Tag Archives: mom

The hallmarks of greatness.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

“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.”

Mom's sweet and sour pork chopsThis 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

Serves 4

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 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.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Directions:

  • 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.
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Too darn hot.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

For Natalie

When it gets really hot and humid, I get nostalgic, or delirious, about my childhood summers. Without AC, on New England’s hottest summer days we’d jump in a lake or sit in front of a fan (speaking like Darth Vader, of course). Dinner was served cold, following a swim, and dessert was ice cold out of the freezer, usually juice frozen in a popsicle mold.

Summer meals were fresh from the garden. We would wake up in the morning to a list of chores, which included a pic list to of ripe vegetables to harvest. My Mom would send us out with a woven basket…

You just rolled your eyes so far back in your head you can see yesterday.

This really was my childhood. We really did pick green beans, tomatoes and peppers in the morning. We swam in Pelham or Puffer’s ponds. And no, mom would not get us those sugary frozen tubes of bright blue, red and orange ice, no matter how hard we begged. But she made a mean cucumber salad, and I lived for fried rounds of breaded, egg-dipped squash cut from large zucchinis.

I admit, I had it pretty darn good, but I’m still excited to go home to air conditioning tonight.

Cucumber Zucchini Salad

Serves 6

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced.
  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Dressing:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 cup Merlot* or another red wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup Arbrosana* or another good quality Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 2 tbs chopped dill and parsley

*Sapore’s cool choices for this hot weather salad. Merlot is a beautifully balanced red wine vinegar, not the typical prickly acid-bomb from the grocery store. Arbrosana is bold and green. Buy ’em online.

Directions:

  • Mix together cucumbers, zucchini and red onion in a large bowl.
  • Make dressing: mash garlic and a pinch of coarse salt into a paste.
  • Whisk together garlic paste with Merlot Vinegar and mustard.
  • Whisk oil into dressing in a thin stream to form a creamy emulsion.
  • Whisk yogurt into dressing. Fold in herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Dress vegetables starting with about 2/3 of the dressing and adding more as needed. Season to taste.
  • If not serving immediately, season to taste before serving.

Mom was very, very right.

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Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Photography by Sam Armocido

When Mom said we were having a vegetable for dinner – say zucchini or green beans – it was, typically, just that. They were steamed, seasoned with salt and pepper, and possibly tossed with fresh herbs, usually parsley or basil from the garden. If Mom felt the rest of the meal was sufficiently healthy, she would add a small pat of butter. This, it turns out, is a fabulous way to serve almost any vegetable.

We should have been less surprised then, I suppose, by the overwhelming success of a recent attempt at zucchini pasta. I think it was the “pasta” that misled us. I mean, I have trouble thinking that sautéed strips of squash are in any way going to deliver the deep satisfaction of semolina spaghetti. I was wrong. (And, because I would never hear the end of it from my husband, let’s keep that little admission just between us.)

The long strips we quickly shaved with a vegetable peeler resembled wide pappardelle noodles. Cooked over low heat to keep the flavor light, we tossed in garlic and a splash of lemon juice, fresh basil and a grating of Parmesan cheese. We then made another batch, arguing that we should probably try adding fresh tomato.

Our third panful confirmed it was actually fine without the tomato, and the fourth we needed for a photograph. We are currently planning future batches to serve under chicken piccata and shrimp scampi.

You know, just to be on the safe side, I going to retract any admission that I was wrong. Let’s simply say my Mom was very, very right.

Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil – the good stuff!*
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 tbs chopped basil
  • 1-2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

*We use Sapore’s Frantoio, a light, buttery Italian oil. (Which you can order online.)

Directions:

  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat in a 12” skillet. Add zucchini and sauté, turning often with tongs, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook until zucchini is softened, about 3 minutes longer.
  • In skillet, toss in parsley, basil, lemon juice and remaining 1 tbs olive oil.
  • Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Sweet enough.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

My Babci’s* rhubarb plants grew on the edge of her large garden, near the  maple tree, where we would sit and eat lunch at during the summer. My Mom’s plants sit on the back edge of my parents’s garden near the blueberry bushes. Each June the bright red stalks ripened about the same time we went strawberry picking.

Mom baked pies. My great aunt, Mary, made quick jam with rhubarb and strawberry jello. Babci gave us cups of sugar into which we’d dip the stalks and eat them raw.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Rhubarb is sharply bitter. Even with sugar it elicits a pucker. Cooked down into a thick, jammy chutney, I could still not imagine it without the balance of brown sugar.

But somehow, in this relish, it works. Balanced against ripe cherries, kept savory with shallot, bright with vinegar and warmed by cardamom it sits perfectly alongside rich meats – pork chops, grilled steaks and wild boar sausages*. You can use the food processor, but we hand chopped it. I like the texture and it keeps the flavors clearer. The extra few minutes in the kitchen provide extra time to chat, listen to music, or just enjoy the warm breeze coming in the window.

*Babci is Polish for grandmother. Wild Boar Sausages are available from Canales Quality Meats at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market.

Rhubarb Cherry Relish

Taste your cherries and your rhubarb. If the cherries don’t have much sugar or the rhubarb is particularly tart, you may need a pinch of sugar.

Makes 1 3/4 cups

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup pitted and roughly chopped cherries
  • 1/4 cup diced shallot
  • 2 tsp minced basil
  • 1.5 tsp White Balsamic or Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar*
  • Cardamom

*A bright, fresh treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar.

Directions:

  • Mix together rhubarb, cherries and shallot in a food processor.
  • Pulse a few times to desired texture. I prefer mine about the size of a fine dice. Remove to a small mixing bowl.
  • OR – finely hand chop the rhubarb, cherries and shallot and mix together in a small bowl.
  • Mix in basil and Ruby Red Grapefruit Vinegar. Season to taste with a pinch each of cardamom and salt.
  • If you make this ahead of time, check seasoning right before serving. As juices develop you may find you want a pinch more of salt or cardamom or a little more fresh basil.

Mom smells.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

I knew the smell long before I knew the recipe. Hitting me as I entered the kitchen, it was intoxicating and made my mouth water. It was the smell of sharp, acidic Worcestershire and red wine, the bite of red onion and clove after clove of garlic. Pungent rosemary and the dry, grassy smell of fresh thyme blended with a sweet hint of fresh orange juice.

The skirt steak would spend an afternoon on the counter soaking in the bright, earthy marinade, telegraphing hours ahead the meal that would follow. The minute I smell this combination of flavors, even before seeing it, I am in my Mother’s kitchen, safe and happy at home.

We all have Mom smells – as opposed to Moms who smell – those scents that bring us home. (I know you exactly what you were thinking, ’cause I’m twelve years old too.) Whether its lilac or peonies from the garden, tomato sauce simmering on the stove or steak marinating on the counter, these sense memories are – if you will excuse a moment of sincere sentimentality – like a hug you can access any time. And they are a testament to our mothers who gave us these gifts.

I love you Mom.

Marinated Skirt Steak

Serves 4. To feed more people, buy a bigger steak, or a second steak. Cook this steak to medium or medium-rare. It’s a bit chewy at rare. (And you weren’t even thinking about well, right?)

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup Merlot or other acidic red wine vinegar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tbs fresh thyme, separated
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1-1.5 pound skirt steak
  • 2 tbs cup brandy – it’s a steak, use V.S. Courvoisier.
  • 2 tbs chilled butter

Directions:

  • Make the marinade: combine red onion, garlic, Worcestershire, red wine, orange juice, vinegar, bay leaves, 2 tbs thyme and the pepper, in a bowl. Pour over steak in a freezer bag and marinate in the fridge for 4-8 hours.
  • Bring the steak to room temperature for 30 minutes. Remove steak from marinade and pat dry.
  • Grill: prepare a medium-high fire. Sear over direct heat for 3 minutes per side,  and finish the steak off to the side to medium or medium-rare.
  • Stove top: Over med-high heat, warm 1 tbs vegetable oil in a heavy skillet until almost smoking. Sear both sides of steak, about 3 minutes per side. Reduce heat to medium and cook steak to medium or medium-rare.
  • Cover steak with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before carving across the grain.
  • Meanwhile, strain marinade into a skillet, add brandy and bring to a boil. If you cooked the steak on the stove top, reduce the sauce in the same pan, scraping up any brown bits. Reduce liquid to 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and whisk in cold butter.
  • Season to taste and serve over sliced steak.

    Photography by Sam Armocido

    Photography by Sam Armocido

Building a pantry.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

My love for cooking began, like so many long relationships, with a heated, passionate affair. I poured through cookbooks, unable to sate my newfound desire. Each new recipe, each new ingredient was a was an adventure I never knew existed. Like many affairs, it was also expensive.

Each new recipe required new oils, new spices. Each bottle of sherry vinegar, jar of cardamom and bag of arborio rice was another dollar (or $11) out of my pinched wallet. My mother, ever practical, suggested cooking with the ingredients I already had. Willful and young, I ignored her.

Eventually, I built a pantry. Using only a tablespoon per dish, that $10 bottle of walnut oil was on handwhen I needed it to toss with arugula and bleu cheese.

Getting a pantry started can seem daunting, and pricey. You can either dip a toe in the water, or jump off the deep end (which is exactly where my mother thought I had gone off). Either way, one day you will open your cupboard, delightfully surprised, and find everything right there.

Curried Fingerling Potatoes

There are a lot of ingredients here. Most of them are spices and they all go in the pan at once, simple and straightforward.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs ghee* or butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic. minced
  • 1 tbs mustard seed
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 cups quartered fingerling potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or Indian stock (see below)
  • 4-5 cups loose baby spinach
  • 1 tbs Chile Oil*
  • Sherry vinegar*

*Ghee is Indian clarified butter. Find it with international ingredients or other oils and cooking fats. We opened up our Sapore Oil and Vinegar cupboard, and used Merken Chile oil and Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Melt 2 tbs ghee in a 3 quart sauté pan. Add onion and cook until edges brown. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  • Add mustard and cumin seed. Cook for 2 minutes until mustard seeds begin to pop. Add remaining spices and cook for 30 seconds longer.
  • Add potatoes and stir through with spices and onion.
  • Add stock, stir and cover. Cook 15 minutes until the center of the potatoes is still firm when pierced with a knife. Uncover and cook until sauce is reduced to a thin sauce.
  • Add spinach and cover for 2 minutes.
  • Remove top, stir through wilted spinach.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, chile oil and sherry vinegar.

Indian Stock

This special stock adds additional richness to Indian-flavored dishes. You could also use it for soup with the addition of lightly browned pieces of carrot, potato and chicken.

Ingredients:
2 tbs ghee or butter
1 carrot, roughly chopped
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves

Directions:

  • Melt ghee in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and leek and cook until browned.
  • Add cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Cook for 1 minute more and fill with 8 cups water.
  • Simmer for 40 minutes and strain solids reserving stock.

Merry and light.

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Stuffed Cornish Game Hen My 70 year-old Aunt Stephanie joined us for the first Christmas dinner I ever cooked. Mom asked me to keep the menu light. While my youthful, iron-clad stomach couldn’t comprehend too rich a meal, I complied, serving Cornish Game Hen as the main course. Cracking open Cook’s Illustrated’s small, pink cookbook on holiday roasts, I prepared brined, balsamic-glazed hens that were moist and golden brown, filled with a wild rice stuffing.

Having cooked for fifteen on the 23rd, I was faced with a second, smaller Christmas dinner on the 25th. Without a recipe, I wandered bulk product in Whole Foods, picking up Israeli couscous, dried Turkish figs and apricots, and preserved lemons. It was a wonderful balance of sweet and tart, rich with couscous plumped with homemade stock. Drawing upon my stash from Spices, LTD – my spice hook up at North Market in Columbus, OH – their Aqua blend of candied lemon, dill and Sonoma sea salt brightened the flavors and added needed complexity.

Mom was happy, Aunt Stephanie would have been proud, and I hope Christopher Kimball would have been too.

Israeli Couscous stuffed Cornish Game Hen

Cornish Hens brine in only 2-3 hours, so you can start this dish the afternoon before your meal.

Ingredients:

Stuffed Cornish Game Hen with Aqua SaltFor hens:

  • 4 cornish game hens
  • 2-3 cups coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tbs cold butter

For stuffing:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 4 cups homemade vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup diced, dried turkish figs
  • 1/4 cup diced, dried apricots
  • 1/4 cup diced preserved lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh parsley
  • cayenne pepper
  • Aqua salt blend or coarse sea salt

Directions:

Brine Cornish Game Hens:

  • In a cooler or large pot, dissolve 2 cups salt in 2 gallons of water. Rinse hens thoroughly inside and out, under cold running water. Submerge in brine. As needed, add additional water and salt to cover. Add 6 cups of ice and set aside for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator or on the patio if you’re lucky enough to be spending the winter somewhere cold.

Make couscous stuffing:

  • While the hens brine, prepare the stuffing. Warm the oil over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan (use one that has a lid).
  • Add the onions and sauté until softened and translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add the turmeric, cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg, along with the dry couscous. Cook for five minutes until couscous is lightly toasted.
  • Add stock and turn heat to medium high. Bring the stock to a boil, cover and reduce to low. Let cook for 10-15 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Transfer couscous to a microwave safe bowl. Stir in chopped fruit and parsley. Season to taste with a pinch of cayenne pepper, black pepper and Aqua salt blend or coarse sea salt.

Cook Cornish Game Hens:

  • Remove hens from brine, rinse inside and out with cold water, and pat dry. Prick skin all over with the tip of a paring knife.
  • Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Whisk together balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Set aside.
  • Microwave stuffing until very hot. Fill the cavity with stuffing and secure the skin flap with trussing skewers and tie together the legs. You can secure the wings to the body with more string, but that seems like a lot of work and doesn’t make a huge difference with so small a bird.
  • Scatter onion, carrot, thyme and bay leaves in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place hens, breast side down and wings out, on top of a roasting rack set in the pan.
  • Roast 1: Roast hens, for 25 minutes, on a rack set in the middle of the oven.
  • Roast 2: Remove pan from oven, turn hens breast side up and legs out. Whisk vinegar and oil, and brush birds with the mix. Add two cups of stock to the bottom of the pan and return to the oven for 15 minutes.
  • Roast 3: Remove hens from oven and baste again with oil and vinegar mix. Return to oven a final time and roast until both stuffing and thigh register 165 on an instant read thermometer. Remove hens from oven and place on a serving platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Make pan sauce:

  • Meanwhile, place roasting pan on stove top and reduce pan juices to 3/4 cup. Strain juices into a small sauté pan and discard solids. Add white wine and any juices that have accumulated under the resting hens.
  • Reduce liquid to 3/4 cups, remove from heat and whisk in the cold butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve alongside hens.