Monday, January 28, 2008

Stuffed Pork Chops with Reduction and Carrot Mint Salad

I need to just tell you the menu on this one. Suffice it to say story-wise that some friends of mine asked me to cook a full dinner party for them after hearing about Iron Chef South Charleston.

I came over with four grocery bags, my apron, and a killer menu.

I started with some crostini/bruschetta. Half were topped with baby portobellos and shallots sauteed in butter, olive oil, and garlic. I half-baked the bread and then topped and finished in the oven. The other half were topped with extra stuffing from the main course. On to that in a sec.

We then took a detour from kitchengeeking to have a soup course the host had already prepared. It was a creamy roasted eggplant soup with goat cheese crumbles, and I WILL get the recipe. It's from the sister of one of the other dinner guests.

Soup was slurped quickly by all and then we sat down to a main course of bone-in pork chops stuffed with 3T or so of a mixture of cream cheese, crab, jalapeno, spinach, and dried apricot. Each shop was stuffed, seared, and then finished off in a 375 degree oven and placed on a lake of black cherry balsamic reduction.

The stuffing was one large tub of cream cheese, one cup of lump crab meat, 1/4 cup diced, dried apricot, 1 cup chopped fresh spinach, one seeded (but not stemmed) jalapeno, and salt/pepper.

Breath. Drool more. Breath again.

The reduction was a can of sweet pie filling cherries in syrup, drained but not rinsed, 2/3 cup of balsamic vinegar, 2T sugar, 1t salt, 1t black pepper, and a whir in the processor/blender. Then onto the heat to reduce by half.

On top of it all was a shredded carrot, mint, and currant salad I found at Serious Eats.

The odd looking gizmos on the side of the plate were supposed to be Hasselback potatoes and I over boiled them in the parboil phase of things. Not a crisis. They weren't fancy fans of potato, but they were crispy, roast potatoes with ginger powder and black pepper crust and they did an admirable job of sopping up any and all reduction that slipped out from under the chops.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

I Made This Last Night

I'll tell you about it later.

For now, know that it's Black Cherry Balsamic reduction; a Cream cheese, Jalapeno, Crab and Dried Apricot Stuffed Pork Chop with Shredded Carrot Mint and Currant salad on top. The Hasselbeck potatoes didn't turn out as well as I'd like, but this was NOT a bad dinner to have.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lazy Man's Supper

Lazy Man's Supper is a dinner party for the Martha-challenged. I don't have an army of staff to fluff throw pillows on my leather couch, dust blinds and mantles, or make sure the candles are lit precisely 5 minutes before the guests arrive.

But I love to cook and spend time with my friends. So I do. And I make sure they know there aren't communicable diseases, and there isn't fine china either. Here was the cattle call for last night's dinner:

I will be taking tomorrow off to sleep and cook. The sleeping will help none of you. The cooking might.

Here's the deal, there will be two 9x13 trays of baked rigatoni with eggplant and spicy sausage. It makes Chez make the "O" face. There will be a radicchio/endive salad with some kinda orange vinaigrette. I will have a couple bottles of wine.

This is not a formal sit down dinner party. You'll be using plastic/foam plates.

I will not dust. Get over it.

The living/dining/kitchen rooms will be largely free of obstructions and there's seating for 10-12 at any given time if you're friendly.

This is not a house party for all night, just a c'mon over and stuff your face with good food before heading off to your Friday night destination.

DT/T and Chez/Jer can vouch for the goodness of the lazy man's supper, no pretense, just good peeps and good food.

Feel free to bring wine or beer of your choice. I'll make sure there's fridge room and/or a cooler.

RSVP please y'all. I'll make both trays, but I'd rather not have four pounds of leftover radicchio and endive...

The guest list was fairly large for a non-dinner party herd. E and Slim, K, M and Timmy, Chez and Jer, CW and STK, DT, PG, and Herb. PG, DT, and Herb weren't able to make it, but everyone else came in three shifts, so it all worked out. Jer had to leave early to play a gig, E, Slim, and K had to bolt for a beer tasting comedy show (I know, right, what was I doing at home?). CW and STK were the swing shift, and M and Timmy came in to finish off the second tray of pasta.

Yes Virginia, there is a group of vacuum cleaners with skin, and eyes, and mouths. And they will eat your 9 x 13 trays of baked rigatoni with eggplant and spicy sausage if you're not careful.

I started off the day by making the marinara. Simple, fresh, and extra so I can have a nice meal later in the week without working at it. Three jars of whole, peeled tomatoes (hand crushed, play with your food); three small onions, diced; 5 cloves of garlic, minced; 10-12 basil leaves, hand torn; olive oil; salt & pepper. Sweat the onions for 4-5 (salt & pepper here), add the garlic for one, throw in the tomatoes and simmer for 10, throw in the basil, stir through, reseason, remove from heat.

Once that got sorted out, Chez called and was on her way to the wine shop. I dutifully put on shoes and went downstairs to wait for my ride. I mean, I told people I would have a couple bottles of wine, and I only had three bottles of red and three of white. Clearly I was in danger of false advertising by only having six bottles in the apartment.

We fixed that but good. And having Jer as your guide at the wine shop is a treat too. Chez went straight for two of her faves, the Ring Bolt Cab and the Graham Beck's Gamekeeper's Reserve Cab.

I went a little heavier on the volume side, with excellent results. We got through both bottles of Orange River Winecellars Star Tree 2007 Cab, a very tasty 2003 Monte Antico Toscano (Check that link CY, Google tracked me down a Nashville source), and a bottle of 2007 Beaujolais Nouveau.Oh, yeah, and M drank white because she can't drink red. She was enjoying a lovely bottle of Pinot Evil Pinot Gris.

My suspicion whenever that happens is that the person is reacting adversely to sulfates the Man makes importers put in bottles of wine a preservative to save us. I always thought when I went to the town of St. Emilion I would find all of the inhabitants walking around with a dull headache at 4pm because of all the red wine they drank. But NO dear reader, nary a grimace. Unless of course the particular bottle they wanted was unavailable. They drank red wine to their heart's content.

I started off with a cooking glass of the Pinot Gris, then had a glass of Star Tree before dinner, the Graham Beck with my plate of awesome, and a glass of the Monte Antico as things wound down. Time frame, dear lush-watchers? Those glasses happened over a period of 4 hours. It was, as my e-mail advertised, "the goodness of the lazy man's supper, no pretense, just good peeps and good food."

Back at the ranch, I was frying sausages to brown them and then sauteing eggplant in olive oil to caramelize. I like the results. Makes the kitchen smell fantastic to have a fresh pot of marinara on the stove and sausages frying in the pan.

Food awareness comes slowly sometimes. You don't realize you've learned something until you've done it a dozen times. I remember the first time I realized olive oil was 'fruity.' Now every time I buy a bottle, I'll smell the raw oil before using it, and I'll notice the fruit when I pick a piece of eggplant to make sure there is enough chew left, and enough fruit imparted, to consider the sauteing completed.

Once the pasta was boiled, the sausages and eggplant finished, the marina cooled, and the mozzarella diced, into the roasting pan it went. Into the roasting pan because when you have two pounds each of sausage, pasta, and mozzarella; 4 quarts of marinara; and two large eggplants to mix together, there is not really a bowl in the non-commercial kitchen that will do the trick. All that goodness, mixed up? Fits into two 9x13s...AND and 8x8. Two and half orders. Turns out that was okay. We ate it all. Two trays minus a to-go for DT were taken care of at the apartment. The half tray went to the bar. The doorman was happy to see me.

Folks at the house also had a salad and bread. The bread was store bought, high-end, Italian-style asiago bread. The salad was a classic I don't make enough. A radicchio and endive salad with citrus vinaigrette. Dressing was the juice from two navel oranges, one lime, salt, pepper, 1 T Dijon mustard, and olive oil whisked in to emulsify it all. Probably wend 1 t on the salt and 1 1/2 t on the pepper. That was a little more than I needed for a salad that fed a few more people than were there. Saves well for a few days, so don't worry about over doing it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Because My Mind Wanders - Eggs on Food

CY made my brain go backwards recently. I read her post about Heidi's lentil soup and got myself into the wayback machine to my time in Paris and the ability to have an egg cracked over damn near any food item at a restaurant. Croque Monsieur with an egg? Sure. Croque Madame it is.

And pizza. Pizza with egg on top is awesome. And ubiquitous in France. It's everywhere. Trust me. The parody of real French cuisine that's paraded on the Champs-Elysses? That stuff that has to be mass produced for people willing to wait for too long to get 'authentic' food while the food itself must be paradoxically 'real' French because they're showing it off to the non-natives? Yup, these guys found it. I've been to Pino. Great place, actually fairly representative of the pizza options you'll find in western European cities large enough to have a big pizza joint with patio seating.

Another thing I love? The fact that towns don't have to be that big at all in Europe to support a large restaurant of some kind that that outdoor seating/cafe in the summer months.

Back from the Dead

Or at least back from a week of madness at the office. It takes work to generate that much press over three days of events. And I was tired. That's not to say I didn't eat. That is to say I didn't cook. Not once in almost a week. It sucked.

But that's all over now, and the cooking begins again tomorrow. You'll see pictures of one of my favorite recipes, the "o" face inducing Baked Rigatoni with Eggplant and Spicy Sausage. Plus an endive and radicchio salad with an orange vinaigrette. And I'll likely try to get artsy, cheap, digital pictures of wine bottles and glasses.

While I was gone, I did eat here. You can see what I had to choose from here.

Please believe me when I tell you that curried cream of crab soup and jaegerschnitzel make a damn fine combination for a meal with 6 of your closest work buddies. Also tried my very first sparkling red. That's right, not a blush, but a full on red, Shiraz actually. With bubbles. Nice. More like bubbly Concord grape juice than wine with bubbles, but that wasn't a bad thing.

I also ate one of the most gorgeous non-sushi-grade pieces of ahi tuna known to man in Morgantown. Two inches thick, and the perfect sear. Felt like a layer of skin with nothing but melting ahi underneath. Sauced too much with a sticky sweet glaze of some sort (they call it "sweet soy"). Great app there as well. It had been a bitterly cold day, an exhausting one, and there was another hell of a trek the next morning. So a real deal french onion soup, with deep, rich broth and more cheese than I care to tell and cardiologist, was a beautiful way to warm up and relax.

Mostly though, I should tell you about their house salad. Prepared tableside. Mixed greens on the hearty ice-berg-like side, with some softer greens as well. Lots of big red onion slices, and a dressing that included, at least, gorgonzola, sundried tomatoes, and celery ceed. It was a delicious blend of crispy and chewy and salty and bitter and sweet. I really could not stop eating it. And I had just inhaled the full bowl of french onion soup. Mmmmmmm. Damn I was lucky.

Came back to Charly-West and stuffed face at Ichiban with (I'm not kidding here) two butter fish, two orders of wasabi shumai, one order each of laotian and chicken egg rolls, two orders of rockfish tempura, three tubs of edamame, and a double roll of jalapeno smelt with tempura shrimp and an avacado/filet rainbow on the outside TO START. It's good to Ichiban with G and 8 other pals to catch back up with the family I get to choose.

Followed up the app fest with the Souhala filet. That's the seared scallop in a pocketed filet with ooey-gooey sweet sauce goodness and some spinach thrown about with great gusto for flavor. Sticky rice here too.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Middle Eastern Football Sunday

Just to set the mood. You know, because at the beginning of the day these bottles were minding their own business, corks were sitting under shiny wrapper-stuff, oxygenation was not happening. But of course, there were six people at my apartment, and we were there all day eating and watching football. And some wine was consumed. I want y'all to know that no one drove after consuming too much wine, and that we were not each reaching for our own bottle. This was a 6 hour smorgashboard of Sunday.

It was, as DT and T both said, the best Sunday ever.

Of course, there may have been better Sundays in the past, and each of us may have a better Sunday exactly seven days from today. But for us, those lucky few who made it to my apartment (I was kinda there already), it was a Sunday that was perfect for mind, body, and soul.

I got to cook. A lot. Large pot of Moosewood's Middle-Eastern Chick Peas with Spinach over orzo. A triple batch of Martha Stewart's Lamb Kofta, and a heaping dollop of lemon/mint/garlic yoghurt sauce.I'll give you the recipe for the chick peas if you want. Pretty simply with onion, red pepper, cumin, coriander, chick peas, and spinach. You can get there in your mind if you work at it. You want measurements? Drop me an e-mail.

I really loved the kofta. It was a spice explosion with lamb. Can't beat that. Coriander, cumin, paprika, nutmeg, clove, cayenne, cinnamon. Damn. It blended so well together. And I hit the cooking time perfectly. Juicy, tender lamb with exotic, non-chain spices? AND pita? C'mon, it was heaven. Managed to get amazingly fresh flat-leaf parsley AND toast the pine nuts without burning more than three of four too.

We all loaded up our plates and grazed through the day. Later on there was espresso (Lavazza of course), homemade hot chocolate (from Chez's sister's x-mas gift to me), and wine as we checked out the new Terminator series, and laughed hysterically through Family Guy and American Dad.

DT went and picked up ice cream early on, so there was dessert too. Haagen Daas Triple Chocolate and Eddy's Samoa. That's right. There's Girl Scout Cookie ice cream. Chez screamed (literally) when DT pulled it out of the bag. We all just grabbed spoons and started passing cartons of ice cream around.

Neither DT nor T had to be at work today. I got to spend 3+ hours in the kitchen and make people happy. J got a nice dinner before heading in to the office. Chez got some couch time.

If perfect exists, today was it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

In My Kitchen Now

The Man Who Ate Everything

It's part autobiographical, part travel log, part recipe vault for the forgotten and the soon-to-be obsolete, and part FDA bureaucrat-dietitian's worst nightmare. And it's all snark. That wry, condescending-because-you-deserve-it humor that many of us have seen on the Food Network when author Jeffrey Steingarten is a judge on Iron Chef: America.

Ranging from a frantic search for true truffle cuisine in Italy to a scouring of New York grocers shelves for a mad spree of cooking those classic back-of-the-box recipes, Steingarten's essays (collected here from about 1986-1996), take you through the mind of a frumpy New Yorker fortunate enough to have landed a gig as the food critic at Vogue. Just so you have the benefit of some of the info in his bio-graph at the front of the book, he was also a writer for the Harvard Lampoon.

There are a few odd moments in the book. A chapter on pheromones and lordosis (you look it up, and have a good time with that), for example, is a sidetrack that while interesting and entertaining, really only made me wonder when the next pork chop of the cosmos would find its way to becoming the pork chop in my belly.

Retaliatory snark aside, Steingarten writes a book about food that people who pretend to enjoy food probably ought to read. The streets of Memphis, New York, Venice, Paris, and Tokyo; the country paths of Morocco, Alsace, and the Piedmont? All there. Microwaving fish, creating the perfect sourdough starter, how to make a pie crust that will be the envy of the gods? That too.

I wonder if he went back to the Pacific northwest since writing "Ingredients in Search of a Cuisine" about the bounty of the catch, and the nascence of the regional 'cuisine?'

I will likely try his recipe for the perfect choucroute, and I'm tempted by a pie filled with sour cherries or wild blueberries. The blueberries would be hand picked by this guy and driven back home, or maybe to the farm this summer?

Steingarten takes the FDA to task about salt and fat, wonders why no one in a position of gastronomical power has really bothered to tell people about the difference between good fats and bad fats, HDL and LDL, and why partial-hydrogenation may kill you faster than Paula Dean ever could.

I have to confess that I read this book over a period of a couple years. A vignette here, a chapter there. One sitting got me through several of the fad diet and nutrition tales with a strong desire to eat hot buttered bacon with salted pork dumplings on the side. It really is a powerful tome.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Food Blogs Don't Require Cooking - Bacon Edition

Because I received this today,
Fellow Bacon lover,

Your January 2008 Bacon Of the Month Club will be shipping out during the week of January 22nd, 2008.

Going out of town? Have you moved since your last shipment? Having your mail held at the Post Office? Your Bacon Of The Month will be held too!!

Please call us to hold your Bacon Of The Month for the time you're away! Would you like to have it instead delivered to another address? Call us and we will temporary change the delivery address to where you want it delivered.

If you will not be available to receive your bacon, please notify us via email at or by telephone at 1-888-XXX-XXXX. Changes can not be made after January 15th, 2008.

If you are not the recipient of the bacon and would not like to be emailed, please provide us the recipients email address.

**We are not responsible to replace any shipments when notification is not made in time.**

Enjoy your bacon and have a Grateful Day!!

I will leave you with this today.

Hat tip to iron stef for finding this gem.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dinner Tonight, I Promise

I've been sick. Sick in a not pleasant or advisable to be in the kitchen stffed up kinda way. Steam from tea, that's what I've needed. But I'm better, and I need to cook. Tonight? Fish. Tasty, spicy, flaky fish. Perhaps couscous? Perhaps rice pilaf with lentils? Who knows. I'm lible to get crazy with the metaphorical cheese-whiz after being out of the kitchen for so long.

To tide you over just a little bit, here's a pic from New Year's Day that I didn't fit into the braised pork hash posting.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lola's Pizza To Tide You Over

My sinuses might disagree slightly with the statement that reports of my death were greatly exaggerated. Thought it was just a huge win hangover from the Fiesta Bowl watching on Wednesday, but it turns out that screaming your face off while having a few beers, then putting on the patch the next day while a head/chest cold starts up is NOT any version of 'yours stars aligning.'

But I have a couple pictures to share with you from Thursday pseudo-date night with Chez. That means it has all the trappings of a date, but Jer doesn't worry cause we're really just having pizza from Lola's.

It started with the sweet potato salad for me. Chunks of sweet potatoes and avacado with red onion and orange slices and gorgonzola over mixed greens with a cilantro-lime vinagrette. Tasty sweet-tart combo, lemme tell ya'. Chez went with the goat cheese salad, with her cute little goat cheese fritters all nestled in greens.

Lola's is the kind of place where you CAN really agree on one pizza, as Chez and I did Thursday, settling on the roasted eggplant with roasted peppers and mozzarella. We disagreed on size, she won, we got a large, I thanked her profusely while noshing on my fourth piece of eggplanty, garlicky, roasted red peppery goodness.

All the pies there are divine, though, so go order more than one. The special pie of the night, especially in summertime when they can get fresh veg, is incredible. The special salad last Thursday was a great seasonal mix with walnuts and apples over mixed greens.

There's this basil pesto they drizzle on some pies. You want it. By the bathtub full. There's also a damn sticky-delicious balsamic reduction that's on the Spinach and Gorgonzola pie. I've ordered it more times than any other. Not sure that'll ever change, though the Pesto-Portobella might someday overtake it. Yes, that means eating goat cheese when I forget to have it removed. Stranger things have (and will continue to) happened.

I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss crust for just a second. As you can see, it's thin crust. The point of each slice is overburdened with cheese and goodness, so you need to prop it with your second hand while folding at the back edge. I am not opposed to this at all. For all you 'ew, floppy point of pizza' people out there, I submit to you that space at Lola's is limited, and I want to thank you for not getting in the way of ME getting more tasty pies there.

For me, too, with Bubby now behind the bar, you can go and snark at Bubby with J and (sorry I've forgotten J's cohort's name) while you wait for your pie and they wait for him to pout glasses of wine and sangria for their customers. Really good people. And an excellent small wine and beer list. There aren't any duds that I've found. The wines include Catena (when they can get it), Zen of Zin, lots of whites to which I'll have to start paying more attention, etc. You can have a Stella, a Czechvar, and Guiness, several flavors of Rogue in the large bottles served with mini-wine bottle chillers, and more.

Many times I'll go there with Chez or somebody and get a large pie, a salad each, and a bottle of Big Tattoo/Two Brothers wine. Go read the About page and figure out why I'm happy to buy bottles of that wine from good friends who run a restaurant that uses local ingredients to make delicious food.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's Raining Pigs, Hallelujah!

Allow me to remind you of my earlier good fortune this holiday season. You will note, dear reader, that I described winning that soon to be mine copy of Bacon as "the most delicious e-mail ever."

Allow me to beg your pardon and restate my position.

That was the most delicious e-mail last year.

The clear 'most delicious e-mail' of 2008, only 2 days into the year, can be read below.

Swoon, oh readers who live too far away to come over for dinner.

Congrats, kitchengeeking!

It's my pleasure to inform you that you've won the Bacon of the Month Club from the 12/28 Seriously Delicious Holiday Giveaway on Serious Eats.

All we'll need from you is the following to get that out to you:

Name, Shipping Address, and Phone Number.

Happy Holidays and thanks for reading the site!


Braised Pork Hash

I was strolling around the food-blog-o-sphere over the past few days trying to find good ideas for New Years Day and was rewarded with some excellent reading and viewing. My monitor is too old to have been equipped with the smell-o-vision I hear folks jabberin' about on the TV food-type shows. Alas.

What I settled on first was that I was making black-eyed peas. I make them very well, they are traditional New Years Day food, and I am not willing to tempt the gods so much that I throw all tradition out the window.

I'm also making cornbread because I can, and because I'm going to throw and open invite to the peeps to come over and cure hangovers. I'll probably get two out of the oven by 3 (when I texted folks to appear tomorrow).

But there was something missing, something hearty that was not sitting in the middle of the mental table of my vision of New Years Day.

Click. And then there wasn't anything missing at all. I could see the pork shoulder, I could smell peeled whole garlic perfuming the mise en place kitchen, and could imagine (and thoroughly enjoyed) the scent of thyme and bay and white wine perfuming my entire apartment through the last afternoon of 2007.Something bothers me about that recipe. Can you guess what it it? Read it a couple times.

No browning of the meat. None at all. And that's more than passing strange to me. I struggled a bit in my prep. Eventually, I decided that browning was not required and just reciped through. I listened to Ruhlman and came to the conclusion that I could see the recipe without the browning. Plus, there was the skillet hashing of it to get some crispy action going. And, since I served it over creamy grits, a crunchy texture was not what I wanted in the final product. Soft, rendered, braised, garlicky pork was my mental image.

And really, what did I have to worry about? Since I didn't 'over liquid' (as I usually do, loving the sauce so much), there was crusty, crispy, porky goodness on top. This was taken after four hours in the oven, and I decided to give it another 30-45 minutes since I could still make out the tiniest little bit of connective tissue. It was clearly in a 'mostly gelatinous' state, so I was on schedule still.

That also may have occured because I mis-read the recipe on the last glance before preheating and the shoulder spent its first hour in the oven at 375 instead of 325.

It turned out just fine, with the recipe right on track. I had to take the shoulder out of the pan in several loads because it really just fell apart. I grabbed a knife to chop a bit, but I should have simply taken two dinner forks and gone to town Memphis-style on the shredding. The meat was still moist, and there was a small amount of connective tissue to scrap, but maybe a 1/4-cup worth from a 4-pound shoulder.

Straining and saucing was a quick job, and the sauce was absolutely delicious. If you have leftover sauce, dear lord save it. Sammy dressing, on top of a batch of mashed potatoes, over eggs. Oh joy, gravy

I'm sorry you don't have pictures of the finished product on the cheese grits I made yesterday. There was just too much cooking to really take pictures. The cheese grits were last. But before them came the black-eyed peas, the roasted carrot and potato fritata, and the bacon-cheddar-jalapeno corn bread. Chez, J, H, DT, T, and DB stopped by and we grazed all day. J was kind enough bring bubbly, and DT ran to get some OJ, so mimosas were enjoyed with the all-day new year's brunch. PG got a plate too, and I imagine he devoured it around 2 am today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Music With Which To Cook

Here's a fairly large sample of the music I was listening to last year while cooking. There are 98 tracks from 98 artists in this iMix. Alpha by artist name, though if you want some of the super-favs, feel free to ask. I have to warn you though, I might just send you a list of 98 tracks with #1 beside all of them. This iMix was whittled down from 194 tracks in a series of mixes I made this year (and that's only single tracks, not the rest of the albums I may also have picked up). You should also go and see other tracks, other albums, other artists from the same town and find more good music with which to cook.

Most but not all of the tracks are from 2007. In addition to getting back into cooking with a fury, I got back to learning about and listening to new music. It will be too loud, to eclectic, to sad-sap, and too 'what was that crap' for some folks. Not to worry, just an insight into the tunes I was enjoying; I'm not trying to proselytize too much here.

That bit about 'getting back into' is important to me this new year. I think, perhaps, that it's important to have hobbies, to have 'things' you do with your time that are fun for you and you alone. If you can share them, so much the better. But there's some part of the cooking and the music that's just for me too.

...and now back to the New Year's Day brunch cooking with this playing in the background to remind and inspire...