Pork Chops with Fig Sauce

As spring has finally arrived in Chicago, the local markets have started changing their available produce. This has led to a lot of impulse buys for me, and grand plans for solitary meals. On one such day I happened to notice Trader Joes was selling frozen figs, and I thought to myself, I have never cooked with figs, I wonder what I could do

Image

 

As it turns out, the sweetness of figs goes quite well with pork, or so my local internet seemed to suggest, so I gathered the following ingredients to see what I could whip up

pork chops, mashed flat with a meat hammer (or a regular hammer wrapped in wax paper, whatever’s handy)
1 bag frozen figs and/or 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup low salt chicken broth from bouillon cube
1 tsp chopped thyme
cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper
1 cup red wine
1 tbsp minced garlic

According to one of my favorite DIY cookbooks, The Flavor Bible, all these pair together, and are pretty standard in most kitchens. Looking around I also saw my favorite cooking tool of the month

Image

The Trusty Skillet

My all purpose cast iron skillet. Perfect for Stovetop, oven, nonstick, evenly distributed heat, I have been playing with it all month for meat cooking.

Image

Season with Salt and Pepper, Sear on Med-High heat for 2 minutes

 

Put your skillet on high heat with the oil in for about 5 minutes to give it time to heat up, while simultaneously preheating your oven to 425. If you dont have the time or inclination to do a two step cooking process, you are missing out, but you can do this solely in the skillet. Once the pan is hot, season the chops with salt, pepper, and chile, then cook without turning 2 minutes on a side, flipping once

Image

Flip and sear for one additional minute, then toss into oven at 425 for 5 minutes

 

Once flipped, you should notice the golden brown sear above. Cook an additional minute on the stovetop, then toss the whole thing, skillet and all into the oven for 5 minutes. Once you remove the pork from the oven, take it out of the pan and set it aside to rest while you make the sauce

Image 

On to the sauce! First deglaze the pan with the red wine scraping all those juicy browned bits off the bottom for 1 minute. Then add the garlic, balsamic and figs roughly chopped. Cook for another minute and add 1 cup chicken broth and thyme and cook for about 5 minutes, steadily mashing figs until the broth is reduced by about 1/2. 

With the hardest part out of the way, Add the pork and any juices that have drained back into the pan along with a tablespoon of butter to help thicken the sauce and coat both sides. Then toss over some rice or veggies and voila

Image

 

Admittedly, Not my prettiest dish, but plating isn’t my strong suit, and the flavors were fantastic. Sweetness from the figs, savory from the pork, served over rice and red beans I had laying around and quite the filling meal resulted. In the future, I would use more pork, or less figs as the sauce to meat ratio was a bit large, but for ease of preparation (only had to buy pork and figs, everything else was around) and overall taste, this was truly,

…A Great Ingestion.

Broiled Spanish Mackerel-The 5 minute dinner

Image

 

It’s once again back to the mediterranean, as I remind myself that keeping it simple can often bring out more subtle flavors than an entire pantry full of gourmet spices. I had just picked up a deal on mackerel at the local japanese market, and decided to simply toss it with paprika, lemon, and olive oil

Image

 

Mackerel is a whitefish with several different species. I chose to cook spanish mackerel, which is also known as Aji in sushi restaurants. Above is not a sushi grade cut, but that’s okay as I decided to broil it. Each side was salted lightly with sea salt, then brushed with olive oil and paprika, with just a little bit of lemon squeezed on top before throwing it into the broiler close to the heat source for about 5-7 minutes

Image

When the fish is flaky and pure white, it is done. The taste of mackerel itself is meaty but light, and complements well with smoke and bitterness, which is why the addition of paprika, olives, and lemon are a perfect complement. Although I was too lazy to do the three color plate my mother taught me and make side dishes, some saffron rice or steamed broccoli would have made a nice addition to the above plate. No real need for improvements here, as this is an oldie but goodie from my learning to cook days

Truly, a great ingestion!

 

 

Winter Veggie Udon Noodle Soup (aka Polar Vortex Noodle)

Image

Ramen. Learning to prepare a hot cup of noodles is practically a college entrance requirement. Yet proper ramen, udon, soba, and all the various Japanese noodle dishes involves so much more. Early on in my cooking career, I experimented quite a lot with asian cuisine before finally settling firmly into the mediterranean region. With the polar vortex in full swing in Chicago, however, I decided it might not hurt to whip up a hot bowl of soup to stave off the chill. A few quick purchases from my quasi local asian market and I was ready to go

Prep

Mirin (a sweet rice cooking wine)
Tamari (my personal favorite brand) Soy Sauce
Sesame Oil
Rainbow Chard
1 bunch Scallions
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Image

If you are sitting around the house, this can be an all day affair, as you allow the dried Shiitake mushrooms to slowly absorb room tempurature water and release flavor in your nascent broth. I would periodically pull out the mushrooms and cut them into smaller and smaller pieces, squeezing excess water out of them. If you dont have that kind of time however, you can just boil the heck out of them for 20-30 minutes with a bouillon cube of your choice and achieve roughly the same effect. 

Image

When actually ready to start cooking (i.e. after 30 minutes of boiling mushroom broth or 3-4 hours of steeping it) Smash about 6-8 cloves of garlic with the flat side of a knife to release the sticky deliciousness, and toss it into your broth. Keep the broth on a constant medium heat once you start, as the more it reduces, the more concentrated your ultimate flavor will be in the end.

Image

With the flame on, about 1 hour int the cooking process, I tossed in the roots of the green onions, the stems of the rainbow chard, about 2tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of mirin and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil, along with just a tiny squeeze of lemon because I’m greek and am thus contractually obligated to include lemon in all my food. Keep your chard leaves and chopped green onion to the side for now, and just let the broth keep simmering on a low to medium heat for at least a total of 2-3 hours or when reduced to at most half of what you started with.

Image

In a separate pot, about 10 minutes before you ready to eat, boil water and drop in your udon noodles which cook for 4 minutes tops. Ramen and Udon are cooked separately from the broth, and placed in the bowl, then the broth is poured over. As a finishing garnish, sprinkle the top of each broth and noodle filled bowl with a handful of chopped chard and green onion. For added protein, I found a roll of pink fishcake (a mix of haddock and other whitefish that is pre-cooked and tossed into the broth about 2-3 minutes before serving. Then enjoy your warming broth

I realize the instructions here are rather sparse, but it’s soup, and more importantly, one of the earliest recipes I created on my own by experimenting with tastes and flavors I remembered from eating in other places. A quiz for my palate, as it were. So I encourage you to treat any good recipe like a science experiment…write down your results, and feel free to tweak them until you have created exactly the result you are looking for and you cant help but end up with…

A Great Ingestion!

 

Spanish Braised Monkfish

My preferred cuisine to cook these days is Mediterranean. Not only is it my heritage, but I enjoy the pairing of bitter and sweet, and the liberal use of alcohol in my cooking. Spanish Cuisine meets both of these goals admirably. Braising is a fantastic technique, because it loosely translates to letting food sit in alcohol on low heat for variable times. I picture my dinner getting drunk at a bar, then taking a siesta in my stomach.

So todays lunch consisted of a quick and easy braise of monkfish, which is occasionally referred to as the “poor mans lobster” for its meaty buttery flavor, although given the prices of monkfish these days, that is a blatant lie. However, you do get the taste without having to deal with the shell of a sea cockroach, so the trade off is worth it.

Image

 

We begin by playing the usual game of refridgerator roulette for produce. Today’s winners: baby portabella mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, onions, garlic, and almonds. To Add to the spanish flavor I used sherry and a touch of white wine, and my favorite bottle of greek olive oil, which will shortly need to be replaced

Image

The initial recipe I found, linked here called for 2tbsp of olive oil, a full chopped onion and bell peppers to be cooked on medium heat until the onions are soft. Having no peppers, I subsituted mushrooms, and cooked it until the frozen onions began to caramelize/brown. Next I added the garlic and about 1/3 cup sherry with a splash of white wine, letting it continue to simmer at medium heat for about one minute to sear those flavors into my produce.

You could, at this point add a cup of bottled clam juice, or if you have none available, feel free to skip this step entirely and let the whole dish simmer covered on low heat for 5-10 minutes depending on your available liquid in the pan.

Next, add the monkfish! Along with salt and pepper to taste, I used about 1/2 teaspoon of each, and a handful of tomatoes for color, along with some almonds for texture, because I watch too many cooking shows and find that balance of food sensations necessary. Then, cover it back up and simmer on low heat for another 10-12 minutes or until your fish is flaky and white the whole way through

Image

Voila! 20 minutes for great seafood lunch that would go perfectly over rice or pasta, or in my case, by itself. If you want it to look more appealing, use something red like peppers or tomatoes. If monkfish is too expensive for you, you can also subsitute cod, haddock, or any firm whitefish just for the halibut.

Local produce, Exotic Profile, Easy prep and cooking…I have to say this dish was

Truly, A Great Ingestion.

Slow Cooked Lamb with Root Veggies

There are a couple things you should know about me. The first is I am predominately Greek and Russian by food heritage. This means I like lamb, citrus, and the bitterness of olives…however my Russian side also enjoys a touch of sweetness to the palate, and not in dessert form.

The second is I recently bough a slow cooker and have been searching for things to do with it. A new market opened up walking distance from my apartment, and when I found a 1lb lamb sitting there looking all savory and delicious, I knew I had found a solution to my problem.

Image

That, my friends, is a 1lb boneless lamb roast purchased from Mariano’s market. It should, by itself be enough for 2-3 people with normal appetites, or 1 person who wants a lot of leftovers. Into the crockpot it goes, along with some leeks.

Image

 

Now as much fun as it was to take a leek into my crockpot, I was raised by my mother to know that it takes 3 colors to make a complete meal. So into the pot also went a handful of mushrooms, a sprinkling of carrots, and several thick slices of potatoes.

Image

Now that we have our basic aromatics and protein in place, onward to the fun part: customizing and spicing the dish. As I did not have any garlic cloves laying handily about (disappointing, I know), I elected in their place to use about a tablespoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of paprika for meat and potato seasoning. I also threw in a handful of trader joes dried cherries, and just a pinch of lavendar flower, because I like the smell, and i wanted to see what it would do with the meat. As slow cookers require a bit of liquid (more on this later) I opted to start with 3/4 cup of red wine and an additional 1/2 cup of water, which covered about the bottom inch plus of my slow cooker

Image

With everything thrown in, I set the slow cooker to 6 hours on low heat, covered it, and went off to read comic books and study, periodically checking back to make sure my liquid hadnt boiled out.

Image

Final Product Notes: A one pound lamb only requires about 5 hours, maybe 5 and a half on low heat to come out rare, whereas mine was a bit well done, but not overcooked. Also, I put in way too much liquid, fearful of burning the roast. 1/2 cup of broth or wine would have been sufficient, as the lamb will release its own juices and make the overall dish more flavorful. The cherries and lavender worked wonderfully, but overall due to the excess liquid, the dish was slightly on the bland side for my palate. 

Nonetheless, as winter dishes go, this covered everything available in my fridge, took about 10 minutes in the morning to prepare, and will feed me for a couple days in sandwiches or stews, so overall I would have to say that this was, truly,

…A Great Ingestion.

 

Hotel Cooking Adventures, Part 2

Several more days of soup, salad, and sandwiches have passed, and once again I found myself craving the taste of hot food, but repulsed by the idea of forking over $20 dollars for small town bar food. No, the challenge to continue eating like a good Californian raised hippie must continue.

Yet Man cannot live on fried rice alone, despite what Panda Express may wish you to believe. So it was time to raise the bar and turn once again to my trusty hotel appliances

Having already learned that the bottom section of A Mr Coffee can be utilized for boiling water (at about 1000W of power for you science geeks!) I decided to explore how effective the steam created from that water would be. Ergo, Step 1: Load the top section with some Broccoli, like so

Step 2: fill the carafe to the top, then pour it into the water heating section and run the device. In this particular model, the cycle had to be run twice, and probably could have used even a third time, but I was getting hungry.

Step 3: While my broccoli was steaming, I tossed a couple of pre-smoked chicken sausages in the microwave for about a minute. An alternative would have been to put them in the Carafe of the Mr Coffee and boil them like hot dogs for about 20 minutes…but like I said, I was hungry, and given that I have a microwave, I should make use of it.

A little salt and pepper looted from the hotel restaurant, along with a few mustard packets, and Voila! Steamed Veggies and Sausage, a more complex level of cooking in my hotel room and greater success.

Not quite great, but Truly, a Good Ingestion.

Hotel Cooking Adventures

Trial the first of the great hotel cooking experiment began today. I am Macgyvering a kitchen out of hotel appliances, partly for the enjoyment of the challenge, and partly because the idea of living off nothing but fast food and bar grub for 3 straight weeks literally and figuratively sickens me.

A tour of youtube and application of some of the basic principles of cooking inspired me to try Fried Rice for a first meal. Fair warning, I said nothing about exclusively healthy eating, just variety in the diet. Not to mention, rice is hard to screw up and does not pose a giant health risk if my plans fail

Step 1: Add rice, a couple of soy sauce packets from the local panda express and some pepper into the coffeepot

Step 2: fill with approximately 2 cups of water (in retrospect, I probably could have used a little more) and run the machine for approximately 25 minutes

Step 3: enjoy a tasty meal of fried rice that cost $1.

Feedback: It may have been the cheap rice or lack of an actual oven, but the dish was just a bit undercooked. In the future, I could add additional water, stir the rice to more evenly distribute the water, or leave it on the hot plate longer.

However, for an initial attempt to make a home cooked meal with nothing more than the material available in a standard hotel room, I would count this as a success. Perhaps not a Great Ingestion, but at the least an ingenious one which I will need more of in the days to come.

-JD