Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sage and Apple Pork Chops

I was in need of a quick-to-assemble dinner.  Not quick to cook, mind you, but quick to put together and toss in the oven.  And it had to use items on hand.  For some reason I had been craving the savory taste of sage.   Perhaps it was our lingering fall.  Something about sage, onions and apples screams fall...

The recipe is my own

Serves 4

The Ingredients:
4 bone in pork chops
2 medium apples, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp cinnamon
1-2 tsp ground sage
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 350.

Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish and arrange the apple slices in the bottom.  Liberally dust with cinnamon. 

Meanwhile, sear the pork chops on both sides in a hot skillet...2-3 minutes per side.  Arrange the seared chops on top of the apples.  Sprinkle with sage, salt and pepper.  Layer the sliced onions on top.

Bake uncovered in the pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the chops are slightly pink or reach about 145 degrees.

To serve, portion out one chop to each plate and top with baked apples an onions.

The Review:
Simple, juicy savory and sweet.  This dinner was nothing to exciting, but it certainly hit the spot.  The apples disintegrated into nearly a sauce.  The pork was tender and flavorful.  The seasoning was low key, but well balanced.  Pretty pedestrian.  But very satisfying.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chicken and Sweet Potato Stew

Oh for the chance to cook a decent dinner once and again!  Life has become ridiculously busy over the past weeks (as my more faithful follows may have noticed due to the lapse in me, it's not for lack of cooking or interest so much as lack of time in front of the computer).  Short of the odd gathering or forced night with company I haven't focused on many entrees of late.  But when I came across this recipe I knew I'd have to make the time.  Though with a crock pot in the mix, I was free most of the afternoon to carry on with my overbooked list of projects, with the satisfaction of knowing a hot dinner would await me in a few hours.

Adapted from Eating Well, March/April 2006

Serves 6

The Ingredients:
6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed of fat
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into spears
1/2 lb white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 large shallots, peeled and halved
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 cup dry white wine
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp white-wine vinegar

The Process:
Layer the chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, wine, rosemary, salt and pepper in a 6-quart slow cooker. Put the lid on and cook on low until the potatoes are tender, about 5 hours. Before serving, remove bones from the chicken, if desired, and stir in vinegar.

The Review:
I was amazed at the simplicity and elegance of the dish.  I was wary to layer so much with so little liquid, but as everything cooked down over the 5-6 hours, a wonderful broth emerged.  The sweet potatoes needn't be stirred or submerge to cook fully.  The chicken stayed picturesquely intact but fell from the bone in tender forkfuls.  The broth was cloudy but clean.  A picture perfect dinner with very little effort.

The flavors were light and earthy.  Meaty chicken, savory rosemary, tart and slightly sour broth from the wine and vinegar underscored with an earthiness from the mushrooms.  Despite these being run of the mill white button mushrooms, they lent quite a bit of flavor.  While our mushroom-phobe was able to pick around the slices of fungi, he did complain about the flavor lingering  the dish.

Monday, October 10, 2011

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta

The highlight of the bruschetta bar, at least for me, was this little gem right here.  Our event was kicking off an evening of drinking and revelry, and while finger food doesn't offer much by way of substance, I was bound and determined to have something with a little more protein to sate us.
Adapted from a Bon Apetit recipe found at Epicurious

yields about 20 servings

The Ingredients:
1 cup dried Great Northern beans (or one can, drained and well-rinsed)
3 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
If using dry beans: beans in large saucepan. Add enough cold water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring to boil. Cover and remove from heat. Allow the beans to stand 1 hour.  Drain beans and return to pan. Add enough cold water to cover by them 3 inches. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Drain and cool. 

Transfer cooked (or canned) beans to medium bowl. Add in tomatoes, olives, 4 tablespoons oil, basil and garlic. Mix until well combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Serve cold or room temperature with crostini.

The Review:
The flavor and texture of this simple topping was astounding.  Fresh red-ripe fall tomatoes, smooth and creamy white beans, salty olives and just enough seasoning to tie everything together....heavenly.   I went a little heavier on the bean than the recipe called for, but with no regrets.  

The original recipe suggests serving by spreading freshly toasted slices of French bread with a goat's cheese such as Montrachet and then topping with the bean mixture.  While I'm sure this would have added an even more exquisite depth of flavor and a wonderful play of warm crisp toast against cool and creamy toppings, we opted to keep it simple and remove the broiler and cheese from the equation.  That's quite alright.  This meant I was able to savor a lovely bit of Montrachet on my own some days later.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Triple Olive Tapenade

This was the second topping offered for our bruschetta bar.  I absolutely adore olives of all varieties.  This recipe is a great way to showcase your favorites.  Ross absolutely abhors olives.  That left more for the rest of us....

Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe at

yields approximately 1 to 1-1/2 cups

The Ingredients:
1/2 pound pitted mixed olives (I used green stuffed with pimetto, black, and kalamata)
2 anchovy fillets or 1 tsp anchovy paste
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp capers
2 to 3 fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

The Process:
Thoroughly rinse the olives in cool water. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture becomes a coarse paste, approximately 1 to 2 minutes total. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

The Review:
The spread was pungent, salty, briny and acidic in all of the right ways.  Some may scoff or turn they nose up at anchovies, but was is a good Caesar dressing or salad nicoise without the salty little morsels.  Likewise for this delightful spread.  The fish, capers and lemon juice serve to deepen and enhance the olives' flavors without overpowering them.  As this was the first time I'd ventured to use anchovy paste, I did err on the light side, lest the little fish dominate the salty balance.  The spread was a thick and coarse consistency, mounding onto the crostini well, without falling apart; moist without saturating the little toasts.  The tapenade served as a wonderful compliment to the sweeter tomato brustchetta toppings.

This appetizer is incredibly quick to prepare and fairly inexpensive (depending on your olives of choice, that is).  I am looking forward to perusing our local cheese shop's olive bar for the next assortment of olives to try...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Double Tomato Bruschetta

At a recent opening night party for work we were treated to a spread of savory Italian finger foods. The highlight of the Mediterranean treats was the bruschetta bar. Large bowls of lightly toasted bread headed a table filled with about half a dozen varieties of tasty toppings. I was itching to have an excuse to set up something similar. Double tomato bruschetta is the first of the three I treated out guests to on the chosen night.

Adapted from Laurie Thompson's recipe at

The Ingredients:
for the toasts:
1-2 day old baguettes
olive oil

for the topping:
6 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
The Process:
For the toasts:
Preheat the oven to 450.

Slice the baguette on a diagonal about 1/2 inch thick slices. Coat one side of each slice with olive oil using a pastry brush. Arrange slices in a single layer on a cooking sheet, olive oil side down. Place a tray of bread slices in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5-6 minutes, until the bread just begins to turn golden brown.

Allow to cool.

for the topping:
In a medium bowl combine the two types of tomato, garlic, oil, vingear and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

to serve:
Arrange toasted bread on a serving platter. Carefully top each slice with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. Alternatively, set the toasts in a large basket at the table alongside a serving dish of the tomato mixture and allow guests to create their own bruschetta.

The Review:
The sun-dried tomato added a deep and slightly sweet taste that brought a pleasant and rich tomato flavor to their anemic Roma relations. The vinegar likewise added a sweet hint, making me wish I had added just a touch more salt to balance the flavors out.

These little toasts could just as easily be finished off with a touch of mozzarella and a minute or two under the broiler, but with people coming and going the serve yourself bruschetta bar seemed to result in much fresher flavors. And no soggy toasts were to be found from bread topped too soon. Overall this double tomato bruschetta was a big hit, though not the favorite of the evening.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Miso Glazed Eggplant

I love eggplant but often find myself in a rut over how to prepare it. The Mediterranean standbys grow old and a bit to familiar. But while flipping through one of Ross' Men's Health magazine, an article jumped out about dressing up your veggies. Asian condiments and a hot broiler seemed a good fix for the eggplant rut.

adapted from "A Meat Lover's Guide to Vegetables" in Men's Health, October 2011

The Ingredients:
1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices
2 Tbsp shiro (white) miso
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce

The Process:
Preheat the broiler.

Lightly brush both sides of the eggplant slices with vegetable or olive oil Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange the slices in a single layer.

Combine the miso, honey, vinegar, and soy sauce along with a dash of pepper. Whisk until well blended. Brush the sauce on the exposed sides of the slices.

Broil the eggplant 6 inches from the heat until the sauce is caramelized, about 3-4 minutes. Flip the slices, brush with exposed sides with sauce and broil 3-4 minutes more.

Remove the eggplant to a serving platter and brush with remaining sauce before serving.

The Review:
I adored the miso glazed salmon I tried a few months back. The fish had a lovely balance of sweet, salty and umami. The eggplant, though, lacked something. The funk of the miso seemed to overpower the honey and soy sauce instead of blending with it. The sauce didn't seem to caramelize as promised, so much as brown and burn. And while I have enjoyed many silky or meaty textures of eggplant, depending upon how prepared, this incarnation seemed almost slimy.

Next time perhaps the smaller Japanese eggplants are in order. And a bit more tweaking with the sauce ratio. There is always room for improvement, and never a failure without the chance for later success.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Butternut Squash stuffed with apple and pork

This dish defines fall to me. Warm spices. Freshly picked apples. Bountiful squash. The meat of choice was simple given how wonderfully pork pairs with sweet and savory. This dish could just as easily be prepared with ground turkey or chicken.

The recipe is my own

Serves 6-8

The Ingredients:
2 medium or 3 small butternut squash
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 1/2 lb ground pork
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely minced
3-4 cloves of garlic
2 medium apples, finely diced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sage
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
Preheat the oven to 350

Slice the butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Pierce the skin in several places with a sharp knife. On a oiled baking sheet, place the squash cut side down. Roast in the oven for 45-50 minutes. Remove and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Once cool, scoop out the flesh of the squash, leaving about 3/4 of an inch shell. Reserve the shells to be stuffed later. Finely dice the removed flesh and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat saute the onion, ginger and garlic until tender. Add the ground pork and cook until browned, 10-12 minutes. Add the diced squash, apples and seasonings. Continue to cook until apples are tender.

Generously stuff the pork and apple filling into the reserves squash shells. Set in a baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until golden brown on top and heated through.

The Review:
I am a sucker for entrees served in nature's own containers and this dish is a beautiful in its butternut dish as it is tasty. The squash and apple play wonderfully off of the meaty pork and savory sage.

Fall is most certainly here!