Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pan-roasted pork chops with balsamic fig sauce and garlic chopped kale with a kick

On a Sunday evening, after running errands, tending to the chickens, tending to what's left of the garden, and chopping up the half of the 30+yr maple that fell in the wet snowstorm we had earlier this week, I thought Mr. Rose deserved a nice home cooked meal. The only problem was that I was along side him doing everything but the heavy lifting, and I was pretty drained too. So the nice home cooked meal had to be quick and simple. It was. From start to finish, I had the table set and was ringing the dinner bell in 30 minutes.

The trick to making a quick dinner quickly is knowing when you have a few minutes between cooking one thing to work on another thing. For this simple dinner, I prepped the kale while the pork was roasting and cooked it while the balsamic fig sauce was roasting.

Reducing sauce
Stir-frying kale

Now that you know this, take a look at the recipes below and let me know whether these logistics work as well for you.

Pan-roasted pork chops with balsamic fig sauce (serves 4)
4 x 6 oz. center cut boneless pork chops, cut about 1 inch thick
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 c chicken stock (or turkey stock, which is what I had after Canadian Thanksgiving)
1 tsp minced thyme
4 tbsp fig spread (the kind you might find in the cheese section at the store)
coarse salt and ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pat the pork chops dry and generously sprinkle both sides with the salt and pepper. Preheat a cast iron skillet (or other heavy-bottomed skillet that can go in the oven) over medium-high heat. You want the pan so hot that a drop of water will sizzle and evaporate quickly, but not so that it skitters across the pan before it disappears -- if it does that, the pan is too hot.

Add oil and tilt skillet to coat. Throw the pork chops in with a bit of space between them. Let them sear for about 2 minutes so that they are well-browned and easily lift up off the skillet with tongs. Once browned on that side, flip the chops over and sear the other side for another minute. Then transfer to the oven and roast for 5-8 minutes, when the meat is just firm (or if you need scientific precision, till a meat thermometer registers 145 degrees F in the center of the chop). Set the skillet on the stove top, remove the chops to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm. Heat the skillet on medium and deglaze the pan with the stock and balsamic vinegar. Reduce to 1/2 cup of liquid, about 5 minutes. Add thyme and fig spread, stirring slowly. Reduce again to 1/4 cup of liquid. Plate and serve with pork chops.

Garlic Chopped Kale with a Kick
16 stalks of kale
4 tbsp olive oil
6 anchovy fillets
2 large cloves of garlic
1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c water
salt to taste

Wash kale and remove ribs. Chop coarsely. Mince garlic and anchovies. In a large saute pan (I used a wok), heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and anchovies, stirring constantly so nothing burns. Add the chopped kale and stir fry the mixture. Add salt to taste (I used just a pinch of kosher salt and that was right). As the kale starts to wilt, toss in the red pepper flakes. Add 1/4 cup of water and stop stirring for 30 seconds or so, until all of the water has steamed off. Stir again, then add another 1/4 cup of water and let sit again for 30 seconds. Stir, add more salt or red pepper flakes to taste. Plate next to your tasty pork chops and serve!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Tips for a stress-free Thanksgiving dinner

Thanksgiving for most Americans is more than a month away. People are just now starting to make arrangements to travel home. They're looking forward to the family gathering or dreading this year's family drama. They're making peace with the fact that they won't be eating their mom's special turkey stuffing because they're spending it with the in-laws this year.

For me, it's different. I celebrate Thanksgiving a month and a half early because it's when the Canadian do it. This year marks my 9th year of celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving in America.

My mom, though she dutifully hosted Thanksgiving for our family every year, must have hated the pressure to getting a giant bird and cooking a giant meal. I think it stressed her out to entertain a house full of people. The rest of us tip-toed around her, wondering whether her surly mood, which would magically disappear when guests arrived, would return once everyone left. One year, while I was in law school, my sisters used their college mid-term exams as an excuse not to go home for Thanksgiving. Inspired by their brilliant plan to avoid Mom's wrath, I followed suit and decided to stay in Washington, D.C. as well. Since Dad was out of town, Mom decided to ditch the rest of the relatives and come to D.C. And I decided to show her what it meant to throw a dinner party without becoming a basket case. That was the inaugural Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner at my house.

It was the first dinner party I'd had with more than 6 people in attendance. I'm not sure why I thought I could calmly host 21 for a seated dinner at my tiny 650 s.f. two-bedroom Capitol Hill apartment with my Tiger Mother breathing down my neck, but I was confident that I could. And I did.

I can't say I've never internally lost my cool while preparing for a big dinner party in the last 9 years. There have been a few disasters, one that irretrievably ruined my reputation (which included both an unfortunate slime of pureed onions and a hand spasm that caused an explosion of cinnamon to go flying into a curry just seconds before I served it to the features editor of the local rag at Speakeasy Kitchen). But I've never had a crisis that I couldn't work through and I've certainly never thought, "This isn't fun anymore." So what's my secret? No secret. I love feeding people. How could you ever not have fun doing what you love? But if you're not in love with feeding people like I am, I suppose there are still a few things you can do that will help you get through your next holiday dinner a little more stress-free.

Tip #1: Accept help.
If you're throwing a really big dinner party, go ahead and let people help out. People will always offer. You already know who's reliable and tidy, who's a good cook, who's the best pastry chef, who's a conscientious dish-washer, who brings the good wine, and who brings the crappy Yellow Tail. If you're hoping to throw the best possible dinner party, accept offers to help and maybe even enlist the competent help you know. If you're a perfectionist and trust no one to help out, you will suffer alone (or you'll make everyone around you suffer with you <ahem, Mom>).

Tip #2: Don't let perfect be the enemy of good.
This goes out to the perfectionist again. Hosting a big holiday meal is no small feat. Everyone knows that. No one is expecting perfection. And good is pretty damn good enough. So chill out a little bit, try to enjoy the warmth and lovely smells of the kitchen, and look forward to breaking bread with loved ones. Dinner is going to be just fine.

Tip #3: Self-medicate... moderately.
Hey, I get it. We can't all just chill out at the drop of a hat, especially when there's so much to get done in so little time. You know that wine you were going to deglaze that pan with? Take a sip. Take two. Just don't overdo it. There is, after all, a lot of work to be done in the kitchen. Tipple too much and you might not get it all done, much less competently. The turkey needs to be basted regularly and it won't get basted if you're wasted.

Tip #4: Deep-fry your turkey.
Since we're on the topic of basting, let's explore the issue a little bit. Seven of my last nine Thanksgivings were spent diligently basting the bird every fifteen minutes for several hours on Thanksgiving. It's a necessary evil if you want to roast an evenly browned bird that would be tender and moist. That, along with brining, injecting, salt-rubbing, flipping the bird halfway through the roasting, flipping the bird three times during the roasting, etc. I've tried every method under the sun and have never had a dry breast so long as I was diligent about basting. Yes, the bird is heavy. Yes, it barely fit in the oven when making turkey for 30. Yes, I burnt my hands, arms, and elbows on the roasting pan or the sides of the oven when reaching in to make sure every square inch of the bird got basted. But it must be done when roasting a bird. So I basted religiously. Until I discovered the deep-fried turkey. It's all the deliciousness (and then some) of the most perfectly basted bird without any of the hassle. All I use is an overnight dry rub under the turkey's skin consisting of freshly minced sage, orange zest, kosher salt, and ground pepper. Oh, and Mr. Rose's strong and steady arm to lower the bird into a vat of hot peanut oil. (See Tip #1). This is the recipe to the most delicious turkey you will ever eat.

Tip #5: Remember that this is supposed to be fun.
Turn on some good music. I don't mean that morbid emo shit. I'm talking fun, upbeat, makes-you-want-to-tap-your-toes-and-dance-with-the-dogs-music. If it's Don't Stop Believing by Journey because you're still not sick of that song, so be it. If it's some hippie bullshit like Grateful Dead and that stuff works for you, so be it. But make sure it's something that'll make you shake your booty. Dancing in the kitchen will lift your spirits and, if one were to believe what one saw in Like Water for Chocolate, your diners will taste your joy. For me this year, it was Don't Stop Believing (because I'm only a little bit sick of it) and the ensuing Genius mix, comprised inexplicably of Led Zepplin, The Beatles, Black Crowes, and Jimi Hendrix. The turkey this year will taste strongly of joy, with a little bit of cheese and a whole lot of rock and roll.

Tip #6: Give in to your inner voice.
Seriously, if you've gotten down to this tip and you're still skeptical that hosting Thanksgiving dinner can be stress-free, entertaining is probably not your thing. If you're already signed up to host this year, consider ordering a ready-made turkey from Whole Paycheck or getting Chinese take-out. Hopefully no one will be terribly disappointed at the substitution of Peking duck for turkey. But you'll have done your duty for the year so you'll be off the hook for Christmas. And for goodness sake, don't volunteer to host Thanksgiving next year.