Monday, June 21, 2010

Pork Chops with Balsamic-Rosemary Reduction

Even writing the title of this dish makes my mouth water a little bit.
I have never cooked pork chops before, so I thought it was about time I gave it a try. I think pork chops are in a state of distress these days, especially the ones that are boneless. They have become so lean that they are absolutely uninteresting. Listen, you need fat on pork chops, that is what makes them taste good. Now, bone in chops fare a bit better, because they have more marbelling, which is what you want. (As you can see, the top one is better than the bottom one, but both still trump a boneless chop).
And if you maximize on the fat that the chop does have, as this recipe lets you do, then you are in for a pork chop revelation.

In picking a recipe for these chops, I was irresistibly drawn towards Jamie Oliver. Big shock, I know. But, what can I say, the man knows how to cook.

For his pork chops, Mr. Oliver has you cut 1 inch slits along the outer layer of fat on your chop. This way, as the pork chop cooks, all that fat will melt and keep the pork chop really nice and juicy. And, in the end, you will have an almost cracklin' like edge around the outside.
After you have cut into the chop, cooking it is a cinch. It takes one oven-proof skillet and about 15 minutes. In your skillet, add some olive oil over high heat. Once the oil is sizzling, add your prepared pork chops.
Let that sizzle away for about 3 minutes, flip them, and make sure you have a nice golden color going.
Then pop them in the oven for 10 minutes. C'est tout for the pork chops.
In the meantime, I decided that I wanted to dress the chops up a little bit. I had some rosemary on hand, and I always have balsamic, so I decided to try my hand at a balsamic reduction. The timing was perfect, as the reduction takes 10 minutes, the amount of time the pork chops need to cook. It is really so easy. Add some balsamic, a couple of sprigs of rosemary, salt, and pepper to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until reduced by half.
Remove from heat, add a bit of butter to make it nice and silky.
And there you have it, a gorgeous, easy balsamic reduction.
Just as the reduction was finished, I removed the chops from the oven. Drizzled the balsamic reduction over them. Served it with some roasted asparagus and mashed sweet potatoes, and it was one fabulous meal!

Pork Chops with Balsamic-Rosemary Reduction (adapted from Cook with Jamie and Jamie at Home)
For the pork chops:
2 bone-in pork chops
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400. Lay the pork chops on your cutting board, and using a sharp knife, make 1-inch-deep cuts all along the fatty side of them. It helps to render the fat out and will make the skin crispy. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper.

Pour a glug of olive oil into a hot oven proof pan. Carefully place your chops in it and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. If you need to, open out the little pieces of fat along the edge so they don't stick together.

When the chops are nearly done and have a nice golden color, flip them over and put them in the oven for 10 minutes. (Lynne Rossetto Kasper from the Splendid Table recommends pork should achieve an internal temperature of 150).

Let rest for a few minutes, and serve with reduction (below).

For the Balsamic-Rosemary Reduction:
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
1-2 sprigs of rosemary
a pinch of salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon of butter

Bring the balsamic, rosemary, salt, and pepper to a gentle boil in a sauce pan. Let that boil for 10 minutes or so, until the balsamic has reduced by half. Remove from heat and add the butter.

Pour over pork, chicken, vegetables, or just about anything you like.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

Time for a confession: sometimes, I hate eggplant. After one too many servings of very bad, completely awful versions of melanzane alla Parmigiana, you know the kind with layers of fried greasy eggplant, too little sauce, rubbery mozzarella (I am cringing as I write this), I concluded that eggplant was a lesser vegetable. How wrong I was!

Eggplant is a very sensitive vegetable. Given its spongy nature, it will soak up whatever you give it, and if you are giving it less than impressive ingredients to soak up, it is not the eggplant's fault if it is less than glorious. But, if you combine it with lovely ingredients... you are in for one delicious dish.

Like this melanzane alla parmigiana. Between layers of rustic tomato sauce, real honest to goodness Parmesan cheese, and roasted golden eggplant, what is there not to like?

And it was so startling easy to make. I think I have a new, easy go to dinner that is still a little bit impressive.

Start by getting three firm globe eggplants. And you don't have to worry about salting them, because you are going to be roasting them and evaporating the bitter water anyways.
Cut them into 1/2 inch slices.
Spread them on a baking sheet and toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes at 450, turning once.
(How good do these look?!)

Once they are done, get out a smallish baking dish, and get ready to layer. Start with a layer of tomato sauce.
Now, a good sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Then, a layer of roasted eggplant. Don't be afraid to 'coax' them into fitting.
And, repeat! You should be able to get in 2-3 more layers of eggplant. For the top, toss some bread crumbs with a little mozzarella, and sprinkle that over the top. If you add a few dots of butter to that, you will have a gorgeous golden top.
Bake for 30 minutes at 375, until everything is oozy, bubbly, and smelling like heaven.
Let it rest for a few minutes. When serving, add a good handful of basil, and, get ready to enjoy a perfect way to enjoy eggplant.

Melanzane alla Parmigiana
3 globe eggplants
olive oil
salt, fresh ground black pepper
One jar of good tomato sauce
3/4 cup or so of good Parmesan
1/4 (or more) cup mozzarella
3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon of butter

Preheat oven to 450. Slice eggplants into 1/2 inch slices. Divide the eggplants between two baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast for 20 minutes, flip, and roast for 20 more minutes. Reduce oven to 375.

Get out a small baking dish (like an 8 1/2 inch gratin). Add a thin layer of tomato sauce, a good sprinkle of Parmesan, and one layer of eggplant. Repeat, creating 2-3 more layers of eggplant. You should end with a little sauce and a good handful of Parmesan. For the very top layer, toss the bread crumbs with the mozzarella, and sprinkle over the top. Dot with butter.

Bake for 30 or so minutes, until golden and bubbling. Let rest for 10 minutes. Serve with a good sprinkle of basil.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread (aka my first kneaded bread)

Here's the thing: making your own bread makes you feel good.

The way it smells feels good. The way it looks feels good. The way it tastes feels good. I'm telling you, there are few better pick me ups than making your own bread. Not to mention, kneading turns out to be one fabulous way to relieve stress: yet another way bread makes you feel good.

Now, I have been making loaf after loaf of delicious no-knead bread, since my wonderful co-bicoastal chef introduced it into (i.e. changed) my life. But, I decided it was time to branch out. Armed with The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I was ready to be brave and try a new bread, you know the kind that you knead. The book magically opened to the page for Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread, and I knew it was meant to be.
This bread is to die for. Not to sweet, packed full of goodies: it is the perfect bread for breakfast or an afternoon snack. It is good with preserves, cream cheese, butter, nutella, or peanut butter (yes, I have tried all these variations). And it is good just by its lonesome. Couple its deliciousness with the fact that it is easy to make: you have a perfect entree into the world of kneaded bread.

This is how I made it. First things first with bread baking: mis en place (everything in place)
Next, get out your scale, and measure things by weight. It is much more precise and guarantees better results. (If you don't have a scale: buy one! They are worth it.)
Once you have all your ingredients ready, get your dry ingredients into a bowl. Careful not to let your salt and yeast touch immediately (or else some of the punch will be taken out of the yeast). Then add in your wet ingredients. Stir it with a spoon, until it comes together and forms a ball.
Now: time to knead! Get the dough on a floured surface (the silpat was great for this).
Then, you want to knead for about 10 minutes (although, if you don't have your kneading muscles yet (like me), it might take you more like 14 minutes (and, if you break a sweat, you are not alone))
With two or so minutes left, time to start adding in the raisins and walnuts. Do a little bit at a time to make sure everything is well distributed.
You know you are done with it passes the windowpane test: if when you gently stretch a small piece of dough and hold it up to a light source, you can see light through the dough, without the dough tearing, then you are done. You also want it to reach 77-81 degrees.
Now, plop your dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise for about 2 hours, until it is doubled in size.
Look at how huge it gets by the time you are done with the first rise!
Next, you want to divide and shape your dough. I divided the dough in half, and weighed it to make sure the two pieces were equal.
To shape the dough, flatten the dough into a 5 by 6-8 inch rectangle. Starting from the short side, roll it up, until you have a 8-9 inch rectangle. Rock it so it is even.
Get the two loaves in two lightly greased loaf pans.
Let them rise for the second time in the loaf pans for 60-90 minutes, until they just crest the pan.
Time to pop them in the oven. Let them bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pans (for even baking), then bake for 20-30 minutes more. You know they are done when they are deeply golden on top, the internal temperature is 190 degrees, and your apartment smells like heaven.
Now is the toughest part of all: wait two agonizing, painful, awful hours, for the dough to completely cool (if you cheat, and only let it rest for one hour, the world will not fall apart).

Slice into that delicious bread you made and enjoy!

Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Bread (from The Bread Baker's Apprentice)
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread flour
4 teaspoons (.66 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons (.31 ounce) salt
2 teaspoons (.22 ounce) instant (rapid rise) yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons (.16 ounce) ground cinnamon
1 large (1.65 ounces) egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) shortening, melted or at room temperature
1/2 cup (4 ounces) buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
3/4 cup (6 ounces) water, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) raisins, rinsed and drained
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Add the egg, shortening, buttermilk, and water. Stir together with a large spoon until the ingredients come together and form a ball. Adjust with flour or water if the dough is too stick or too dry and stiff.

Sprinkle flour on a counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing on medium speed with a dough hook). The dough should be soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky. Add flour as you knead, if necessary, to achieve this texture. Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes* (or by machine for 6-8 minutes). Sprinkle in raisins and walnuts during the final 2 minutes to distribute them evenly. The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 77-81 degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and form them into loaves. To do this, flatten the measure piece of dough with your hand, holding in the edges to make an even-sided rectangle about 5 inches wide and 6-8 inches long. Working from the short side of the dough, roll up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen surface tension. The loaf will spread out as you roll it up, eventually extending to a full 8-9 inches. Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Rock the loaf to even it out; do not taper the ends. Keep the surface tension even across the top. Place each loaf in a slightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch pan. The ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the tops with spray oil, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lips of the pans and is nearly doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Place the loaf pans on a sheet pan, making sure they are not touching each other.

Bake the loaves for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished bread should register 190 degrees F in the center and be golden brown on top and lightly golden on the sides and bottom. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.

Immediately remove the breads from their pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before slicing or serving.

*If it takes you 14 minutes, don't feel bad. Just think of it as an extra work-out.