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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Beef, Pork, on March 13th, 2017.

pork_shank_osso_buco

Might you think I’ve made a typo? PORK Osso Buco? Yes, it’s pork, not veal.

Ever since I had osso buco the first time (probably in the 1980s) I’ve loved it. But as time has gone by, less and less have I purchased veal, for one thing (on general principles) but also because veal is so gosh-darned expensive. SO, when I was watching some food tv show recently they mentioned making osso buco with pork shanks. What a great idea, was my reasoning.

The next dilemma was finding pork shanks. I’d certainly never seen them in the pre-wrapped packs at the grocery store. And having no idea they’d be a problem, I sought out the butcher at two upscale markets I go to. No, they didn’t have any, and wouldn’t ever be getting any, because most markets only get the hog body, without legs. Really? The butcher kind of leaned over the high counter and said quietly, go to a Mexican butcher; they’ll have them. He said they’re called a bodega. (I thought a bodega was a Spanish bar? It must mean “market.”)

So, sure enough, because we have a large Hispanic population where I live, it took me no time at all to locate a Mexican butcher shop. A bodega. A tiny place, where Mexican music was blaring inside, and filled with a variety of mothers and children, all speaking in rapid Spanish. I approached the meat case. The butcher spoke great English, and after clarifying what I wanted, he said SURE, come back on Wednesday. We get the legs in that day, come after 3pm. I did – he showed me a big, frozen shank bone and we discussed what part of the shank I wanted. I wanted meaty shanks. I also asked where the pork came from (I didn’t want to buy pork imported from Mexico). He assured me it came from the Midwestern U.S. Good! I asked him to cut them crossways about 3” thick. He did exactly that.

The shanks were frozen, so I left them that way until I was ready to prepare them. Meanwhile, I’d located a recipe online, from Jeff Mauro, at the Food Network. I also printed out my old, regular veal osso buco recipe, and compared them, side by side. They’re very similar. I haven’t made veal osso buco since I started my blog in 2007, so I’m going to print the recipe down below, even though I’ve not made it for this post. I’ve had osso buco in countless restaurants, and none have compared with the ones I’ve made here at home using the recipe down below.

A few weeks ago, when I made this, I was out in the desert (the California desert), and the night I made this dish it was greeted with great accolades from my friend, Ann, who was with me. She is home in Idaho now, and says she’s going to make it for friends. She LOVED it. So did I. It’s made just like making it with veal – it’s a braised dish. Easy. After browning the sides, the meat is baked (covered) in a slow oven for about 3 hours with the veggies and aromatics. The recipe indicated 2 hours at 325°. It wasn’t done after 2 hours, so I reduced the temp to 300° and cooked it another 45 minutes or so. I also didn’t have twine – once the shanks are cooked to perfection, they literally fall off the bone, so you do want to wrap them in twine if possible. I managed to hold them together by using a big slotted spoon.

While the shanks baked, I made the gremolata. Now, I must tell you – do NOT make this without the gremolata – I think the lemon zest, and orange zest if you use it, are key ingredients to the overall taste of osso buco. There’s something about that fresh zest that gives this dish a finished zing. I prefer to make the gremolata shortly before it’s needed, so the zest is still super-fresh off the fruit itself.

If I’d had a stick blender, or even a regular blender, I would have whizzed up the veggies and braise liquid, but there wasn’t one where we were staying. So it was just served with some of the braising liquid and veggies spooned on top of both the meat AND the lovely mashed potatoes we made to go with it. Traditionally you serve creamy polenta with this, but I had potatoes, and I thought they were just great with it. Maybe easier than making polenta. The gremolata is a garnish.

What’s GOOD: comfort food at its finest! Falling off the bone, luscious, tasty, tummy warming. Easy. A definite keeper. My friend and I licked our plates clean.

What’s NOT: only that you have to wait a few hours to eat it – it requires a few hours of baking time. Very easy otherwise.

printer-friend PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Osso Buco

Recipe By: Adapted from Food Network, Jeff Mauro
Serving Size: 4

4 pieces pork shank — (each about 3″ high) tied with twine
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup carrots — diced
1 cup celery — diced
2 large yellow onions — diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 cloves garlic — minced
2 cups dry white wine — (vermouth works here)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth — warmed
14 ounces crushed tomatoes — or fresh, chopped
2 whole bay leaves
GREMOLATA:
1 cup fresh parsley — finely minced
2 teaspoons lemon zest — using a rasp grater
1 teaspoon orange zest — optional, using a rasp grater
2 cloves garlic — grated on a rasp grater
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 300°degrees F. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Liberally season all sides of the shanks with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the pan and sear the shanks until golden brown on all sides, about 5 minutes a side. Transfer to a plate.
2. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven, then add the carrots, celery and onions. Season with salt and pepper and saute until the vegetables are slightly soft and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine to deglaze, scraping all the bits off the bottom. Add the shanks, any accumulated juices, the warm broth, tomatoes and bay leaves. Cover, transfer to the oven and cook until the shanks are extremely fork-tender, about 3 hours. Remove the shanks and tent with foil on a plate.
3. If the braising liquid is a bit thin, right before serving, simmer the remaining liquid until thickened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary. If possible, use a stick blender in the liquid to puree it. Cook’s Note: The shanks can be stored for up to 2 days in the braising liquid.
4. On each plate, place a warm shank with a ladle of rich braising liquid, then top with the fresh Gremolata.
5. Gremolata: Mix the parsley, lemon zest, orange zest and garlic together in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Per Serving: 286 Calories; 11g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 1mg Cholesterol; 477mg Sodium.

printer-friendly PDF (below recipe) and MasterCook 15/16 file (also for recipe below)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Osso Buco (Veal)

Recipe By: adapted slightly from Tarla Fallgatter, at a cooking class in the 1980s
Serving Size: 6

10 pieces veal shank — meaty ends, tied with twine to keep it intact
1 1/2 cups dry white wine — vermouth is fine
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups onions — minced
3/4 cup carrots — minced
3/4 cup celery — minced
1 teaspoon garlic — minced
1/4 cup butter
4 cups veal stock — or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes — drained, measured after draining
6 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt fresly ground black pepper to taste
GREMOLATA:
3/4 cup Italian parsley — minced
3 tablespoons lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic — minced

1. Dry meat with paper towels and season with salt and pepper, then dust with a little flour. Brown the shanks, a few at a time, in the butter/oil mixture until golden brown, top and bottom. Remove shanks from the pan and set aside. To the pot add wine, cooking it over high heat, scraping up the brown bits sticking to the bottom and reduce the mixture to about 1/2 cup. Pour mixture out and set aside.
2. In a flameproof casserole, just large enough to hold the veal shanks in one layer, saute the onions, carrots, and celery until soft and lightly colored along with the garlic and additional butter. Add veal, the reduced wine mixture and chicken stock – just enough to almost cover the shanks, or about 1/2 way up. Spread tomatoes on top and add herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat.
3. Place pot in a 325°F oven for 2 hours, or until the veal is tender.
4. Transfer veal with a slotted spoon to a serving dish; remove strings and keep warm. Strain the pan juices into a pan and puree the vegetables in a blender or food processor. Cook the juices and the vegetables together until reduced to about 3 cups of liquid. Baste the veal with some of the reduced juices and bake it, basting 3-4 times with the juices, for 10 minutes more, or until the veal looks glazed. Remove to a hot serving platter and pour some of the juices around it, then garnish with the gremolata.
5. GREMOLATA: Combine ingredients and mix together.
Per Serving: 740 Calories; 33g Fat (42.4% calories from fat); 84g Protein; 17g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 331mg Cholesterol; 1477mg Sodium.

Posted in Beef, Pork, on November 6th, 2016.

beef_sausage_enchilasagna

Until a couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of a recipe mash-up. It’s when you take two different dishes and put them together to make something different, part of one and part of another.

The TV show I’d watched was an episode of Pioneer Woman, and she’d made a chicken enchilasagna. So, part enchiladas, and part lasagna. The dish sounded really good. My son and his family have moved recently from a town near me, to a town near Pasadena (east of downtown Los Angeles). That’s where my son works, and he’d been commuting for all the years he’s worked there (many). They hated leaving their home, but it was the right thing for them. They’ve bought a new home there and I went for the weekend to help them get more moved in. So I decided I’d make this casserole to take along with me to help feed us one of the dinner meals.

enchilasagna_cheese_mixtureI did make a departure from Ree Drummond’s original recipe. I’d been eating cubed-up turkey breast for about 6 straight days (in salad) and wanted a different protein. So I used ground beef and some Italian sausage instead. And, I read all the reviews on the Food Network site and took those comments into consideration as I made this. I used part whole milk ricotta and part cottage cheese, plus Jack cheese for the cheese filling (photo here). I didn’t use as much canned red and green enchilada sauce as directed, as many people said it was too loose and soupy. I used real onion (instead of onion powder) and real garlic (instead of garlic powder). My big baking pan didn’t hold 4 lasagna noodles, either, so I adapted the recipe with 3 layers of 3 noodles and the top layer I used 4 noodles overlapping so the top was a complete flat surface to hold the cheese and some more enchilada sauce.enchilasagna_unbaked

There at right you can see the almost finished pan full of it. I added one more layer of lasagna, sauce and a lot of grated sharp cheddar cheese. If you only eat one portion, the pan might feed 10-11, but if you have hungry mouths to feed, less, of course. enchilasagna_baked There at left you can see the finished (and fully baked) casserole.

What’s GOOD: Oh my goodness, was this ever delicious! I mean it was fantastic. The combination of flavors was really good. Very cheesy. Very flavorful. Gooey and comforting. After a day of unpacking things at their house, it was so nice to slide this into the oven and dress a green salad and there was dinner. The casserole is easier to make than lasagna because you don’t have to make a red marinara sauce.

What’s NOT: nothing really at all. I liked it so much I’ll definitely be making it again.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Beef & Sausage Enchilasagna

Recipe By: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman, 2016
Serving Size: 10

MEAT FILLING:
3/4 pound lean ground beef
3/4 pound Italian sausage — sweet
1/2 medium onion — finely minced
2 cloves garlic — smashed & minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
CHEESE FILLING:
3 cups Monterey jack cheese — grated
3/4 cup ricotta cheese — whole milk style
1 1/4 cups cottage cheese — whole milk style
1/3 cup parsley — chopped
PASTA and TOPPING:
13 lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese — grated for topping
SAUCE:
10 ounces red enchilada sauce
10 ounces green enchilada sauce

NOTES: If you want to increase the amount of meat, cheeses and noodles, you can probably make 1 large casserole and 1 small one – then you’ll use up all the enchilada sauce, a full container of ricotta and cottage cheese, and probably a whole box of lasagna noodles.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a medium skillet saute the ground beef and sausage together over medium heat, chopping up the meat into small pieces as it cooks. Add onion and garlic, then cumin and chili powder. Continue cooking until all the pink is gone from the meat and the onion is cooked through.
3. Cook the lasagna noodles until al dente (they’ll cook further during the baking time). Soak in cold water so they don’t stick together. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl combine the jack cheese, ricotta, cottage cheese and parsley.
5. Using a large rectangular baking dish, pour about 1/4 cup or less of each of the canned enchilada sauces over the bottom. Spread to cover all of the bottom surface. Drain the lasagna noodles and place 3 noodles in the pan. Add a third of the meat mixture, then a third of the cheese mixture and drizzle a little more enchilada sauce (both) over the top. Add two more layers of noodles, sauce and fillings. Place 4 noodles on the top, overlapping them a little bit. Drizzle with sauce so all the noodles have some sauce on them, then sprinkle the grated sharp cheddar cheese over the top.
6. If baking immediately, it will take about 25-30 minutes to heat through. If refrigerated (covered) before baking, plan on it taking about an hour. Cut into generous squares and serve.
Per Serving: 950 Calories; 44g Fat (41.8% calories from fat); 47g Protein; 89g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 137mg Cholesterol; 961mg Sodium.

Posted in Pasta, Pork, on October 28th, 2016.

First off, I have to tell you about one of my birthday gifts. I happened to mention to my daughter in law, Karen, about Rachel Ray’s pasta pot, about how it’s an elongated oval in shape so you can plunge the entire length of linguine or spaghetti or whatever long pasta you’re using and you don’t have to stand there over the steam facial trying to stuff the pasta down into the boiling water. Always seems to me like that’s problematical at times. I thought my DIL would want one for herself, since she makes pasta with some frequency for her family. I never thought she’d buy it for ME! But she did – for my daughter Sara (our birthdays are 5 days apart) and for me. Then she went shopping and bought some lovely California olive oil and several packages of long pasta and some high-end tomato sauces and wrapped it all up in cellophane and gave it to us. What a fun gift.

rachel_rays_pasta_pot

This is Rachael Ray Porcelain Enamel II Nonstick 8-Quart Covered Oval Pasta Pot with Pour Spout, Red Gradient– it’s quite long – oval in shape. Comes in 3 or 4 colors. It’s available at Amazon – click the link.

This new pot is SO great. I just LOVE LOVE the long oval shape and I made pasta last night just so I could use it and try it out. On the far side – the edge – you can barely see it, there’s a pour spout. The handles (can’t see them in the photo, sorry) have soft red covers so they don’t get too hot to handle. The pot is nonstick, though I don’t know that I’ll use it for actual cooking. It’s not a super heavy pot, not like cast iron. I was gleeful as I decided to make some pasta since I consider it a real treat.

I’ve been working on a project – it’s taken me weeks and weeks – sorting through and throwing away most of my old-old recipes that I’ve been collecting (these are clippings from numerous magazines and newspapers, 3×5 cards sometimes, a few from the early internet days and some stray cooking class recipes on which I’d made no notes whether the dishes were good, bad, etc.) since the mid-1960s. Most of them I’d never made, but they were sorted into categories and I’d rarely dip into the folders. Some of the pocket folders I haven’t touched for 5 or more years. Definitely time to do something about them. None are in my recipe software. So I’d dump out a pile of recipes – somewhere between 50-300 in each folder and standing at my kitchen island I’d start a discard pile and a few would go the other way to be input into MasterCook. In the pasta pocket folder containing about 100 recipes I saved out 5 recipes, of which this was one.

creamy_sausage_sauce_pastaThe recipe I decided to try comes from one of the Café Beaujolais (Mendocino, California) cookbooks. Don’t know which one. It called for andouille sausage or linguisa. I had regular Italian sweet sausage instead. And it might be really good with chorizo too. And I added onion which wasn’t in the original recipe. Otherwise it’s mostly Margaret Fox’s recipe. I used less cream, more cheese and maybe a few more slivered peppers.

What’s GOOD: oh my goodness, was it good. Maybe I was just over the moon at having pasta in any way, shape or form, but I loved the combo of sausage and cream – which is what Margaret Fox wrote in the original recipe, about the affinity of the two; something she’d never tried before until her husband created this dish. I used half a cup of cream for the whole dish which serves at least 3, maybe 4 small servings. So, not too bad. Loved this. I’d definitely make it again. And, it came together in a jiffy.

What’s NOT: not exactly a low calorie or low fat dish, sorry to say. It satisfied all my cravings for sausage and pasta and then some. Seems like I dirtied up a bunch of pots and pans, but really only two; it’s just that they were both big ones.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Spicy Creamy Sausage Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted from a recipe from Cafe Beaujolais, Mendocino (from Margaret Fox, the original owner/chef)
Serving Size: 3

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound Italian sausage — cut into chunks
1/2 yellow onion — slivered
1/2 cup bell peppers — slivered
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup green onion — chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped
8 ounces linguine
1 teaspoon salt — for the pasta water
Save some of the cooking water

1. Set aside some of the chopped green onions and parsley for garnishing.
2. Heat a large skillet and add olive oil. Add the Italian sausage and brown well on all sides (helps develop flavors). Add onion and saute for 3-4 minutes, then add peppers and continue cooking for 2-4 minutes until onion is cooked through. Add garlic and red chili flakes and stir for about a minute. Don’t let the garlic brown.
3. Add the white wine and cook for 2-4 minutes to let the flavors marry.
4. Meanwhile, heat a large stock pot with water and add salt. Cook linguine until barely tender (al dente).
5. To the sausage pan add heavy cream, the green onions, parsley and grated cheese. Stir as you heat the sauce through.
6. Drain pasta and add to the meat mixture, stirring to combine. Add some of the pasta cooking water as needed to make the mixture fluid. Immediately serve and garnish with the reserved parsley and green onions.
Per Serving: 942 Calories; 61g Fat (59.7% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 64g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 1574mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on March 3rd, 2016.

pork_enchilada_casserole_serving

Mexican Comfort Food. Easy. Gooey with melting cheese, tasty with pork carnitas inside, and a bit of sour cream to make it over the top.

Of all the recipes on this blog, you can count only a few that are truly Mexican. Like Mexican restaurant combination plate items. Why? Because I have such wonderful Mexican restaurants within a few miles of my house, and their food is pretty darned good. In years past (prior to 1976)  I used to make Mexican dishes at home, but that was because they were: (1) relatively inexpensive to make; (2) could feed a lot of people; and/or (3) I couldn’t get decent Mexican food where I lived.

But now, and for the last 40 years I’ve lived close to a Mexican population and restaurants abound. However, none of them make casseroles. They make tacos, burritos, tortas, taquitos, enchiladas (chicken, beef or cheese) and tostadas. Oh, and chile rellenos (one of my favorites). Years ago I used to make a chile relleno casserole that used canned Anaheim green chiles filled with a mixture of cream cheese and Jack cheese, dipped in egg, then flour and briefly fried, then baked in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I haven’t made those in years. They don’t resemble the rellenos I get at my favorite local Mexican place, Jalapeno’s, on First Street in Tustin, CA. I eat there about once a week, where I often run into friends who read my blog (hi, Mary). It’s a very popular place in our neighborhood, and they make awesome Mexican food.

pork_enchilada_casserole_ready_2bakeSo why did I decide to make a Mexican dish? Well, I read the blog, Homesick Texan. Lisa Fain grew up in Texas, but has lived in NYC for a long time, and she misses her home town Tex-Mex food, big time. She regularly returns to Texas to visit, and her blog reads like a travelogue – she goes from restaurant to restaurant to stock up on her Mexican or Tex-Mex favorites. She can’t get enough of it. She created this casserole as an easy way to have pork enchiladas, but without the fussiness of filling and rolling up the corn tortillas and lining them up like soldiers.

All the ingredients that go into enchiladas are there, but she merely layered them in a casserole and you cut it into servings, kind of like lasagna.

I’ve now made this twice and have changed a few minor things: (1) I layered it 4 layers deep (not 3) which makes for a bit more  depth, obviously. (2) I added just a bit more cheese; and (3) I dolloped some sour cream inside the layers, not just as a garnish for serving.

poblano_salsa_verdeIf you go to Lisa’s blog, you can read her recipe which has you cooking your own pork. I chose not to do that merely because I’d have so MUCH pork left over, since I’m just a one person household now. So, instead, I stopped at Jalapeno’s one night and I bought 3/4 pound of carnitas, and they gave me the pork, but also a foam container of raw onions and a huge pile of cilantro. All things to use in this casserole too. Yippee! I did make the sauce, which was relatively easy. You could, if you live where grocery stores sell fresh tomatillo salsa, use that. Lisa’s salsa also has poblano chiles in the mix, which gives a lovely depth of flavor. I understand that some Mexican markets sell canned poblano (pasilla) chiles – I haven’t found them, but if so I’d just add one of those to the tomatillo salsa.

This casserole is SO easy to put together once you line up all the ingredients: the grated cheese, the shredded pork, minced onion, the salsa verde (see right), sour cream, and you merely need to soften the corn tortillas in a frying pan in a tiny, tiny bit of oil and put them in a casserole dish. Then you layer, and layer, and layer. Ending up with tortillas, salsa and heaps of cheese on top. Into a 350° oven it goes, and 30 minutes later you have dinner. Garnish with more cilantro and sour cream.

If I made this for a group, I’d definitely buy a pork shoulder roast and make the pork carnitas myself. Pork shoulder is one of the cheaper cuts of meat you can buy these days, and it’s pretty easy to do the long, slow cooking to get it to peak tenderness. Shred it pork_enchilada_casserole_wholeup, and just get all the ingredients together and the casserole all comes together in a jiffy. I’d serve this with a green salad with not too many vegetables (tomatoes, celery, green onions) and a vinaigrette of some kind. Have chips and salsa for an appetizer, and make Tres Leches cake for dessert. Done. Easy.

What’s GOOD: everything about this casserole is good – the pork, the cheese (yum), the tomatillo-poblano salsa, and all the cilantro, sour cream. Oh goodness, it’s just fabulous. Will definitely be making this again.

What’s NOT: making the pork from scratch takes a few hours; the salsa takes a bit of prep, but it will keep for a few days. Assembling the casserole is cinchy easy. Not much downside since I used pork carnitas from my local Mexican eatery.

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Pork Enchilada Verde Casserole

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Homesick Texan (blog)
Serving Size: 8

TOMATILLO-POBLANO SALSA:
3 whole poblano peppers — washed (also called pasilla)
1 1/2 jalapeno chile peppers — washed
1 pound tomatillos — husks removed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
ENCHILADAS:
1 pound carnitas — shredded (pork shoulder, already cooked)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
3 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese — (16 ounces)
1/3 cup onion — minced (either red or yellow)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro — use some for garnish
3 tablespoons sour cream — for garnish

NOTES: You could easily use leftover pork (roast?) instead of making carnitas. It might not have quite the same flavor, but it would be close enough. Pork shoulder meat (long threads) would be more tender, so if using a roast, cut or tear into very small shred-like pieces.
1. SALSA: Turn on the broiler and place a rack 5 inches away from heating element. Line a cast-iron skillet or baking sheet with foil and place the poblano chiles, jalapeños, tomatillos, and garlic on the skillet. Cook under the broiler for 5 minutes, and then remove the skillet from the oven. Remove the garlic from the skillet and place into a blender. Turn over the poblano chiles, jalapeños, and tomatillos, and return the skillet to the oven.
2. Continue to broil the chiles and tomatillos for 5 to 7 more minutes or until they are nicely charred. After this time, remove the skillet from the oven. Place the tomatillos in the blender, and put the chiles into a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes.
3. Pour the 1/2 cup of water into the foil-lined skillet, swirl it around, and then pour this into the blender.
4. After the chiles have steamed, remove from the bag and rub off the skin. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and add them to the blender, along with the cilantro. Blend until smooth. You should have about 3 cups of salsa. Stir in the salt, taste and add more salt if you like.
5. CASSEROLE: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. In a skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on low heat. One at a time, heat up the tortillas in the skillet until soft and pliant, adding more oil as needed. After cooking, wrap in a cloth to keep warm. (It’s fine if you want to skip this step but note that the tortillas may get super soggy when they bake.)
9. To assemble the casserole, ladle 1/3 cup of the salsa verde into an oval ceramic casserole dish or a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Place 3 of the tortillas in the pan, tearing in pieces to fill in any gaps.
10. Evenly top the tortillas with a third of the pork, 1/3 of shredded Monterey Jack, a third of the diced red onions, a third of the chopped cilantro, a drizzle of sour cream, and 1/3 cup of the salsa. Top that layer with 3 more tortillas and then add the rest of the pork, etc. Make 3 full layers, then top with the remaining tortillas, salsa and grated cheese.
11. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is lightly browned and bubbling. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm topped with sour cream and cilantro.
Per Serving: 352 Calories; 21g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 459mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on February 20th, 2016.

buttermilk_brined_pork_tender_cilantro_pesto_sauce

Well, this one isn’t healthy, what with the cream in the sauce, but if you only have 1-2 tablespoons of it, it can’t be too bad. A tender (and lean) pork tenderloin that’s brined in spiced-up buttermilk is browned in a pan then oven baked. THEN, you make the insanely wonderful sauce with cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, goat cheese, butter, and more than a tetch of heavy cream.

Oh my goodness, is this recipe wonderful. I almost forgot to post it. It came from that great Diva class I attended in December, with Diane Phillips and and Phillis Carey (this is Phillis’ recipe). The pork is merely a vehicle for the sauce – I’m telling you – you’ll want to lick the plate it’s so good.

The brine in this is composed of sugar, ancho chili powder, regular chili powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, cinnamon and buttermilk. Easy, providing you have all the ingredients. The thick-sliced bacon is wrapped around the pork once it’s brined for 24 hours and tied onto it. The fat from the bacon bastes the pork while it’s roasting in the oven. The pork is browned and then it’s roasted in the oven for about 20 minutes.

It helps if you’ve made the cilantro pesto ahead of time – it’s not hard to make at all. It’s a typical pesto (oil, pine nuts, garlic), but instead of basil, it uses cilantro. The sauce is a combination of cream and butter, with some crumbled goat cheese (you can see it in the photo at top). The pesto is stirred into the sauce just before you’re ready to serve it – so it doesn’t actually cook – it’s just heated up. It’s SO full of flavor.

The pork needs to rest for about 6-8 minutes after it comes out of the oven (to help pull back the good juices, so you don’t lose them as you slice), then you slice the tenderloins about 1/2 inch thick. The bacon, which has crisped up during the roasting, is chopped up and sprinkled on top once you’ve drizzled the sauce on top. Oh my. Fabulous.

What’s GOOD: there is not anything about this recipe that ISN’T good. I’m telling you, you need to make this. Would make a fantastic company meal, for sure. Not hard to make – don’t be misled by all the ingredients below. It’s not all that hard to do. You’ll be emailing me afterwards, telling me how much you loved this.

What’s NOT: only that it’s not all that healthy,  unfortunately. I’d serve it with rice so you can sop up every tiny bit of the sauce. It’s that good.

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Chile Buttermilk Brined Pork Tenderloin in Bacon with Creamy Cilantro Pesto Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 10

PORK TENDERLOIN & BRINE:
1 quart buttermilk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons ground ancho chile powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 whole pork tenderloins
8 slices bacon — smoky type, thin sliced
CREAMY CILANTRO PESTO SAUCE:
2 cloves garlic — peeled
2 teaspoons jalapeno chile pepper — (no seeds)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped (can use some stems)
2 tablespoons pine nuts — or cashews
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup goat cheese — crumbled (not Silver Goat)

1. BRINE: Whisk together buttermilk, sugar, salt, chile powders, oregano, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon. Pour into a 2-gallon (or two 1-gallon) zip type plastic bags. Remove fat and silverskin from the pork tenderloins and add to the marinade. Refrigerate for 4-24 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 400°. Remove pork from marinade and pat dry. Wrap bacon slices around the pork (lay out the twine before you do this – easier this way) and tie pork with kitchen twine every 1 1/2 inches (4-5 per tenderloin). Fold the tapered end under to make an even thickness.
3. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat and brown pork tenderloins and bacon 2 minutes per side. Transfer pork to a parchment-lined baking sheet (2 per sheet) and roast in oven for 15-20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 150°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove pork from oven, tent with foil and allow to sit for 8 minutes or so.
4. SAUCE: Prepare cilantro pesto by combining the garlic, chiles, cilantro, nuts, lime juice and oil in the food processor. Process to make a thick paste that is as smooth as possible – it will still be a bit chunky.
5. To finish sauce, heat cream and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sauce comes to a boil; simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the goat cheese and just before serving, whisk in the cilantro pesto. Allow to heat just briefly, but do not boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
6. Untie the pork tenderloins and remove the bacon (yes, really). Chop the bacon into small bits and slice the pork across each tenderloin diagonally (across the grain) in 1/2 inch thick slices. Serve several slices drizzled with the sauce and sprinkled with the chopped bacon.
Per Serving: 413 Calories; 28g Fat (60.7% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 131mg Cholesterol; 926mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on January 27th, 2016.

slow_roasted_spiced_pork

You’d think, old as I am, I’d have figured out that you CAN oven bake a pork shoulder as a ROAST – that it doesn’t have to be for pulled pork – that a pork shoulder can have another life other than in barbecue sauce or as part of a Hawaiian luau!

With a big family get-together planned (this was after Christmas), I dug into my freezer and found this pork shoulder roast that I had in there, probably longer than it should have been, but once defrosted it showed no signs of deterioration, thankfully. I’d recently watched Ina Garten prepare this recipe on her Food Network program, and decided it sounded really good. It was.

pork_shoulder_ready_to_bakeThe pork roast, with a nice, big fat cap on it, is punctured in numerous places all over so the spice mixture (a wet combo of onion, garlic, jalapeno, oregano, cumin, chile powder, apple cider vinegar and olive oil) that is spread all over the roast can permeate the meat. You could probably do this ahead of time – I didn’t – and it still had plenty of good flavor. The meat is put into a big roasting pan (I used my big, huge turkey roasting pan, but it’s perfectly okay for any kind of meat), slathered on all this gooey stuff, poured some white wine in the bottom and into a slow, 300° oven it went, covered in heavy-duty foil. After 2 1/2 hours, the foil was removed, a bit more wine added in and it continued to slow-roast for another 4-4 1/2 hours. I added more white wine (you use a whole bottle) near the end, though I wouldn’t have to since there was ample liquid there.

Once out of the oven, I tented it with foil and allowed it to sit for another 20 minutes until we were ready to eat. My son, Powell, carved the roast, with me hanging around his elbows trying to take the top picture above. The meat is served with lime wedges, which added a really lovely, bright taste to the meat. I wouldn’t have thought of the lime, but it was a very nice addition.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor of the meat. Pork shoulder is a fatty cut of meat, but when slow roasted, a tremendous amount of fat drains off. How much? I have no idea – probably not enough to call this healthy – but enough to make you not feel guilty eating it. I really enjoyed the spicy mixture flavor, although none of it was in the bites I ate because it sat on the top of the fat cap, but it flavored the interior somehow. And the white wine wafting around the roast during the long, slow baking time kept it moist too. It was really good – I’d definitely make this again if I was serving a big group. We had 10 people and there was very little left over from the 7+ pound roast I had.

What’s NOT: nothing really – pork shoulder might not be everybody’s cup of tea (high fat) but I thought it was very good.

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Slow-Roasted Spiced Pork

Recipe By: Ina Garten, 2015
Serving Size: 12

7 pounds pork shoulder roast — (7- to 9-pound)
6 garlic cloves
1 large yellow onion — chopped
1 jalapeno pepper — ribs removed, seeded, and chopped
1/4 cup fresh oregano — chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bottle dry white wine — (750 ml) such as Pinot Grigio
Lime wedges — for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Test your oven with an oven thermometer to be sure it’s accurate!
2. Score the fat on the pork diagonally with a sharp knife in a crosshatch pattern. With a small paring knife, make a dozen 1/2-inch-deep cuts in the top and sides of the pork to allow the seasonings to permeate the meat.
3. Place the garlic, onion, jalapeno, and oregano in a food processor and process until the ingredients are finely chopped. Add the cumin, chile powder, salt and pepper and process for 30 seconds to make a paste. Add the vinegar and olive oil and process to incorporate. Rub the mixture all over the pork, including the sides and the bottom, and place the pork in a large roasting pan, fat side up. Pour half of the wine into the pan and cover the whole roasting pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 2 1/2 hours, remove the foil, and roast for another 4 to 4 1/2 hours, until the meat is very, very tender when tested with a carving fork. Every 2 hours, add another cup of wine to keep some liquid in the pan.
4. Remove the pan from the oven, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and allow the meat to rest for 15 to 30 minutes. Slice, sprinkle with salt, and serve with lime wedges on the side.
Per Serving: 520 Calories; 40g Fat (71.4% calories from fat); 34g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 131mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on January 29th, 2015.

sweet_sour_cabbage_beer_brats

A simple dinner, my old favorite sweet and sour cabbage, and I threw in a couple of beer brats during the last 5 minutes and that was my meal.

For awhile I haven’t given much of an update about me, my grief journey, or my foot injury. Or anything very personal. Here goes.

My foot: did I mention that I did have an MRI? Finally. Once I found out it could be done in an open MRI machine. Should-a done that a long time ago, because what it showed that darned sharp rock I stepped on tore my plantar fascia. Not just a strain or sprain, but a small tear, that’s 80-90% through the plantar fascia. So I’m back in the gosh-darned boot. Have been in it now for 4 weeks. Have another 2+ to go before I see the doctor again. I am, however, getting cold laser treatments to the area (from my chiropractor), which increases blood flow and, supposedly, helps cell growth (scar tissue, really) to grow/heal the plantar fascia. And I’ve only had 2 treatments so far and I swear, I can tell a slight difference. I was able to walk into the regular grocery store this morning and I did 3 aisles, came home and my foot doesn’t hurt like it did just 2 weeks ago when I tried that. So, I’m hoping that means it’s on the path to recovery!

My grief journey: it’s hard to say exactly where/how I am. I still, this being said at 10-months since my darling DH’s death, have rough days. I’m sure it’s not unusual. Most of my friends aren’t aware that I have bad days. They usually occur when I’m at home, on a day when I don’t have much planned. That’s when I miss Dave the most. That’s when I think about him more. When the house feels too big for me, and it’s too quiet. Memories come pouring in, and the tears flow out. Of when I’d see his smiling face as I came and went to my day’s activities. I miss him at our bible study group, when he’d make some very thoughtful comments. I miss him when dinnertime comes around, because I eat alone. And of course I miss his hugs and kisses. That goes without saying. I still haven’t been able to set the dining room table with 2 place settings and eat my dinner meal there without him. I want to, but can’t. I know he understands why. I miss him every night as I get into bed. But I try very hard not to dwell on it at that time because I don’t like crying myself to sleep. I get all choked up and it takes awhile for my sinuses to clear out so I can sleep. When I say my nighttime prayers I usually ask God to tell Dave I love him. Probably sounds kind of silly, but it comforts me. I know God answers prayers, so I hope he does that for me. Or sometimes, in my prayers I just speak the words in my head, directly to Dave, telling him I love him and miss him so much.

Dave and I used to go out to dinner (to nicer places) at least twice a week. I don’t do that anymore, and I miss it. I haven’t screwed up my courage yet to go to a nice restaurant by myself. I’ve read about women who do it, but I haven’t yet. Most of my friends are married couples anyway. I have some widow acquaintances, but none that I’ve bonded with very much –  yet. I need to work on that.

My life is so changed, now that I’m a widow. I still have lots of activities – I don’t sit at home day after day in a stupor – far from it. I’m busy. Almost too busy sometimes. And I wonder if I’m just masking my grief by staying too busy. Don’t know the answer to that. I suppose only a grief counselor could tell me. But nearly every widow I talk with tells me she’s managed her grief by keeping busy. Some widows have told me, just recently, that their 2nd year was harder than the first year. I still feel very married. Dave’s just not here. But he’s still my husband – in my mind. In the eyes of God and of the law I’m not married. Hard for me to accept, emotionally.

There’s still a lot of paperwork, meetings, trust tax returns, attorney visits, etc. regarding Dave’s and my trust. Nothing bad, just time consuming and it keeps dragging on and on. New bank accounts, closing old ones, etc.

My life is just different. I live solo. Nobody really cares where I am, that I’ll be home at 2:00, or greets me. No one really cares what I do with my time. I don’t feel like I accomplish very much anymore – my life doesn’t have the meaning it used to.  (I do have things I do – I sing in the choir, am in two bible study groups, I’m doing ministry in several areas, I’m in several organizations, have 3 book clubs I’m in, occasional lunches out with girlfriends.) I don’t think I’m depressed – I have days when I’m down – but most days I’m okay. Writing this, though, brings tears to my eyes because my emotions are right on my sleeve. My kids think I should get a dog or cat. I don’t think I should have a dog because I can’t walk much right now. A cat might be okay, but I’m taking some trips in coming months, and it would be a disservice to a new cat to get acquainted and then leave for awhile. I’m taking a trip to Europe with friends. Not for awhile – later this spring. My San Diego granddaughter is keeping her eye out for a rescue cat for me. I have a particular breed in mind (a Snowshoe) that’s spayed and de-clawed already. It would be an indoor cat completely. I live in an area not suitable for outdoor cats (way too many coyotes). I’d probably prefer a dog, but I’d have to drive the dog somewhere to take a walk (no sidewalks or areas suitable for walking where I live, a narrow 2-lane street that doesn’t even have curbs).

Which brings me to my mobility. I can walk, and I do. I’m able to go to and from places, short distances, and I spread my activities out over the course of the day (that’s what the dr. advised). But I can’t walk around a block even – that’s too much for now. I can drive with no difficulty (injury is to my left foot) thankfully. But I’m severely limited in how much distance walking I can do. I can’t go to a mall and visit 2-3 stores. I need someone to drop me off close to door so I don’t have to walk very far for anything. In a month, I hope I’ll be walking again, more normally, without the boot. I hope. I pray. If you’re a praying person, I ask for prayers for the healing of my foot.

Cooking? Well, there’s not a whole lot I do. That I can do. Simple meals I can manage. Standing up at my kitchen counter is the most painful thing I do, along with standing up in church to sing in the choir. After about 5 minutes of standing I can begin to feel an ache in my foot. So I spread out the dinner prep a little bit if I can, with a few sit-downs in between prep and cooking. I got a craving the other day for some sweet and sour cabbage. When I found the recipe some years ago that I’ve posted already (link up in first line) I’ve stuck with it. I like it. Just the right amount of sweet and tart. All I did this time was chunk-up some bratwurst (happened to be beer brats) in it during the last 5 minutes of the cabbage cooking time, and that was dinner. It was very satisfying. I had dinner out the other night with my friend Linda in San Diego, and I ordered an appetizer portion of mac ‘n cheese. And wings. That was dinner. Both things I rarely order, but oh, did they taste good. All comfort food for sure.

As I’m writing this I’m going to a new cooking class with my friend Cherrie tonight, so hopefully I’ll have some recipes to share from that class. I have posts that go out about 3 more weeks. I’ve managed to keep posting every 4 days or so. I still don’t know how long I’ll continue – I just take it one day at a time. Writing, I know, is therapeutic for me. Especially this post.

Posted in Pork, on January 14th, 2015.

 

pork_tenderloin_pears_brandy

Not a very good photo, but it was really delicious. Pears are a natural pairing with pork – kind of like apples are also. This is quite easy to make, even though it may look more complicated.

This recipe, made with 3 pork tenderloins, will serve 6-9 people, but if you have one big tenderloin, it will likely serve 3 people. You never know when you buy those packs of pork tenderloins what size they’ll really be once you open it up.

The pears are caramelized in butter and sugar. Easy. The pork is browned over high heat, then the brandy is added and ignited (remember to turn off the fan over your stovetop before doing this). Then it’s roasted in the oven for 20-25 minutes and allowed to rest for awhile.

Lastly, you finish the sauce by melting butter and adding shallots. Then some pear nectar is added along with some fresh thyme. THEN, you add the cream (a lot – this isn’t a healthy dinner) and simmer it a bit to reduce it down. The pears are added back in to reheat them, then you plate it all, or serve on a platter with a bit of sauce drizzled on it, but a pitcher of the sauce served around the table. The recipe came from a cooking class with Phillis Carey.

What’s GOOD: the caramelized pears make this dish, although the ignited brandy also adds a lot of flavor as well. Altogether delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, although there are a few steps to making this. Not low calorie, for sure!

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Pork Tenderloin with Caramelized Pears and Pear Brandy Sauce

Recipe By: Phillis Carey, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 8

PEARS:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 whole Anjou pears — or Comice, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 6-8 wedges per pear
2 teaspoons sugar
PORK:
3 pounds pork tenderloin — about 3
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sprigs of fresh thyme for garnish
1/3 cup brandy
SAUCE:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup shallots — minced
1/2 cup pear nectar
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream — (may use half cream/half chicken broth)

1. PEARS: Melt butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pears in a single layer, sprinkle with sugar and saute until pears are tender and deep golden brown, about 8 minutes, turning over carefully to caramelize both sides. (Since the pork is pale, the sauce is white, it’s important to get some golden brown on the pears!)
2. PORK: Trim pork tenderloin of all fat and silverskin. Preheat oven to 400F. Melt butter in large, heavy skillet (with a long handle) over high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Brown pork on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add brandy, turn off heat and ignite with a long match or lighter. Shake pan continuously until the flames extinguish. Do NOT have your kitchen exhaust fan on when you do this.
3. Set this skillet aside and transfer the pork to a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 150°F. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 8 minutes before slicing on a diagonal (across the grain) into 1/2 inch thick slices. (If you happen to be baking something else at a lower oven temp, the pork can roast anywhere between 350°-425°F, just watch the time and still bake only until it reaches 150°F in the center. Use a meat thermometer.)
4. SAUCE: Melt butter in the skillet used to brown the pork. Add shallots, saute 2 minutes. Add pear nectar and thyme. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add cream and boil down until thickened to a sauce consistency, about 5 minutes or so. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.
Per Serving: 478 Calories; 31g Fat (61.6% calories from fat); 37g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 195mg Cholesterol; 105mg Sodium.

Posted in easy, Pork, on June 24th, 2014.

southern_fried_pork_chops

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any length of time you know I don’t usually FRY things. Sauté yes, but really fry in oil, no. My bottle of canola oil gets used mostly for salad dressings. But I just decided to do something different. In the background on the plate above there are the dry-pan roasted green beans that I’ve made 10 times in the last 6 months they’re so good. And easy.

I searched around the ‘net for “pork chop recipes”, and southern fried pork chops were the top 8 or so. Really?  So I clicked over to several (one on epicurious, and two others from blogs, but were almost identical. I kind of made my own way once I got the gist of the main recipe. A flour-based breading mixture is made (flour, cornstarch, herbs, salt, pepper) and set aside. Another is made with an egg and some milk or buttermilk. The pork chops are dipped first into the flour, then egg, then back in the flour, and ever-so gently placed into the 1/4 inch of medium-hot oil.

One thing I learned (and don’t know if it’s true) is that when you fry foods like this, it’s best to raise the heat of the oil in a gentle manner – i.e., use low heat and then raise it over the course of 10 minutes or so. If you turn the flame up to high right from the get-go, you’ll end up with oil that’s too hot. Some of that makes sense, but some of it sounds crazy. Heated oil is heated oil. Isn’t it? Any of you chemistry types out there know?

Anyway, the pork chops were dutifully dipped in the proper pans and lowered into the oil, and they were done in no time flat. One of the bloggers mentioned using a heat test before you start cooking – dropping a pinch of the flour mixture into the oil – if it bubbles, then it’s hot enough. And during the cooking you do only want the oil to bubble around the meat and not burn the coating.

The cornstarch in the flour mixture gives the breading/coating a lighter texture. Not exactly like a tempura batter, but not far from it. It was nice. I liked it. I used seasonings in my flour mixture (other than the usual salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika that was in most of these recipes). I reached for Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning and added a couple of teaspoons. I don’t really know that I could taste it once it was fried, however. So you could use whatever suits you – like an Italian blend perhaps – or don’t add any at all. In the South I think they’d go for the plain stuff (salt, pepper and garlic powder).

The pork chops bubble around the edges as they’re frying. Be sure the chops aren’t touching – I used a pan that probably could have held more – because several recipes stressed that the chops need lots of space around them. They browned in no time flat, so I turned the heat down just a little bit and turned them over and cooked the 1/2 inch thick chops about 4 minutes per side – my guess. I didn’t time it. It was all by color.

What’s GOOD: how easy it was – only time consuming thing was mixing up the coating mixture. I got everything else finished before I even started the pork chops so I wouldn’t be distracted. They were really good. Not in the “outstanding” category, but it was an easy, quick dinner that was satisfying.
What’s NOT: well, some folks don’t like frying – like deep frying – although these weren’t deep in oil – I used only about 1/4 inch (half way up the chops).

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Southern Fried Pork Chops

Recipe By: Adapted from a website called Taste of Southern
Serving Size: 4

32 ounces pork chops — center cut, bone in (four 1/2 inch chops)
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk — or buttermilk (or water)
1 tablespoon mixed herbs — I used Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
Cooking oil for frying the chops (canola or vegetable)

1. BREADING: In a small mixing bowl, add the flour, cornstarch, herbs, garlic powder, salt, black pepper and paprika. Stir all ingredients well. Set aside.
2. EGG: Break one egg into a small low sided dish. Add milk and use a fork to mix it well. Mix well enough that there are no little globs of egg white.
3. MEAT: One at a time, dip a pork chop in the flour and coat both sides. Dip the chop into the egg mixture, coat both sides well. Lift and let any excess drip off. Place the chop back into the flour mixture and coat both sides and edges.
4. FRYING: Place about 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the oil by sprinkling in a little pinch of the bread mixture – if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough. Lower the chops into the hot cooking oil, one at a time. Do not crowd them (they don’t want to be touching). Cook for 4-6 minutes.
5. Watch the bottoms of the chop and when they start to brown, flip the pork chops over. Let the chops fry for about 4-6 minutes or until done but not over cooked. Test a chop by cutting into the center to make sure it’s not rare. A little bit of pink is fine. Remove the cooked chops from the skillet, place on a paper towel lined plate and let drain. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 507 Calories; 24g Fat (44.0% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 29g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 165mg Cholesterol; 378mg Sodium.

Posted in Pork, on May 20th, 2014.

bacon_wrapped_pork_tender_sliced

If pork tenderloin is cooked just right, it can make a lovely entertaining entrée. And it will be doubly special if you serve it with the bourbon butter sauce to drizzle on top. But it’s also easy enough to do for a weeknight dinner, too. The bacon makes it special, but the sauce puts it over the top in the flavor department. I forgot to take a photo of a serving with the sauce. Just trust me on this one.

With a group of people coming over for dinner, I thought pork tenderloin would be a good one to serve. This was a week ago I did this, and we were in the midst of a blistering heat wave. We had 2 days with temps over 100° and a couple of days either side of that with temps in the high 90s also. And winds. Oh my yes, the winds. We get something in the California weather system – really only Southern California – called Santa Anas. It’s a hot wind that whips up and blows in from the desert and oh, does it blow. It can blow furniture around the patio, throw cushions 30 feet away, up into trees, stuck in shrubbery. In the previous house Dave and I owned we had a rolling metal trolley cart blow right into the pool. It didn’t break (had 2 pieces of glass too) but we had to ask our son to come over and dive down to the bottom of the pool to get the 2nd piece of glass that was just seemingly stuck to the deepest area. It was winter when this happened, so he donned his wet suit and did it for us, bless him! In years since we generally tie the rolling cart to a post somewhere so it doesn’t go wandering with the will of the wind. With these Santa Anas, about the only – ONLY – saving grace is that generally the humidity is low – this time about 10-15%, so if you stayed inside the A/C’d house, it was bearable. But it was way too hot to eat outside.

And I am going to admit something here that’s new . . . something startling . . . I don’t know how to barbecue. My darling hubby did all the grilling and barbecuing. Not that I didn’t give him some instructions with some frequency, but he did all that stuff. We have a gas barbecue that should be fairly foolproof. I just have to force myself to learn. My best friend Cherrie’s husband Bud has promised he will come one day and give me a lesson or two (they own the same barbecue), but I thought maybe I’d try doing something on my own first. Just to see how bad I am at this. Sometime soon. Stay tuned for that bulletin.

pork_tender_bacon_brownsugarOkay, now that I’ve got that big cooking character flaw out of the way, let’s get back to this great pork tenderloin that is BAKED IN THE OVEN. Not grilled. <BG> The recipe came from a great blog I read, The Runaway Spoon – sometime last year according to my notes. After removing the silverskin from the pork (a bit tedious, but necessary) I cut the thick slices of bacon in half lengthwise. The recipe calls for a pound of bacon – I didn’t have a pound of bacon. I had about 7 slices of thick bacon, so I made do, and it worked fine. First the pork is rubbed with Dijon mustard (a lot actually – and do use all that’s suggested – you’ll really not know it was there when you taste it). Then the bacon slices are wrapped around the pork tenderloin (you could use toothpicks if you’d like the bacon to stay neat and tidy). Then you pat on some light brown sugar – trying to stick it to the bacon if possible (not exactly a slam dunk – just do your best). The recipe recommended placing the pork in an iron skillet. I don’t have one big enough, so I used my Le Creuset, and slightly rounded them in my largest one, well oiled with grapeseed oil first.

bourbon_sauce_ingredThere at left is the uncooked sauce which I made about an hour or so ahead of time – it’s so very easy – mix good Dijon mustard, light brown sugar, bourbon, Worcestershire sauce in a saucepan, heat to a low simmer and cook until it thickens just a little bit, then you add in a copious amount of butter. A lot. 1 1/2 cubes to be exact (this served 8-9 people).bourbon_sauce_finished The butter is added in slowly when the sauce is just below a simmer. Then let it sit and rewarm it just before serving. The photo at right shows the finished sauce.

The pork is baked at 375°. If you like/want crispy bacon, you’ll want to turn on the broiler at the end – I didn’t want to overcook the pork, so didn’t do that step. The bacon was definitely cooked and tasted great, but it wasn’t crispy, just so you know. Everybody ate theirs even so. The meat took about 45 minutes, maybe a few minutes more, but the pork I had (from Costco) were big tenderloins, so that may be why. Cook it until it reaches an internal temp of 140°. Then, if you switch to broil, the meat will likely go to 145° which is what you want.

I made risotto to go with this and the meal all came together at the last minute. I reheated the sauce, sliced the pork and gave everyone some of the bacon, either still wrapped or loosely draped over the pieces of pork, drizzled each serving with the sauce and served up a big green salad, some very fresh sourdough bread and that was dinner.

What’s GOOD: everything – the bacon, yum. The sauce, extra delicious. The perfectly cooked pork – tender, juicy and barely pink in the middle. Just the way I like it. Being able to make the sauce ahead of time was a bonus. The pork took 45 minutes in the oven, so just plan ahead.

What’s NOT: nary a thing – loved the dish.

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Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Butter Sauce

Recipe By: slightly adapted from The Runaway Spoon, 2013
Serving Size: 8 (maybe 9 if smaller portions)

PORK:
3 1/2 pounds pork tenderloin — (2 tenderloins)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon — halved lengthwise (original recipe used regular bacon and a whole pound)
2/3 cup light brown sugar
SAUCE:
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup butter — cut into small pieces

Notes: If you have very hearty eaters, this might not serve 8. Mine actually served 9, but each person had a medium portion.
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Evenly coat a 12-inch cast iron skillet (I used a Le Creuset) with oil making sure it is all well covered.
2. Place the pork tenders on a cookie sheet or large cutting board. Tuck any thin ends underneath so you have nice, even logs of pork. Keep it tucked as you wrap. Brush 1 Tablespoon mustard evenly over each tender. Wrap the bacon around the tenders, starting the next piece where the first one ends and so on, so you have a nice little package mostly covered in bacon.
3. Sprinkle the sugar next to the tenders then start pressing it into the sides and top of the bacon. You can roll the tenders around in the sugar a little if needed. When they are nicely covered, tuck any bacon ends back in place and carefully transfer to the oiled skillet. Neaten up the bacon, but try not to let any stray sugar fall onto the skillet.
4. Cook the pork for about 45 minutes (or less if the tenderloins are smaller), until the internal temperature reaches 140°. Use a probe thermometer. Turn on the broiler to crisp the bacon on the top, and cook to 145°. Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board. Pour a little water into the bottom of the skillet and scrape up any cooked sugar with a silicone spatula to make cleaner up easier. Tent the pork with foil and let it rest 5-10 minutes.
5. SAUCE: Mix the brown sugar, mustard, bourbon and Worcestershire sauce together in a small saucepan until it is all well combined. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil, whisking frequently. Cook about 2 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, and when the bubbling subsides, return it to low heat and whisk in the butter a few small pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding another. When all the butter is combined, remove from the heat. Can be made an hour or so ahead of time, then gently reheat the sauce over low heat, stirring constantly.
6. Slice the pork slightly on the diagonal and on an angle (to make larger slices), then spoon the sauce over the sliced pork. Make sure each serving has some bacon around or on top of it.
Per Serving: 641 Calories; 38g Fat (55.7% calories from fat); 51g Protein; 18g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 200mg Cholesterol; 912mg Sodium.

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