Category Archives: Pork

A Soup for Any Sausage

Do you like hearty soups that are easy to make? Me too, and I came across a great recipe via a Facebook cooking group the other day that I just had to try. I will admit that part of the appeal was that the recipe, as written, had only seven ingredients, plus salt and pepper to taste, and very uncomplicated directions, which was just what I wanted. Sometimes it’s nice to just take it easy and still have a great homemade meal.

First, I am going to give you the basic recipe. Note: I used the recipe as a base, or a “cue,” I could say, because when doing my ingredient checklist, I realized that the only sausage meat I had not in casings was fresh chorizo, and I wanted to keep my stash of Italian sausage links intact. (I buy shares from my local farmers and it comes frozen, so I have a stash that will last until late spring.) Plus, it was only 3/4 lb, so I figured I would want to find something to round things out to be equivalent of the missing 1/4 pound asked for by the recipe. So, keep reading below for what I did. Here is the original including it’s notes and suggestions. I am certain it is delicious as written!

Sicilian Sausage Soup

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat
  • I medium onion, chopped
  • 1 lge green pepper, chopped
  • 1 35 oz can Italian peeled tomatoes*
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • s&p to taste
  • 3/4 cup orzo

Brown sausage meat. Add onion and pepper and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes, broth and basil, breaking up the tomatoes as you do. Bring to a boil and a stir in the orzo.
Reduce heat and softly boil 10 minutes. Remove from heat as the orzo will continue to cook and expand, making the soup too thick.

  • It’s important to use the 35 oz can, not a 28 oz, as it does not give you enough liquid.
    If you cannot find the Italian sausage meat, you can buy a pound of links and remove the casing; just be sure to really break up the links!

As noted above, I only had 3/4 lb of sausage and of a different type than called for. I decided adding some beans would be a good idea, but of course, didn’t have any cooked or canned white beans, which is the kind I thought would go nicely. Never fear! Since I was not planning to make the soup for an hour or so, I simply rinsed 1/2 pound dried cannellini beans in a small casserole with 2 cups of water and a teaspoon of regular salt, covered, and popped into the preheated to 350 oven. 1 1/2 hours later, I had cooked beans ready to pop into the soup. (I could have gotten by with cooking just a 1/4 pound, but I wanted some leftover to pop in the freezer for another time.)

Three types of Baer's Best Beans.

Just a note about dried legumes: you do NOT need to soak them before cooking. This is especially true if you know your beans are fresh, as in recently grown and dried. I get my dried legumes from Baer’s Best Beans, grown in South Berwick Maine. Pictured are my three favorites: Cannellini, Black Coco, and Yellow Eye. The latter is the traditional bean for Boston Baked Beans and is the type I use for that classic dish. For more about cooking dried beans, see my post on the Wakefield Farmers Market recipe site.

If I share the video I made of this recipe adventure, you will see that I was a total space case in that I did not read through the ingredients or directions carefully when prepping and discovered, when called for, that I had not realized that I needed a quart of chicken broth. Luckily I had a quart of store-bought handy since I would have had to stop the process to defrost some from my freezer.

Along with adding about a cup of cooked beans, I used not quite a whole orange bell pepper instead of a whole green one, and tossed in about 2 cups of store-bought shredded cabbage and and carrot I had left over from making moo shu pork. (I will share that recipe later – great for a family or a crowd.)

Originally I assumed that I would not need to add the basil, but when doing the final seasoning, I decided it would work with the chorizo flavor and added a bit over the teaspoon of dried basil noted in the original recipe. I also added a number of grinds of black pepper, and two big pinches of salt just to pop the flavor.

Again, I am sure the recipe is great as written, and I can vouch that you can use is as a guideline if you have particular flavors you like or have veggies or/or legumes in your fridge that you want to use up. In any case, it is quick, easy, and tasty, and you can’t beat that! Just make sure you have some chicken stock handy. 😉

Pork and Summer Squash Casserole over Rice: Family Size or For a Crowd

pork and squash casserole
We could not wait to eat before taking a picture.

Background: The Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Wakefield MA offers a Community Dinner each month from September to June in partnership with Wakefield’s Horizon House Clubhouse. Horizon House provides their kitchen and dining room, and we provide the food, either via cooking or catering.

I love to cook for a crowd, so I try to sign up as lead cook for at least a few dinners a year and always try to find recipes that are on the healthy side, if only “healthyish,” to steal Bon Apetit’s descriptor, and that might be a bit different from the usual fare.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but this casserole is SO easy, and SO tasty, and was such a hit at a recent Community Dinner, that I finally got myself to sit down and get this recipe on line.

This month I totally lucked out in finding this pork and summer squash recipe. Not only is it really tasty, it is really easy to make, whether you are opting for the family size or multiplying out for a crowd. Also, the summer squash and diced tomatoes fill it out so a relatively small amount of pork is needed to satisfy even hard core carnivores.

Here is the original recipe that says it serves four:

Pork and Squash Casserole

6 ounces ground pork (use seitan for vegans and vegetarians)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 ounces cremini* mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (5 ounces)
1 large yellow squash, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

* I used shitake mushrooms when I tested it at home on my husband

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 2 tablespoons panko; cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1/3 cup water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the cottage cheese, 3/4 cup Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish. Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt. Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons panko, pork sauce and 1/2 cup Mexican cheese.
  3. Cover with foil** and bake until the cheese melts and the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and turn on the broiler;* broil until golden, 2 minutes. Top with the remaining scallions.

** Thinking that covering in foil would be a bother when making the crowd-size version, I opted, in my home test, to leave the casserole uncovered and just cooked it a bit longer so the cheesy top got a bit crusty in texture. It worked just fine. 🙂

NOTE: While the original recipe calls for cutting the squash in half and slicing longwise, as shown here, I found it works way better to slice is VERY thin rounds and layer across the area.

I did not serve my test version over rice and it worked well an an entrée served solo, and is a great choice if you want a low carb meal, However, as you will see below, I opted to serve it over rice when cooking for the crowd.

Here is the recipe to use if you are cooking for 35-40 and serving just the casserole, or, for 50 if you opt to serve it over rice.

Pork and Squash Casserole for a Crowd*

4 pounds ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 clove garlic, chopped
2 pounds mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
20 scallions, chopped
4 cups panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
116 ounces** of no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
6 cups low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
3 or more pounds (never too much cheese!) shredded Mexican cheese blend
6 pounds yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
As many tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sauté. ***

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ to 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 5-10 minutes as needed.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 1cup panko; cook another 5 or so minutes.
Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1 1/2 cups**** water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes.
Combine the cottage cheese, two thirds of the Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl.
Sprinkle 1 1/2 cup panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish.
Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt.
Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the all the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt.
Add the remaining 1 ½ cup panko, pork sauce and remaining Mexican cheese.
Bake until the cheese melts and forms a crust and the squash is tender, about 40 or more minutes. To hold until serving, put oven at 180-200 degrees. Top with the remaining scallions, if desired, before serving.
* My test batch would have made five, not four servings, so I multiplied the original recipe by 8 to make 40 servings. In addition, although using 6 oz of ground pork worked perfectly well in my home test batch, I used 8 oz per 5 servings as my baseline for the crowd size and got 8×8=48/16 oz per pound, so four pounds of pork.
** four 26 oz cans and one 14.5 oz can will do it.
*** We split the pork between to 14 inch pans and went from there.
**** Multiplying the original amount of water by 8 was way too much. Cornstarch came to our rescue. 🙂

Last but not least, to stretch the meal in case we got more guests than we expected, I opted to make a batch of rice to go with the meal. I used converted rice because brown rice can be a tough sell with some crowds, but at least converted rice has more nutrients than white rice. Also, the recipe called for converted rice, although it noted it would work for brown rice – just cook brown rice longer. Since the recipe was for 50 servings, I went with it as is.

Rice for 50

NOTE: Some recipes say to rinse the converted rice first, others say not to so as to not lose nutrients. I went with the latter advice as it said the same on the package of Uncle Ben’s converted rice that I used.

3 1/2 lbs. converted rice
2 tbsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 qt. boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place rice in a 12x20x2 1/2″ pan.
Boil 4 qt. of water in a large pot and add 2 tbsp. of sea salt. Make sure the salt dissolves fully.
Add 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil to your water and pour the mixture over your converted rice slowly so that the rice remains even throughout the pan.
Cover your pan with aluminum foil. Tighten the foil along the edges of the pan to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly during the cooking process.
Open your oven once it has reached 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place your pan in the center. Set your oven timer to 60 minutes.
Remove the pan from oven after an hour and place it on top of your stove to allow it to cool for five to 10 minutes.
Remove the aluminum foil and use a fork to fluff your rice before serving it.

That’s it! We also served a simple salad of romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, sliced English cucumber, and grated carrot, tossed with a modest amount of Italian dressing. AND Applesauce Cake with quick and easy cream cheese frosting. Click HERE for the family and crowd size for dessert.

I plan to add more of the recipes I have used when cooking for our community dinners, so always check back!

Want the Perfect Ham? Just Think Slow and Low

My slow-roasted 5.5 lb ham gave me 3 lbs sliced and plenty more meat and a bone for pea soup.

Finally! A totally foolproof way to produce the perfect ham, It is all about cooking it slow and low.

I had saved a 5.5 lb bone-in smoked ham that I purchased last spring from Lilac Hedge Farm and decided that it would make a great centerpiece for my annual July 4th gathering.

Given that cold-sliced made more sense for a picnic sort of fare than ham hot from the oven, I opted to cook the ham the day before, cool it overnight, and slice it the day of the party.

Since I had  a bit of an issue with dry ham with one or possibly two of the three (I had a crowd!) I cooked for Easter, I did some research in hopes of finding a way to ensure a juicy ham with a minimum of fuss.  I can’t find the website now, but someone posted about their friend who owns a diner, saying that the diner owner just puts the ham in a roasting or cast iron pan, covers it loosely with foil, and cooks it for 7-8 hours in a 275 oven. That’s it!

Since my ham was smaller than the one mentioned on the website I was consulting, I started checking the temperature with an instant read thermometer after 4 hours, with the ham reaching a safe 160 degrees or a bit more throughout in close to 6 hours.

Once done, I let it cool on a rack and them wrapped it up for an overnight in the fridge. Even then I could tell it was very moist, but when I carved it into as big chunks as possible and started slicing it on the morning of the 4th, it was confirmed: Perfection!  And it was delicious with no basting – but you can certainly add whatever sort of garnish or glaze that suits your fancy.

I am going to use this method for my Easter holiday meals from now on. For 2017, I have a bone in ham of just over 7 pounds, which will be plenty for my (relatively) smallish guest list of 7 plus my husband and me for 9 at the table. I’ll just pop the ham in the oven around 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. and let it cook all morning into early afternoon to be ready, cooled a bit, and carved for a 3:00 or so meal time.  And I am already looking forward to some pea soup in the following weeks, too!

Not Your Ordinary Breakfast Sausage Sandwich

sausagesandwichTHIS is a sausage sandwich to die for.

Start with pasture-raised and/or artisan quality pork, eggs, bread, and cheese.  Use the recipe below (or create your own seasoning mix) to make the sausage patties.  Then make a few batches of patties to pop in the freezer and  you will have all the convenience of those coffee shop affairs, but oh, such better flavor.

For the record, this sandwich was made with bread from Mamadou’s Artisan
Bakery, eggs from Copicut Farms, ground pork from Lilac Hedge Farm, and cheese from West River Creamery, all vendors at the Wakefield Farmers Market in Wakefield MA, USA.

Making the sandwich itself is, of course, easy enough. Cook up a sausage patty, melt some cheese on some bread, scramble up an egg, and put it all together.  For the sausage patty, you can buy pre-made patties, preferably from a local pasture-raising farm, or purchase ground pork and season it yourself.  Here is how I do it:

Breakfast Sausage Patties

To make enough for 3 lbs ground pork:

1 Tbsp powered sage
1 scant Tbsp freshly ground black pepper (or pre-ground)
2 tsp powered garlic
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/8 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (or powdered nutmeg)
1/8 tsp powdered cloves
1/8 tsp fennel pollen (or powdered fennel seed)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
A few dashes of maple syrup (optional)

Mix all the spices, then mix in the brown sugar.  Use 2 Tbsp per pound of ground pork and mix in by hand thoroughly, along with the maple syrup, if using. Store any remaining seasoning mix in an airtight jar.

Form 2 ounce patties (8 per pound) and flatten on a foil-lined baking sheet to about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/4-1/3″  thick.  Bake at 400 degrees (350 convection) for about 20 minutes, turning at least once. Broil at end for extra browning, if desired.

To freeze: Line a baking sheet or pan with wax paper, foil, or the like,  flatten the patties onto the sheet, and freeze.  Once frozen, peel the patties off the liner and place them in a freezer bag.  Take out as needed and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes – maybe a bit more if cooking directly from the freezer. Note: For thicker rounder patties, don’t flatten as much before cooking.  But flatten as directed for the perfect fit for a sausage and egg sandwich.

Enjoy!

A Ham Like No Other – Locally raised is the best!

No-Fuss Alfredo Sauce, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts – Who would have thought?

First let me thank Fior D’Italia (The Pasta Man) for the most wonderful ravioli that inspired an amazing meal!

For a change, I’ll start off with a picture of the plated meal, albeit taken after one ravioli had already been had eaten.

plated meal

The Meal. 🙂

And here is the wonderful ravioli that I had purchased at the Wakefield Farmers Market in October.

Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli from Fior D'Italia (The Pasta Man)

Gorgonzola and Walnut Ravioli from Fior D’Italia (The Pasta Man)

Let me go on the record as saying that this is good stuff – really good stuff!

Okay, on with the hows and whys of this meal coming together on a Friday night after a REALLY Loooooong week….

The actual inspirations were:

1) It was 5:30 p.m and I had not yet planned a meal

2) Even though I freeze meats in single serving sizes and use the cold water method to speed up defrosting, it was late in the day to get all that going,

3) I didn’t have any potatoes and we had already had a lot of grains during the week, so we were feeling fussy about the choice of carbohydrate side dishes and the Brussels sprouts were looking…tired, and there didn’t look to be all that many, so a “meat and potatoes” sort of meal was out of the running, and

4) The final nail in the coffin (apologies for the dramatic analogy) was that neither Steve or I wanted to go to Farmland to something prepared or quick and easy to prepare.  SO…

Into the freezer I went and found the ravioli and remembered that Deb (The Pasta Man vendor at the market) had given me a handout (that I had actually not lost) with recipes for sauces for different pastas.

Unfortunately, their recommendation for a sauce to pair with this ravioli was based on creme fraiche and I had none, nor have I ever cooked with it.  And, upon researching online (I would be one lost cook without the Internet!) I could not find what looked like an easy or satisfactory substitute for creme fraiche for which I had the ingredients.  However, I figured some sort of white sauce would work and found the perfect recipe for a quick Friday night dinner on a site that also featured a recipe for making your own Gorgonzola and walnut ravioli – NOT so good for a quick Friday night dinner. Thank goodness for The Pasta Man.  🙂

You can see the recipe from which I worked via the ravioli link, above, but here is my  version:

No-Fuss Alfredo Sauce

  • 2 tablespoon of un-salted butter
  •  clove of finely chopped garlic
  • 2-3 Tbsp minced shallot
  • About ½ cup or so of half & half
  • About ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 scant tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 Tbsp cold water (optional)*

In a medium sauté pan melt the butter, add the shallot and garlic, and cook until until fragrant and getting soft. Then, stirring constantly, add the half & half, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Set aside and prepare the ravioli as directed. When the ravioli’s are ready, using a slotted spoon or a spider, add directly to cream sauce and toss, gently, on low heat until sauce is warm again and serve. If you want a bit thicker sauce, add the cornstarch mix and heat until desired consistancy is reached.

Along with the dirth of a long list of ingredients and processes, I was instantly enamored by the fact that this sauce can be set aside and then gently reheated once the pasta is added.  There is no room for a fussy sauce in a “quick and easy” meal!

Note: the original recipe called for heavy cream. Substitution suggestions say to add butter to half & half, so I added a tablespoon of butter to the recipe.  I am thinking I should have reduced the half & half a bit to compensate for extra liquid since the sauce did seen quite thin, hence my adding the bit of cornstarch.  But, FYI, I did not notice any ill effects on the taste or texture from using the corn starch. In fact, there was no separation or graininess after the leftovers spent the night in the fridge, so I’d say that, if you “cheat” with cornstarch, providing you keep it to a modest amount, there will be no harm done. Unless you are a purest.  <grin>

Okay – on to the Brussels sprouts.  I was originally going to use a recipe that was a big hit at Armory Street on Easter 2012, Honey Dijon Brussels Sprouts.  But, as I began to mix the sauce ingredients, I started doubting the virtue of the mustard flavor in the scope of this meal and also just happened to think of the wonderful lemon-flavored dressing I had in the fridge:

This is great!

Not only is this delicious, it is made with much heart and soul.

Close up on the details.

Close up on the details.

The sales of this dressing benefits The DAVID A. DEMARIA FOUNDATION, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, mission is to further assist children of Malden and the surrounding areas with their educational and athletic needs. The foundation was created in the memory of David A. DeMaria of Malden MA, March 19, 1985 – May 30, 2007.

Like I said in the caption, this dressing is made with much heart and soul.  And, flavor – did I say bold, bright, yet not overstated flavor?  I picked up my bottle of this dressing at Farmland.  To learn more about this dressing, see ddsdressing.com or click HERE to see the list of stores offering this handy and tasty product.

Now, back to the Brussels sprouts. Click the recipe name for the original Honey Dijon recipe – which is splendid, by the way.

As I mentioned above, they looked a bit tired so I perked them up by putting them in a bowl of cold water and sticking it to chill in the fridge for about 1/2 hour while I was preparing the bacon wrapped water chestnuts described later in this blog post.

refreshing the sprouts

Refreshing the sprouts – and there were more than I thought. 🙂

Honey Lemon Dill Brussels Sprouts
Note: measurements approximate. Season to taste.

  • 12 Brussels sprouts, halved
  • 1  teaspoons butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp lemon dressing
  • 1 pinch dried dill weed
  • 1 pinch onion powder

Place Brussels sprouts into a saucepan filled with lightly salted water. Boil over medium high heat until Brussels sprouts are just tender, 8 to 10 minutes; drain. Mix butter, honey, lemon dressing, dill weed, and onion powder in a large bowl.
Toss Brussels sprouts in the mixture to coat.

Note: If you don’t have lemon dressing you can improvise. But, I recomend trying to get some of this dressing. It is REALLY tasty and nice to have on hand for any recipe.

NOW for the moment you have been waiting for:

Orsini thought it was scallops in that bacon.  :)

Orsini thought it was scallops in that bacon. 🙂

Well, perhaps not. 🙂

Okay – I followed the next recipe as written. I had never heard of bacon wrapped water chestnuts until a week or so ago via a Facebook post by Budget Bytes (I think – can’t find it right now) but I thought it would be a fun to try.  And, since I had a can of water chestnuts on hand and a 8 oz pack of bacon in the fridge, this Friday night seemed a good night to try it out. A quick online search that included the words “quick” and “easy” resulted in a really easy recipe that was also very tasty.  Here it is:

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

  • 1 (8 ounce) cans water chestnuts, drained
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 8 slices bacon, cut in half crosswise

Marinate the water chestnuts in soy sauce for 1 hour.

marinating the water chestnuts

marinating the water chestnuts

Drain. Roll each chestnut in the brown sugar. Wrap each chestnut with a piece of bacon. Secure with a toothpick. ready to wrapwrapping

Arrange on a cake rack in a shallow baking pan.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:  Be sure to line the pan with foil!  I learned the hard way and just now, as I add this disclaimer five days later, finally got the pan clean after much soaking and scrubbing!
…carry on:

Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. NOTE: This can be prepared ahead of time and stored in refrigerator until ready to bake.

baking

Disclaimer: I used my countertop toaster/convection oven and they were done in 18 minutes.  Note to self: Next time, put foil on the pan so you don’t have to soak it for days to get the burned on fat and sugar off of it….

And, that’s it. And there’s more!  Steve got involved in the repair of his Martin guitar, so, while dinner could have been ready  in well under two hours, both the  bacon/chestnuts and Brussels sprouts held nicely at a warming temperature of 170 and the alfredo sauce was fine at room temperature until we were ready for dinner. Once we were ready to eat, I just cooked the ravioli and finished off the sauce.

And that’s it. Definitely a meal that works for an easy meal for two but can also be made for company and even a crowd. It’s a keeper at our house, that’s for sure!

Apple Ginger Pork Chops

It was early on a Sunday afternoon and I was hungry, with no patience to wait for an evening meal.  And, with the weather not cooperating for Steve for anything sailing, I decided to do an abbreviated version of a Sunday Dinner – less complicated, but to be served by mid-afternoon.

I had two pork chops on hand that needed using soon,  a gorgeous hunk of fresh ginger, and a Granny Smith apple; a quick Google search using these ingredients as keywords brought me to the following recipe:

Apple Ginger Pork Chops, by The Food Network’s Guy Fieri

I ended up making some adjustments, but other changing the amounts of some ingredients, I stuck to the recipe, but using the following proportions:

2 pork chops, 1 1/4-1 1/2 inch thick, center cut, bone in
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 teaspoons minced ginger
3 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup white wine (cooking wine is fine)
1 cup sliced (1/4-inch) yellow onions (one medium onion)
2 cups cored and sliced (1/4-inch) Granny Smith  (one largish apple)
1/3 cup raisins
2 tablespoons butter

First, I mixed together the apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, ginger, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and marinated the chops for 60 minutes, flipping at 30 minutes.

The original recipe called for a 30 minute marinade in a Ziploc-type bag, but I used a corning ware casserole pan into which the two chops just fit.  On advice in a recipe review, I lengthened the marinade time, but I suspect it would benefit from an even longer marinade time if you are not in a hurry.  However, I agree with the reviewer’s warning to not marinade for too many hours since the acid in the vinegar and lemon juice can cause the meat to become mushy.

Once you are ready to cook the chops, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and, in a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil to almost smoking, then add pork chops, shaking off excess marinade. Brown on both sides.

browned chops

Next, place the chops on a sheet pan and put in the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees F. (Check at 15 minutes)

In the same saute pan deglaze with the wine…

deglazed pan

… then add onions, apples and raisins and cook until apples are soft and onions are translucent.

add produce to pan

Just after adding to the pan.

part way done

After 5-7 minutes uncovered.

The original recipe did not specify whether or not to cover the pan.  I was not confident that the onions and apples would cook down enough without burning since there was not much liquid in the pan, so I covered the pan after 5-7 minutes and lowered the temperature from medium high to medium low. Next time, I will probably just cover from the beginning and then, if there is excess liquid, cook it off at the end.

reduced

After another 6-8 or so minutes, covered - and after the butter was added.

The last step: Add butter and salt and pepper, to taste, and keep warm while waiting for chops to be done.

Once the chops are to temperature, remove from oven and put the chops onto to the apple mixture and pour any juices into the mix, as well. Hold covered, on low warm, until ready to serve.

To accompany, I opted for potatoes, since I had some on hand, although rice would also work well.  As to veggies, I had a bell pepper that needed using and I wanted to keep things simple, so I tossed together 6 or so small red potatoes, quartered, a green bell pepper in large chunks/slices, and a small onion, quartered, with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a small amount of a ginger/citrus shake I had in the cupboard thanks to a gift from my niece and baker/cook extraordinaire Meggie Dennis, finishing with a liberal amount of olive oil.  I have a counter-top toaster oven with a convection option, so I convect-roasted the potato mix, covered with foil, for around 35 minutes at 375 and finished off for about 5 minutes at 425 uncovered.  But if you have just one oven, preheat to 350 to start roasting the potato mix, covered, for 35 or so minutes before also putting the the pork chops in for their 20 minutes, and then raise the temperature to 425 to finish them off, uncovered, after the chops are done, as needed.

finshed meal

Dinner!

And, there you have it.  It got a “keeper” vote from both Steve and me. And, I especially like the technique of marinating, browning, baking, and creating a pan topping or sauce since it lends itself to unlimited variations in flavors. Roasted veggies of any sort also lend themselves to all sorts of menus and flavors. A keeper indeed.

Pork, Sweet Potato, and Cabbage Casserole on Soba Noodles

I have not posted for ages, but I was determined to document this concoction since it is  an experiment that worked.  🙂   Yes, I did start with a recipe, but I  adapted it so as to use up a few leftovers from my New Year’s Day open house, as well as some pork that was in the freezer,  some stray sweet potatoes, and a shallot.  In addition, as noted toward the end, it can also be easily adapted to fit a vegetarian diet.

Here is what I had: a pork sirloin mini roast (1.17 lbs) that I sliced an inch or a bit under thick, apple chutney that I had made but forgotten to put out on New Year’s Day, chopped cabbage that I had forgotten to add to the sweet and sour beef soup I made for and served on New Year’s Day, and two sweet potatoes and a shallot that I had on hand.

ingredients

The major ingredients

Here is the link to original recipe from which I was working:
Pork Chop Casserole Recipe with Sweet Potatoes

Obviously, I was not using chops, and this recipe calls for more than 1 lb or so of meat; also, it does not specify boned or bone-in. Given I had a smaller amount of meat, it worked out fine that I had only two small sweet potatoes, and I used about two cups of Apple Chutney (Click HERE for the recipe – it is buried in the pulled pork recipe but it is worth deciphering it out, so to speak) to replace the OJ, brown sugar, and spices.

I also did everything in an ovenproof skillet.  Note to self: Do Not forget to use a pot holder when taking the skillet out of the oven…)

Anyway, I started by lightly browning the pork in a bit of olive oil to help seal in moisture in the pork and to give a nice flavor base for the rest of the ingredients.

In the middle of browning the pork

After removing the pork and setting it aside, I added a bit more olive oil and lightly sauteed thinly sliced shallot and a few stems of fresh thyme until the shallot was soft and the thyme quite fragrant.

getting stated with the shallot and fresh thyme

I then removed the shallot and thyme, added yet a bit more olive oil, and put the onion (one medium, sliced) in the pan.

Next, the onions

Once the onion was starting to get soft, I added about 3 cups of chopped savoy cabbage. (I am sure any type of cabbage would do – in fact, the red kind would make for a REALLY colorful dish!)

Then, add the cabbage to the onions

Once the cabbage cooked down a bit (after maybe 5 minutes or so), I stirred in the sliced sweet potato and the pork, including the juices, and then arranged the shallot and thyme on top. Finally, I put the lid on the pan, and into the oven preheated to 350 degrees it went.

Ready for the oven!

sensual close-up shot 🙂

After 50 minutes, the potatoes were just tender and the meat was still moist, so I put the pan with the cover on it back in the oven on the “keep warm” setting (170 dgrees) since we were not quite ready to eat. If I had wanted to serve sooner, I probably would have put it back in at the 350 degrees for another 5-10 minutes.

Finished!

If I had had more sweet potatoes on hand, or a few white potatoes to add to the mix, this could very well have been a one-dish meal.  Or, I could have added some extra liquid and rice, or cooked rice separately and serve the pork and veggies over it. But, since it was a cold and stormy night, I thought soba noodles, made from the hearty buckwheat (often cited as good food for cold weather) would be the perfect match.  And, it was!

on a bed of soba noodles

This turned out to be quite tasty.  Upon reading the reviews of the original recipe, I think that it would fine as written, but both the original and my version would benefit from the sauce being thickened a bit, perhaps with cornstarch, and, in my version, I think a little more sweetness to counter the tart chutney would be nice.  But overall, I think the dish works well as written, as adapted by me, and as a base for further adaptations.  One note about the soba noodles:  They do not expand as much as regular pasta, so you may not have as much leftover as you would have thought.

leftovers!

If you don’t care to eat meat, this recipe can easily be adapted to suit a vegetarian diet.  If you want a concentrated protein source to serve as does the pork, then I  think tempeh would work wonderfully with this recipe. Tofu and seitan may work, also, albeit the textures of tofu and the usual tamari-based flavor of seitan would give a  different slant. This recipe could also inspire the creation of a rice, sweet potato, and cabbage (or other vegetable) casserole. Or, add edamame to replace the pork and still serve over the soba.

So, that’s it for now.  I really need to get back to blogging here on a more regular basis.  I have drafts and photos of various dishes and meals that I hope to document on this blog one of these days, but one the one ingredient I seem to always be low on is time, something for which thyme is no substitute…  <grin>

Scalloped Potatoes with Ham – Comfort Food!

THIS is comfort food.  If you are vegetarian, see the end of the post for how to adapt this recipe without losing out on all the flavors.  Although, I think this came out so very wonderfully because I used ham from the amazing ham I prepared last week using My New Favorite Ham recipe.

Click the recipe title to see the original recipe from which I started.
Scalloped Potatoes with Ham

Ingredients
An asterisk * means I made a change to or added an ingredient.

•    2 tablespoons butter
•    2 tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat flour)
•    1 1/2 cups milk via a 5 oz can of evaporated milk, 2 Tbsp of instant dry milk, and water to make 1 1/2 cups total.*
•    1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes (will use more next time!)*
•    Salt and pepper
•    1-2 tsp dried parsley *
•    2 tablespoon olive oil (for sauteing)*
•    2 medium onions, thinly sliced
•    1 cup chopped green bell pepper *
•    3/4 cup grated carrot *
•    1.25 lb of assorted potatoes, thinly sliced (I used what I had on hand)*
•    8 ounces/2 cups of cooked ham in about 1/2 inch chunks.*
•    1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese *

ingedients

The main ingredients. I just love all the colors.

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter or oil a baking dish. In a saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat.

melting butter and pepper flakes

I couldn't resist infusing some red pepper flakes in the butter. I should have used more and will try using 2-3 times the amount next time!

Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute.

ready to add milk to the base

The butter and flour ready for the milk.

Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in milk. Return pan to heat and bring to a simmer while stirring. When sauce has thickened remove from heat, season with salt and pepper (and I added parsley, as well)  and set aside.

Thickened sauce

Thickened to the consistency of thin pancake batter.

In a skillet, cook onions in olive oil (or butter if using original recipe ingredients) until golden brown.

onion and pepper ready for casserole

I sauteed the oinons until almost done to my liking before adding the chopped green pepper.  This is because I didn’t want the moisture from the pepper releasing into the oil before the oinions had a chance to start browning.  I cooked the mixture just a bit more, then stirred in the grated carrot and put it all aside until ready to assemble the dish.  I figured the pepper and carrot would have plenty of time to cook in the oven.

Spread one third (1/2 cup) of the white sauce in bottom of baking dish and top with half of the potatoes. Spread out half of the onion/veggie mix, ham, and one third (1/2 cup) of the cheese. Pour another third of the sauce  on that layer.  Add the other half of the onion/veggie mix, ham and top with the last 1/2 cup of sauce and remaining cheese.

before the final cheese

After the last of the sauce and before the last of the cheese.

ready for the oven

All set to pop in the oven!

Bake for 45 – an hour minutes  until golden and bubbly. Then, have at it!

This was really, really tasty.  Again, I do think that the leftover ham, with its sweet and spicy flavor, added tremendously to the flavor.  But, I think adding the green pepper and carrot gave a flavor boost to this old favorite, as well.

There is, of course, no reason why this can’t be made with a chopped up ham steak or sliced ham. For some sweetness, use pineapple or apple juice in lieu of water if using evaporated or powered milk, or sprinkle some brown sugar, as well as some clove powder over each layer.

And, if you prefer a vegetarian, or even vegan version, this seasoning method will work for you, also.   And, vegetarian or not, ou can also add more potatoes or other vegetables. Just be be sure to cook more watery veggies  down before baking the final dish so as to not add too much moisture.

If you want a “meaty” texture in there, use soy or seitan (wheat gluten) based protein items that have a smoky/ham sort of flavor. Also – when I was eating a vegan diet, I had no problem making a nice roux/white sauce with soy or rice milk, etc.  I think I actually made it with just flour, oil, and water a few times.  (Hmm, I will have to try that to make sure my memory is correct!)

All-in-all, this is a tasty and pleasantly textured dish, whether you follow the traditional recipe I link to at the top,  try out my version or experiment with my additional suggestions.  In the end, it is indeed one of those comfort food dishes that every cook should have in their repertoire.  Except for my friend Kathleen who can no longer eat onions.  I have NO idea what to substitute for that!

My New Favorite Ham Recipe

Easter is one of the holidays that I host for my family and I have the menu down pat…At least, I thought I did!  Not that anyone has complained, but there will definitely be a few changes to the menu this next Easter!

For one thing – no more spiral cut ham.  Why? Because, upon trying out a new thing or two on the Cook’s brand bone-in butt end ham (6.4 pounds) I recently picked up on sale, I am realizing that the spiral cut, while making serving easier, is not conducive to keeping all of the moisture and flavor in the meat.

I actually had a lot of fun with this ham.

ham

Retro Ham!

Yes – those are pineapple rings.  So 50’s.  🙂  I did the crisscross scoring, poured a bit of gingerale over it, stuck a bunch of cloves in and added the pineapple slices, mixed about 1/4 cup brown sugar with the canned pineapple liquid and poured that over it all, and finished up with freshly grated nutmeg (1/4 tsp) along with some cinnamon (1 tsp) and ginger powder (1 scant tsp). I am guestimating on the measurements I used…Click HERE for the link to the original recipe from which I was working.

After 3 hours at 325 covered tightly with foil:

Just out of the oven!

Once removing from the oven, I lifted the rack and spooned the liquid in the pan over it and let it sit, loosely tented in the foil, for about 1/2 an hour or so before transferring to the carving board.

The artsy shot. 🙂

I should have take a picture of it after it was carved.  It looked as moist and tasty as it tasted.  I was afraid that I had overdone the spices, etc. but this was just wonderful.

I served it with roasted yukon gold potato chunks and an amazing sweet potato and red cabbage (!?) recipe that totally rocked.  Click HERE for that recipe. And, here is the regular potato recipe:

I cut the potatoes into approximately 2 inch chunks and started them  1 1/2 hours into the ham baking process so they would have 90 minutes at the 325 degrees.  Basically, I just cut potatoes into 2 inch chunks, toss with a bit of olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and salt, and add maybe 1/3 – 1/2 cup liquid (in this case, liquid from the ham that was already part-way cooked)  cover tightly and bake until soft. Then (optional) continue baking uncovered until more crisp on the outside.

Along with switching to this ham type and recipe, I am thinking I will also replace the baked mashed potatoes I have been serving on Easter with roasted potato chunks.  Always good to make a change before one gets too stuck in tradition.  🙂