Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Almost Meatless... Unless There's a Juicy Pork Chop Nearby

I know I've been extolling the virtues of eating less meat lately, but I have to confess: there is nothing like a good pork chop. We're lucky enough to live about three blocks from a terrific butcher, an old-world kind of place that carries lots of high-quality organic meats. The pork chops they cut to order are just gorgeous. So you know, if you're going to eat meat, this is the way to do it.

Braised Pork Chops with Savoy Cabbage seemed like a good choice for a rainy winter Sunday. The recipe, from Lidia's Italy, plays on a centuries-old combination; in this rendition, the meat and its juices are used to flavor and cook the cabbage. I'm usually not a huge cabbage fan, finding it kind of stinky and even bitter. Just a few weeks earlier, I'd given it a chance, and was disappointed. But I reasoned that Lidia had never steered me wrong, and at least I was certain the pork would be stellar.

The recipe has you slice the cabbage into inch-and-a-half-wide strips and boil them until tender, about 15 minutes. Next, you heat up some butter and olive oil in a skillet and brown the chops alongside a few rosemary sprigs. Once they're nicely braised, you remove them, and pour some white wine into the skillet, deglazing any caramelization. Toss in a bit more butter and olive oil (I should've known: wine, butter and oil are keys to making cabbage tasty), and then pile in the cooked, drained cabbage. Let almost all the liquid evaporate, and the cabbage shreds start to caramelize, then return the meat to the pan. Cook it all for a few minutes more, and you're set.

There was silence as we tucked in. Fork finally broke it, saying, "Perfect. This is the best pork chop I've ever had." I had to agree. The chops were slightly pink in the center, juicy and--I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's true--succulent. The cabbage was tender and delicious, the rosemary cutting any bitterness and the meat giving it a rich, deep flavor. We ate the cabbage and pork with a spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs and bacon, and some semolina bread. And we ate it all, every last bite.--S

Braised Pork Chops with Savoy Cabbage

serves 6

4 lbs Savoy cabbage
6 T butter
6 T extra-virgin olive oil
6 pork loin chops, on the bone, 2.5 to 3 lbs.
2 t coarse sea salt
2 or 3 small branches fresh rosemary
1 c white wine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Brings 6 quarts of water to the boil in the large pot. Slice the cabbage head (or heads) in half, and cut out the core completely so the leaves will separate. Discard all tough and torn outer leaves, lay the cabbage halves cut side down, and slice crosswise into strips about 1 1/2 inches wide. Drop all the strips into the water, cover the pot, and return to the boil. Cook the cabbage until tender, about 15 minutes, and drain in a colander.
2. When the cabbage is cooked, put 3 T each of butter and olive oil in the big skillet and set over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops on both sides with salt (about 1 t in all) and lay them in the hot skillet. Drop the rosemary branches onto th epan bottom.
3. Sear the chops on the underside, about 3 minutes, turn, and brown the second side for a few minutes more. The chops should still be rare--if you like them better done, cook a minute or two longer on both sides. Remove to a platter, and keep in a warm spot.
4. Pour the wine into the skillet and bring to a boil, stirring to deglaze any caramelization. Cook for just a minute or so, to dissipate the alcohol, then drop in the remaining 3 T of butter and 3 T of olive oil. Stir well until the butter melts and the liquid is bubbling.
5. Pile the cooked, drained cabbage in the skillet, turning the strips over as they heat and wilt in the pan juices. Sprinkle 1 t salt all over, and cook, tossing and stirring, until the pan is nearly dry and the cabbage shreds are just starting to caramelize.
6. Push aside the cabbage, lay the chops on the pan bottom, and pour in any meat juices from the platter. Still over medium-high heat, cook the chops for 2 or 3 minutes, turning them over once or twice, just until they're heated through. Stir the cabbage so it continues to caramelize and pick up flavor. Season with more salt and some freshly ground black pepper to taste.
7. Serve right from the skillet, or arrange chops and cabbage on a platter and bring to the table.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Perfect Cookie

If the biscotti you're familiar with need to be dunked in coffee for a full 30 seconds before eating in order to not crack your teeth, have I got news for you: not all biscotti are like that. Sure, there's a time and a place for all biscotti, but if I had to live out the rest of my days eating only one kind, I'd go with Mom's Biscotti.

They're a little soft and crumbly, not too sweet and shaped a bit like rounded rectangles, actually more like biscuits than cookies. There are no chopped bits of bittersweet chocolate, no segments of dried exotic fruits, no citrus zest. Instead, Mom's Biscotti have walnuts, anise seed, anisette or sambuca, and a hint of almond extract. They may not be much to look at, but they're so simple and honest, with just enough sweetness that they hit the spot after a meal but not so much that you can't eat one for breakfast with coffee. The perfect cookie, I'd say. I just enjoyed one on a rainy Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea. Delicious.--S

Mom's Biscotti

3 eggs
3 c flour, sifted
1 T anise or fennel seed
1 c walnuts, chopped
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
3 t baking powder
1 t almond extract
1 T anisette or sambuca
1 stick unsalted butter

1. Beat eggs, melt butter. Combine, then add sugar, flour, baking powder and flavorings/liqueur.
2. Blend well, add nuts and seeds, and shape dough into two long, flat logs (use flour if your hands are sticky).
3. Place the logs on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet. Once cool, slice and lay slices on their sides.
5. Bake at 350 for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until golden.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Better Hot Pockets

I'm still working on cleaning out the pantry, but tonight the challenge extended to the freezer, where I had stashed a flattened roll of filo dough and three links of turkey sausage at some point over the past two months, among other goodies. I also had "less meat" on my mind, since I just talked to three authors today about the trend, and how important it is for your health, your wallet and the planet--not to mention your conscience. So I went to a book that two of those authors wrote for a dinner plan tonight.

Spinach and Chickpea Pouches come from Almost Meatless, a book I first heard about in October. The authors mention Greek spanakopita triangles in their introduction to the recipe, but those cocktail party staples only have three ingredients in common with these tasty pockets. The filling here is much more substantial and consists of meat (the authors suggest eight ounces of ground beef, but I used turkey sausage), red onion, spinach, chickpeas, roasted red peppers, feta, garlic and herbs. Everything except for the cheese gets pre-cooked in a saute pan. Once the filling's ready, you spread out a few sheets of filo, spoon about a half-cup of filling onto the filo and sprinkle a bit of crumbled feta on top. Rolling up the pouches is a little tricky, and my early ones were kind of misshapen. Eventually I figured out that folding one side over the filling and then rolling the whole pouch toward the other side was the best way, so they truly were rolls. One other adaptation: I was out of sesame seeds to sprinkle atop the egg-washed pouches, so I used cumin seeds. Not the same, I know; but they worked.

Alongside some bright green broccoli sauteed in garlic and olive oil, these made a great dinner. Instead of tzatziki, Greek yogurt or sour cream, I stirred a bit of crumbled feta into plain yogurt, seasoned with salt and pepper. It was a nice accompaniment to the piping hot pockets. Three of us couldn't everything--which means each of us ate less than a link of sausage--and still wound up stuffed.--S

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wake and Bake

I know I'm a big dork, but I woke up at my parents' house last weekend wanting to bake. There was a beautiful kitchen downstairs; gleaming appliances; counter space galore; and a stocked pantry. I plucked Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets by Carole Walter off my mom's cookbook shelf, headed into the kitchen... and realized that the pantry wasn't exactly stocked. I guess that's what happens when Mom and Dad take off for vacation.

Ginger spice cookies were out: there was barely a teaspoon of ground ginger. Key ingredients for oatmeal raisin and chunky white chocolate cookies were missing, too. I had to keep it simple: there were two eggs and a few sticks of butter in the fridge, and we had bought some milk. There was flour, salt, baking soda, sugar, vanilla extract and I even found a stash of pretty sparkling white sugar. Turns out I had all the ingredients for Super Sugar Sparkles... and you probably do, too.

These cookies fall under Walter's "Big Boys" categorization--meaning each cookie is made from a quarter-cup of dough and spreads out to nearly five inches in diameter. They remind me of the bakery cookies I always went for as a kid. The ones at our local bakery were covered in rainbow sprinkles and Walter's have sparkly clear sugar, but they're the same size and have the same buttery texture, somewhere between crunchy and soft. They're pretty perfect, actually.

A few notes on the recipe: Walter advises using superfine sugar; with the limited pantry options I was facing, that wasn't an option, so plain old granulated sugar it was. I also had to add an extra tablespoon of milk because the dough was so crumbly I couldn't form it into a ball. I also only got 13 cookies instead of 16.

If you wake up with the urge to bake (come on, admit it), this is the recipe to turn to. Straightforward, satisfying--and no trip to the supermarket necessary!--S

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Love the Loaf

Add meatloaf to the list of foods I just assumed I hated when I was younger. Like lamb, it was something my dad did not like; therefore, my mom didn't serve it, and my sister and I grew up figuring meatloaf was just not good. Well, we were wrong.

The unfortunately named dish is really tasty, and about five years ago I discovered a wonderful recipe for Turkey Meatloaf that included, among many other tasty ingredients, porcini mushrooms and homemade breadcrumbs. I made it for Fork and I and was sold. Who knew meatloaf was actually good? Flavorful and filling, but not heavy--and the perfect thing for a Superbowl dinner.

There's a fair amount of prep work involved, but if you have a mini-chop or food processor, it's not so bad. Once your veggies--in addition to the porcinis, there are onions, garlic, carrots and parsley--are minced, you cook them on the stove; then you add the bread crumbs (I used a 7-grain bread I'd bought at the market), eggs, milk and some seasonings. I recommend using your bare hands to mix in the meat. Nothing like a good "squish, squish" noise and feel to whet the appetite!

You shape the meat and veggies--held together now by the breadcrumbs, egg and milk--into a rounded loaf, and bake for about an hour. The recipe suggests serving this with a roasted red pepper tomato sauce, but I like it plain. We ate the meatloaf on sandwiches using the bread I'd just made, alongside some lemon-zested kale. I'd take this meal over hot wings and nachos any Superbowl.--S

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Spoon vs Gourmet

I'm not quite making bread daily (har) yet, but twice in one week is certainly stepping it up. I knew it was only a matter of time before I tried making one of the gorgeous rolls from Gourmet's February issue, and on Sunday, the time had come. I went with the Crusty Cornstalk Rolls because I had all the ingredients in my kitchen already (pantry, people, pantry!).

So here's the thing about this particular recipe spread. Every photograph is drop-dead gorgeous. Golden crusts, perfect knots, pretty fantails and fancy swirls... could I really do this? Probably not. But I was going to give it a shot anyway. The headnotes for the Cornstalk Rolls recipe insisted, "the technique for shaping this sculptural loaf is very simple..." Right. First I needed to go out and buy a pair of kitchen shears, which, truth be told, I did need. After that, the dough came together pretty easily; I had to use a bit more flour because it was extremely sticky, but I didn't really have any problems in that department.

However, when it came to shaping the dough into a "towering cornstalk," I was nervous. Snipping dough with extremely sharp kitchen scissors on the diagonal, pulling apart the pieces and stretching the dough to form rolls that were connected to the center "stalk"... this is advanced stuff. I kept telling myself it didn't matter how it looked; it's all about the taste, because I knew my bread (above left) wasn't going to look like the picture in the magazine (below right). Oh well. Not the first time that's happened.

I diligently misted the rolls with water before baking them, and then spritzed the oven with water three times during the first five minutes of baking. And the finished product? As expected, a little more "homemade" looking than the picture. But tasty? You bet. A little grainy from the cornmeal, nicely crusty from the misted water. My friend Kate said they were even prettier than the ones in the magazine. Take that, Gourmet.--S