Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dinner For Two

 The days have been cooler lately, quite different from the searing heat we had a few weeks ago.
 That hint of fall, and cooler weather sends me into the kitchen for savory, slow cooked dishes, and the other day we feasted on pork with apples in apple cider.  

Simple, delicious, and it almost cooks itself.  The original recipe was devised after a trip to Normandy; Normandy has no vineyards, only apple orchards....the orchards yield apples (of course) and cider in all iterations, from fresh pressed, to fizzy fermented, to Calvados an apple brandy.  So take yourself to Normandy this weekend, and cook this for your's easily doubled or tripled for a larger crowd.

Pork Chops In Cider
Serves 2

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 Gala apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Two 1/2 pound center cut pork chops
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons beef soup base (Better Than Bouillon Superior Touch is my fave)
2 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

In large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat, and saute the onions, apples and thyme for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions are softened.
Mix the Dijon mustard and brown sugar and coat the pork chops with the mixture.  Move the apples and onions to the side of the pan, and brown the chops over medium high heat, turning once. 
Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper.  Add the soup base, and cider, cover and simmer for 1 hour.  Stir in the cornstarch mixture, and bring to a boil.

Taste for seasoning and serve.  For a much more luxurious sauce, add the cream and bring to serving temperature.  This is delicious served over buttered egg noodles to soak up the sauce. 
I left out the cream, since it was just the two of us, and I forgot to add it!  It's delicious either way.  You can make the same thing using chicken breasts, they will cook for about 30 minutes, covered, on the stove top.
Cook's Note:  I cooked mine in the slow cooker on high for 4 hours, low for 6 to 7 hours will work. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ready For Prime Time

For months since Dr. C. and I got back from Italy, I've been trying many recipes for Roman Style pizza; the crackery, thin, shatteringly delicious pie that comes to your table, and you can't get enough.  I've tried recipes from some famous American and Italian American bakers, some have been good, others down right awful (did they even test the recipes?)
Today dawned gloomy, with an onshore wind, that has kept the day crispy and fall-like--since we don't have seasons per se, here in So. Cal. it was the perfect day to set about trying to make that perfect pizza.
A few ground rules:
  1. Not everyone likes a thin crust pizza, I know!
  2. The atmospheric conditions in your kitchen matter; a damp day, and the flour (although stored airtight) may be damp, and not need as much water as the recipe calls for, so add sparingly.
  3. Buy a pizza stone that can be heated to a zillion degrees.  I bought the Emile Henry, it can be used on your grill, and it's gorgeous in aubergine!
  4. Buy a pizza peel; I bought the Epicurean, which doubles as a cutting board---and goes in the dishwasher. 
  5. Know your oven temperature, and its capabilities.  I have a convection oven and if you have one, you want to cook a pizza on "convection bake" that means that the lower element is also heating, giving you a crispier crust.  If you don't have a convection oven, then put the pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven.  
  6. Flour used in this type pizza matters; I've tried blends of all-purpose and cake flour, and just all-purpose, but the flour that works is what they use in Italy; it's called 00, and King Arthur Flour sells a 3 pound sack on their website.   Click here for more info.
Roman Pizza
This will make about 6 14-inch pizzas

5 to 6 cups 00 flour (or King Arthur Italian Style flour)
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 to 2 cups warm (110 degrees) water
pizza sauce
whole milk mozzarella
freshly grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano
dried oregano

  1. In a large bowl, combine the 5 cups of flour, the yeast, sugar, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour, and gradually stir in the water, until the dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl.  With floured hands, knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding flour if needed to make a smooth, supple dough---it will still be sticky.  Separate the dough into 6 balls and set on a baking sheet to rest for 15 minutes, while you get the oven ready.  
  2. Place the pizza stone into the oven, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Using the remaining flour liberally, roll out the dough into 14-inch circles. 
  4. Sprinkle the pizza peel liberally with the cornmeal; learn from my mistakes, if you don't the sticky dough will stick like glue to the peel and you won't get it onto the stone.
  5. Transfer the rolled dough to the pizza peel, working quickly spread a thin layer of sauce (you will see the pizza dough through the sauce) sprinkle with the cheeses, and finish with a sprinkle of the oregano.
  6. Now, it's the moment of truth; transfer the pizza to the hot pizza stone, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cheeses are bubbling, the crust is is crispy on the bottom.  Remove from the stone and let rest for 2 to 3 minutes before cutting into wedges.   
 Mama Mia, that's a pizza! 
Enjoy your weekend!

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Scenes from My Week At Rancho La Puerta

     Coming back home after a week at Rancho La Puerta, I wanted to share all my photos with you.  I think they speak for themselves; enjoy!


    I'll be back this week with some great recipes for the week, until then enjoy your evening.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    The Nights the Lights Went Out in Baja

    Another day of over 100 degree temperatures sent guests at Rancho La Puerta to the pools, or the indoor gyms.  I spent the day at the pool, reading, and playing with my camera.  Just before leaving at 4 p.m. on the shuttle bus to La Cocina Que Canta, the power in our casita went out.  Unaware that the entire Southwestern region had lost power, the students and I trundled over the wash board road to the cooking school.  The driver had said he thought that the school had power, but in my mind, I was already juggling the menu around in my head to figure out how we would cook the fish, and roast the vegetables. 

    When we arrived at the school, there wasn't any power, and no gas for the ovens and stoves......but, no problem!  There is always a way to get food on the table, and we used the wood fired grill for the cooking portions, and the rest was done as "raw" food.....with such amazing produce from the garden, it's simple to prepare the recipes without cooking.  Here are a few snaps of our time in the gardens with Salvador and the our meal which was superb....a bunch of great cooks got on the bus to ride back to the ranch after power was restored.

      Salvador in his element; this man has a love affair with this garden, and it's no wonder the produce is so amazing. 

     Dinner served; fish packets with heirloom tomato salsa
     Originally a corn and zucchini saute with basil, we turned this one into a salad with a bit of white wine vinegar
     Freckles lettuce in the garden
     White gazpacho with avocado corn relish
     Freckles, magenta, and baby lettuces, orange balsamic vinaigrette, and fresh figs
    Harvesting onions

    Harvesting corn
    As I leave this place I am more inspired than ever to search out local farmers' markets, organic, sustainable produce and to cook with a love for the ingredients.  If you have not been to Rancho La Puerta I'd rate it as a bucket list item---even if you just come and enjoy the grounds, and the relaxation. 
    Until next week, I wish you buenos tardes from Rancho La Puerta.