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Hi. Sorry I haven’t been around lately. I moved. Not too far, just over to http://www.jonathanbardzik.com under the “recipes” tab. Come check me out.
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“Mom,” I texted, “would you please send me your recipe for sweet and sour pork chops?”
“Will try,” she replied. “Not sure what condition it’s in.”
Four hours later, three photos arrived, each a yellowed sheets of paper, splattered with more than 40 years of food, the hallmarks of a good recipe. The top of the first page reads, “McCall’s 1969.”
This is the recipe that defines sweet and sour pork for me. Far from small scraps of pork hidden in thick, doughy breading, choked in a gelatinous blend of corn syrup and Red Dye #40, Mom’s recipe is a simple but elegant balance of vinegar and brown sugar, tied together by sweet, acidic pineapple. Earthy soy and the underlying bitterness of green pepper ground the dish, whose flavors are mellowed and bound by rich pork.
A online scan of 15 sweet and sour pork chop recipes revealed few changes from McCall’s 1969 masterpiece. I dove in, eliminating bottled ketchup and canned stock. Mild, sweet, white balsamic vinegar and light Temari soy sauce let thick, porterhouse pork chops, fresh pineapple and vegetables shine through. Tapioca starch gently thickens the sauce.
It’s a good recipe. Really good. The kind you want to print out and start splattering with food. It should be nicely yellowed in 40 years or so.
Sweet And Sour Porterhouse Pork Chops
- 4 porterhouse or loin pork chops, about 1″ thick and bone-in
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup White Balsamic or Peach Vinegar*
- 1/4 cup cup Tamari soy sauce
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 tbs peanut oil
- 1/2 large red onion cut in 1” chunks
- 1 red pepper cut in 1” chunks
- 1 green pepper cut in 1” chunks
- 1/2 pineapple cut in 1” chunks
- 1” ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 tbs tapioca or corn starch**
*Sapore’s Peach vinegar was delicious in this dish! White Balsamic would deliver similar mild acidity with light sweetness.
**What’s up with tapioca starch? If you can find, it is a very neutral tasting thickener, not dulling the flavors of the other ingredients. I use it exclusively for fruit and berry pies. Corn starch is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
- Pat pork chops dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Whisk together brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and chicken stock. Reserve.
- Heat peanut oil in a large sauté pan over med-high heat. Brown pork chops, about 3 minutes per side. Reserve pork chops.
- Return pan to medium heat and add onions. Cook 2 minutes until softened. Add red and green peppers and cook 2 minutes longer.
- Add pineapple and ginger. Cook an additional two minutes.
- Return pork chops to pan, along with any liquid that has accumulated on the plate, nestling them in the vegetables. Add the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 50 minutes.
- Remove pork chops and vegetables with a slotted spoon. Whisk together tapioca starch with 2 tbs warm water. Add to pan and cook, on med-high, stirring, until sauce thickens. Serve over pork chops, pineapple and vegetables.
Five years ago, standing in a Fort Lauderdale swimming pool on the last day of vacation, I made a commitment. I would go an entire year without eating any takeout or delivered food.
That commitment, so easily made watching the Florida sunset while sipping a cocktail. was just as easily broken when I returned home. In fairness, I think I made it about a month before Moo Shi chicken and pork dumplings were delivered at the end of a long and stressful day.
Wherefore the failure? My entire plan hinged on learning to make the Asian favorites I couldn’t live without. While I’ve mastered light, vegetable filled Egg Foo Yung, Thai stir-fried eggplant and near-legendary dumplings, the rest of the cannon has eluded me. Until now.
Last Saturday, carrying home a beautiful cold-crop of broccoli from the market, I was bound and determined to stir-fry it with beef, bright with ginger and the salty-earthy taste of soy. My first attempt, however, was an abject failure. Sharp onions turned sweet, broccoli browned before turning tender, and the beef was insipid.
Fixing those mistakes turned out as delicious as it was simple. Quick-steaming broccoli in rice wine (thanks for the tip Chris Brush!) produced bright-green, tender florets. Sautéing the beef in batches produced a crisp sear surrounding silky meat, and replacing onions with scallions kept the flavor sharp and green.
I have yet to master Moo Shi, but I am one step close to another attempt at my ultimate goal of eliminating takeout. And we do have another vacation scheduled in that pool…
Stir Fried Beef, Broccoli And Scallions
READ THIS! No wok needed for this stove-top, skillet friendly version. There are, however, two things to keep in mind. First, prep all of your ingredients first. Secondly, there are several steps beginning with marinating the beef. The broccoli is cooked first, followed by the beef, which is cooked in three batches. Finally, you stir-fry the scallions and return the beef and broccoli to the pan, adding the sauce at the end. It feels like a lot of steps until you do it the first time, but I promise the process is simple and the outcome delicious!
- 1 egg white
- 5 tbs tamari soy sauce
- 1/3 cup plus 4 tbs rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 1/2 lbs skirt steak
- 2 tbs tapioca or corn starch
- 2 tbs Wasabi Sesame Oil* or toasted sesame oil
- 6 tbs plus 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 2 bunches scallions, whites and greens trimmed and cut in 2” pieces
- 1” ginger, cut in thin matchsticks
*Where do you get yummy Wasabi Sesame Oil? Stop in or order online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in Washington, DC. I drizzle it over fresh, steamed veggie and use it as a sauce for fish, chicken and beef.
- Cut the skirt steak into long, 2-3″ wide strips. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- Remove steak from the freezer and slice thinly, on the bias – that’s a diagonal toward the cutting board. The goal is to increase the surface are you are searing.
- Whisk together the egg white, 2 tbs soy sauce, and 2 tbs rice wine in a medium bowl. Mix in steak. Add 1 tbs tapioca starch and mix in with your hands to coat. Add 1 tablespoon Wasabi Sesame Oil and toss with your hands, separating the meat. Let marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- In a 12” skillet over medium heat, warm 1 tbs vegetable oil. Add garlic and cook, turning until browned. Remove garlic and discard.
- Add broccoli to pan and stir fry 1 minute, add 1/3 cup rice wine and cover. Cook until wine evaporates, about 3-5 minutes. Remove broccoli from skillet and reserve.
- Return pan to medium-high heat. Add 2 tbs vegetable oil. Cook beef to medium rare in 3 batches, being careful not to crowd. Add an additional tablespoon of oil between batches. Reserve beef.
- Whisk together sauce ingredients: 3 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs starch, and 1/4 cup warm water. Reserve.
- Return pan to heat with 1 tbs vegetable oil. Add garlic and cook, turning until browned. Remove garlic and discard.
- Add scallions to skillet and stir-fry for 1 minute. Return broccoli to skillet with scallions and cook 1 minute longer. Return reserved beef to skillet and heat through, 1 minute.
- Move ingredients to the edge of the skillet, opening up the center of the pan. Heat 1 tsp oil in pan and add ginger, stir-frying for 30 seconds.
- Re-whisk sauce. The starch may have settled on the bottom of the bowl. Add the sauce to the middle of the pan and cook, tossing with beef and broccoli to coat.
- Add 2 tbs rice wine, and toss ingredients, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.
- Drizzle the remaining 1 tbs Wasabi Sesame Oil over the dish and toss, cooking 1 minute longer to glaze the ingredients.
Every recipe has a backstory. Here’s how pork chops cooked on a bed of mushrooms with cotija cheese came to be:
Like most great dishes, inspiration didn’t manifest, it accumulated, beginning, innocuously, with the purchase of two, thick-cut, bone-in pork chops. Something to have on-hand for dinner. But, rather than cook the pork chops, my husband Jason and I went out to dinner at DC’s newly-opened El Rey taqueria. The queso con hongos tacos, filled with rich, earthy mushrooms and crumbly cotija cheese were delicious. We ordered a second round.
The next day I thought, “I really should cook those pork chops before they go bad. I wonder how they’d taste with cotija and mushrooms?” Remembering a Silver Palate cookbook recipe for chicken cooked on a bed of mushrooms, I scanned it briefly for technique and roasting temperature.
The first attempt: since I planned to cover the roasting dish with foil, I browned the pork chops first in a pan. Then promptly ignored my own fabulous advice about cooking mushrooms in batches to avoid crowding the pan. The result? A baking dish filled with a soupy layer of wilted mushrooms topped with seared pork chops . We agreed the dish was worth repeating, but that most of the flavor ended up in the liquid in the bottom of the baking dish. We also thought the thick-cut chops got a little thin on flavor toward the center.
The second attempt: A quick and painless brine for the pork chops added all the flavor we needed. Cooking the mushrooms in batches until golden-brown on the edges minimized the broth in the baking dish. Increasing the scallion greens and cilantro from a garnish to a solid sprinkling provided a welcome fresh balance to the earthy mushrooms, sweet, mild pork and the light tang of the cheese.
It’s a winner. I wonder if it would make a good taco?
Baked Pork Chops And Mushrooms With Cotija
- 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt
- 4 thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
- 2 cups chicken stock, boiling
- 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 3-5 tbs olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1.5 lbs crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 tbs dried epazote or oregano
- 2 tbs chili powder, like guajillo
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 cup crumbled cotija cheese, or feta
- Dissolve salt in 8-10 cups cold water. Add pork chops to brine and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, up to 2 hours.
- Pour boiling stock over mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes. When reconstituted, strain liquid through a paper-towel lined sieve, reserving the liquid. Rinse mushrooms clean and chop finely.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Drain and rinse pork chops. Pat dry and season both sides with salt and pepper.
- Warm 1 tbs oil in a 12” skillet over med-high heat. Brown pork in two batches, about 3 minutes per side. Add an additional tablespoon of oil for second batch if needed. Reserve, tented with foil.
- Add 2 tbs more oil to pan, reduce heat to medium. Add onion and scallion whites. Cook until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.
- Add mushrooms to pan in a single, thin layer, about half of them. Cook until mushrooms begin to brown on edges. Reserve mushrooms.
- Return pan to heat, and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Add remaining mushrooms and cook until edges are golden brown. Return reserved mushrooms, along with chopped porcinis to pan. Add reserved porcini liquid and cook until reduced and thickly coating mushrooms.
- Season mushroom mixture with epazote, chile powder, and 1/4 cup cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place mushrooms in bottom of 9” square or 9 x 11″ baking dish. Top with pork chops and cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 375 until done, about 20 minutes.
- Serve topped with scallion greens and remaining cilantro.
I got riled up the other morning.
This does not happen often. I am typically pretty happy-go-lucky, but Facebook took me over the edge.
It wasn’t a political statement, first-world problems or one of the uglier -isms, no it was pumpkin spice. In a world where we increasingly vilify real food in favor of weird, processed and extracted things like the powders, bars and Big Macs that are slowly killing us, I hit my wall at this autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice.
The aforementioned lattes, scones and pancakes are delicious, I’m sure, but they owe their flavor to pumpkin as much as a green Jolly Rancher gains its tart/sweet bite from apple juice. Rather than stew, I stood up and entered the kitchen, pulling a container of freshly roasted Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin out of the fridge. I combined it with oatmeal and baking spices, two tablespoons of maple sugar and a pinch of salt.
And…? Success! Pumpkin spice that tasted like pumpkin. A breakfast with enough fibre to make every dietary organization in America faint with delight. Most importantly, it was hearty and delicious, the perfect start to a crisp fall or brisk winter day. You could even enjoy it with a latte.
Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal
Fresh pumpkin makes his extra special. Roast a peanut pumpkin, Speckled Hound, Long Island Cheese or Hubbard. Or open up a can. Just make sure there’s real pumpkin.
- 1 cup fresh pumpkin purée
- 1 cup oatmeal
- 3 tbs maple or brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ginger
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp ground all spice
- Pinch of salt
- 3 cups water
- Mix together all ingredients in a small saucepan.
- Cook over medium heat, stirring as oatmeal thickens.
- Cook to desired thickness, remove from heat and serve.
My friend Sam, the guy who takes all these stunning food photos, is cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner this year. Last night as we talked turkey, Sam said something profound: “I don’t even know where to start.” Even the few lucky enough to learn from mom are often reenacting kitchen rituals last updated a couple of generations ago.
Here then is my Thanksgiving gift to Sam, a quick and simple guide to a straight forward turkey, no special ingredients, no crazy techniques, but it will put a delicious and respectable bird on the table so you can get back to sharing a special day with those you love.
1. Buying your turkey: You’ll need 1 pound of bird per person. That may sound like a lot, but it takes into account the weight of the bones. Turkeys typically range from 8-24 pounds. If you’re serving less than 8 people, congrats! you’ve got leftovers for late night sandwiches. If you are serving more than 16 people, I’d consider buying and cooking two turkeys.
When choosing your turkey, be just fussy enough. If what you can afford to feed your family is a $.98 per-pound bird from the grocery store, go for it. If you can afford a free-range organic bird for $4 a pound, it’s probably worth the expense. You don’t need to spend $10 a pound, period.
If at all possible, buy a fresh turkey. Frozen birds can take more than two days to thaw safely in the fridge (about 24 hours per 5 pounds). Remember that the neck and gizzards are usually placed in the cavity of the bird, often wrapped in paper or plastic. Remove them and save them for stock.
2. Brining: Brining, at its simplest, means soaking your turkey in heavily salted water, about 1 cup per two gallons. Coarse kosher salt gets the job done at a reasonable price. If you want to chop up and add one onion, one apple., 3 ribs of celery, 3 bay leaves and a tablespoon of peppercorns, go for it, but a simple salt brine works wonders all on its own. Any time in the brine helps, but 24 to 36 hours is ideal.
3. Use the right pan: If you are going to drop some money, do it here. Get ready to spend $100-120 on a roasting pan. Buy a multi-ply, stainless pan with a better heat conducting metal like aluminum or copper in the middle. This is the one place that All-Clad falls down. Check out Calphalon or Mauviel.
The reason for the heavy pan is so that you can take it out of the oven and put it over a burner or two to make the gravy. Do not buy non-stick, it reduces browning, which means less flavor.
4. Getting it ready to roast: There are four things to remember for a great turkey:
- Rub your bird with butter: Rub the turkey inside and out with a cup or so of softened butter. Then salt and pepper the cavity.
- Stuff it: I’m a stuffing-inside-the-bird guy. If you want to stuff your bird, nuke it first, as hot as you can get it, then stuff the bird right before putting it in the oven. This reduces the time needed to get the center of the bird to a safe 165 degrees, reducing the likelihood of drying out the lean white meat. If you don’t want to stuff it, add some aromatics to the cavity, try a halved lemon and a few sprigs each of parsley, thyme and rosemary.
- Tie it up: My Mom uses a magic, ancient system of cruel-looking, metal skewers to hold her turkey together. This is easier. Tuck the wings into the body, and, using kitchen twine, tie them in place, running the string once around the thickest part of the bird. Using a second piece of string, overlap the legs and the big meaty piece at the butt, and tie those together, sealing the cavity.
- Lay it on a bed of aromatics: This is the secret to great gravy. Cut an onion into thick slices. Cut a carrot in half the short way and the long way. Cut three celery ribs in half. Lay these in a single layer on the bottom of your roasting pan with a couple sprigs of parsley and thyme, and two bay leaves. Add 3-4 of cups of dry white wine, about 1/2″ deep. Place the bird directly on the bed of vegetables.
5. Roasting: There are a million right answers here, but I’ll give you two.
- 350 degrees for 13 minutes per pound. Place the oven rack in the bottom position in your over and pre-heat it to 450.When you put the turkey in reduce the temperature to 350. Baste it every 45 minutes with the pan juices. Starting at 2 hours, check the temperature inside the thigh and the breast, with a quick read thermometer. Make sure the thermometer isn’t touching bone. The turkey is done when both the breast and thigh have reached 165 degrees.
- 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes per pound. This method is for unstuffed turkeys weighing no more than 16 pounds. Larger or stuffed birds just need more time for the heat to penetrate. Baste every 20 minutes with pan juices. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer starting at 1 hour. The turkey is done at 165 degrees.
- Tenting and turning. I’m a fan of turning my turkey halfway through cooking. I think it gives you moister breast meat. To do this, simply start your bird, breast side down in the pan, and flip it breast side up halfway through your projected cooking time. This isn’t a must, but it’s worth the work. If your turkey is browning too early, tent it with foil. This will prevent the skin from burning.
6. Resting: This may be the most important thing you do all day. When you take your cooked turkey out of the oven, place it on a platter and cover it in foil. Let is rest for at least 15 minutes. But let’s be realistic, you’ve got a gratin to pop in the oven and some squash purée to reheat, so your bird’s got a good 30-40 minutes to rest, and it will be juicier for it.
7. Great gravy: You will be remembered forever for bringing rich, flavorful, thick gravy to the table. Once the turkey is out, tip your pan toward one corner and skim off the fat, or use a gravy separator. Return the liquid to the pan over medium-high heat and reduce to about 1/2 a cup, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Add 6-8 cups of homemade turkey stock (which you’ve made ahead of time) and reduce by half. Strain the stock, reserving the solids.
Take one cup of stock and whisk in 1/4 cup of flour to make a slurry. Return the remaining stock to the pan over medium heat. Chop about 2 cups of the vegetables and add those to the pan as well. Once the stock is simmering again, whisk in the flour mixture. Let this cook for 10 minutes longer to thicken.
Remove the gravy from the heat and whisk in 2 tbs of cold butter, along with a splash of brandy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Now, bring your gravy to the table and prepare to be revered.
8. Carving: There’s no way around it, this is going to be awkward. Even the best YouTube video won’t prepare you for feeling your way around the leg and wing joints, as you separate them from the body. But don’t worry about it.
First, remove the legs and wings, feeling for the joints. Next, remove the thigh from the drumstick. A pair of sharp kitchen shears will make this much easier than a knife.
Next, remove the breasts, slicing down from the top along the breast bone. Continue, pulling the breast away from the bone and slicing out horizontally to remove the meat.
Now carve the breast and the thighs, cutting the short way across the pieces of meat. It will kind of be a mess the first few times. Just heap it on a platter and then watch no one care, as they load up with turkey and slather it with gravy.
Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Remember, if you want to do this like a pro, you’ll have to cook a turkey more than once a year. Otherwise, just eat that delicious turkey and toast to the many blessings in your life. Happy Thanksgiving!
Not only have Brussels sprouts become the trendiest member of the Brassica family, but they have been pigeonholed for caramelization. No one wants to hear about a Brussels sprout today unless it’s roasted, flash fried, or sautéed in bacon fat…
…sorry, the thought of caramelized Brussels sprouts with salty, sweet, fatty bacon is so mesmerizing, I forgot what I was saying. I may actually have forgotten my name.
But it gets me thinking, “How do the other Brussels sprouts feel?” Can I create an equally tempting, saliva-inducing dish with no caramelization what so ever? Some quick reading on other flavors with a strong affiliation for Brussels sprouts offers clear direction. Strong bleu cheese and sharp mustard pair with shallot and vinegar, all folded into farm-fresh butter. Melting over briefly boiled Brussels sprouts, the dish is as tempting as any caramelized concoction.
These sprouts may not displace their sugary cousins, but they will certainly earn equal billing.
Blue Cheese and Mustard Buttered Brussels Sprouts
Use any leftover bleu cheese, mustard butter for steaks, chicken, green beans, cauliflower, squash, crusty Sourdough bread…
- 1-1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
- 1/2 pound butter, softened
- 4 ounces sharp bleu cheese, softened
- 2 tbs grainy mustard
- 1 shallot, finely minced
- 2 tbs minced parsley
- Cava Rosé vinegar or other red wine vinegar
*Sapore’s Cava Rosé won me over instantly this summer. It is refined, offering the depth and complexity of a high-quality red wine vinegar, but far less bold, a perfect match for summer vegetables and to add just the right bright, bite to this compound butter.
- Trim bases of Brussels sprouts, cut in half and remove any loose or discolored leaves.
- Bring a 4 quart pot of salted water to a boil.
- Blend together butter, bleu cheese, mustard, shallot and parsley using a spatula or food processor.
- Blend in 1/2 tsp Cava Rosé vinegar, a few drops at a time. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar as needed.
- Add Brussels sprouts to the boiling water. Cook until just crisp-tender. The core should still be very firm.
- Remove Brussels sprouts from water and toss with 3-4 tbs butter.
- Roll remaining butter in parchment or plastic wrap and freeze.
It’s Thanksgiving! Family and friends are about to descend for a dinner you have spent days, if not weeks, preparing for. Right about now then, is when it hits you like a quick punch to the gut: those guests are staying for three nights, and you haven’t planned any other meals.
Wednesday night you’ll order pizza, and a bag of bagels covers breakfast. There are turkey sandwiches for lunch on Friday, but what are you going to do that night for dinner?
Let’s face it, you’re exhausted. After getting a 23 pound turkey on the table with stuffing, mashed potatoes and 8 other side dishes – all ready at the same time, you might add – there is no way you are returning to the kitchen to cook another full diner for 10-15 people.
So, make a pot of soup! It actually does get better after a day or two, so you throw it together on Tuesday. With cold weather forecast all week, you can leave it out on the porch, saving plenty of room in the fridge for Thanksgiving dinner groceries. Best of all, it’s Moroccan, which will be a welcome break from the hearty American fare you’ll be eating until Thanksgiving leftovers finally run out.
Now sit back and enjoy a glass of wine. You’ve got a busy week ahead of you.
Moroccan Meatball Soup
- 1/2 lb. ground pork*
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp hot Paprika
- 1 tbs chopped, fresh thyme
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1/2 tsp each cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 4 medium sweet potatoes, cut in a 1/2″ dice
- 1 bulb celery root, cut in a 1/2″ dice
- 1 large carrot, cut in a 1/4″ dice
- 6-8 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 pound spinach, chopped
- Sherry vinegar
*If you are also celebrating Hanukkah this week, leave out the pork and increase your lamb and beef to 3/4 lb. each.
- In a medium bowl, mix together lamb, pork and beef with egg, paprika and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. To check seasoning, fry a small meatball and taste.
- Shape mixture into 1” meatballs.
- Warm 1 tbs olive oil in a 6 quart soup pot placed over medium heat. Fry meatballs in batches until browned. Reserve on paper towels to drain fat.
- Pour off all but 2 tbs fat from the pot and add onions. Cook 5 minutes until soft.
- Blend spices with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir into onions and cook 1 minute.
- Add remaining vegetables to the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add stock and cook until vegetables are fork tender.
- Return meatballs to pot and cook 5 minutes until heated through.
- Add spinach and cook until wilted. 2-3 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.
With all due respect to my Mom’s version of Gram’s stuffing, Auntie’s Rum Chiffon pie and Aunt Jane’s coffeecake, it was Aunt Ali’s cranberry mold that made Thanksgiving dinner exceptional.
The meal, shared at a table that eventually held more than 30 Forgiel aunts, uncles and cousins, along with Auntie and Gram, was certainly delicious. Gram’s stuffing was flavored with giblets and onion, the squash was fresh, the peas and pearl onions frozen, and the potatoes light, full of butter and cream. But even the best Thanksgiving meal can be brought down by a table whose celebration of cranberries extends no further than a can of jelly.
Aunt Ali, my godmother, chopped fresh cranberries, mixed them with earthy walnuts and suspended them in gelatin, set in a Bundt pan mold. The result was tart-sweet and fresh, a welcome break from the rich vegetables, starches and gravy-slathered turkey that crowded the other 95% of our heaped plates.
Every year I celebrate cranberries, sometimes cooked with port and orange zest, other years bright with baking spices, and last year with rich pork belly. This year, however, I was inspired by Renee Shields-Farr at Sapore Oil and Vinegar, who asked, “have you ever tasted a pink peppercorn?” I hadn’t.
Biting in, I first tasted a mix of pear and berries that was reminiscent of sugary breakfast cereal. Then came the peppery bite. So pears and berries it was. I added jelly, rather than pure sugar, to sweeten, and rosemary for balance and depth. It’s different, and it’s good.
As for the can of jelly, I’m sure it will still grace the table for Uncle John and my brother Alec. Thanksgiving, after all, is first and foremost a meal of family traditions.
Cranberry Pear Pink Peppercorn Compote
Makes about 2 cups compote
- 12 oz, about 3 cups cranberries
- 2 large Bosc pears cut in a 1/2” dice
- 1 cup tart jam like red currant or beach plum*
- 1 cup apple or pear cider
- 2 tbs chopped rosemary, separated
- 1 tbs pink peppercorns, crushed
- Lemon juice
*My favorite is Sapore’s Cranberry Port jam. If all you have at home is strawberry or raspberry, add a splash of port and a little extra lemon juice to balance the simple sweetness.
- Combine cranberries, pears, Cranberry Port jam and cider in a 2 quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Cook for 5 minutes until cranberry begin to pop and release liquid.
- Stir 1 tbs rosemary and pink peppercorns into the saucepan of fruit. Leave uncovered and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes until thickened.
- Stir in remaining tablespoon of chopped rosemary and season to taste with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
- If the compote is tarter than you’d like, add 1-2 tbs sugar or honey.