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April 2013

Have Faith: Coriander and Cumin Cornmeal Crusted Pork Chops

Cornmeal_cumin_coriander
I didn’t get a chance to post anything here last week because I was very busy with work. I have a couple of freelance articles that have been taking up my time, and I have a few additional professional concerns that haven’t taken up much of my time, but have sapped my mental energy. Then, of course, I have my family, which manages to do both at once—eat up my time and energy. So as I promised, I’m doing a short post on how to feed a family in time of extreme work stress. I will start with the most important point: Have faith that you can do it.

I was recently reading Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” and it explained faith to me in a way that suddenly made sense. He talked about a man being thrown into water. If he doesn’t have faith that the water will hold him up (i.e., if he doesn’t believe—and know—that he can swim) he will panic and the water—which by no stretch of the imagination is supposed to be able to support anyone—will engulf him, and he will certainly drown. Of course, there was that gentleman way back when who had so much faith he could walk on water, but I’m just talking about getting dinner on the table, so it’s that much easier.

So if you’ve been cooking for a while, just have faith that you can do it. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a few years, you’ll have a load of ideas at your fingertips: use your freezer, plan ahead, stock your larder.

Here’s a new one: Coriander and Cumin Cornmeal Crusted Pork Chops that I threw together the other night. (In all fairness, if you want a thoroughly vetted, tested, and food-approved recipe, try one of the Cook’s Illustrated ones; they get paid for creating recipes that work—I just do it to survive.)

I always have cornmeal on hand, for my cornbread recipe, and I decided to dress up my standard (read: boring) weeknight pork chops with a bit of flavoring. Maybe it was the alliteration, or maybe it was the aroma, but either way I decided to combine coriander and cumin and dress up my pork chops. I didn’t measure, and I don’t think you should, either. If you’re under pressure at work, with your family, in life, or for whatever reason, don’t sweat the details. Just have faith, and feed your self and your family well.

Coriander and Cumin Cornmeal Crusted Pork Chops

  • A good couple of shakes of cornmeal (maybe three or four tablespoons)
  • A couple of shakes of dried coriander (maybe a tablespoon)
  • A couple of shakes of cumin (about the same as above)
  • 1 to 3 pork chops, boneless, depending on how they are packaged (figure 6-8 oz. per adult, 3-4 oz. per child; less if they are picky eaters, which is an easy way to save money.)

Spread the cornmeal on a plate, and add the spices, along with some salt and pepper.

Mix them well with a fork.

Take each pork chop and place it in the cornmeal mixture until coated well. This is not a perfect coat, and much will fall off, and that’s okay. It’s a weeknight, and you are busy, remember?

Heat a cast-iron or other thick-bottomed frying pan on a medium high heat, and add a bit of olive oil.

Place the pork chops in the pan and keep the heat on medium low. Cover the pan, and depending on the thickness, cook for about three to four to five minutes. Don’t worry about browning them at this point. With thick chops, my concern is more about cooking the interior before browning the exterior.

Flip the chops and cook another four or five minutes on the other side.

If necessary, flip them back and brown them on a higher heat.

They are done when the interior temperature reaches 145.

Let them rest a few minutes while you get the rest of your meal—or your life—in order. Here's how it will look:

Pork_chop_plate


Ghost Cooking a New Salmon Recipe

Samon
I’ve been very busy lately, and, as I mentioned in my last post, this has kept me out of the kitchen and away from blogging. I’ve been eating just fine, though, because I long ago learned how to put good food on the table with a minimum of effort. When I have a second later in the coming week (assuming I can catch a breather) I’ll detail how I pull that off.

In the meantime, I had a chance to play around in the kitchen on Friday night, by doing a bit of “ghost cooking,” which is how I think of preparing a meal when I won’t be there to finish the cooking or enjoy the food. I enjoyed the time in the kitchen. I miss trying new things and cooking for fun. On Friday, I took the opportunity to continue my experiments with cooking salmon. My interest in a decent salmon recipe has a bit of a “Search for the Holy Grail” aspect to it (I’ve experimented before, most recently with this Honey Glazed Soy And Lime Salmon), and I dream of the day when I find a good and easy salmon recipe that will please everyone.

On Friday, I had plans to see an out-of-town brother for dinner. I went with him and my other brother to The Good Fork, an inventive and welcoming little restaurant in Red Hook Brooklyn. I savored a blood-orange margarita, enjoyed salt-cod fritters, and feasted on their “Korean Steak and Eggs.” It was a great night out, and not just for the food—we realized that the last time the three of us got together for a dinner like this was some twenty years ago. That’s kind of hard for me to believe, but it’s true.

While I was going to be out, Santa Maria invited some friends to join her for dinner. She had been planning on making them something—it was a bit of a last minute thing—and I had just the perfect main course for them. The folks at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute had recently sent me a few sides of keta salmon to enjoy, and I defrosted one for Santa Maria and her friends.

I wanted to set Santa Maria up with a good dinner for her and her friends. She has been working very hard around the house lately and with her own projects, and she was tired on Friday night (and Nina was sick with a fever). Before I left for the restaurant, I cleaned up the kitchen, threw a couple of potatoes in the oven to bake, washed a head of lettuce, and dressed the side of salmon so Santa Maria could bake it when her friends arrived. It was my little gift to her, to “ghost cook” the meal.

Wild Keta salmon is healthy, but it’s not very fatty. It can dry out easily when it is cooked. The solution I came up with on Friday night was to compensate with butter. Butter, like a good hug, can fix a lot of things. I softened up a few tablespoons, added a bit of diced shallot, diced garlic, lemon zest, salt, and fresh thyme (all things I just happened to have on hand).

I spread the herb butter over the fillet and rested it on a rack in a baking dish. I poured about a cup of white wine (and some water) into the baking dish to try and make a sauce as the fish cooked.  If had had been home to cook it, I would have broiled it, to give it a bit of a crust. And then I would have reduced the pan drippings to make that sauce. As it was, I didn’t want Santa Maria to have to fuss over it, so I told her to bake it. It took about 12 minutes at 350 to cook the fish, and by all accounts everyone enjoyed it. If you try this at home, watch it carefully--depending on how thick your cut of fish is, it may take a few minutes less (or more).


Scrambled-Life Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast_burrito
I’ve been busy with a few freelance assignments and other projects, and have been away from blogging and cooking, just a bit. I tried stepping into the kitchen this weekend, but I was a bit out of cooking shaped. Back in the day, I could knock out the trifecta of Bolognese sauce, black beans, and quinoa salad in a matter of hours. Today, I was out of the running shortly after getting the beans simmering. I cooked the quinoa, but the chopping of the vegetables and the roasting of the potato will have to wait.

And it’s not just the cooking that’s starting to break down around the Stay at Stove Dad household, it’s the shopping and stocking of necessary ingredients. This morning, we were out of butter, a catastrophe in my mind akin to taking off on a trans-Atlantic flight with half a tank of fuel.

I didn’t crash, though, when it came time to make breakfast. I knew I had some eggs and a tiny bit of chorizo, so I chopped and crisped the sausage and mixed it into scrambled eggs. I topped it with salsa and placed it on a corn tortilla. Voila, a breakfast burrito. I swear it was as good as any I might have had out at brunch, if going out to brunch was part of my life right now.

Soccer, birthday parties, swimming lessons, seeing family and friends, and working, working, working—that’s what’s taken over my life. It’s a regular horn of plenty. I like this rich life, but it makes it hard to eat well. It takes a lot of planning, work and a bit of luck to pull it all together. Thank goodness I had that chorizo lingering around. If you live a busy life, keep at it—keep shopping, stocking your larder, reading cookbooks, and if you have to, improvise your breakfast. It will all work out.

Scrambled-Life Breakfast Burrito

 

Serves two.

  • About a quarter link of chorizo
  • 4 eggs
  • A couple of slices of cheddar cheese
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • salsa

Chop the chorizo into small pieces, and sauté in a little oil in a frying pan until crisp.

Drain the sausage on a paper towel, as if you are making bacon.

Scramble two eggs, mixing the sausage in  as you go.

Top with cheddar cheese and cover with a bowl, to let the cheese melt*

Warm two corn tortillas in a pan.

Spread the egg mixture over the tortillas.

Fold the tortillas with the eggs to eat.

 

*I melt the cheese over the eggs using the heat that’s left from the cooking of them. I simply drape the slices atop the hot eggs and cover right away with a bowl. I help this process along, by then putting the plate in a warm oven, while I prepare the rest of the breakfast for the rest of my family, which usually takes about another ten minutes or so. You might not have this luxury, and should adjust how you melt your cheese accordingly.


Lucy Knisley's Graphic-Novel Memoir "Relish"

Relish3
Last week, I was at Greenlight Bookstore, in Brooklyn, interviewing the artist Lucy Knisley about her new book, “Relish.” Knisley is an amazing artist, who draws vibrant and elegant comics, and her book is a graphic-novel memoir about growing up with foodie parents. I was very, very interested in her perspective.

Talking with Knisley and reading her book gave me a chance to see how cooking for the family looks from the child’s point of view.  What happens when a child is raised on braised foie gras and home-grown arugula?

In Knisely’s case, she loved it, though she did go through a period in her teens when she rebelled by eating junk food. She had a wildly unique experience (as I mentioned in my interview with her, it is as if the rest of America has only now just caught up with the food of her youth), and I couldn’t really use her book to figure out what effect my food might be having on my girls, who find arugula too bitter and would surely turn their noses up at foie gras.

Still, food and cooking for Knisley seems to be what is for me, and what I hope it will be for my girls—a wonderful way to enjoy life, bring people together, and make sense of our time here.

If the beautiful art and the poignant story of “Relish,” isn’t enough, each chapter in “Relish” ends with a recipe. It’s a really fun and moving book, and I suggest you pick up a copy. Her publisher, First Second Books, has put up a preview on its site. You can view it online.


Chilled Pea Soup with Tarragon

Pea_soup
For those of you who have been following this blog over the years, you know how devoted I am to cooking, and how I often spend much of my free time being a Stay at Stove Dad. Well, I hate to admit it, but something has come between me and the kitchen, and I don’t see the kitchen having a fair chance of winning. That thing is called AYSO.

Other parents may know it. I’ve tried to avoid it. But there’s no resisting the power of soccer. My girls started playing it this weekend, and I don’t think things will ever be the same. Much has been written about the power of team sports to build character (though in my experience, I would have to say I’m the exception to the rule), and so I found myself on a soccer field at 7:40 a.m. on Saturday. And 10 a.m. on Sunday. And 1 p.m. that same day. Do you know how much cooking I could have gotten done in that time? Sheesh!

As it was, I was limited to a couple of quick meals of sage-and-cornmeal crusted pork chops, fresh cornbread, and fish tacos. I think I’ll survive, but it won’t be easy. As I said to me eldest at 6:30 in the morning when I got her up for her first game, “We can surprise ourselves by what we are capable of.” Little did she know that I was talking about myself.

So the modest amount of cooking I did this weekend, was weirdly harder than the massive amount I did last weekend, for my Easter with a small “e.” As I promised back then, here is the pea-soup-for-those-who-hate-pea-soup recipe.

 Chilled Pea Soup with Tarragon

  •  ½ cup sliced shallots (about three or four or five, depending on their size)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil (about; I never measure this step, and neither should you)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (must be homemade and fresh, though if you use canned I won’t tell)
  • 1 10-16 ounce bag of frozen baby peas (I think I mostly use 16 ounce bags)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon (in other words, a small fistful)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (or a half cup milk, if you’re not feeling sinful)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (or thereabouts)

Sauté the shallots in the olive oil in a large saucepan until soft, but not browned.

Add the chicken broth and peas and simmer less than five minutes.

Puree in a blender with the remaining ingredients and salt to taste. (Be careful with hot liquids in the blender; hold that top down with an oven mitt.)

Pour through a fine sieve into a metal bowl (I have never done this step, ever, and I’ve enjoyed the soup nonetheless. However, if your lifestyle demands such elegance, I encourage you to do it.)

Set in a bowl in a lager bowl of ice and cold water and stir soup until chilled. (Or, as I often do, make it ahead of time and chill it in the fridge. That or just serve it room temperature. Seriously, you can’t lose with this recipe.) 

Note: As you might imagine, I’ve taken considerable liberties with this recipe, which is adapted from “Gourmet Every Day,” but I’ve been very happy with the results. I encourage you to experiment, too. I’ve doubled this recipe and it’s been more than enough to serve a large group. You want to go with a small bowl, in case your guests turn their noses up at “pea soup,” which—trust me—they won’t after they taste this.


Easter with a small “e” follow-up: The saga of the Almond-Apple Crumble

I will get to a post about that delicious tarragon-and-pea soup shortly, I promise, but in the meantime I have to confess to being obsessed with something else from the day. A giant meal like the one I hosted for Easter is a kind of dizzying affair. There’s a lot of work, certainly, but there are also a lot of benefits. With a large group, bits and pieces of conversation fly by and hang in the air. You learn tidbits about family members and siblings. Heck, if you’re not running to and from the kitchen, you might even learn more, like what their favorite color is, or who’s their favorite band, or what they plan to do with their lives. I was busy mashing potatoes, so I missed that.

However, as the host on Sunday, I tried to steer the conversations, at least briefly, to a higher plain, by asking that everyone bring a quote about rebirth. One of my readers asked me to post some of the quotes, so the few I could find and reproduce are below.

The other nice thing about having a good-sized gathering is that each different person at the table brings something new to the meal. Sometimes it’s as ethereal as a line of poetry or some funny insight. Other times it’s as real and mouthwatering as my friend Zoe’s Almond Apple Crumble.

She prepared it at home and brought it to my house to cook as we ate the main course. As it baked, its rich scent rattled around in my brain and psyche, and I said to her, “It smells so good, I think we need to cancel the dinner and just go straight to the dessert.” The other nice thing about big meals is that there often are leftovers. I’ve been eating that apple crumble for three days now, and I just finished it last night.

My friend Zoe is from England, and the recipe she used is from a book by Delia Smith, who she describes as “a British institution.” The recipe, unfortunately, is written out in grams and other U.K. measurements, so it isn’t exactly useful to me at the moment. I’m linking to it here, though, because you might be able to make the conversions. Also, she found the recipe through a great website called One Recipe Daily, which is also well worth checking out.

If you make the crumble, let me know how it goes (and if you live NYC, invite me over for some of it!). In the meantime, here are some of the poems that were quoted from during my Easter with a small “e.”

 

i thank You God for most this amazing

by e. e. cummings

 

i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes

 

(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)

 

how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any--lifted from the no

of all nothing--human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?

 

(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

 

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89).  Poems.  1918.

 

7. God’s Grandeur

 

 

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.           

  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;           

  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil           

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?           

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;                    5

  And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;           

  And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil           

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.           

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;           

  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;                    10

And though the last lights off the black West went           

  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—           

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent           

  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

 

My Heart Leaps Up

William Wordsworth

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be Bound each to each by natural piety.