Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuffed pork chops, again

Made these again, using TWO packages of dried morel mushrooms so I could make extra stuffing. Decadence!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pork stir fry with bok choy and mushrooms

What I love about stir-fry is you can make many different combinations, depending on what you have. I had:

pork tenderloin
bok choy (washed and roughly chopped)
leeks (washed inside and out, chopped in half-inch pieces)
garlic, peeled and chopped
oyster mushrooms, washed and roughly chopped
soy sauce and/or salt
chili oil
sesame seeds
a couple of teaspoons of onion garlic jam (just happened to have it in the fridge and decided, why not?)

The difficulty with stir-fry is that when you start throwing that many ingredients in, enough to make it interesting, you can end up with a lot! I could have used small quantities of each and saved the rest for later, but honestly, it was fridge-cleaning time. So I ended up using two pans: my cast-iron chicken fryer (skillet, but deeper) and my dutch oven (very deep -- needed because the bok choy starts out big before it cooks down).

Cut up the meat into large bite-size pieces. (Think General Tso's chicken.)
Heat a tablespoon or so of peanut or canola oil in the skillet. If you have a lot, as I did, cook half in another pan so there is only one layer and the pieces aren't completely touching. You want them to brown a little and not just steam. Cook the pork, stirring frequently, until just barely pink inside, then remove it to a platter or bowl. Leave the oil in the pans.

Put the bok choy in the larger pan. Add the garlic and soy sauce. Stir occasionally. When the greens have wilted and the stem parts are soft but still have some crunch, turn off the heat. It actually won't take but a few minutes even for a big pot ful. You can smack a lid on to keep it hot, but it will be going back on the heat later anyway.

Meanwhile, put the leeks and mushrooms in the other pan. Keep 'em moving from time to time so they don't scorch. when they have softened, add the pork back in. Sprinkle in some sesame seeds if you have them. Dash with soy sauce. Stir in the onion-garlic jam, or not.

There will be what may seem to be a lot of liquid in the pan -- not soup, but it's probably going to be more watery than you are used to seeing in Chinese food. Not to worry. Combine a teaspoon of cornstarch with about 1/8 cup of cold water in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until it is thoroughly combined.

Turn down the heat in the skillet to very low and add the cornstarch mixture and stir it in well. See the liquid thicken up into a sauce that glazes everything else. Now add the bok choy/garlic mixture (and its liquid -- it won't hurt). If the result is still not thick enough, make another cornstarch slurry; if it is too thick for your taste, add some white wine or water. Hit it with a few dashes of hot chili oil.

That's it.

You will notice there is no rice in the picture. I don't really like white rice and wasn't hungry enough to make brown rice. Sometimes I make couscous, and in the future I might make quinoa, or use some that's left over.

Now, here's the thing. Substitutions are a snap.
Instead of pork, I could have used chicken, beef, shrimp or even eggplant.
Instead of bok choy I could have used regular cabbage, red cabbage or Napa cabbage
Instead of oyster mushrooms I could have used any other kind of mushrooms
Instead of leeks I could have used onion, shallots or scallions

I still would have wanted the soy sauce and cornstarch, although instead of cornstarch it's even better to use arrowroot. What, you don't have arrowroot kicking around? Me neither, usually.

I could have left out the chili oil and sesame seeds nd onion-garlic jam. I could have added real chilis, or any color of bell pepper, any kind of seed or nut that I like, and just about any other veggie, preferably fresh, but even frozen will do in a pinch: peas, snow peas, carrots, green beans, broccoli. Water chestnuts, canned but drained and sliced. The trick, actually, is to not get TOO carried away, or you will end up with enough to feed a small country. (I would leave out the bok choy, for example, if using a different green thing.)

I could have used a little hoisin sauce or sesame oil or even barbecue sauce.

The other trick is to cut things roughly the same size and then cook each thing only as much as it really needs, so you don't end up with a soggy mess. Sometimes it is best to cook one thing (like the pork) and take it out, cook the next thing, take it out, etc., and then reunite everything just at the end to heat it all through again and get the sauce on everything.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quinoa with cabbage and ham

A ham bone with ham bits attached
half a head of cabbage
1 cup of quinoa (KEEN-wah)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

I wanted to try making quinoa, an increasingly popular (because it is healthy) grain, a first for me. And I had a few things in the fridge that I wanted to use up.

The day before, I bought a spiral sliced, bone-in ham on sale and baked it. I know, you technically don't have to, but it tastes so much better. I throw away the seasoning packet that comes with the ham. Sometimes I "doctor" it myself with brown sugar, mustard, etc., but this time I just baked it, let it cool, sliced it and made up packets for the fridge and freezer. It was a 9.5 pound ham, so I will be enjoying it for a while!

I can't stand to throw out the ham bone and the bits that always cling to it, so tonight I made ham stock by putting it in my cast-iron dutch oven and covering it with water to simmer for a couple of hours. This made about 7 cups of stock, and also made it easy to pull the ham bits off the bone. They still had oodles of flavor, so I decided to go ahead and use them If they hadn't, well, I could have dipped into my ham supply!

The obvious thing to do with ham stock and the little bits would be bean or lentil soup, which I also love. But I have also used it for couscous, so I thought, why not quinoa?

I also had half a head of cabbage still leftover from the Borscht project. Yes, it was still good, wrapped well and in the crisper. But it was time.

The box of quinoa I had, and various recipes online, warned that it is important to rinse the quinoa very thoroughly in cold water. Not just a quick rinse, but a good one -- apparently the outside of the grain contains a kind of soapy-tasting substance that you want to remove. Fortunately, I have a big sieve with a fairly fine mesh, which is important because the quinoa is tiny and would fall right through, say, a typical colander.

The ratio is 2 parts liquid to 1 part quinoa, so I used 2 cups of stock and 1 cup of quinoa, knowing that it would make a lot. But I was using a saucepan on the stove, and I've learned the hard way that it is hard to time smaller quantities of things like rice or oatmeal and get them cooked without scorching. If you use a rice cooker or the microwave -- follow the directions on the box -- you can probably make a lot less at a time. I'll try that next time.

Put the liquid and quinoa in the pan, bring to a boil, turn down to simmer, cover and cook 10-15 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Taste. Because of the ham stock, I didn't add any seasonings. Using water or even chicken stock, I might have put in a little pepper and salt or something.

While the quinoa is simmering, slice the cabbage into ribbons. Put about half a cup of liquid -- I used ham stock again because I could -- in a big pot. I used the same one the ham stock had just come out of. (I still have a quart of ham stock in the fridge.)

Bring the liquid to a simmer and toss in the cabbage and the ham bits. Season. I used pepper and cumin. No salt -- ham stock takes care of that! Stir/toss gently for a couple of minutes, only until the cabbage is beginning to wilt. Smack the lid on, turn the heat off, and walk away.

Well, actually, it might be time to peek at the quinoa, if 10-12 minutes have passed. Mine took the full 15 minutes, and I'm sure it depends a bit on what pan you use and what you consider "simmer" to be. When the liquid is absorbed -- nothing puddling in the bottom of the pan -- turn it off.

Check the cabbage now. It should be softish but with a little bite left, sort of like in a stir-fry. Cabbage al dente, as it were.

Dish it up.

I like how this came out. The braised cabbage didn't stink up the whole house, either! That little bit of cumin gives it a little subtle flavor that I liked. I'm sure other seasonings would be interesting, too.

The quinoa itself has a mildly nutty flavor and I think it worked well with the ham. I think you would always want to combine it with some pretty flavorful ingredients to avoid too bland of a dish.

Oh, and I have about three servings left for the rest of the week. I might try freezing one, to see how the cabbage holds up.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Oh, for cryin' out loud. If I had known how easy this was, I would have been making it for years. The hardest part was finding the Tahini in the store. (Look in the International foods aisle and the peanut butter aisle. Where I live, it turns up more often with the peanut butter.) I have been told that a little peanut butter can be substituted. Tahini is basically sesame seed paste, and it does have a similar taste. I would use less peanut butter, though, because the sesame paste is milder. Although I have never heard of anyone being allergic to sesame seeds, I guess it is possible; otherwise, tahini would be an interesting substitute in other recipes for people who can't have peanut butter. (Check with allergist, please!)

Here's the recipe, such as it is:

One can of garbanzo beans, a.k.a. chickpeas. I drained them and rinsed them. I am not sure that is even really necessary. Well, maybe the draining part.

A couple of cloves of garlic. Optional but highly recommended.

A little lemon juice (about half a lemon's worth, for me)

Tahini. Be sure to shake the jar, because the oil will have separated out. (Kind of like unhomogenized peanut butter -- and like it, once you open the jar, you need to refrigerate it.) I used quite a bit of tahini, but I would start with about 1/4 cup to 1 can of garbanzos, even less if you aren't sure.

Spin it in a food processor until it looks like dip. Less than a minute, for me.

That's it.

I picked up some Jalepeno Pita chips (baked) at my store. I recommend the concept. Or if you were using plain pita or plain chips, maybe add some cayenne or other pepper to the hummus.

I have read recipes that call for adding any number of ingredients to hummus, from yogurt to jalepenos to curry. Probably not all at once! Now that I get it, I will probably put more garlic in and more spices.

Because this is not dairy based, I think it should keep pretty well in the fridge. Well, as long as I don't eat it all first!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pork Tenderloin sandwich

For someone who grew up in the Midwest, this is a favorite. In fact, last Christmas I had a horrible airline adventure that included being diverted to St. Louis and had to stay overnight, and the saving grace was that the hotel restaurant served breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches.

These aren't difficult to make, but kind of messy in terms of the prep work, so it isn't something I make often. And I wouldn't make fewer than six, just because it wouldn't be worth going through all the steps just to make one! But now I will have yummy sandwiches for several days. The rest of the pork tenderloin will be prepared in different ways.

At my store, pork tenderloin usually comes in a package of 2 pieces totaling a little under 3 pounds. This one was 2-3/4 lbs. This took about half of one of the pieces, so each sandwich actually has just about 2 ounces of meat. You could make them bigger -- I've had some that were nearly the size of a dinner plate -- but that seems excessive!

I used slices one inch thick. Pound them as thin as you can. They will be very tender and also will cook quickly.

Salt and pepper the slices.

Set up a three-pan breading station.
Pan 1: Flour, with salt and pepper added
Pan 2: Egg mixture. I used two eggs, a dash of soy sauce and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard. You could easily add Worcestershire sauce. I would avoid barbecue sauce or anything else with sugar in it, as that would burn.
Pan 3: Cracker crumbs. I used three handfuls each of Gorgonzola cheese crackers and wheat thin crackers. Put 'em in a gallon size heavy duty zipper plastic bag, squeeze the air out before closing, and go at 'em with a rolling pin. You want some really fine crumbs, but you also want some still in the 1/8- to 1/4-inch range.

Heat up that cast iron skillet with some oil that has a high smoke point. I used canola oil; peanut oil would be another good choice. Dad used to use Crisco shortening, melted, and we all survived.
Be sure to get the oil nice and hot so the tenderloins won't get too greasy (my one complaint about the ones in St. Louis!). You don't need a lot of oil, but maybe 1/8 inch across the entire bottom of the pan. There needs to be enough not only to keep the breading from sticking but also to help transfer heat to the inside.

Dip the pork in flour, shaking off the excess, then egg, then cracker crumbs, giving another shake. You want them thoroughly coated but only with what will stay stuck on.

I fried two at a time, turning when they were brown on one side, and it only took a couple of minutes on each side. Because the pork has been pounded so thin, it will be cooked in that short time.

I was able to get all six cooked without having to clean the pan, but that would be about the limit, as some of the breading does fall off anyway and starts to burn. So if I were doing more, I would stop and wipe/rinse out the pan (careful! hot!) and start with fresh oil.

I like mine with barbecue sauce on one slice of bread, mayo and pickles on the other, but that's a truly personal thing.

You don't even have to make a sandwich. I guess then it would be pork scallopini.


About Me

My photo
This is me enjoying a limoncello in Rome on the last night of our trip to Italy. Funny thing is, I don't really like limoncello that much, but thought it would be great in a dessert. And wouldn't you know, The Barefoot Contessa just did a great fruit salad with limoncello. So now I can't. Oh, well.