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Archive for August, 2011

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.”

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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.

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Roasted chick peas

Have you ever had roasted chick peas? If you haven’t, you should try them right now. Or whenever you can tolerate having the oven on AND up to 425. (Sheesh! It gets hot in the kitchen with the oven on.)

So why would you roast chick peas? Well. Because it’s easy and fast. And they’re so yummy while they’re still warm. They look like nothing’s changed, but bite through the thick skin and you’ll find the warm, creamy center. Eat them by themselves or pop them into vegetable salads or pasta salads. I love doing little things like this. Salads can get a little boring, but if you do something a little special for each dish you make, it just amps it up a little. All of a sudden it’s not just, “Oh I just brought a salad for lunch.” No, no. You brought a salad with roasted chick peas that you’ll squeeze a little lemon juice over. Maybe add a drizzle of buttermilk pesto ranch dressing. See, that’s a little more exciting huh?

But first, let’s make roast the chick peas. Drain and rinse a can of chick peas.

Cover a jelly roll pan with foil and put down a paper towel.

Put the chick peas on the paper towel and dry them well. So they’re no shiny anymore.

And remove any that look funny and remove any skins that pop off.

Pull the paper towel off. Then give them a little love with an olive oil mister. And sprinkle salt and pepper on them.

Now put them in the oven for 10 minutes. Take the pan out after 10 minutes, move the chick peas around a little. Taste one. It’ll be a little creamy inside, but it’s not quite done yet. Give them another 5 or 7 minutes. Let them develop some color and wrinkle just a little. After about 5 or 7 more minutes, they should look like this.

Now what? Well. Eat em! If you want to add more flavor to them, put them into a bowl immediately after taking them out of the oven and add a teaspoon and a half of your favorite seasoning. I’ve used Italian and Greek. Then eat them!

Store leftovers in a baggie or in an airtight container. They’ll last a few days. Don’t refrigerate them.

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