Saturday, August 31, 2013

Orange-Glazed Pork Chops: A Recipe That Works

August 24, 2013

Orange-Glazed Pork Chops
Steamed White Rice
Sauteed Green Beans and Tomatoes
Gravenstein Applesauce
Vella Delicious White

Sauteed Green Beans and Tomatoes from 101 Cooking for Two

A few months ago so I described a recipe for orange-glazed pork chops. We've always enjoyed this, particularly the sweet and sour orange sauce. My first attempt at a version of the recipe that I could share didn't work out as the pork was over cooked and dry, a result that I attributed in part to pork being leaner today than when the recipe first came out.

Based on the results of my first test, I updated the recipe inspired in part by another pork chop recipe I had used last year. To prevent the thin supermarket pork chops from over cooking the chops are browned on one side only, then turned and simmered with the glaze until done. I also brined the chops to provide seasoning and some extra protection from dryng out. With these changes to the recipe, the pork chops came out reasonably tender, juicy, and well flavored. I am comfortable saying that the problems with the recipe revealed by my first attempt have been solved.

Returning from our camping trip last week we stopped in Sebastapol to purchase some Gravenstein apples. We were too late for the Gravenstein Apple Fair (maybe next year) but not too late to purchase some apples from a farm stand. These sweet tart apples ripen early and are available only in a few places and for just a short time. For dinner I made apple sauce with two of these apples. I peeled, cored, and cut the apples into rough ½–inch pieces which were cooked in a covered sauce pan with a little water and a pinch of salt on medium-low heat. They cooked in 10-15 minutes and I seasoned them with a little cinnamon-sugar. The tart apple sauce was a good addition to the meal and I always enjoy it with pork.

I generally don't do anything special with the vegetable course. This week I tried a recent recipe from the blog 101 Cooking for Two which combines green beans and tomatoes. One of the ingredients is RoTel, a canned combination of tomatoes and green chilies, which I had never used before. Even with the Mild version of RoTel the dish was spicier than we're used to for a vegetable course. It wasn't eye-watering nose-running hot but I think the dish would have been just as good without the chilies. The recipe makes 8 portions so we'll be having it as a side dish for several more meals.

The other side dish was steamed white rice which mixes well with many things. I mixed it with some of the glaze from the pork chops while Diane mixed with the the beans and tomatoes to temper their heat.

If I was developing recipes professionally then I might try some more variations to get even more tender pork shops with an even better glaze before I posted the recipe. I may still try some changes the next time I make it (maybe double-cut chops that can be browned on both sides, or fresh orange juice and some orange zest for the glaze) but for now it is good enough to post so you can enjoy this simple flavorful meal, too.

We had no left over pork chops, knowing from previous experience that it is hard to reheat these without producing dry, over cooked pork.  The Green Beans and Tomatoes recipe says it serves 8 and this seems accurate so there is plenty left over. We had them mixed with ground beef and leftover corn which made for a good main course. It was not as spicy and the sweetness of the corn was a nice addition.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Eating like a lumberjack

August 18, 2013
Garden Vegetable Soup
Garden Salad
Roast Beef with Jus
Fried Chicken
Baked Potato
White Bread
Spice Cake

We spent five days camping at beautiful (albeit slightly damp) Patrick's Point State Park on California's Redwood Coast where we enjoyed visiting our daughter, Caryn, who attends nearby Humboldt State University, and her boyfriend, Alex. Most evenings we ate in camp enjoying typical camp food. On Sunday, though, the four of us attended a really excellent production of Shrek, The Musical and dined at the Samoa Cookhouse.

According to a plaque near the entrance, "This is the last lumber camp style cookhouse in operation in North America. Meals have been served here continuously for over 105 years ..." Diane and I have known about this spot for many years, having seen the signs on US 101 when driving through Eureka, but we had never eaten here. When Caryn first came to nearby Arcata for college three years ago she was a vegetarian so we never considered eating here. Now Caryn is no longer a vegetarian. Plus, she and Diane found a list of "25 great things to see and do in Humboldt County". Caryn has done something like 19 of them in her three years, but she had not eaten at the Cookhouse, which was included on the list of 25.  Combing these factors, they decided we had to try it.

Food is served family style and you don't order from a menu. The entre├ęs change from day to day but the kitchen prepares the same thing for everyone. It's all-you-can eat and the prices for dinner and lunch are reasonable, though we thought the breakfast price seemed high. We arrived relatively early for dinner and they seated us at one end of a long table. The meal started with soup and salad served with thick slices of homemade white bread. Following this they brought out bowls with beef, baked potatoes, fried chicken, and peas. They did a very good job estimating how much we would eat as we finished it all and no one asked for seconds. Dessert was spice cake, though we had originally been told it would be a peach cake but I guess they ran out.

Overall, the food was good. There was nothing fancy about the home-
style meal but everything tasted good and the service was prompt and friendly. The beef was braised and reasonably tender, served in a jus. The fried chicken was tender and juicy with a thick crunchy coating that was perhaps a tad too salty. The cake was nice and tender with just the right amount of frosting.

I would certainly be happy to eat here again should the opportunity present itself. Maybe for graduation next May.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

New England Style Hot Dog Buns

August 10, 2013

Hot Dogs on Homemade New England Style Buns
Crispy Homemade Potato Chips
Steamed Fresh Sweet Corn
Vella Merlot & Sam Adams Maple Pecan Porter

New England Style Hot Dog Buns from USA Pans

While Central New York, where I grew up, is not New England it is pretty close. Hot dogs were generally served on the traditional round bun cut on the side. A few times, however, my mom  served them on a New England style bun which is square and cut on the top. The top cut keeps the toppings from falling out and the flat sides are ideal for toasting. Since these buns are not available outside the Northeast I hadn't thought of them for many years until seeing a recent on-line review of a baking pan for making these buns at home.  I added the pan to my wish list and, lo and behold, I got one for my birthday.

For this first batch of buns in the new pan, I used the manufacturer's recipe, one that was tested and portioned for the pan. I used 15 ounces of flour (the recipe specifies 3 cups) and rather than adding cold butter I melted it and added it to the flour after the water and egg. I mixed the ingredients and kneaded the dough using a stand mixer.  The resulting buns are good though less tender than super market hot dog buns. One disadvantage of the buns may be the two from the ends of the pan which have one crusty side. To fill the buns I grilled Nathan's Dinner Beef Franks garnished simply with Dijon mustard and ketchup.

For side dishes I bought some fresh-picked local sweet corn that was steamed in the microwave; it was really good. And, going along with the DIY theme, I got out my deep-fry supplies and made potato chips. A russet potato was scrubbed and cut into 1/16–inch slices on a mandolin, the thinnest setting available. These were put into a bowl of ice water until ready to fry at which time they were dried between two kitchen towels. They were fried in small batches in 350° oil until they stopped bubbling. They were transferred to paper towels and immediately salted. They were delicious, thin and crispy with significantly more potato flavor than store-bought chips. They also have the advantage of allowing you to choose how salty to make them.  I'll definitely be doing this again and experimenting with some different thicknesses.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Main Course: Blueberry Muffins

August 4, 2013

Blueberry Muffins
Crispy Fried Bacon
Scrambled Eggs
Home Fries

Blueberry Muffins from Cook's Illustrated

Breakfast pastries: I like to make them, I like to eat them, and I'd like to write about them. But I cook dinner, not breakfast, and getting up several hours early to bake before breakfast does not appeal to me. The solution, of course, is to have breakfast for dinner. There are several things on my list of breakfast pastries to make including doughnuts, beignets, monkey bread, and morning glory muffins. (Will cronuts be added to the list?) With plentiful fresh fruits available, though, from all of these delicacies, I elected to make blueberry muffins.

I reviewed several recipes and ended up adapting one from Cook's Illustrated that was designed for frozen blueberries. In the original recipe half of the berries are cooked to make a jam which is swirled into the batter just before the muffins are baked. Rather than do that, I added all of the berries to the batter whole. One concern when doing this is that the berries will all sink to the bottom of the muffins. Happily this did not happen; coating the berries with flour may well have prevented them from sinking. This recipe uses the classic muffin method where the wet ingredients are gently mixed into the dry. Some other recipes creamed the butter and sugar together.  The muffin method leads to a coarser crumb while the creaming method gives more uniform cake-like crumb.

The muffins were good, enjoyable, and well worth making, but they were nothing extraordinary. They have a wonderful crispy top that is rich with lemon flavor that greatly enhances the muffins. There were a lot of blueberries in the muffin, perhaps even too many if that is possible, so they had a lot of summer-time blueberry flavor.

The rest of dinner was standard breakfast-for-dinner fare: crispy fried bacon, scrambled eggs, home fries, and mimosa (half orange juice, half Champagne). I plan to publish a home fries recipe but this attempt came up a little short so I still have work to do on that, though I made some good progress. If I can have a Sunday Dinner with blueberry muffins as the main course, there is nothing to say I couldn't have a meal with home fries as the main course, too.

I froze half of the muffins and stored the others in an air right container the same way I would store cookies. While they didn't have the crisp top of the fresh muffins they kept well and I enjoyed them for breakfast all week. I warmed them in the microwave and anointed them with butter.

Kitchen tip
When spraying a baking pan with vegetable spray, open the dishwasher and hold the pan over the open door. Any stray spray then goes in the dishwasher and not on your counter tops.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Oven-Fried Fish, Fries, and Fresh Tomatoes

July 28, 2013

Crunchy Oven-Fried Fish
Steak Fries
Caprese Salad
Vella Chardonnay, Sam Adams Boston Lager
Strawberries with Angel Food Cake 

Crunchy Oven-Fried Fish from Cook's Illustrated
Steak Fries from Cook's Illustrated
Caprese Salad from

We are not frequent fish eaters but I would like to work a little more fish into our diet. When we do have fish it is usually salmon but for this Sunday dinner we had "Pacific true cod" that I "oven-fried", though I don't really know what makes it oven-fried rather than baked or roasted.  I selected cod over  other varieties of white fish available this day at Whole Foods. Not only was it the only one that was thick enough but it was on sale, at $6 a pound it was quite a bit less expensive than the other choices. The fish  turned out well, the crust was crunchy with a flavor that complemented the mild-flavored fish. It adhered to the fish beautifully without flaking off. The fish itself was nicely cooked but we thought it was bland. I believe this is a fault of the fish and not the recipe. Diane and I both added lemon juice and a little ketchup to enhance the flavor and Diane rarely uses ketchup on anything.

The steak fries took the most time to prepare. The potatoes had to be cleaned and cut, soaked in ice water, and fried twice with a rest period between the two fryings. It was not a lot of work but it does take a little time to get through all of the steps. I wrote a few months ago about my return to deep frying and some of the challenges I encountered. I didn't try so hard this time to control the temperature of the oil. I just heated it to the desired temperature then put in the food, turning up the heat to minimize the temperature drop. I was concerned that the fries would be overcooked given the time they spend in the hot oil. This turned out to be unfounded: the fries were crispy on the outside and smooth and creamy inside, just the way french fries should be.

The salad highlighted the fresh tomatoes that we now have from our garden and in our monthly CSA box. Fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper—very simple and summery. After the fact I wished I'd bought fresh mozzarella rather than the packaged stuff, but it was still good.

This was a nice dinner. The food was good. It was filling and light so we left the table with our hunger satisfied, refreshed with no feeling of having overeaten.

By design there were no leftovers. Fish is not good except when fresh and freshly cooked.

Kitchen tip
When making strawberry shortcake, or serving strawberries with a sponge cake as we did, crush about half of the strawberries using a potato masher and cut the remaining strawberries into halves or quarters. Prepare the berries a few hours before serving and season them with a pinch of salt and sugar to taste. Crushing the berries and adding the salt and sugar will extract their juices which then soak into the cake when you serve it, spreading the fresh fruit flavor throughout the dessert.