(what to try, cook and experience)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Nothing beats a pork chop dinner....

Pork Chop with Stone-ground Mustard Cream Sauce

Today was not one of the best days I have had.

My husband broke at least three ribs (don't ask how), I tried to convert the baking instructions for a sheet cake into a spring form pan cake (utter, total fail... cakeplant?)and manage to knock over a bottle of organic vanilla extract and spill half of it everywhere. Also, the spring form pan leaked and it was a giant mess. And the cake turned out ugly-looking. Yeah. Not the best day.

But you know what makes everything (somewhat) better? Pork chop dinner. If you eat/like pork, pork chops are the way to go. They are inexpensive, look fantastic when you serve them, and are almost impossible to cook improperly. Unless you cook them without any moisture and they turn out like hockey pucks. 

I feel better already.

The trick to keeping the chops moist is to let them simmer/steam after you sear them. The longer you let them sear, the less likely your pork will look white and sad after simmering. They taste just as delicious and juicy, but somehow look in desperate need of a tan. So I always sear first, because I don't like geisha-esque pork chops.

Sear those bad boys!

In this recipe, I used three pork loin chops, because that what was on sale and what I had in the fridge. The sauce that I make, I adapted somewhat from Nigella Lawson but I've thickened it using a cornstarch technique I learned from reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking (yes, yes the Julie/Julia Book). Seriously, this cornstarch thing saved me, because I am awful at making thick gravies, which is a terrible, mortal shame when you live in the Midwest. My roux always burns or I add too much milk or I add too much flour and then too much milk, and then we have twenty gallons of lumpy, burnt, tasteless gravy. Do you get the sense that I try to overcompensate a little?

But I digress. This is a great stone-ground mustard cream sauce that I thicken with cornstarch. Nigella's recipe tosses the leftover sauce with gnocchi, but the sauce I make is really too thick to coat pasta or dumplings.

After I successfully made this for dinner, all my other anti-successes didn't seem so bad. I mean, it's only ten dollars worth of organic vanilla extract. (*Sob!*)
And the cake was still delicious. Hideous, like a cake made for The Elephant Man, but still delicious. (Look away!)

Pork Chops with Stone-Ground Mustard Cream

3-4 thick pork chops,with bone, patted dry with paper towels
2 TBSP Stone-ground mustard (Dijon probably would work as well)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup beef stock
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, plus an additional 2 TBSP of cream mixed with 1 tsp of cornstarch
Pan spray or one pat of butter for searing
Salt & Pepper to taste
Large skillet with a lid

Heat a sprayed skillet to med-high (if you're using butter, you'll know it's ready after the butter foams but before it burns!)and sear the pork chops about 4-5 minutes on each side. When the chops are seared to your liking, add the beef stock to the pan (it should NOT cover the pork chops). Once the stock is boiling, cover the pan with lid and reduce heat to low. Cook for an additional 10-12 minutes, or until the chops are no longer pink in the middle. Remove chops to a plate and season with salt and pepper.
Raise the heat back up to med-high, add the vinegar (to deglaze)and boil the stock down, scraping bits of pork up from the pan.

Reduce heat again to simmer and add the 3/4 cup of whipping cream and mustard, stir slightly to mix together. Continue to simmer. When the cream sauce starts to bubble, add the cornstarch mixture and stir well to thicken.
Taste your mustard cream sauce, add more cream or mustard, if necessary. Spoon the cream sauce over pork chops and shrug off the rest of the crappy day. It has to get better tomorrow.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Say this five times fast: Rainbow Tie-dyed Robot Cupcakes!!

Woo Hoo!!
As you can probably tell, these are rainbow tie-dyed robot cupcakes. Ok, so here's the thing: I rarely, if ever, miss an opportunity to use what I've learned in the restaurant biz. I've learned how to make aioli, cut lemons to perfectly mimic the fish scales on a salmon fishboard, how to properly open and serve a bottle of wine (never, never, NEVER set it on the table to pull out the cork!!), but more than anything, I think I really learned how to be competitive. And how to show off (because it's not like I was that way BEFORE the restaurant.)

You see, if anything, I learned how to take pride in my work and I hope I instilled that pride in my staff. Corporate restaurants (yuck!) call it "ownership." I call it "if it doesn't look good, we look like asses." Most of the time, especially when decorating for a large event or designing a menu, it was all trial-and-error for me. I think a lot of restaurant people earn their chops this way. Fly-or-die. It's often because there's not a lot of time to "try things out" because you're slammed, planning for Mother's Day Brunch Insanity, talking to vendors, justtryingtogetthroughthislunchpleasepleaseplease,
and also, it's expensive to experiment with food. You also are never left alone, and staff often like to poke around in the kitchen when it's slow. And they like to offer opinions. Or eat the food you are trying to make. Or opine while eating the food you just made.
I saw a lot of stupid things get tried at the restaurant, like trying to squeeze in an extra fifteen tables (using patio tables)on Valentine's Day, so that no one knew who was serving whom and the guests sat elbow-to-elbow. That was a rough one. So I learned from that mistake, as well as the time a manager tried to save on food cost by significantly shorting the amount of food for a cater. Guess what happened when they ran out of food? Yeah, lesson learned.

Any who, I can't help but be competitive and a little over the top when it comes to food, even if it's food for my daughter's preschool snack class. When it was my turn to bring the daily goodies, I made these cupcakes. I found the recipe and tutorial for these cupcakes on one of my favorite blogs, canyoustayfordinner.com. You should really read Andrea Mitchell's blog. It's fantastic, inspiring, delicious, and funny. Seriously, go look. Andrea made these adorable tie-dyed cupcakes for her blog's one-year anniversary, which seems far more appropriate than for my three year-old daughter's Tuesday snack time. But did I mention I like to show off?

Take THAT, soccer moms! Just kidding (mostly).

These were so fun to make, and my daughter, Ripley helped mix and dye the batter.

And she made sure the batter met our rigorous standards.
(Does it taste purple enough?)
My sister had sent me these fabulous Robot cupcake decorations from Meri Meri. She also sent me their Pirate and Ballerina decorations, but we will save those for another time. There is not one single preschool child in existence that doesn't like/love robots. True fact.

Rainbow Tie-Dyed Robot Cupcakes
(slightly) adapted from canyoustayfordinner.com by Andrea Mitchell

One box of White or Vanilla Cake Mix
4 different colors of food dye (unfortunately for me, my daughter chose pink, red, yellow and purple, so the contrast was not as extreme as Andrea's version)
White frosting (either homemade or store-bought)
Robot decorations (optional)

Preheat oven and mix cake batter according to instructions. Separate batter equally between four bowls and dye with food coloring. Carefully spoon layers of different colored batter into cupcake cups, about 2/3 full. With a toothpick (or in my case, a wooden chopstick), lightly swirl the colors around in each cup. Don't over mix, just stir around enough for that neat "tie-dyed" look. Bake according to instructions and allow to cool. Pipe with white frosting (not too much!) and decorate as you like, or as you deem is necessary to blow all the other parents/friends/cooking rivals out of the water. Enjoy! (And thanks, Andrea, for letting me post this!)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Note to Self: Eat More Fish!!

I know this will be two seafood posts in a row, but this was really good and I wanted to share it.
Almost every year, my stepdad goes deep-sea fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and we feast on fish for months after. He recently gave me ten pounds of mahi mahi (also known as Dorado), and I decided to make a baked fish dinner for my family, especially since three of the houses on my street belong to my mother and two aunts (it's kind of an Asian-inspired compound.)

Ten pounds of mahi mahi is a LOT of fish. I still have three pounds left and I fed nine people with what I used. Mahi mahi is steak-ier than salmon, but not overpowering in flavor like tuna can be. It's close to swordfish in texture and color, but not quite. Most often, it's grilled and sometimes sauteed, but I wanted to try baking it.

Because I had SO MUCH FISH, I decided to bake two different types of dishes, one kind of tropical-inspired and one with a spicy Asian chili sauce, but I'll post the spicy chili sauce later (with shrimp!)

Baked Mahi Mahi with Melon Salsa

For the fish:
Approximately 3 lbs. mahi mahi fillets, skin still on
Juice from three lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
4 whole cloves of garlic, lightly smashed
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Rub olive oil on both sides of each fillet, and place in an oiled, shallow baking dish. Pour lemon juice on top and season well with salt and pepper. Add garlic cloves to the pan, tucked under the fish slightly.
(At this point, I decided to also roast some vegetables in the pan so I threw in some fresh asparagus from my mother's garden and whole cherry tomatoes.)
Wrap the top in aluminum foil and bake for an hour. Remove foil wrap and finish baking for another 15 minutes.

For the salsa:
1/2 ripe canteloupe, cubed
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
about 12 cilantro leaves, torn
8 cherry tomatoes, quartered
Juice from two limes
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Kosher salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients, then refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve over fish.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Crab Cake + Salmon Patty+ Tuna Burger = pure deliciousness

I am a huge fan of taking a pure recipe idea and throwing whatever's in my pantry to recreate it, kind of. Mostly. At least, make an homage.
I love crab cakes. I also love salmon patties and tuna burgers. So why not combine all three into one fantastic seafood cake?

Yes, I did this. It turned out fantastic.


However, it must be said: This is EXACTLY how I made the recipe, but be warned, if you don't like the taste of tuna, then don't use any tuna in this recipe. Add either more salmon or crab meat, but I only used one small can of tuna in my mix and it turned out to be the prevailing flavor of the dish. So, if tuna's not your bag, don't put it in your mix. Seriously. It's really, really strong in flavor and kind of takes over the whole thing.

Seafood Cakes
(Makes about 24 cakes, which can be individually wrapped and frozen. Side note: Ever notice how cling wrap clings to everything except what you want it to? Hmph.)

1 small can Tuna packed in water, drained (optional!)
1 small can white crab meat, drained
2 cans pink salmon, drained

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped

2 cups plain breadcrumbs, divided into (2) 1 cup portions, one portion in a mixing bowl
3 eggs
1/2 cup no-fat, plain Greek yogurt
Juice from 2 lemons
1/4 cup Dijon Mustard
1 tsp. raw horseradish
1 Tbsp. dried dill
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine all ingredients (except both cups of breadcrumbs)together and mix well.
I love dill. Love it, I say!

When everything is mixed well, slowly add one cup of breadcrumbs to the mix. I say "slowly add", because you don't want to add too many breadcrumbs at once and dry out your mixture. Best to be cautious, or you'll just wind up trying to re-wet the mix, then it gets too wet, you add more breadcrumbs, and it's just a vicious cycle. Also, you will end up with 1000 either slightly soggy or extremely dry seafood cakes.

You have to get dirty to make these cakes. Take a scoop of the mixture (about the size of your palm) and form slightly to make a patty shape. Not too fat, not too flat. Place the patty in the reserved breadcrumbs and turn over to coat.
When each patty is done, place it on a sprayed/oiled/greased sheet pan.

When all your patties are formed, breaded and on your pan, bake them in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until hot throughout. I suppose you could also pan-fry these in oil (or deep-fry, if you just have to.) I like to bake these, because it's healthier, less messy and because the last time I tried to fry something in oil, I burned down my kitchen. Not kidding. But that's another story.

I serve these cakes with a lemon-dill yogurt sauce. Did I forget to tell you I love dill? No? Well, I do.

Lemon-Dill Yogurt Sauce
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup dried dill
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
Juice of one lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste

Enjoy! Any suggestions or recommendations on improving this recipe are welcome (in fact, encouraged.)These would be great for Good Friday, don't you think?


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Note to Self: Check the fridge before going grocery shopping....

So, I have a terrible memory. Well, actually, I have a bartender's memory, which means I'll never remember your name, but I'll remember you like three olives in your Sapphire and that you're a decent tipper. I spend a lot of time making lists; like bartending and making cocktails for a specific person, it seems that just the act of writing the list (even when I forget said list at home) helps me to remember what the heck it was I was going to get at the store.

Alas, my superior list-making skills do not cancel out the fact that I should look in my refrigerator before going to the store. Just because my list (or mental image of the list when I wrote it and then left it on the counter top)calls for heavy cream, that doesn't mean I don't have one (okay, probably two) small containers of cream in the back of the fridge smirking at me.

I wish I had taken a photo of how crammed and crazy our fridge was before I went to the store. It was like an insane, yet chilled and crisp broom closet that reminded me of John Candy's closet from Uncle Buck, but instead of a bowling ball falling on your head, it's caper berries and Indian mango pickles (my obsession with condiments and accoutrement is not up for discussion at this time). 

Any who, when I got back with groceries, I decided to clean out the fridge while putting up my purchases, which is a habit I highly recommend. I threw away the world's oldest pot roast, a tub with approximately half a teaspoon's worth of Boursin, and as I made room for the new carton of orange juice I purchased, I saw them.
Three previously
purchased containers of OJ.

See how they're smirking? The girl on the carton seems to be mocking me as well.

Deep smirk.

As if to say, "What are you going to with us NOW??" (evil chuckle)


I guess we could have screwdrivers for late-night cocktails EVERY SINGLE NIGHT for the next two weeks.

At least we won't get scurvy.

But I wanted to something else with all this juice, even though it makes an excellent mixer. (Mimosa, anyone? No, I insist.)I am trying very hard to be thrifty and resourceful, since my family is on a shoestring budget. I realize how ridiculous that sounds when I have $20 worth of orange juice in my fridge, but I am working on it. I now buy the small-ish wedges of Brie and Fuji apples instead of Honeycrisp. Baby steps. Then I remembered a great dessert recipe from one of my many many many cookbooks and found a great way to use up some (at least one carton, I think) of my extra OJ.

Sorbet-filled Clementines
Special items needed: Sorbet/ice cream maker, food processor, sieve
*Make sure your sorbet container has chilled overnight, so it's good to go for your recipe!*
1 cup chilled simple syrup (recipe follows)
4 small clementine oranges (or more, depending on how many clementine bowls you want)
2 cups No Pulp Orange Juice
This recipe makes about a quart of sorbet, which I used to fill 4 clementines and saved the rest for later!
Carefully slice the tops off the clementines, about 1/8" from the top, reserve the tops. With a grapefruit spoon (or other small, pointed spoon) carefully scoop out the flesh from each clementine, making sure not to break the skin. Process the clementine pulp in a food processor until smooth, then strain using a sieve into a measuring cup. You should net approximately one cup of juice (if you don't, that's fine, just add a little more orange juice to the sorbet mix.)

 Pour the clementine juice, orange juice and simple syrup into your sorbet maker. Follow the instructions according to your maker (my sorbet maker takes about one hour). When the sorbet has formed completely, scoop sorbet into the clementine bowls and place the lids on top (it helps if you keep the bowls and lids together, so they match!)
Wrap each clementine with plastic wrap and freeze for an additional 1-2 hours. When firm, unwrap and enjoy!

Simple Syrup Recipe
3 cups of water
1 cup sugar
Combine sugar and water together in a small pot and set to boil. As the mixture heats up, stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Once sugar is dissolved completely, take off heat and pour into refrigerator-safe container to cool.