Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Autumn in San Diego, Time for Pork Braised with Apples and Cider

 70 degrees feels like fall here in San Diego after the very hot, humid weather we have been experiencing into October.  I never thought I'd get tired of wearing sandals and tank tops, but I've been jealous of my friends on the East Coast in their new sweaters, and boots.  One of my favorite dishes in cool weather is one we had in Normandy, France, pork braised with apples and cider.  I usually serve this over buttered noodles, but you could serve it over mashed potatoes, or polenta.  It's a great slow cooker recipe, but you can also make it on the stovetop in a Dutch oven.  

Pork Braised with Apples and Cider
Serves 6

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Six one-inch-thick loin pork chops (bone-in or boneless---the bones fall off in cooking)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
4 Honey Crisp apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 8 wedges
1 1/2 cups apple cider
2 beef bouillon cubes, or 2 teaspoons Better Than Bouillon beef base
1/3 cup heavy cream (this is optional, but really rounds out the flavor)
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper
1 pound wide egg noodles, cooked al dente for serving

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the mustard and sugar.  Spread it onto the pork chops, this is a messy business, but it works. 
  2. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven, and brown the pork chops on both sides.  Remove the pork chops to a plate, and add the onion, thyme and apples to the pot.  Saute until the onions are translucent.
  3. Add the apple cider and bouillon cubes.  
  4. Return the pork to the pan, cover, and cook over medium-low heat (at a simmer) for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the pork is tender.  
  5. Add the cream and the cornstarch mixture.  Bring to a boil, and taste for seasoning.  
  6. Serve the pork over buttered noodles, mashed potatoes or polenta.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy: 
Saute through step 3, then transfer to the slow cooker insert.  Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 8 hours.  Add the cream and cornstarch, cook on high for 30 minutes, on low for 1 hour, till thickened.  

Brown the pork chops

Saute onions

Saute apples and thyme
Add the cider, bouillon, and pork to the pot

Add the cream and cornstarch

I served this with sauteed spinach

So I still have no idea what day it is, but I do know that crisp fall days are a welcome relief after hot and humid weeks.  I'm wearing a sweater today, which feels cozy, and the daytime temperature will probably be 70, but it feels like fall!  

I've finally gotten out into the garden to whack away some of the milkweed which feeds the monarch butterflies.  We are hoping they are on their way to Mexico, and we'll see them back here in the spring. 
The wildfire season has been devastating combined with the pandemic, right now we are praying for our friends in Orange County evacuating from the fires that exploded yesterday. 
Stay safe and stay well.  

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Cornmeal Biscotti, Quarantine Kitchen

 So, I still don't know what day it is, but I do know that I went to Trader Joes' the other day and picked up a small packet of cornmeal biscotti.  Now, I know, I should make these myself, but I really wanted to see what they tasted like and whether I would even like them.  They were your standard hard-as-a-rock biscotti, with a little bit of a sandy cornmeal texture, and not many identifiable nuts.  But, it got me thinking that for what I paid for these 12 biscotti I could be manufacturing 100's of them them in my own kitchen.  
Today was another hot day here in San Diego, so weird for October.  
Normally we see the ocean and the freeway here, but tonight we are fogged in

I'd made a batch of Marcella Hazan's broccoli potato soup for dinner but really wanted to try to make some biscotti, my way.  I trolled the internet for some ideas, and this recipe is a winner, thanks to David Leibovich and his wonderful blog.  I did adapt it a bit since I like a more buttery taste, and I used my favorite nuts, pistachios.  I think these would be great with an addition of dried cherries, or cranberries for the holidays, and pecans would be a nice sub for the pistachios.  

Quarantine Cornmeal Biscotti
Makes about 40

5 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon paste (or 1 teaspoon lemon extract) 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped salted pistachios

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with silicone or parchment paper. 
In a bowl, combine the butter, sugar salt, and eggs, until combined. Add the extract and lemon paste.  
Add the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and pistachios.  
Shape the dough into two logs about 13-inches long.  (they will expand in the oven)

They don't look like much, but they expand in the oven
Bake for 20 minutes until set.  
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees, and allow the logs to rest for 20 minutes.  

Cut the logs into 1/2-inch cookies, and arrange on the baking sheet --- I like to follow my friend Lora Brody's way of doing this and standing them upright.  Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.  
The biscotti will keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks, or you can freeze them for up to 2 months.  

So, a few notes here, if you wish to add dried fruit, about 1/2 cup will work well.  A drizzle of bittersweet chocolate would also be spectacular on these once they are cooled.  I've been using salted butter for cookies lately, and the difference is really interesting---deeper flavor for chocolate chip cookies, and vanilla cookies.  These also benefitted from the salted butter.  If you only have unsalted butter, use 1/2 teaspoon salt, rather than the 1/4 teaspoon.  
What is Lemon Paste, you ask?  

Neilson and Massey who make my favorite vanilla paste, have come out with a lemon paste, a combo of zest and extract---use it as you would extract, you'll get a nice punch of flavor.  I have used this in cakes, and these cookies, and am sold!  
So, we are into October, and Dr. C. and I have canceled our trip to Maui at Thanksgiving---I'm not whining, we are just sad for our country and the number of people who are sick and have died. Please wear your mask, stay safe, stay well and VOTE.   

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Quarantine Wonton Soup, Still Don't Know What Day It Is


Several weeks ago, the website Eater wrote about a company delivering freshly made Chinese dumplings to your door.  It didn't take me long to order a variety of gyoza, and wontons.  
The pork gyoza were delicious, we ate them too fast for me to photograph---let me stop here and say, I salute all the bloggers out there, who can style their dishes, and take the perfect photo before digging into the dish they've been craving all day---I'm not there.  Half the time, the dish is 1/2 eaten, and we try to mash it back together again.
Anyway, when looking into the refrigerator last night I saw I had some forgotten baby bok choy, and the remains of a Costco chicken, so I decided to make wonton soup for lunch, using the Hong Kong-style shrimp and pork wontons that we had ordered. The result was awesome, so I thought I'd share it. Above are the frozen Hong Kong wontons---Hong Kong-style are made with an egg noodle, a little richer than the plain wontons made with flour and water.

Quarantine Wonton Soup

Serves 6
6 wontons per person---this is a guesstimate
1 tablespoon sesame oil--plus more for garnish if desired
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 baby bok choy, thinly sliced
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups cooked shredded or chopped chicken (optional)
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil, and keep on a simmer. 
In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add the garlic, ginger, and bok choy and saute till the bok choy is wilted.  

Add the chicken broth, chicken (if using), and soy sauce.  

Simmer for 15 minutes.  
Cook the (frozen) wontons in the salted water for 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, arrange 6 wontons in each soup bowl, and ladle in the soup.  Garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil if desired.   

So the verdict: a winner!  I will order these little guys again---we still have a couple of bags (they come with about 30 in each bag) and the flavors are fresh and delicious.  If you are in LA or San Diego in their delivery zone, this is a great option.  
I usually don't cook Asian or Mexican because there are so many great Asian and Mexican options here, but since we aren't eating out yet, I can certainly fill in with these guys delivering to my front door.  
Stay safe, stay well, and wear a mask.  

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Hottest Day of the Weekend, It's Time for Minestrone


So while the rest of the nation is apple picking, and raking up fall leaves, here in San Diego we are experiencing record heat.  Fortunately, for now, no fires are burning in our area.  

I still have no idea what day it is, and I spend days trying to decide what I'm going to cook, and there are days when I don't cook and we simply order in or grab something from the freezer.  Yesterday I felt like having a bowl of comfort, even though it was 90 degrees here at the coast.  I've been using Insta-Cart to get most of our groceries, and Gelson's markets have had stellar produce, so I put in my order and 2 hours later I have the veg I needed to make some soup.  

I kind of picture this soup being made by Tony Soprano, or one of the guys from Goodfellas, or the God Father movies when they are holed up somewhere for a while.  This soup and a pot of sauce with meatballs. 

 During hot weather like this, my slow cooker is a God-send.  I use it for soups, braises, and as a low and slow oven.  At high, a slow cooker should be at 300 degrees, so you can slow bake foil-wrapped potatoes, or make lasagna.  

In Italy, minestrone really is a vegetable soup, that may have a few leftover beef or pork bones thrown in for flavor, but they hardly ever use stock to enrich the broth, rather they will use Parmigiano rinds, fruity olive oil to begin the soup, and fresh veg to flavor the soup.  I threw all that out the window yesterday, I started with sweet Italian sausage, added wine, and tomatoes, and both beef and chicken broth because I wanted a really hearty soup.  So, here goes.

Quarantine Minestrone

Serves 6 to 8

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, either bulk or removed from casings
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried sage (I've also used chopped rosemary in this)
1/2 cup dry red wine
One 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
3 medium zucchini, diced
2 cups green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chopped spinach (I've subbed kale, or Swiss chard in here if it's looking good)
One 14.5-ounce can either small white beans, or garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup chopped Parmigiano Reggiano rinds
1/2 pound small pasta, such as pennette, orzo or small shells, cooked al dente
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil for garnish
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish

In a Dutch oven, cook the sausage, until it is no longer pink, and break up any large pieces.
Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  

Add the wine and tomatoes, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes to concentrate the flavor.  

Add the broths, zucchini, beans, spinach, beans, and rinds.  Bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 hours.  

Add the pasta, season with salt and pepper.  Serve drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkle with cheese if desired.   
The soup keeps refrigerated for up to 4 days or freezes beautifully for up to 4 months.  
Slow-Cooker Savvy:  Saute the sausage and mirepoix.  Add the tomatoes and wine, then transfer to your slow cooker insert, add the broths, veg, and rinds, cook on high for 3 hours or low for 6 hours.  

A few notes on this soup:  
  • If you want to make it vegetarian, leave out the sausage, and use vegetable broth
  • I've made this using cauliflower as one of the veg (about 2 cups of florets), it's really a soup that is from the garden so whatever you have will be fine in it.  
  • Sub in Kale or Swiss chard for the spinach.  
  • Always cook the pasta (if you are using it) before it goes into the soup, otherwise, it will absorb all the broth.  I've also used cheese tortellini in this soup and it's delicious.  
As the day winds down, I pray you are all well and safe.  Wear your mask, and keep social distancing.  Ciao for now.