dish:

  • 1/2 cup pesto
  • 1/3 pound of lacy swiss cheese

After flipping the bread in the pan to have the onions on the top, spread the pesto. Distribute the veggies evenly, then top evenly with cheese. Return the skillet to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted. Remove from oven, cut into wedges and serve.

Breakfast Skillet

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love it. Biscuits, coffee, fruit, bacon (yes, I do like bacon sometimes), sausage gravy, pancakes, eggs, croissants. The possibilities are really endlessly delicious. A little fruit, a little carb and a little protein. And coffee. Don’t forget the coffee. Figure out how I like my coffee and I’ll love you forever. OK, it’s not quite that easy, but you get the idea.

Sunday is pretty much the only day I get to have a real breakfast, though. And if you can believe it, I’m not even allowed in the kitchen on Sunday mornings. That’s husband territory. Sunday is pancake and egg day. Pancakes with an over easy egg on top with syrup and some fruit on the side. Maybe a slice of bacon or a piece of sausage.

Alas, today is not Sunday. It’s Saturday. And on Saturday, I’m pretty much on my own all day. Some friends are coming over for dinner tonight, which I’m excited about — and I’m excited about what I’m making for dinner. (Stay tuned!) But it’s morning, I’m hungry and there’s not much in the kitchen since someone needs to go to the store (Ahem.)

Thanks to Facebook, I got an idea. The food writer down at the Tampa Tribune posted a breakfast skillet photo that made me drool a little when I was just waking up and checking the site on my iPod. And I thought, sure, I’m alone but hey, I’m worth the time and effort. So I rummaged.

I had some potatoes, onion, garlic, mushrooms, tomato, some leftover pork chop and eggs. So yeah, I’m in breakfast business! I can stop waiting for someone to show up and make me breakfast. Which, I know will never happen, but wouldn’t it be nice? Just once?

I started with some olive oil and butter. And turn on the oven to 375.

Cut up some onion and potato. (Onion not pictured. Because I’m a doofus.)

Some garlic. Duh. I maybe should have called this blog Put in Some GARLIC. I love garlic.

Put all of that in a skillet.

Cook until the potatoes are at least done. I like mine to get brown and crunchy.

When everything looks the way you’d like it to look, cut up a tomato.

Remove the sticker of course. I just left it on for the photo because Hanover tomatoes are famous here.

Then cut up the leftover pork chop. Oh you don’t have a leftover pork chop with mustard sauce? Well, you should. Oh, just kidding. Use whatever protein you might have around. I was going to use some black beans (with some lime juice squeezed on at the end? YUM!), but I didn’t have any. So the pork chop was called to duty. The mustard sauce will do just fine.

Drop the tomatoes and the pork chop into the skillet and pop it into the oven.

Bake it about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are roasty.

Then crack a couple eggs onto the top. I did two. But I was only feeding me and I only ate half of the finished product. (The other half will probably be lunch.) If you’re feeding more people, do more eggs.

Then pop it back into the oven for about 5 minutes, until the whites are done but the yolk is still runny.

I left my skillet in longer because the whites didn’t look done, but the yolk got overdone which made me a very sad girl. There’s nothing like poking an egg and making it run. I was robbed. But it was still delicious.

Sprinkle with some chopped parsley to make it pretty.

You know what? This is the South. You need a biscuit. I keep some Pillsbury biscuits in the freezer. So I tossed one into the oven and got out the butter and jam.

Don’t forget the coffee. Happy Saturday breakfasting, my friends!

Breakfast Skillet

Inspired by a post on sporkme

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red potato, cut into chunks
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • Salt, pepper
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 leftover pork chop, cut into chunks
  • 2 eggs
  • Parsley, chopped

Heat the oven to 375 then add the olive oil and heat a skillet over medium heat.

Add the onion, potato and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft and potatoes are as done as you like them. Add the pork chop (or some black beans or whatever you have in the protein category. Or nothing. It’s your skillet!) and tomato and pop the whole skillet into the oven for about 15 minutes, until the tomatoes are roasty.

Remove from oven, crack the eggs into the skillet and return to the oven for about 5 minutes, till the egg whites are done and the yolk is still runny. Don’t overdo it! And remember that the handle is HOT.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with coffee and a buttered and jammed biscuit.

Pasta e Fagioli

When I was a kid, my mom had a boyfriend, Ronnie, who was like a second dad to me. He remained a part of our lives for many years and when I was a teenager, with pretty unreliable cars (oh the stories I could tell, one involving him having me chew bubble gum so he could make a patch with it), I could call him if I’d been stranded and he’d drop whatever he was doing to come to my rescue. People like that don’t come along very often. He died about 10 years ago in a heavy-machinery accident while he was working.

Other than remembering him as a good person who was always there for me, I associate him with food for a number of reasons. He used to take us out to eat a lot. Sometimes it was Long John Silvers, sometimes a buffet place. And if things were good, the seafood place that was in an old mansion. When I’d come home from college, he’d always tell me he wanted to take us to dinner there. We went a few times — my mom, sister, boyfriend, Mr. Ronnie (as my sister called him sometimes when she was really little) and me. Not enough, though. I always thought there’d be more time. That seafood place, 220, was demolished not too long ago.

Aside from restaurants, though, I also remember that he cooked. I was young and probably don’t remember everything he did in the kitchen, but I remember that he would make us popcorn in the cast-iron skillet and then pour melted butter on top. And he made some very yummy brown beans and dumplings. I’ve tried to find out a recipe, but it was his mom’s recipe and now they’re both gone. I think I could re-create it and I will try when I have some time. Maybe my mom can help me remember. But right now, I’m going to make soup with beans and pasta, which reminds me of his beans and dumplings and since I don’t have the time to experiment right now, this should give me some instant gratification.

Here’s to you, Mr. Ronnie.

Start with some great Northern beans.

Put them in a pot, pour in some hot water, boil for a few minutes then remove from the heat. Put the lid on the pot and walk away for an hour.

Cut up some garlic, onion, carrot and celery.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the veggies and garlic for a few minutes. Add salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, a bay leaf, and a bouillon cube.

Add some of the broth from the beans to the veggies and simmer a few minutes.

After simmering a few minutes, pour it all into the soup pot with the beans, bring to a simmer and cook for about two hours, till the beans are soft. You may have to add more water as the soup cooks and perhaps another bouillon cube. You can see how much it reduces from the line around the pot.

If you’re really hungry, make a snack while the soup cooks. This is crackers and almonds (duh) and eggplant spread. I was going to post about that but I was making it during the hurricane and wanted to make sure everything got done as quickly as possible. I was worried the electricity would go out so I didn’t want to take time to snap photos.

When the beans are tender, put about a cup and a half or two cups of the soup (more beans than broth) into a blender cup. Remove the bay leaf. Don’t process that.

Process, but leave it a little chunky.

Meanwhile, add about 2 cups of water to the soup. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook about 9 minutes till pasta is done. Then stir in the processed beans.

Then squeeze in the juice from about half a lemon.

Stir. Serve. Enjoy. Raise a glass to Mr. Ronnie.

Pasta e Fagioli

Adapted from the back of the Goya bag of great Northern beans

  • 1/2 pound dry great Northern beans
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup ditalini (tube pasta)
  • Juice of half a lemon

Sort and rinse beans and put them into a soup pot. Add 8 cups of hot water, boil 2 minutes then set aside for an hour. When the beans are finished soaking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and bay leaf. As the veggies sweat, add the bouillon, the Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook until softened. Add a few ladles of the bean water and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then pour it all into the pot with the beans and put that pot on the hot burner. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until beans are tender, about two hours. You may have to add more water as the beans cook and the water evaporates. Taste the broth every now and then. You may need to add another bouillon cube.

When the beans are tender, take about a cup and a half of the soup (take more beans than broth) and put in a blender. Blend till almost smooth, leave it a little coarse.

Add about 2 cups of water to the soup pot, bring it to a boil and add the pasta. Boil about 9 minutes. When the pasta is done, stir in the processed beans to thicken the soup. Then squeeze about half a lemon into the soup and stir.

Serve with warm bread and a little grated parm, if you’d like.

Pork.

That’s a word that inspires little in me. Well maybe that’s not quite true. It does illicit a certain sound and body language. Something close to “huh” or “meh” and a shrug of the shoulders. Like when someone asks what you want for dinner and you have no idea. Or you’re so hungry, it just doesn’t even matter anymore. (When that happens, just feed me chicken and salad. I’ll be back to my sparkly self in no time.)

Sure, bacon is pretty good. At breakfast, mixed into (or on top of) potatoes, crumbled on top of cream of potato soup with cheese and sour cream.

I never really thought much about pork though. That other white meat. We didn’t eat much of it in my house when I was growing up, so I guess it never really was on my radar. We were chicken people. Chicken and steak. And, well, lots of frozen Banquet meals and hot dogs. And ramen. I didn’t come from a gourmet cooking household. I came from a single-mom household of “Oh god, we have to find something for dinner.”

But pork is everywhere these days. Why? It’s cheap — and as I recently have realized, it’s delicious. How did this happen? Well, you see I have this friend. And in addition to being my bestest friend, he’s a chef. (I know!! Score, right!?) And he just happens to love pork. So I decided that I had to give it a chance. Maybe when he comes for dinner, if he comes for dinner, I will make him pork. (I don’t think he reads this.)

So anyway, I bought some pork chops. And I unwrapped them and put them on the counter. And I stared at them.

What would I do with them!? Well, first of all I seasoned them, of course. Even a pork novice like me knows that.

Then, I read a few recipes, gathered some ingredients and got out the skillet.

Then… well, then I poured myself a glass of wine.

So here’s what I decided. Pan fried pork chops with a white wine mustard sauce. Thank you Mark Bittman for being so simple. I love that. Delicious doesn’t mean fancy. I used his sear-and-simmer technique.

Heat some oil in the skillet. When it’s hot, sear the seasoned chops on both sides, about 2 minutes each side.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add two of my favorite things, (white) wine and garlic.

Add some stock or broth. (Bittman hates canned or boxed broth, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do…) Then turn the heat down and cover. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the chops are cooked through. Don’t overcook them! They’ll get dry! No one wants dry pork chops.

Put the chops on plate. Admire them. Dear lord, they’re beautiful. Hello, my lovelies.

Then when you can pry your eyes away from those beautifully seared pork chops, put your attention back to that skillet and finish the sauce by adding a little more stock and reducing.

Then add some butter, lemon juice,  some Dijon mustard, some capers and a sprinkle of Worcestershire.

Stir to combine it all. make sure all the mustard incorporates. See it in the pan here? Stir stir stir to make sure it all comes together.

Then plate your chop, sauce it and serve with whatever you want to serve it with. I chose a baked potato (with grated cheddar and sour cream) and some sauteed green beans sprinkled with salt, pepper and parm. Then, my friends? Enjoy that other white meat! I know I did. I’m a pork convert!

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce

  • 2 pork chops, about 1 inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1  tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • A dash of Worcestershire sauce

Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper. Put a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the olive oil, as soon as the first wisps of smoke rise from the oil, add the chops and turn the heat to high. Brown the chops on both sides, moving them around so they develop good color all over, no longer than 4 minutes total and preferably less.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the wine and the garlic and cook, turning the chops once or twice until the wine is all but evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, turn the heat down to low, cover and cook 10 to 15 minutes, turning the chops once or twice until the chops are tender, but not dry. When done, they will be firm to the touch, their juices will run just slightly pink and when you cut into them (which you should do if you’re at all unsure of their doneness), the color will be rosy at first glance but then turn pale.

Transfer the chops to a platter. If the pan juices are very thin, cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan until the liquid is reduced slightly. If they are scarce (unlikely), add another 1/2 cup stock or water; cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly. Then stir in the butter over medium heat; add the lemon juice, mustard capers and Worcestershire. Pour over the chops and serve.

— From Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.”

My aunt and uncle were coming to visit today. We’d planned to go to lunch, but they had a late breakfast and were going to a birthday party after our visit, so I figured they probably wouldn’t need another big meal. So I figured I’d scavenge around the kitchen to see what I could come up with for snacks, just in case.

Last week, I saw a recipe for tzatziki chicken and pasta salad that really caught my attention. Even though I’m not usually a fan of pasta salads, I had some leftover chicken and I love the cool, creamy tartness of tzatziki. Just the word cucumber makes me feel better, cooler. In case you haven’t noticed — or maybe you live in the North Pole, in which case, congratulations, can I visit? — it’s freaking hot outside. Mother Nature has seriously dampened my zeal for kitchen work (notice I haven’t posted in a while), not to mention my appetite.

I took stock. I would have made the tzatziki salad, but I didn’t have any Greek yogurt and I really didn’t want to go to the store. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I never met a recipe I couldn’t change. My friend told me about some shrimp cakes she made once and gave me the recipe. I made them. Kind of. She asked me how they were and I said they were great, then told her what I’d changed. (Hey, sometimes you want shrimp cakes and don’t have… panko. Or avocado. Or cilantro. So I just used other stuff.) She looked at me thoughtfully with her head tilted a little. “Well, you didn’t really make the same thing at all!” Perhaps not. But it was tasty, I think. I did make the actual recipe a few weeks after that and it’s very good. So try it sometime.

Anyway. Back to the real story. So I decided to keep the pasta salad idea, use chicken, cukes and red onion. I wanted to add tomato and make my own dressing. Then I got a little creative. I added some roasted chick peas.

Those are an aside. You can make the salad without them, but I think they added a little something extra.

Let’s start with the pasta. I used penne rigate, because that’s what I had in the pantry. I also like it because it has ridges, which make the sauce/dressing stick to the noodles a little better.

Remember to salt the water. As a chef once told me, make it “as salty as the sea!” I cooked the whole pound of pasta. (Give it 9 minutes, then taste a noodle. You want it to have a little bite left, but not be crunchy. If it’s still a bit crunch, give it about 30 seconds more.) But I’d probably do only half next time. My salad is a little pasta heavy, veggie lite. Which I didn’t intend to happen. And turns out my family wasn’t that hungry at all, so… I’ll be eating this for quite a while now. Good thing it tastes good!

While the pasta cooks, make the dressing. Now I’m a pretty forthcoming sharer of my secrets, but even I hesitate to give everything away. But here goes. These are two of my secret weapons.

The salt doesn’t necessarily have to be coarse sea salt. In fact, this has a little trouble coming out the spout. It’s a store brand. I don’t remember if my previous box was coarse, but I think it was Morton’s.

For the dressing, we’ll start with about a half cup of mayo. Squeeze in a little lemon juice, then add some salt and pepper. Then add some of the minced lemon peel.

Mix it up and give it a taste. It should be tart and a little salty. Next I called on my stash of pesto from the freezer.

Thawed it in the microwave and added it a little at a time to the mayo.

I ended up adding the whole cube.

Time to cut up the veggies.

I always strip a little of the skin off the cuke. I like the contrast of the dark green of the skin and the pale green-white of the flesh. And while we’re talking about it, can I just say how beautiful red onion is? I couldn’t get a great photo of it, but the deep purply red makes me appreciate nature. Even cut up, it’s gorgeous.

Now that’s a LOT of red onion. So much that it made me cry a little. If it makes ME cry, then I know it’s a strong onion. It doesn’t usually bother me that much. One time, when my dad was visiting, he came in the front door while I was making French onion soup and he said, “Holy [crap]! Why are my eyes watering?!” I laughed. Mine weren’t watering at all. Sorry dad! (I added only half of that chopped onion to the pasta salad.)

Add all the chopped veggies and the chick peas to a large mixing bowl.

By now the pasta should be done. Drain it and rinse it under cold water to cool it off.

Add it to the bowl with the veggies.

Cut up some grilled chicken. I had this left over.

Add it to the pasta.

Add the dressing.

Mix it all up. Taste it and add salt and pepper if it needs it. I also added a little more lemon peel and juice.

Now, chill baby chill till you’re ready to serve.

Pasta Salad with Veggies, Chicken, Roasted Chickpeas and Pesto Dressing

  • 1/2 pound of penne rigate
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 English cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup roasted chick peas
  • 2 cups cubed cooked chicken
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced lemon peel
  • 1/4 cup pesto

Cook the pasta in salted water for about 9 minutes. Check for doneness. If not quite al dente, boil 30 seconds more. When done, drain and rinse under cold water to cool off the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, make the dressing. In a small mixing bowl, add the mayo and squeeze lemon juice into the bowl, add some salt and pepper to taste and add the lemon peel. Mix well.

Add the chopped vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Add the roasted chick peas, then the cooked pasta and the chicken. Top with the dressing and mix until combined. Taste. Add salt, pepper, a little more minced lemon peel and juice if needed. Chill until ready to serve.