Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tropical Tastes

It's officially summer and all I can think of is frozen tropical drinks.  When it comes to liquor I'm a girly-girl.  I don't like beer.  I don't do liquor straight up.  I drink wine and I drink froufy, fruity cocktails that have more calories than is considered healthy for your average troll woman.  I think the beer and liquor snobs have it wrong anyway.  A fruity cocktail is easy to get down, so you drink more and get drunk faster.

Now Muffins, I swear I'm not an alcoholic.  I think part of the lure of alcoholic beverages for me mentally is just that I tend to consume in places where I'm totally relaxed and having fun.  I associate wine with enjoying a nice meal in a restaurant or with dinner parties.  Fruity cocktails make me think of lying on a deck chair poolside, or at the very least hanging out at a bar with friends.

Today's recipe pays homage to that venerable summer cocktail, the Pina Colada.  Think of all of the sensations and experiences associated with a pina colada: Tropical breezes! Exotic islands! Getting caught in the rain! Making love at midnight in the dunes of the cape!

I had some gorgeous pastured pork chops from the farmer's market.  I could have had the ribs on sale, or paid more for the center cuts.  The vendor said if I wanted those bone-in loins, I had better be prepared for some big chops.  I said, "Bring it."

I used coconut milk and fresh pineapple chunks.  I didn't want things too sweet, so I added lime juice and lime zest and some scallions for a little flavor contrast.  I've been so obsessed lately pairing sweet flavors with heavily contrasting flavors (like jalapeno and pomegranate or peaches and onions).

It didn't taste like a pina colada at the end (even though I'm naming the recipe that), but the flavors all worked so well together.  The lime and the rum played off against the richness of the pork and the coconut milk and offset the sweetness of the pineapple.  This is a keeper.

Pina Colada Pork Chops

  • 2 pounds thick pork chops
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 2 scallions, green and white parts divided
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • Juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbl rum
  • 2 cups pineapple chunks

Sprinkle chops with salt on both sides.  Gently heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the chops well on both sides, about 5 minutes each side.  Remove from pan.

Add the white part of the scallions to the pan and cook until fragrant.  Add the coconut milk, lime juice, zest, and rum and scrape up the brown bits.  Stir in the pineapple chunks.

Put the chops back in the pan and gently simmer another 10 minutes or until cooked through and pineapple chunks are soft and releasing their juices.  Garnish with green parts of the scallions.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day and the World Beyond

Happy Monday, Muffins!  Hope I didn't get too gloom-and-doomy in my last post.  Things are looking up.  After the long, torturous wait, I finally had a phone call on Friday.  Come June 26th I will start my new position as Client Support Manager at Global Data Publications.  I'll be doing a very similar job to the one I just left.

My life will definitely be changing a bit.  I'll be changing my whole commuting routine now.  Instead of driving to Connecticut every day, I'll be an official commuter taking the train to NYC.  (Yay!  I won't be hit with the double whammy from NY and CT  at tax time anymore!)  I'll be able to blog from the train.  I have almost unlimited lunch options. Unfortunately I'll also have to dress for work.  Gone are the days when I could drag myself to the office in shorts and a t-shirt on a hot summer day and no one would care as long as I wasn't going to be seeing clients.

I will have to start doing some serious baking in  hopes of winning over my new coworkers.

I'm enjoying my last week of freedom before I have to return to the cube farms.  That's another thing I will miss - my 5 weeks of vacation.  I don't know how I can reach my goal of seeing the world and still going to Chincoteague every summer when I only have 10 days a year.

So anyway, this past weekend was Father's Day and I wanted to do something special for the fathers in my life - in other words Dad and Bro.  I decided to have a little dinner party for everyone where the dads and the kids and grandkids could enjoy an evening of wine and comfort food together.

I had been formulating an idea for a pasta tossed with a ragu made of short ribs for a while.  I thought it would be great for Father's Day since short ribs are one of Dad's favorite foods.  You know what I learned about short ribs?  People don't like to sell them this time of year because they are a "winter" food.  I had been wanting to get them at the farmers' markets, but that's not easy this time of year.  Even the supermarkets had a skimpy supply.  Fortunately, while shopping at the Larchmont Farmers' market on Saturday morning for supplies, I was able to find short ribs (on sale no less) at Kiernan Farm. Grass fed, grass finished, and no harmful medications pumped into the meat.

I used my Chianti Beef Stew as a template.  I braised the ribs in tomatoes, Chianti wine, and tomatoes, but like a more traditional stew, I started off with a mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onion. 

I was a little worried about the sauce when I first took the ribs from the oven.  For one thing, such fresh, unprocessed meat meant that there was a higher ratio of inedible connective tissue.  I was afraid I wouldn't have much meat left after I started separating the meat from the bones and shredding it.  I had purchased over 6 pounds of ribs too.  With the meat removed from the cooking liquid, I degreased it and then pureed it with a stick blender.  I just don't like mushy vegetable chunks.  I like a smooth sauce.  I wasn't sure if I liked the taste when it was all blended.  I put the meat back in the sauce and let it simmer until I was ready to serve it.

Something magical happened in that last half hour or so of cooking.  The flavors of all the different ingredients began to meld seamlessly and deliciously.  I served it over rigatoni pasta and it was one of the best pasta dishes I had ever made.  I would have eaten the whole pot of it if I hadn't been pigging out on the cheese tray all evening. (How did people ever manage to do a cheese tray before Trader Joe's?)

Lots of pecorino is necessary for the top!

Dessert I made an s'mores ice cream pie.  This started with a graham cracker crust (a sleeve of graham crackers crumbed, a stick of melted butter, two tablespoons of sugar, press into pie plate and bake at 325 for 8 minutes), some chocolate ice cream (I made a batch of milk chocolate ice cream from Dave Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop- I added half a bag of mini chocolate chips to the ice cream in the last few minutes of churning it too), topped the whole thing with mini marshmallows and then put it under the broiler for two minutes to brown and melt them.  The whole thing gets garnished with more graham crackers.

Now for the pasta recipe!

Short Rib Ragu` Pasta

  • 6 lbs of short ribs
  • 2 oz. pancetta, diced
  • 4 small carrots, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 28 oz. cans plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups Chianti wine
  • 2 lbs hearty pasta like rigatoni or large noodles like pappardelle
  • Copious amounts of pecorino 
Heat oven to 300 degrees.

In a large pot over medium heat, sprinkle the short ribs with salt and pepper and brown on all sides.  You will probably need to work in shifts, doing no more than 3 or 4 at a time to prevent steaming.  Remove ribs from pan and set aside.

Drain off excess fat and add pancetta to the pan.  Cook until crispy and fat is rendered.  Drain off most of the fat.

Add the carrots, celery, and onion to the pot.  Cook until onions are soft and the vegetables take on some color.  Add the garlic and cook an additional two minutes.

Stir in the wine and tomatoes.  Use your hands to break up the tomatoes a bit as you add them to the pot.

Add the ribs back to the pot.  Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven (you might want to place a cookie sheet under the pot to catch any leaks).

Cook for 3 hours.  Remove the ribs from the pot and shred the meat, discarding the bones and connective tissue.  Degrease the sauce.  At this point if you prefer a chunky sauce, you can leave it alone.  Otherwise, you can puree the tomatoes and vegetables with a hand blender for a smoother consistency.

Add the meat back to the pot and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Serve with pecorino.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It's All About The Sauce

Waiting is the hardest part.  I really thought I had a job in the bag last week, but then they turned around and said they had to talk to other candidates.  I had two good leads and one flopped (so it seems) and now if the other flops, I'll be floundering around wondering where to look next.  Very scary.

I'm still cooking though.  This week it's about sauce.  It's about basic foods with some new sauces put on top of them.  It's easy stuff.  No recipe require.

I had a pile of garlic scapes from the farmer's market.  What is it about garlic scapes that foodies need to have them?  There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of things to do with them.  The common one is pesto.  That's almost too common, right?

Well, last week I saw Peter had made a garlic scape pesto that looked totally unlike any other I had seen.  There was sorrel, celery leaves, and fennel fronds.  I had some celery stashed away for stock-making this week, so I considered making a similar pesto sauce.  I had no sorrel and I wasn't about to buy a fennel bulb just for the fronds.  I pureed my garlic scapes (and I had a bunch) with the celery leaves, parsley, and a little salt with lots of olive oil.

This wasn't bad, but it was way too strong.  I had to temper it by cooking with it.  I couldn't eat it raw without worries of constant dragon-breath.

I stuffed it under the skin of a roast chicken and also rubbed some melted butter and more pesto over the outside.

I mixed it into scrambled eggs.

Turkey burgers anyone?  I used my fire-roasted tomato ketchup on top for contrast.

I also made another sauce for a plain pork chop.  I had some peaches that were not terribly ripe and probably not likely to be ripe.  It's not peach season yet and the past two peach seasons have produced some pretty cruddy local peaches anyway.  I needed to incorporate my peaches.

This sauce just has just 5 ingredients.  It's not too sweet.  I could have sweetened it up to make up for the lack of sweetness in the peaches, but decided to leave it a bit savory.

I started by caramelizing one onion.

I added a chunk of butter and 4 sliced peaches to the pan along with the juice and zest of an orange and cooked them until they were softening.

Then I added a generous splash of bourbon and simmered that till everything was mushy, reduced, and sauce like.

 Do I use caramelized onions in my sauces a bit too often?  Yes.  I do.

More interesting sauces are in store for the weekend.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Little Bit of Southwestern Inspiration

Very often when I go on vacation, or even try a new restaurant, there is a dish that inspires me to create something new at home.

I definitely had some ideas from my recent trip.  I am thinking up ways to do coconut vinaigrette and the pork with apples and fennel is definitely a dish that resembles the type of foods I love to cook.  What was the most surprising inspiration from this past trip is that it wasn't one of my own dishes that turned the gears in my head so much as it was a fish dish my husband ordered.

During one of our nights in Bryce, Kevin ate a trout with a sauce made from jalapeno and prickly pear.  This really had me thinking. I love prickly pear juice (particularly in margaritas)  I liked the idea of a spicy-sweet combination and such a combination could go well on a variety of proteins.  I was determined to try something similar when I came home.

One would think with all of the free time on my hands I would be cooking up a storm and baking a bakery's worth of desserts.  So far that hasn't happened.  It only took a day or two for me to turn into Peg Bundy.  If I am not employed soon, all of my meals will be microwaved and I will be spending all of my time watching TV in high heels.  My diet will consist of bonbons and I'll probably take up smoking too.  It's amazing how lazy you can become given the chance to be!

I did still remember that jalapeno- prickly pear sauce and also remembered my desire to imitate it.  I went out in search of ingredients and came up with a method.  Pork chops were my chosen meat, as they so often are.

One really terrible aspect of losing my job is I'm no longer a hop, skip, and a jump from the Norwalk Shop Rite.  That store had a stunning variety of tropical fruits.  I am now stuck with my local A&P as the closest market and their produce section seems to be smaller every time I go there.  I don't think the staff there would even be able to utter the words, "prickly pear" without tripping over them.  I needed a substitute.

I ended up with the most exotic reddish fruit I could find.  I bought a bottle of POM Wonderful along with my jalapenos.  I would make due with what I had.

I started by boiling down the juice with some lemon juice and honey.   I roasted the peppers until they were a little charred.  Then it was all blended together.  I browned the chops, coated them with sauce, and finished them in the oven (my usual method).

See what I mean about lazy?  With all of this time on my hands I should have put them on a plate with the sides and photographed them in the light box.  Instead you get a picture taken on the stovetop while they were still in the pan.

These were seriously spicy.  Who would have though two little peppers could give that much heat.  I liked them though.  They weren't as sweet as the prickly pear juice would have made them, but it was still a strong flavor that went well with the chops.

Right now I'm crossing my finger that the job interview I had on Wednesday will come through for me.  They said I was just what they wanted and a formal offer was forthcoming.  So far I'm still waiting.  Wish me luck, Muffins!

Jalapeno-Pomegranate Pork Chops

  • 4 boneless center cut pork loin chops
  • 2 jalapeno peppers, split with seeds and ribs removed
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • Salt and pepper
Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly coat peppers with oil and place on cookie sheet.  Roast about 20 minutes, or until skin blisters and chars a little.  Place in plastic bag for 5 minutes and then remove and peel off skins.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan bring pom juice, lemon juice and zest, and honey to a simmer.  Keep on a low simmer about 40 minutes or until consistency is syrupy.

In a blender or food processor mix juice mixture with pepper and puree until smooth.

Brown chops in an oven-safe pan about 5 minutes on each side.   Coat chops well with puree.  Place in oven and cook an additional 15-20 minutes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Eating on the Grand Staircase

Hello, TERP Muffins!  Did you miss me while I was gone?  I hope my last post wasn't too sad.  Life goes on and I had the most wonderful vacation.  I started in St. George, Utah, moved to Bryce National Park, went down to Zion, and then hit the Grand Canyon.

I said I'd blog about the food if the eating was good.  The thing about eating in national parks is that you sometimes are a captive audience.  You don't always have choices.  I think the restaurants aim high, but occasionally miss.  I was reminded of eating on a cruise ship.  You could appreciate the effort put out, but the results could fall flat from time to time.

Our food journey started in St. George, Utah on the day we arrived.  It was a bit past lunchtime and Kevin and I were starving.  The problem was that it was Utah on a Sunday.  There was hardly anything open.  We did manage to find the very popular Bear Paw Cafe.

This place deserves its popularity as a breakfast/brunch spot for more reasons than just it's the only place open on Sunday.  They really do have a yummy breakfast menu.  They also have great drinks.  I started with a raspberry Italian soda.  Normally I think of Italian soda as just seltzer and syrup, but there was also a touch of cream in this one.

I had eaten a fair amount of junk food in the airports, so I wanted some veggies and protein.  I got them in a form of an omelet studded with ham, peppers, mushrooms, cheddar and zucchini.  It was also supposed to have olives, but I asked for them to be left out.

For the evening our entire tour group had dinner at a wonderful restaurant called The Painted Pony.  I was a doodyhead and forgot my camera.  I could have kicked myself because the meal was tasty and beautiful.  Our guides ordered appetizers for the table included almond-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates, shrimp, and baked brie.  My entree was medallions of duck wrapped in bacon that sat on top of celery root puree.  If you really would like to see a photo of it, just click through to the restaurant link and you will see a photo on the home page slide show.

We were staying at just one night at the Green Gate Village Bed & Breakfast.  We started out our first morning in Utah with a very hearty, typical B&B breakfast.  They served us a tasty baked apple that could have been a meal itself.  Then we had plates of eggs, bacon, and some very tasty French toast.

We were on the road to Bryce that morning.  We stopped for lunch at a very charming restaurant called  The Garden House.  It was in a residential neighborhood and almost didn't look like a restaurant from the outside.

 Inside it was the kind of girly, froufy, kitsch I tend to favor.

 The menu had an extensive selection of salads and sandwiches.  I had something called a Thanksgiving salad that had turkey breast, cranberries, and apples.

For the next two nights we stayed at Bryce Canyon Lodge and ate in the restaurant there.  Meals here were decent, but not extraordinary. 

The first night I had roasted chili-lime chicken with vegetables.  Pretty decent basic roast chicken.  The second night I had lamb shanks that looked more like beef shanks.  Just like my first attempt at beef shanks, the meat was chewy.  It needed more braising for sure.  I guess I didn't like it enough to take a picture.

We had lunch on the road again the day we left Bryce for Zion.  We ate at a restaurant called the Buffalo Grill.
Decor was very charming, but more cowboy than froufy.

The food was awesome.  Much of it was local and it was all homemade.  I went a little crazy and had the fried chicken and biscuits.  There were maple-glazed, deep-fried chicken strips topped with cream gravy and served over biscuits and mashed potato pancakes.  I think I'm still digesting it, but it was worth every calorie!

The best part of the meal though is that the restaurant is part of a small resort, which had a farm, and on that farm there was a miniature horse - with a NINE DAY OLD FOAL. I was able to go out there and befriend him.  They shouldn't have let me do that.  I was trying to find ways to sneak him into my backpack.

For our first night in Zion we ate at the Spotted Dog, the restaurant affiliated with our hotel.  I'm not a meatloaf lover, but I ended up trying a mixed game meatloaf.  It was very good, but I neglected to take my camera with me again.

Our next night in Zion we ate at Parallel 88.  This restaurant had a very spectacular view.  This is what you saw out the windows.
Kevin ordered a seafood bisque.  I had to take a photo of it because the presentation was interesting.  They poured it from a pitcher into this cool soup bowl, but you can see the reflections of the mountains in rim of the bowl.

My appetizer was a salad with spinach, pineapple, apples, and a coconut vinaigrette.  I want to make coconut salad dressing now.

I followed it up with pork tenderloin in a creamy fennel and apple sauce.

I had a dessert that was a tiramisu`-like stack of dulce de leche cream and tapioca.  Fabulous.

It would be hard to say if this or the Painted Pony was the best meal of the week.

We moved on the next day to the Grand Canyon.  The Grand Canyon Lodge is the only game in town on the north rim.  It's the only place to eat or stay within 30 miles.  I liked the food well enough, but it was kind of average.

They do very good prickly pear margaritas.  I had two our first night!

The first night I had prime rib.  It was perfectly cooked for me.  The next night I indulged in some ribs.  They were good, but over-sauced.

For lunch on our second day I had elk chili.  I keep remembering how I never took a picture of my elk chili when I was in Grand Tetons two years ago.  I'm happy to show you a photo now.

Good chili, but it's hard to find chili that I like as much as mine.

I was on this trip for the nature and not the food, but I really did have some good meals here.  I will give a shout out to Natural Habitat Adventures, who gave me one of the best travel experiences of my life.  If you're looking for a wildlife habitat or national parks tour, they are your people.  They will make sure you are taken care of every step of the way.

For more information about my trip, check out my photos or you can read the long, boring story on my other blog.

I was definitely inspired by some of the food I ate on the road, so stay tuned...