Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Joy of the Extravagant Brunch

It's a bit odd and a bit sad how things can change in a short period of time.  Two years ago I hosted 16 people at my place for Easter dinner.  It was a crazy day for sure.

Last year my family gathered at Mom's place in the evening after the most beautiful spring day spent at the barn with the ponies.

This year, it ended up just being Sir Pickypants and me.  Mom decided to shuffle off to Chincoteague for the weekend.  As for everyone else?  That's a good question.  (Sadly, honorary guest from last year, Tippy, has shuffled off this mortal plane.)

We made the best of it by booking brunch at the Crystal Springs Country Club.  It has a nice view of the mountains and is right across the street from the stable.  We could eat our brunch, change our clothes and spend the rest of the day riding.

It wasn't quite as beautiful day as it was last year (you know how much I love having warm sunny Easter days), but it was at least much warmer than it had been all week.

They seated us at a table by the window.  We could see the barn from there.

We were sereneded by a jazz band.

Let's talk for a moment about how much I love love love love love love love big brunch buffets.  As far as I'm concerned, the more over-the-top the better.  I want the full breakfast and the omlet station and the carving station and every kind of cheese imaginable along with any number of hot dishes.  Even if I don't want to eat it all, I love seeing it all there.

I always make two trips with buffets like this.  I started with the cold stuff.  Here I chose some mixed greens, some asparagus and mushroom salad, a few cubes of cheese, dried apricots, caprese salad, and melon with LOTS of prosciutto.

My next trip I decided to try the delicious looking pork tenderloin with mustard glaze and dried fruits along with a big ol' slice of lamb from the carving station.  I put some home fries on the side. 

I decided to skip the breakfast foods since I can get those at any diner or just make them myself.  SPP loved their French toast though.

Here are the photos I took of the dessert buffet.  Such pretty cupcakes.

Such pretty everything else.

These bunny-faced chocolate mousse cups were adorable, but I was just too full to take one.  They haunt me now.

I ended up with some tiramisu, praline cake, chocolate cake with mousse on top, and a little bit of red velvet cake.  Normally I think red velvet cake is rather overrated, but I'm glad I tried this because it was the best red velvet cake I ever had.


So it wasn't such a bad day after all.  The sun decided to come out that afternoon making for a beautiful riding day.  If we get to do this again next year, I won't miss the big family gathering so much.  SPP and I both agree that we are lucky to at least have each other.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Orange Flop? I Hope Not

Once again I was in that conundrum of having beautiful pork chops from the farmer's market and no immediate ideas of what I should do with them.

After buying some oranges I started to think about one of my previous flops.  I made pork chops with an attempt at an orange-honey glaze.  They would have been fine if the honey I used hadn't been gross.  Italian chestnut honey only sounds like a good idea.

So I considered the idea of making another honey-orange glaze and seeing if I could have some fun with it. 

I don't know what made the gears turn in my head the way they did.  I don't know why I grabbed certain things off the supermarket shelves.  I don't know why I thought I should throw certain flavors into the recipe, but I did.

I started with fennel seeds, toasted in a pan.

I simmered them with honey and the juice of two oranges along with a little zest.  Towards the end I added some chopped fresh mint.  I considered adding some more savory spices or something salty, but I left it as it was.  Why not have something completely sweet on my pork chops?  People use sweet applesauce don't they? 

I felt like such a mad scientist that I almost considered this stuff.  Yes, I still have it.  I can't bear to get rid of it because it cost so darn much money.  It's Italian and I'm hoping to go to Italy later this year and I thought it might get me in the mood...

...I then slapped myself repeatedly and told myself to use the local stuff.  This stuff really is local - very politically correct.
After the glaze had simmered down, I added some chopped fresh mint.  Mint? Fennel? Honey? Orange juice?  Is this going to work?

I browned my chops, stuck them in the oven covered with the glaze and hoped for the best.

I'd say they were pretty darned good.  The mix of flavor wasn't too weird and was a bit unexpected after using more conventional citrus glazes for years.

I served these alongside some creamed spinach.  Why?  Because there was a lot of spinach at the farmer's market and these days I can't seem to make spinach without wanting to chop it up with dairy products.

I made two chops and used some of the glaze to cover some shrimp for Sir Pickypants.  It was easy to just roast the shrimp in the oven at the same time the chops were finishing.  He liked the flavors too. 

When he came home and saw me tossing shrimp in the sauce and spreading them on a cookie sheet he asked what I was making for dinner and I said, "Shrimp."  He said, "That's great for Passover."  Whoops!  I hadn't even been thinking about that.  It was Seder night and I was making shrimp AND pork.  I remain the Meshugge Shiksa.

Pork Chops with Orange Fennel Glaze

2-4 center-cut pork chops, 1" thick
salt and pepper
1 Tbl fennel seeds
Juice of two oranges
1/4 cup mild honey
2 tsp chopped fresh mint

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small pan toast fennel seeds over low heat until they are very fragrant. 

In a small saucepan combine juice, seeds, and honey.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer till the liquid is reduced by half.  Add the mint.

Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper on both sides.  In a heavy, ovenproof skillet brown the chops well on each side.  Pour the glaze over them and make sure they are well coated (you might want to strain out the seeds first).

Transfer skillet to the oven and cook for an additional 6 minutes. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Inspiration in the Refrigerator

It's Friday night and I didn't know what to cook.  I already had in the fridge some old leftover wine, some fresh thyme, and some garlic.  I decided to just go with it.   I bought some chicken and some mushrooms and made a recipe so easy that I don't even need a recipe.

Dredge boneless, skinless thighs in flour (I used almond flour here) and cook in olive oil.

Mince 4 cloves of  garlic and add that to the pan with some sliced mushrooms and fresh thyme (a tablespoon maybe?).

Deglaze pan with 1 cup of white wine.  Reduce down a minute.  Add a pat of butter.

Pour over chicken.

It's not a particularly special recipe, but goes to show you that you can easily cook dinner if you get creative with what you have in the house.  It was a perfect "Casual Friday" meal.

Then there was breakfast.

I didn't eat all of those tomatoes in sherry sauce from earlier in the week and didn't know what to do with them.  I had served some broccoli on the side that night as well and some of that was left over too.

I chopped the broccoli into little bits and warmed it in a pan with the tomatoes and some pancetta chunks.  Two fried eggs went on top. 

Eggs on tomato-broccoli hash!

I was expecting this to be a throwaway dish, but it turned out to be really delicious.  Somehow all of the flavors worked really well together.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Chicken with Tomatoes and Sherry

I promised a new recipe this week and I'm not going back on my word.  Sorry about it being yet another chicken recipe, but that does tend to be the main protein in the Pickypants-(dis)Order household.  As I see it, always needing to cook the same thing means I have to always keep my creative juices flowing. 

I've been on quite the roasted cherry tomato kick lately.  As mentioned in this blog and many other blogs, long slow cooking makes winter tomatoes bearable.  Actually, I shouldn't be so unkind and say bearable.  It makes them quite tasty.  I keep finding ways to enjoy sticking them in recipes.

This tomato kick triggered a memory of a recipe I hadn't made in years.  It was a recipe from The Frugal Gourmet called Chicken with Tomatoes, Shallots and Vermouth.  I'm not sure why I took it out of the regular recipe circulation because it was a pretty tasty and easy recipe (as I remembered it anyway). 

I realized I had no vermouth, but I did have a few other liquors that I enjoy using in recipes hanging out in the cabinet.  One of them was sherry.  I learned a few years ago that tomatoes are great cooked with sherry (although I must make the startling confession that  I learned such a thing from a Rachael Ray recipe).  I decided to adapts Old Jeff's recipe with sherry and maybe pep it up a bit.

In the end I decided not to pep it up too much.  I had considered adding some pancetta (Shop Rite was out of smoked turkey tails.  How dare they!) garlic and hot pepper.  I decided against it for two reasons.  The first is that I don't think recipes are always good loaded down with too many ingredients.  Restraint can sometimes be the best ingredient of all.  The second is that adding pancetta and hot pepper would make it taste too much like last week's pasta.

Start by browning your chicken well.

Shallots were mixed with a bit of garlic.

Add tomatoes and cook till soft and bursty.

Add sherry, some chicken stock and the chicken and simmer.

The dish was good, but subtle.  It was almost like a twist on chicken cacciatore (another dish I feel needs no pile-on of ingredients).  I think I would adjust the sherry/stock ratio a bit the next time.  It probably didn't need quite so many tomatoes either.  SPP seemed ambivalent, but I asked him if it was a keeper and he said yes.

Chicken with Tomatoes and Sherry

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
2 Tbl olive oil
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 pints cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pan big enough to hold all chicken pieces.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and brown well on each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Drain off some of the excess fat (you won't need it) and add shallots to pan.  Cook over low heat until soft.  Add garlic and cook a minute or two until fragrant. 

Add tomatoes and cook until the soften and start to burst.  Pour in the sherry and stock and deglaze the pan well, scraping up all of the brown bits at the bottom.  Add chicken back into pan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer 20 minutes or until cooked through, flipping chicken pieces over occasionally.