Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Orange Rosemary Brined Pork Chops with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

Ah the magical animal, (according to Homer) the good old pig. Indeed, so many options with a relatively small animal. Some parts are tasty when smoked, sliced thin, and fried on a griddle for breakfast or on a BLT. Who doesn't like a little butt on Jesus' birthday? Other parts are a great canvas for further flavoring, such as the humble chop. Bone-in chop, of course, you gotta go with the bone...it gives you more flavor and keeps things nice and juicy. You know a brine will also ensure your meat remains tasty and does not dry out while cooking. Pork, chicken, shrimps, turkey- all benefit from a little osmosis.

The brine here is a classic combination- orange juice/fresh herbs/smashed garlic. A healthy mix of rain and sun so far in the early summer has been kind to the garden, right now the little deck is supporting a shit ton of mint and the rosemary is already a few feet high, as you can see below. Mojitos, anyone? Saw the first tomato on the vine the other day, that's a lovely sight, I think I felt some movement. Only 2 more months of care and anticipation, those will be the highlight of summer. BLT's, anyone? Rounding that out with some citrus and then grounding the savoriness with some garlic and peppercorns, damn that's gonna be a tasty brine. Even though, you know, you shouldn't taste it. Want to know more about this technique? Cook's Illustrated, one of the best sources of info in print and online, has this explanation.

The first time I set out to brine something, I believe it was pork chops, I didn't cool the brine first, I just threw them in once the sugar and salt were dissolved, and the heat started to cook them and they turned a very unappealing gray color, not to mention the inhibition of the brine itself. Oops. My favorite way to cool down a brine is to stash it outside on the deck in a snowbank, but those are relatively scarce in June. So in the warmer months I let it cool down for 10 minutes or so, then stash it in the freezer if I need to speed up the process, vs. letting it cool down to room temp on its own, which could take hours. Your freezer and its contents will be fine, no worries there for this amount of heat, the new models these days are super efficient.

I'm sure you've 'disciplined' an herb before, you just didn't realize it. I came across this new term on some food blog, the meaning of which is to roughly tear up said herb by hand, so in-between leaving it whole and chopping it with a knife. It works great for cilantro and parsley, when you want that rustic look, or just don't want to take the time to clean the board/knife. Even though we've been doing this forever, I do like the term. You are just crushing it enough to bring out essential oils and the aromatics.

Orange Rosemary Brined Pork Chops with Grilled Pineapple Salsa
2 servings

1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C kosher salt
1 C orange juice
1 qt water
1 ts whole black peppercorns
2 large sprigs rosemary
1 sprig mint, parsley (optional)
2 large bone-in loin pork chops, about 3/4" thick
1 cup grilled pineapple, diced
1/2 small jalapeno, seeded, finely diced
1 TB shallot, diced
1 TB any color bell pepper, diced
1 ts cilantro, disciplined
1 ts EVOO
pinch S&P

For the brine- combine the sugar, salt, OJ and water in a medium saucepan, heat and stir occasionally until sugar and salt are dissolved. Off the heat, add the herbs and peppercorns. Bring to room temperature, then add the chops. If the chops aren't fully covered you can add bit more water, or ice. Chill for at least 4 hrs, up to 8 hrs, turning once halfway through the process.

For the salsa- cut up the pineapple. After you have the four large pieces of fruit, I do like to cut again into large spears. This will increase the surface area on the grill and that leads to more of the always sought after and lovely grill marks. Add the jalapeno, shallot and pepper, cilantro, oil, and just a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well and let chill while you grill.

For the chops- remove the chops from the brine, rinse, then pat dry with paper towel. Season lightly with black pepper. Let sit at room temp for 30 minutes before you grill. Once ready, fire up that box for high direct in one area and medium indirect in another. Sear the protein on high for 2 minutes per side, if you are all about the cross hatch grill mark pattern you turn 45 degrees halfway through on each side. After you get a good sear on each side, move to the indirect part of the grill. Depending on the heat and thickness of your chops, they'll be ready in about another 6-8 minutes, again turning halfway through. 145F in the thickest part-that's your buzzer. Take em off and let rest for at least 8 minutes. Top with the salsa, and enjoy a little fruit with your meat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Slow Cooker Short Ribs

I know, I know. Why so many slow cooker posts lately? In the early summer? That thing is for cooking hearty cold weather meals! Well, why not use it year-round? You use the grill for warm weather cooking not only because it's fun and tasty, but to avoid heating up the oven and thus the kitchen, yeah? Well, a crockpot...uh, I mean, slow cooker... can assist in the same manner. Like my hero always says, all you have to do is 'set it and forget it'.

The real reason for slow cooker short ribs on the first day of summer? Because they were on sale.

Do you see lots of slow cooker recipes that you steer away from cause they call for 7 or 8 hr of cooking on low, yet you usually need more like 9 hrs? Stupid ass traffic or the man won't let you out early? Get out that timer you use for the Christmas lights, (or your own personal favorite religious holiday) and you can gain some time on both ends. First, if you start with cold protein, that is stuff you don't have to put a sear/browning on all sides to develop flavor before the long cook, you can let that sit out for a half hour before the timer kicks on the heat, with no concerns. On the back end, the slow cooker can shut off a half hour or so before you get home. The residual heat will be plenty to keep the temps in a safe zone. Most slow cooker recipes are pretty forgiving as well, unless you run out of liquid it's hard to really burn or overcook if you go an extra hour.

This dish combines the flavors of red wine and tomato, I believe that has been successful in at least one country shaped like footwear for many years.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs
4 servings

1.5 lbs (4) beef short ribs
1/2 ts onion powder
1/2 ts garlic powder
1 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts freshly cracked black pepper
1 ts hot smoked paprika
2 C dry red wine
2 medium onions, peeled and quarted
1 large russet potato, 1/2" slices
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
handful cremini or button mushroom, stemmed, only very large ones halved
2 carrots, 3/4" chunks
2 TB tomato paste
1 TB Worcestershire
1 TB Dijon mustard

Mix together the pepper, salt, onion and garlic powder, and the paprika. Rub into the ribs on all sides, stash in the fridge for 8 hr or overnight.

8 hrs before you'd like to eat, add to the cooker the rest of the ingredients, minus the ribs. Nestle the short ribs in last, meat side up. Set for 8 hr on low, or until falling off the bone tender. Remove meat and other large stuff with a slotted spoon, let any fat rise to the surface, remove with a spoon. Add everything back together, warm through if necessary, and serve over your choice of starch- white or brown rice, egg noodles, some other pasta, etc.

Slow cooker meals aren't the friendliest to the camera- but you can see the meat sliding off the bone- just stare at it for a second, that's all the persuasion it takes.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lemon Orzo with Spinach, Feta, Roasted Almonds

I can't get enough summertime orzo pasta salad. It's like most pasta salad- open for endless variation. Usually, throw in whatever you got handy.

This recipe is super simple, quick, and tasty. It can be made ahead of time, it can be thrown together in not much time at all. It can stay at home on the counter, just chillin, or it can be taken for a picnic. Orzo pasta salad is not demanding.

The pre-crumbled feta in the package is pretty good, as long as you get a decent brand. Of course you can buy a brick and crumble it yourself, but for feta I usually don't. Parmigiano-Reggiano, now you know that shit is always shaved off the wedge, never in a green can.

Macerating the onion and garlic for a few minutes will mellow the sharp, pungent flavor.

The amounts below will make plenty, which will be a good thing- leftover, to me, does not sound unwanted, forgotten about, or unappealing. It sounds like something that was so good it should be enjoyed again, and many foods taste best the second or third day- like this.

Lemon Orzo with Spinach, Roasted Almonds and Feta
1 lb. orzo
2 large bunches spinach or 1 5 oz. package baby spinach, washed
2 lemons juiced, zest from 1
1 large clove garlic, very fine mince
4 TB red onion, very fine mince
2/3 C feta cheese, crumbled
3/4 C whole almonds
freshly cracked black pepper

Cook the orzo in lightly salted water about 7-8 minutes, until tender. Drain and add back to the pot, fold in spinach, a few handfuls at a time, and mix up for a bit to wilt the spinach in the hot pasta. Set aside and let cool, or it can be turned out into a large pan to expose surface area and thus facilitate cooling, or stash in the freezer quick if you are Russian.

Add the onion and garlic to the lemon zest and juice. Season with black pepper, let sit for 10 minutes. During this time-roast the almonds at 350F for about 10 minutes- shaking the sheet pan every 2-3 minutes, until nicely toasted. Watch closely towards the end!

Add the lemon juice/zest onion and garlic mixture and EVOO, stir well to coat. Fold in the feta and roasted almonds, then give a taste- maybe some fresh pepper, maybe a bit of salt- the feta might bring enough saltiness on its own.

This can be served slightly warm upon finishing, or cold, right out the fridge- but is probably best enjoyed room temp, allowing the flavors to blend for a few hours on the counter.

This dish was intended to be eaten at another location, so you see the feta was left out and the nuts were toasted at the last minute to be enjoyed their peak. Kali orexi!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Slow Cooker Boston Baked Beans

Summer, summer summer summer time. I just sit back and unwind.

Yup, like the Fresh Prince, I can sit back and unwind, cause I have my side dish of Boston Baked Beans already made. For the Sunday afternoon grilling Szechuan, all I gots left to do is the brats. This slow-cooker version is perfectly edible right after cooking, but they are the best after a day in the fridge, then warmed through. So it's three days to soak, make, eat. Don't be alarmed about the three days- it takes a total of about 6 minutes to put this together.

These beans are healthy, full of fiber, cheap, and they taste better than the canned version, although Bush's and the newer-style Grillin' Beans are pretty yummy, but it's still a processed food, and the more of that you can avoid the better. Cause the Sunday morning McDonald's sausage biscuit and coffee after a Saturday night road wedding is gonna happen. If no one bothered to call for the closer, that is. So it's time to make something from scratch.

Do you eat lunch at your desk? You should be here, for the daily news feed- a few sites to peek at from around the country, all food-related in some sense. Some are recipes, some are practical advice, there's reviews of cookware and gadgets, and a round-up of food news and on-goings in the legal world. Lots of rules and regulations in the industry. Some think there should be more, citing recent outbreaks of e. coli. Some believe the food police are robbing people of their right to consume things like raw milk. Yikes, I'm somewhere in between.

Slow Cooker Boston Baked Beans
8 servings as side

1/2 lb thick-cut bacon, 1/2" slices
1 large or two medium onions, chopped (bout 1.5 C)
1 lb dry great northern beans (or kidney, or any bean really)
1/3 C molasses
1/3 C brown sugar
5 TB good dijon mustard
1 TB red wine vinegar
S&P (2 ts kosher, pepper to taste)
1/8 ts ground cloves (optional)
1/8 ts ground nutmeg (optional)
2 C hot water

To prep the beans, soak overnight- cover with at least 2" of water. Then rinse and drain, set aside.

Mix together the following- hot water, molasses, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and spices.

To assemble- the first layer in your slow cooker is half the bacon, then a layer of beans. Next is the onion, the rest of the beans, the remaining bacon, and then add the liquid portion.

Set on low for 6-8 hrs. Go fly a kite or something almost as much fun. Come home to Boston Baked Beans even Duke would prefer over his canned stuff. For a third of the price.

To eat- a few turns off the old pepper mill would be nice, and if you prefer your beans sort of tangy, a splash of fresh red wine vinegar also. Have some now and then have some later, there will be plenty.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Shaved Asparagus, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Pizza

Yes, eating seasonally has become a very popular thing to do, and it's for a reason. When local fruits and vegetables are eaten in their prime of their life, they taste the best, have the most nutrients, and generally are at their peak in terms of appearance, some very ugly heirloom tomatoes withstanding.

Asparagus and purple asparagus are delicious in spring and early summer. It's lovely on the grill, seasoned simply with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, a bit of good balsamic vinegar, and some shaved curls of parmigiano-reggiano wouldn't hurt. Buy it when it's in season, grown locally. The usual grocery store stuff probably has hundreds if not thousands of miles on it. That's not fresh.

The best part of the asparagus is the tip, from there you can bend the spear until it breaks, that is the point that usually yields to the tougher end. That part tastes like wood, which isn't so good. Then you could grill, roast, or saute in a skillet with oil. Here, we slice off the tips, cut off the bottom couple inches (approx. breaking point), and shave with a veggie peeler. Cut into thin ribbons, the heat from the oven will cook and thus caramelize the asparagus nicely, providing a sweet, nutty, vegetal flavor to your pie.

Shaved Asparagus, Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese Pizza-

For the pizza dough-
1 ts or one packet of self-rising yeast, 1 C of warm water, add 1 ts honey and stir well. Let sit until nice and bubbly, about 6 minutes. Meanwhile, add 1 ts kosher salt, 2 ts EVOO, 2.25 C bread flour (king arthur preferred) into the bowl of your stand mixer. Or a large bowl if hand kneading. Add wet to dry and stir to incorporate, then knead using the dough hook for about 5 minutes. The dough will become shiny and elastic. Turn out onto very lightly floured surface and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, then shape into a ball. Rub or spray a little oil on the inside of the bowl, add your dough ball and toss around, then cover with a kitchen towel and place in a draft-free area for about 1.5-2 hrs, until the dough has doubled in size. Turn out and punch down, cover with plastic wrap and kitchen towel until ready to use. Can be parked in fridge too, bring to room temp when ready. Don't have a stand mixer? Knead by hand for 10 minutes. Go buy stand mixer.

For the caramelized onions-(while the dough rises)
Peel, halve, and thinly slice a couple onions. Add a touch of EVOO or butter to a large skillet over low heat, add onion and stir to coat with your fat of choice. If you got a sizzle going, the heat is too high. This ain't no saute, it's a sweat. Cook over low heat, do not stir for the first 15-20 minutes, otherwise you will inhibit the browning process. You can stir a few times after that, and you want them to be evenly spread while cooking. Cook until nicely browned, about 45 minutes. A pinch of sugar helps if you want to speed up the process.

The assembly-
prepared pizza dough
1 bunch asparagus- tips removed, shaved
3/4 C caramelized onion
2-3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly cracked black pepper
red chili flakes (optional)

This is really simple- roll out your dough, dock (prick to let gas bubbles escape) with a fork or small knife. Add to a pizza peel that has been sprinkled with corn meal. Coat lightly with EVOO, then add the caramelized onions. Layer the shaved asparagus on top, then the crumbled goat cheese. Season with black pepper and perhaps chili flake. Bake on a pizza stone (or inverted cookie sheet) in a 500F (preheated for 30 min) oven until crisply and bubbly, about 10-12 minutes. Shave some parm reg on top and devour.

And as a bonus, it might make your pee smell funny.

You know it's early June when you got some purple asparagus at the farmer's market and the Cubs are already 9.5 games back. 103 years and counting.....