CHICKEN IS THE KEY TO MY WIFE’S HEART (AND OTHER RANDOM OBSERVATIONS)

I’m so glad it’s November.  Yes, I’m biased because it’s my birthday month—and this year, I get to share my birthday with Thanksgiving, which is maybe the best celebration mash-up I can imagine!—but I also feel like November comes as a much-needed sign post along the road, a reassurance and a relief: “You will make it to the end of the semester.”

chicken schwarma | Blue Jean Gourmet

October was a doozy and there were days I felt like I was drowning.  I am not someone who sees inherent virtue in being busy, but there I was, super-full plate and all cylinders firing, lists and schedules and ever-so-many Post-It notes.  I think it may just be the nature of the beast, of weaving book-writing into an already occupied life; I feel like I am operating at full capacity and it is exhilarating, exhausting work.  There is literally a green index card taped to my mirror with the word “DISCIPLINE” written on it in two-inch-tall letters.

This means, of course, that some things have had to go; not everything fits.  I’ve made several recipes in the past two months that I wanted to share here, but I never got photographs or a post together so I just kept a list of them on a virtual sticky note on my desktop.  But tonight, I had actually managed to prep dinner in the morning because I didn’t have to go in super-early because I actually already knew what I was doing in my classes today and because I actually wasn’t facing down a giant pile of grading (there’s a pile, still, but it’s medium-sized), so when Shiv & I came home, I was able to cook, catch up with Jill over a glass of wine, and take a warm sheet pan of chicken schwarma outside for her to photograph before we ate it up.  Which was very kind of her, as she had been looking forward to chicken-for-dinner all day.  Seriously, the woman loves chicken.  I don’t know that I appreciated to what extent, even, until very recently.  Almost fifteen years in and still learning about each other!  Ha.

This NYT chicken schwarma recipe is simple and very, very convenient—you can marinate it in your fridge for up to 12 hours before you plan to cook it, or for just 1 hour if that’s all you got—and it’s reliably tasty.  You can easily play with the quantities listed here and make a BUNCH of chicken to have on hand for leftovers, for which you will thank yourself later.  Also, if you’ve never cooked with chicken thighs, you should start; they are cheaper than chicken breasts and far less likely to dry out.

If you have the time/energy/inclination, you can trick this recipe out with lots of sides/accompaniments: a cucumber-and-onion salad or a tomato-feta salad or this marinated eggplant.  Put hummus out on the table if you’ve got some.  Or, if you need to keep things super-simple, just do 3 things: buy some pita bread, add carrots to the sheet pan along with the chicken and onion, and make a simple yogurt sauce while the chicken is cooking.  For the sauce, mince up a fat clove of garlic, stir it into 2 cups of plain yogurt, thin that with some fresh lemon juice, fold in a palm-full of chopped, fresh dill, then salt & pepper to taste.  Boom.  Done.

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A few more recommendations/endorsements—no pictures for these, so I guess you’ll just have to trust my good judgment!

* Cranberry harvest muffins – fresh cranberries went on sale at Costco a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t resist.  Instead of designating them all for Thanksgiving purposes, I hunted around for a muffin recipe that would taste like fall, even if it feels nothing like it around these parts.  Since I didn’t have any figs on hand, I ended up fudging a little—some applesauce here, some apricot conserves there—but they were delicious nevertheless.  Keeping this one in my back pocket!

* Saltie’s focaccia – this recipe has made several rounds around the internet, and for good reason.  There’s absolutely zero kneading involved—mix the dough, store it in the fridge overnight, then bake it off when you’re ready.  The result is chewy, salty, oily, and delicious.  This has become my go-to when I have to sign up to bring something to Shiv’s school for an event; the kids love it, and it doesn’t require a stop at the store for any special ingredients.

* Sweet potato pancakes – the original recipe calls for cooked & pureed butternut squash, but both times I’ve made it, I’ve used roasted, mashed sweet potato with great results.  I’ve also subbed in a combination of different flours for up to 1 cup of the AP: whole wheat, buckwheat, teff.  And while I haven’t made the maple butter that accompanies this recipe, we’ve found that plain maple syrup + butter works just fine.

Not food, and not sponsored, but an honest endorsement for the Headspace meditation app.  While it may sound contradictory to use an electronic device for meditation, I’ve found that the guided exercises on Headspace have really helped me solidify my practice and deepen its impact.  I love the various topical series that are offered: motivation, pregnancy, kindness, patience, creativity, focus, and anxiety, to name a few.  I’m currently halfway through the series on anxiety and can honestly say that it has made an appreciable difference in my quality of life.  And the sleep exercise is revelatory, especially if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep.

That’s all from me for now.  Our annual Diwali party is coming up this weekend, so I hope to be back before Thanksgiving with a post and some pictures from that.  In the meantime, I must go watch the most epic baseball game of the modern era!

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PORK CHOPS WITH BOURBON CREAM SAUCE

It happens about once a week; a woman approaches me in public to comment on my hair.

“I LOVE your hair!” “That hair looks so great on you.” “I’ve always wanted to do that!”

What’s funny is that I don’t actually have any hair—or rather, I have very little hair. I shaved it last summer and have kept it short ever since, using a #2 on the same clippers that Jill uses to cut Shiv’s hair.

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My relationship with my hair has a long and complicated history; if you know me, you know that I shaved my head once before, my freshman year of college, as a kind of experiment to see if I could pull it off, a test to see if I could actually be the kind of woman who would shave her head. Turns out I am, in fact.

There is a lot of cultural attachment to and significance placed upon women’s hair, its length and style and how hair correlates to femininity, attractiveness, and sexuality. For many years after my father died, I grew my hair out, keeping it long down my back, the way he had always wanted me to wear it. When Shiv was born, my hair became more of a nuisance than a pleasure, more about work than style, so I donated eight inches of it and transitioned back into the pixie cut I’d worn in high school.

Then last summer, I decided it was time to shave it all off again. There was no elaborate, profound reason—I simply wanted to. I was tired of dealing with my hair, of maintaining it and spending money on it and letting its relative cooperation or lack thereof—i.e., “bad hair days” dictate how I felt about myself on a given day. It didn’t feel like any kind of radical move to me at the time, except perhaps a kind of radical simplification. One less thing to deal with.

The fact that it’s only women—of all ages and colors—who compliment my hair is not lost on me. When I first cut it, the men in my life mostly made jokes about it; not mean jokes, just the kind of jokes that usually betray some sort of discomfort on the joke-teller’s part. Whereas men never seem to have to account for shaving their heads, the assumption is always that I should I have some sort of profound reason for cutting my hair, something noble or extreme; simply wanting to wasn’t enough. In the ultimate display of discomfort, Jill’s dad—standing in for my dad, who would have invariably done the same—offered unsolicited advice about “what a pretty girl” I was and how I “looked so much better” with longer hair.

I think I probably do look better with more hair, at least according to the beauty standards Jill’s dad was referring to, and by which I myself was raised. But it’s actually sort of comforting to be divorced from those standards to a certain extent—shaving my head is at least a partial way of opting out of the whole, exhausting game regarding products and styling and maintenance. To be sure, there’s still plenty left – skin care and make-up and fashion—but the shaved head has allowed me to step into a slightly different version of myself, one who cares a bit less about whether or not other people like her hair.  And that, along with not having to give it a single thought or moment of attention, feels fairly revolutionary.



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PORK CHOPS WITH BOURBON CREAM SAUCE

Source: Glen Boudreaux, Jolie Vue Farms (our meat CSA; Glen shared the recipe in one of this monthly newsletters)

If the name hasn’t sold you already, allow me: these pork chops are so. damn. good. Multiple steps notwithstanding, I have pulled this off for many a weeknight dinner, and would happily also set them in front of company. I’ve wanted to blog it for weeks now, but every time we make it, we devour it so thoroughly that there are never any leftovers to photograph! Luckily, we managed to hold back enough earlier this week to save one chop for the next day, when Jill generously snapped pictures of it, and its fellow leftover green beans, before eating it for lunch.

Shiv would like to add that this sauce is worth making if only so that you might dip slices of crusty, buttered bread into it. He’s not wrong.

ingredients:

2 bone-in pork chops, approx. 1” thick (I’ve used thinner chops as well as 4 smaller, boneless chops with success – simply adjust the cooking time as smaller/boneless chops won’t need as much time)*
3 large garlic cloves, 1 minced & 2 peeled but left whole
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 T Kosher salt (reduce if using table salt)
4 T butter, 2 T melted
1 cup beef, chicken, or vegetable broth
2 T bourbon (I have also subbed cream sherry when I was tragically out of bourbon)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 T heavy cream

*I have taken to brining pork chops 1-2 hours in advance of cooking them. It’s super simple, adds flavor, and ensures that the chops don’t dry out, especially if we’re grilling. Dissolve 2 T salt in 2 cups water, then add a couple of ice cubes to the brine to even out the temperature. Pour over chops, and throw in any flavoring agents you may have on hand: fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, or rosemary, half a squeeze lemon, peppercorns, star anise, bay leaves, etc. Even a 15 minute soak in brine makes a difference!

Dry the chops with a paper towel and place on a clean platter or cookie sheet. Combine the melted butter, minced garlic, thyme, black pepper, and Kosher salt, then brush the flavored butter all over the chops, allowing them to come to room temperature.
While you wait, bring your broth and whole garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan, then reduce heat to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the cloves are soft and the broth has been reduced by half, which should take about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and mash the softened garlic with a fork.

If you are cooking more than 2 chops, you’ll need to do so in batches – set your oven to “warm” or “low” and set a foil-lined baking sheet in the oven and keep an additional cookie sheet or piece of foil handy, so that you can cover the chops once they’re in the oven.

When you’re ready to cook the chops, heat a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high. Add the remaining 2 T butter and swirl to coat the pan. Sear the chops for 2-3 minutes on each side—you want a nice, brown color. Once you’ve browned both sides, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the chops are cooked through, which will take anywhere from 6-10 minutes, depending on their size/thickness. Make sure that you hear the chops sizzle as they cook; if they are quiet, that means the heat is too low and your chops are more likely to dry out.

Once the chops are cooked to your likeness, transfer them to a platter and tent with foil, letting them rest. (If you need to cook additional chops, transfer the first batch to the oven and cover them while you cook the second batch.) Now it’s time to make the sauce! Or snauce, as my friend Marynelle would say.

DON’T YOU DARE THROW OUT ANY OF THE GOODNESS THAT HAS ACCUMULATED IN YOUR SKILLET! That glorious liquid is crucial to making the bourbon sauce taste like heaven. In order to get all of the delicious tasty browned bits into our snauce, we need to deglaze the pan. So, return the skillet to medium heat and add your garlic-smushed broth; use a spatula to gently scrape and loosen all of the flavor at the bottom. Simmer until reduced by a third. Stir in the bourbon, simmer another minute, then whisk in the mustard and cream. Remove from heat and return the chops (plus any accumulated juices) to the skillet, turning to coat them in the snauce. Serve immediately!

Blue Jean Gourmet | pork chops with bourbon cream sauce

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POLENTA WITH LAMB BOLOGNESE

I wake up every morning grateful.

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In the few moments that it takes for my brain to make sense of my surroundings and calibrate to the time and place, I still experience a residual moment of panic, a kind of pre-dread, a preparing for dread.  But just as the knot is about to form in my stomach, it releases.  You’re okay, I realize.  There’s nothing to be anxious about.  Everything is actually fine.

This time last year I was struggling with the very sudden outset of very intense depression and anxiety.  When I woke up each morning, instead of the knot in my stomach loosening, it would tighten.  The start of each day was a struggle, as if I were deep inside a hole that I couldn’t see a way out of; on top of that, I felt wrong for feeling bad in the first place, as if I “should” feel better, “should” be able to muscle my way out of the situation.  And on top of everything else, I felt terror—deep terror—that I would always feel this way, that I would never get back to being—not even happy, just okay.  I’ve never been so scared of anything before or since.

I mention this not only to mark the anniversary of what I only half-jokingly call my breakdown, but also because I bet there is a fair chance that someone who reads, or will read this blog, has felt or is feeling the same way.  If that applies to you, I know that everything I say will ring at least a little bit false and hollow; I get that, I remember that feeling.  But please do me this one favor; do not be so stubborn as to resist asking for help.  You can’t fight this monster on your own.  You have to get out of the hole first, and there are people (and perhaps also chemicals, as is/was the case for me) that can help pull you out.  Once you’re out, you can do the work of figuring out how not to get back in.  But you’ve got to get out, first.

My story is not all that unique or even noteworthy, but I find, frustratingly, that despite what we know about brains and how they can go awry, we still as a culture stigmatize mental health in a way that I find baffling.  We have no trouble discussing our various physical ailments or seeking treatment for illness that beset the body, and so should it be, too, that we discuss and check up on our inner workings without shame or guilt.

If it’s not you, but someone in your life, who is struggling with anxiety and/or depression, please know that you can make a difference.  I honestly would not have been able to make it through those months without the unconditional love and support of Jill and my friends; never have I been more vulnerable or broken open, so in need of care.  By listening, by encouraging me to seek help, and by holding the possibility of feeling better when I could not hold it for myself—they each carried me through that time, reminding me of who I was when I had forgotten.  I’ll never forget the afternoon that dear friend Megan met me at my psychiatrist’s office for my first appointment.  She didn’t do much—brought me a coffee, sat in the waiting room while I met with the doctor, and walked me back to my car—but her presence made all the difference.

I wake up every morning grateful, almost breathless with gratitude on some days.  To not feel the way that I felt is a relief and a joy.  If you are not yet there yourself, I promise you there is a way.  I—and all those who care about you—will hold the space for you, until you arrive to claim it.

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POLENTA WITH LAMB BOLOGNESE

Polenta is one of my favorite party tricks for fall; tired of all the summer pastas and burnt out on quinoa, sometimes you just need something hearty and creamy and this is the ticket.  We love lamb in my family, but you could substitute ground beef, pork, or turkey based on your preferences.  You could also sneak some wilted greens (spinach, chard) into the sauce, if you’re feeling virtuous–we weren’t.

for the bolognese:

1 yellow onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, shredded
large handful baby portabella mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 24-oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes
¼ cup red wine
1 lb. ground lamb
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. dried parsley
salt & pepper
olive oil

for the polenta:

2 cups polenta
6 cups water
large pat of butter (~2 T)
salt

serve with: grated Parmiagano Reggiano

In large, heavy-bottomed pot (I used Jill’s grandmother’s cast-iron Dutch oven, as I do whenever I want to invoke good cooking ju-ju), brown the lamb—in batches if need be—over medium-high heat, with a bit of olive oil to avoid sticking, breaking the meat into clumps with a wooden spoon.

Once cooked through, turn the heat down to medium and use a slotted spoon to move the ground meat to a heatproof bowl, setting aside for later.  You’ll probably have quite a bit of lovely lamb fat in the bottom of your pot at this point; you may wish to leave it all there, but I chose to pour out all but about a tablespoon or so.  To this, I added a few generous glugs of olive oil and tossed in the onions & garlic, sautéing until very fragrant and translucent.  Stir in the carrot and mushrooms, cooking until both have given up their liquid and the entire mixture has reduced in volume, approximately 6-8 minutes.

Now, pour in that red wine—and feel free to pour some for yourself, too—and turn the heat down a bit, allowing everything to simmer until about half of the wine is gone.  From here, add the tomatoes, gently breaking them up with your spoon, and perhaps fill the empty tomato can with a bit of water and add that to the pot, too.

Return the ground lamb to the pot, season with oregano, parsley, salt, & pepper, and bring the sauce to a simmer.  Cover partway with a lid, off-setting it just a bit so that the sauce will reduce.  Cook for as long as you can—at least 45 minutes and up to several hours, knowing that the sauce gets better the longer it cooks.

About a half hour before you’d like to eat, make the polenta.  Bring six cups of salted water to a boil; add the polenta and stir vigorously, turning the heat down to medium-low.  Cover the polenta and allow it to cook, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired consistency; I find that 30 minutes is just about right for me, but you can let it go longer, as it will continue to thicken.

Before serving, stir in a knob of butter and also a bit of salt to taste.  At this point, your polenta will make a creamy bed, perfect for topping with your Bolognese.  Left alone, the polenta will firm up, but—this isn’t a bad thing!  Use it to your advantage by greasing a square pan with olive oil and pouring still-warm polenta into it.  As it cools, the polenta will harden, allowing you to cut it into squares and grill, pan-fry, or roast it in the oven.  I love a square of leftover polenta, browned in a pan with olive oil and topped with a fried egg & plenty of Parmesan cheese: the perfect savory winter breakfast!

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SLOW COOKER CARNITAS

There’s been a slew of slow-cooker talk among my friends lately, and I’m pretty sure this means that we’re all getting old.

slow-cooker carnitas | Blue Jean Gourmet

Don’t get me wrong, though–slow cooker old is not a bad kind of old; slow cooker old is practical and thrifty, and it’s practical and thrifty precisely because you’ve learned that these attributes are not nearly as un-cool as you thought in your naive youth.  Slow cooker old is the kind of old that means you have the wisdom to realize that you can’t actually plan out your whole entire life—the way you thought was possible when you were thirteen—but, that you can actually plan out your dinner ahead of time, prep it before you go to work, and sit at your desk with the knowledge that your food will be all but ready for you when you get home.  It’s a triumphant kind of old, this slow cooker age.  I like it.

My slow cooker is most often used to cook beans, make stock, applesauce or something similar (I did an apple/pear butter last week that Shiv loves), and to tackle larger cuts of meat, like this pork shoulder.  Like many others, I discovered the slow cooker in graduate school, when money was tight; the aforementioned beans & homemade stock were easy ways to feed myself cheaply, as were the less expensive cuts of meat that benefit from the long braise that a slow cooker provides.

Though I love to extol the virtues of the slow cooker, I’m far from an expert.  I know that there are many more ways I could be using it, and I’d love to hear from y’all about how you utilize yours.  Let’s have a slow cooker conversation that our younger selves would look upon in horror.

If I’m going to be a sellout, at least I get to bring these carnitas with me.

PS: I’ve updated ye olde book information page with links to a few new things!: a guest column I wrote for Memphis’ paper, The Commercial Appeal, and a video of the chapel talk I gave at my alma mater, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, last week.

 

SLOW-COOKER CARNITAS

As with pretty much all slow cooker recipes, this is more of a method than anything else.  The ratios what matter here, more than exact measurements, since what you’re going for here is essentially to cook the pork for a long time, with some liquid so it doesn’t dry out, and in the presence of whatever flavorings you’d like to impart.  Therefore, feel free to improvise; some folks I know use water instead of stock, and others apply the rub to the pork ahead of time.  Others cut the meat into chunks before putting into the cooker, but I didn’t find that to be necessary, given the size of my shoulder (if yours is lots bigger, you may want to give that a try, and you will probably need more liquid).

Some people buy boneless shoulders, but I always prefer to cook with a bone, because it adds so much flavor; trust me, you won’t have any trouble removing the bones when the meat is done cooking, because it’s basically going to fall apart (in the best possible way).  Finally, do NOT skip the broiling step; it’s what makes the carnitas taste like carnitas.

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ingredients:

1 pork shoulder roast (also called “pork butt”) – mine was right at 2 lb., bone in
2 cups chicken stock
juice of one orange
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. ancho chili powder
½ tsp. chipotle chili powder
½ tsp. salt

Combine the cumin, oregano, chili powders, & salt in a small bowl.  Rub all over the pork shoulder before placing the shoulder in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Cover the shoulder with sliced onion & garlic; pour liquid around the shoulder, cover and cook on “low” for 10 hours.

When you’re ready, remove the shoulder from the slow cooker and shred with a fork, removing any bones (but not the fat! ).  Scatter the pieces in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until little bits and pieces of the pork begin to brown and crisp up.

Serve with tortillas and the accompaniments of your choice.  Ours were: queso fresco,  guacamole, pickled red onions, & fresh salsa.

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LAMB-STUFFED EGGPLANT

Let me start by saying that I am not here to cast aspersions in wide swath or make pronouncements or tell anyone what to do.  I’m just trying to tell the truth about things—my things—to myself, but also aloud, because when I write here, it allows me to work things out from a often-jumbled start to a kinda-sorta finish.  And from time to time I hear from a reader, someone who says that my sharing has made a difference for them, so I figure I’m going to keep doing it.

lamb-stuffed eggplant | Blue Jean Gourmet

Three weeks ago, Jill and I flew to Santa Fe to spend three luxurious nights, just the two of us, in the beautiful vacation home of a friend.  We slept in, people-watched at the Saturday market, drove many miles through the stunning, quick-changing landscape, went out for nice dinners, read books, rode horses, climbed a seven-hundred-year-old pueblo, and had the most amazing spa experience of our lives.  It was magical and decadent, but what made it magical and decadent wasn’t actually any of the things listed above.

It was the quiet.

I am not so good at being quiet; it’s not my default setting.  So when Jill and I set out for an all-day’s driving adventure, heading out of Santa Fe toward the mountains, I fiddled with the dial of the rental car radio, looking for music.  (I always listen to music when I drive, unless I am listening to NPR or an audiobook/podcast.)

“Could we not listen to anything today?” my introvert and cultivator of silence requested.  “Or at least classical or something without words?”

I resisted.  It was a visceral, not intellectual response.  I could appreciate the idea in theory, even see its rightness, but it made me, quite literally, physically uncomfortable.  I honored Jill’s request and was squirmy for a while, annoyed.  Then, as we drove and drove, the absence of music metamorphosed into the presence of silence.  I started to relax; I turned off my phone.  The temperature dropped fifteen degrees as we changed elevation, so we rolled down the windows and listened to the sound of the tires on the highway we had mostly to ourselves.  It was glorious.

Allow me to make a bold statement; the way we live is kind of nuts.  Or perhaps more precisely, the way we are expected to live is nuts.  And what’s really nuts is how we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not nuts, because so many of us are doing it that it seems normal, the way things are.  The way, even, perhaps, that they are supposed to be.

I am not one of those people who thinks technology is evil; far from it.  Technology isn’t the problem, it’s our (my) relationship to technology that’s the problem.  We joke about “being addicted” to our phones, but—aren’t we?  Facebook and Twitter have both, in distinct ways, been valuable in my life, to connect with friends, meet new ones, and be exposed to and share all kinds of interesting things, but I place too much value on them.  I check them obsessively; there is some irrational part of me that equates my self-worth with the number of responses I get (or don’t get).  While I love the immediacy of being able to send a text message or an email, I don’t love the “timer” it sets off in my head of “Why haven’t they written back?”

When did we decide that we have to respond to everything right away, as if the world would end if we didn’t?  And why do I feel like every beautiful meal or item that appears in my kitchen needs to be photographed and shared, as if to prove to everyone that I have beautiful things in my kitchen, so therefore I am worthy?  There is the sharing that springs from the genuine desire to share, and then there is sharing that comes with a sharp attachment, a desire for affirmation and validation; I do not think our “everything on display all of the time” fishbowl culture brings out the best in me, mental-health wise. (See also: “Is somebody saying something awesome about my book on the internet right now?  They aren’t?  Why aren’t they???”  And so on.)

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Lest I’m misrepresenting, it isn’t as if I have some kind of scary, bad issue that interferes with my life; I play with my kid (a lot).  I have face-to-face conversations, interact with other human beings “live,” think about other things, get work done, and am generally quite happy.  But in spending those hours in Santa Fe “unplugged” from my usual, digital routine, and in subsequently returning to that routine, I have felt the cost of it much more.

My ability to be present—to just be—is rusty.  I’m accustomed to constantly distracting myself: sliding the arrow to unlock my iPhone and see what updates it may have for me.  I’m all for goofing off sometimes, but, my God, think of what I could do with all of that time added up!  More books, more sleep (heck yeah), more writing.

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water here, and I don’t believe in giving things up cold turkey.  But I want the experience of glorious quiet, of long hours for my thoughts to swirl and then settle, of a contentedness that comes from being plugged into things that really matter (hint: it’s not how many people liked my photograph on Instagram), and not just once a year when I’m on vacation.

So I’m going to turn off my phone more often: a lot more often.  I’m working on taking better care of myself in general, and this is one very big piece of that.  I’m pretty excited to see what happens.

Before I forget: I made a designated page for The Pomegranate King, where you can find information about purchasing the book, links to reviews/press, and details about upcoming readings & signings (Houston: August 19 & Memphis: September 26!)

STUFFED EGGPLANT WITH LAMB AND PINE NUTS
very slightly adapted from the Jerusalem cookbook

Also on the list of “things that make me better when I do them” is caring for others.  Thinking about someone other than myself, and contributing to that person in whatever way I can is one of the quickest ways I’ve found to pull my head out of my ass and get some perspective.

There’s a line from an old Indigo Girls song: “Here in the South, we fix something to eat.”  And indeed, no matter the occasion, it’s what we do.  My friend Ruthie just had a new baby boy, so after Jill, Shiv, & I enjoyed half of this eggplant, I took the other half over to her.

Notes: I had big ole’ eggplants on hand from the Farmers Market, but I think you could substitute smaller ones easily; because mine were so big, they required two roasting pans.  Jill is not a fan of cinnamon in large doses, so I cut back on the amount in the spice mix and did not place whole cinnamon sticks at the bottom of the roasting pan (the original recipe calls for 1 T cinnamon & 4 cinnamon sticks).  Finally, my eggplants cooked through in about half the suggested time than the recipe calls for, and because I wasn’t paying close attention, my sauce all but dried out.  Next time, I’ll preemptively add more water (a whole cup) to the pan at the start.

lamb-stuffed eggplant | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

3 large eggplants, ends trimmed & halved lengthwise
1 lb. ground lamb
2 small onions, finely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 ripe tomato, diced
3 tsp. superfine sugar (I ground regular sugar in my mortar & pestle)
2/3 cup water
1 T sweet paprika
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
juice from ½ a lemon
1 tsp. tamarind paste
olive oil
salt & pepper

oven: 425°

Nestle the eggplant halves, skin side down, into a large roasting pan or pans.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Roast for ~20 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temp to 375°.

While eggplants roast, make the lamb stuffing by heating 2 T olive oil in a large frying pan.  Stir together the cumin, paprika, & cinnamon and add half of this spice mixture to the pan, reserving the other half for later.  Add the onions to the spice mixture and cook over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the lamb, pine nuts, parsley, tomato, 1 tsp. of the sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and some black pepper to the pan.  Continue to cook and stir until the meat is cooked through, about another 8-10 minutes.

Blend the remaining spice mix with the water, lemon juice, tamarind, remaining 2 tsp, sugar, & ½ tsp. salt.  Pour this into the bottom of the eggplant roasting pan(s).  Spoon the lamb mixture generously on top of each eggplant.  Cover your pan(s) with foil, return them to the oven, and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the eggplants are completely soft.

If you are feeling up to it, you can check the eggplants a few times and baste them with the sauce at the bottom of the pan.  However, you may have a one year old to chase after/dance around the kitchen with, in which case this dish will still taste good even if you don’t baste.

Serve warm.  We cooked up a batch of bulgur to go alongside, and that worked nicely.

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OSSO BUCO MILANESE

What a damn week it’s been.

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As a middle school teacher, I hear a lot of bullshit about “kids these days.”  You know: they’re so lazy, they’re so entitled, they’re addicted to their phones, they’re ignorant, they lack the most basic kinds of skills, they always want the easy answer.

These things may be true, at least to some extent, in regards to some kids—but when I look at the way the Boston Marathon bombing played out this week, it wasn’t kids who were guilty of those things.  It was grownups.

I want so many things for my students, and in this world in which they are coming up, I most especially want them to be able to think for themselves.  I want them to be thoughtful consumers of media.  I want them to question; I want them to know what it means to have a reliable source.  I want them to understand the dangers of jumping to conclusions, of lumping people into categories, of not bothering to do the research so you mistake one country for another.

There is always danger, but there is also, always, beauty.  Alongside the speculation and false reports came symbols of defiance and stories of courage; though there were many who reported or tweeted or posted things before checking to see that they were true, there were also many who spoke as voices of reason, who reminded us of how we do things around here, of what gives us the right to sing our national anthem so proudly.

It’s a question, you know, that last line—“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”  It’s not a statement.

I discussed this with my kids on Friday.  When people talk about this line, they usually refer back to the fact that Francis Scott Key was literally looking to see if the American flag was still flying over Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812.   And ever since then, we still look for the physical presence of our flag for reassurance, whether it be that famous photograph taken on Mt. Suribachi at the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima or the raising of the flag post-9/11 by firefighters standing amidst rubble.

It means something to us when our flag flies, or when it flies at half-mast.  It is a reflection of us, of our spirit, or zeitgeist.  And when we ask if that star-spangled banner yet waves, we are not simply asking about a piece of fabric; we are asking if we will remain committed to being who we have said that we will be.  We are reminding ourselves and each other to stay true to who we are: the land of the free and the home of the brave.

 

OSSO BUCO MILANESE WITH SAFFRON ORZO
recipe slightly adapted from Mario Batali via Food & Wine

Osso buco is traditionally made with veal, but we used pork shanks the local meat share we receive once a month from Jolie Vue Farms.  We love our Jolie Vue share for many reasons, but one that I didn’t anticipate when signing up was the way it’s made me a better cook.  Instead of starting with a recipe and going out to buy what I need, I receive different cuts of pork, beef, & chicken each month, and learn to make meals around them.  I’ve learned to cook and enjoy things that I never would have otherwise, including osso buco.

This is an involved dish (more time-consuming than anything else), but the results are pretty stunning.  Braised dishes are great for company, because once you put it in the oven, you’re pretty much done.  Just plan to budget at least 3 hours from the start of your prep to actual serving time (a bit longer if you plan to make your own tomato sauce).

If you plan to make saffron orzo to go alongside, wait until your meat is completely cooked, then remove it from the oven and leave it covered while you cook the orzo.  That way, everything will be nice and hot—but not too hot—and ready to serve at once.  Top the osso buco with the gremolata just before serving, and don’t skip it!  The texture from the pine nuts and flavor of both the lemon zest and parsley add so much to the overall taste.  As you can see, even the smallest member of our household was a fan.

osso buco baby | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the tomato sauce:

This recipe makes more than the two cups called for in the osso buco recipe,  but there are many, many things you can do with the leftovers: make pasta or pizza with it, poach eggs in it for breakfast, gift it in a mason jar to your neighbor, etc.

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup finely shredded carrot
1 T finely chopped thyme
Two 28-oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices
salt

Heat oil in a large saucepan until shimmering.  Add onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened and just starting to brown, stirring occasionally.  Add carrot and thyme and cook, stirring, for another five minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes, along with their juices, and break them up with back of your spoon.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until thickened and reduced in volume, about thirty minutes.  Season with salt.

for the meat:

2 ½-3 lb meaty pork shanks cut into 3”-thick pieces
all-purpose flour
salt & pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Prep the shanks by drying them thoroughly with paper towels, seasoning both sides generously with salt and pepper, and dusting all over with a light coating of flour.  Heat the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole until shimmering.  Add the shanks and cook over medium-high heat, turning to brown on all sides.  You want them to get a nice, dark sear, so this step should take 10-15 minutes.

Once browned, transfer the shanks to a plate.

for the braise:

1 yellow onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 celery rib, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 T chopped, fresh thyme
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce (use jarred or see below)
2 cups chicken stock
salt & pepper

My shanks didn’t yield an overly large amount of fat, but you can spoon some out of your casserole if you’ve got more than a few tablespoons.  Cook the onion, carrot, celery, and thyme over medium heat, stirring, until softened.  Add the wine and bring the mixture up to a boil, scraping the bottom of the casserole to remove any fond (a.k.a tasty brown bits).

Simmer until the wine has reduced by half, then add the tomato sauce and chicken stock and once again bring to a boil.  Place the shanks back in the casserole, plonk on the lid, and slide the whole thing into the oven.

Braise for between 2-2/12 hours, until the meat is very tender and easily falls away from the bone when pressed with a fork.  Once it’s ready, remove it from the oven but keep it covered while you make the orzo (see below) and gremolata.

osso buco close-up | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the gremolata:

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, minced
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Toss the above and sprinkle over the osso buco just before serving.

for the saffron orzo:

2 cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups orzo
generous pinch of saffron threads
1 T olive oil
salt

Heat the stock in a heavy-bottomed pot until it’s too hot for your finger.  Remove from heat and add the saffron, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Return the pot to the heat and bring up to a boil again, then add the orzo.

Stir occasionally until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 7-8 minutes.  Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.

FRIED RICE

This fall, I had kind of a breakdown.

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

That sounds melodramatic, I know, but I’m pretty sure it’s the correct word for what I experienced: breakdown as in things no longer working, as in a sudden onset of intense, uncontrollable, and never-before-experienced anxiety and sadness.  Mid-October to mid-January was a very tough period of time for me, scary and exhausting and surreal.  With the help of Jill, my friends, my counselor, and a psychiatrist, I am relieved and grateful to say that I made it to the other side.

Surviving a breakdown is like getting the world’s loudest existential wake-up call.  The absence of pain is a tremendous feeling, and I came out of it knowing one thing for certain; I never want to do this ever, ever again.  So then came the task of figuring out how to keep that promise to myself.

The more I looked, the more it became clear to me that my old identity was no longer working; thirty years of goal-oriented living and it was time to reevaluate who I was, what I cared about, and how I approached my daily life.  Everything was up for grabs, which totally terrified me. What if I was something other than a constant parade of comparisons and achievements?  Who was I underneath all of that?

Figuring out these things doesn’t happen all at once.  I’ve learned that I don’t have to have to make all of my decisions right this minute; I am planning less and less these days, in fact.  At the most, I think a few days ahead, finding meaning, worth, and value in each day instead of anticipating some future point where everything will magically come together and I’ll have my life figured out and lined up neat and pretty.

As I spend more and more time on this side of my breakdown, I find there is, in fact, something quite freeing about doing things very, very differently than I did before.  Freeing to let go of old models and expectations, freeing to give myself permission to relate to myself and my life in a new way.

It turns out that the pieces I thought made me who I am, the things I was holding onto so tightly, the pieces I was so attached to and so convinced I would fall apart without—none of those are really me.  And they aren’t the things that everyone else in my life saw as being me all along.  Turns out what they love is something else altogether, an essential part that can’t be screwed up, even when I am kind of a mess.

It turns out that I can take a container of hummus that I did not make myself to book club and it won’t upset the balance of the universe.   It turns out that who I really am is enough.

It’s a brave new world, my friends, and I’m glad to be in it.

FRIED RICE WITH BANH-MI STYLE MEATBALLS

Fried rice is one of my favorite weeknight dishes; like a frittata, it’s a great way to use up leftovers without feeling like you’re, well, eating leftovers.  A few months ago, I tried this method for making good fried rice great, and I’ve been following its instructions ever since.  The directions may seem extensive, but it’s really just a matter of being prepared ahead of time—having everything chopped and ready to go so that you don’t have to pause once you get your pan (or wok) hot.

This time, instead of cooking meat as part of the rice, I made banh-mi style pork meatballs separately and then incorporated them into the rice.  You could also use these meatballs to make homemade banh mi (mmm!) or serve them over noodles instead of rice.  They are very flavorful and freeze well, too!

fried rice | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the meatballs:

1 lb. ground pork
½ of a small or ¼ of a large onion, diced
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
½ jalapeno, minced
1 ½ T minced ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 T corn or potato starch
1 T fish sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
a few squirts of sriracha (optional)

Combine the above ingredients, preferably with your hands.  Form meatballs of whatever size you choose (I went for 1 ½ inches in diameter).  You can complete this step in advance and refrigerate the meatballs, covered, until ready to cook.

When you’re ready to cook the meatballs, heat your oven to 350°.  Cover a deep, heavy-bottomed pan with a layer of oil—I use canola, with a small amount of sesame oil for flavor—and heat the oil until shimmering.  Pan-fry the meatballs in batches, turning them to brown on all sides.  Place the browned meatballs on foil-lined baking sheets and cook in the oven for an addition 10-12 minutes, until cooked through.

for the fried rice:

I used what we had on hand around the house—feel free to substitute any vegetables hanging out in your fridge.

3 cups cold, leftover rice
2 leeks, washed and cut into thin half-moons
~1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and diced
1 red bell pepper. diced
handful of crimini mushrooms, diced
2 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inches ginger, minced
1-2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. soy sauce
fish sauce (to taste)
handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
canola oil

Cook the egg first.  Heat about a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat until hot.  When it’s ready, pour in the beaten egg and stir it constantly until fluffy and cooked.  Turn out into a large bowl and wipe out your pan.

Add another tablespoon of oil and let it get shimmery before adding the raw, non-aromatic vegetables (bell pepper, peas, mushrooms).  Toss them around until they are tender but still crisp—I like to err on the side of undercooked, because they’ll ultimately be added back to the pan at the end and receive a bit more heat.  Turn the cooked veggies out into the bowl with the egg.

Add another splash of oil to the pan and get it hot again.  If using meatballs or another fully-cooked meat, just toss it around in the pan to get it nice and hot (and to render some of the flavor out into the pan).  If you are using raw meat, fully cook it before adding it to bowl with the already-cooked egg.

Pour in a few more tablespoons of oil to the pan and wait until it shimmers.  Add the leeks and sauté until they begin to soften; then toss in the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring regularly, until very aromatic and just beginning to brown.
Next, add the rice all at once, breaking up any large clumps and tossing it around in the hot oil.  Stir fry until the rice starts to look dry and the individual grains separate.  Season with a pinch or two of salt.

Now, turn the contents of the egg-vegetable-meat bowl into the hot pan.  Stir gently to combine, then make a well in the center of the pan and add the liquid seasonings—rice wine vinegar, soy, and a few shakes of fish sauce.  Incorporate the bubbling liquid into the rice, stirring and tossing everything until the rice looks dry again.

Remove your pan from the hot burner and top with chopped basil.  Serve hot.

GRILL, BABY, GRILL

Instead of some long-winded post about Memorial Day grilling, the siren call of summer in the near-distance, the fact that I have only one week of school left, etc., I’m just going to let Jill’s photographs speak for themselves.

Steak + anchovy-garlic butter.

Grilled broccoli + lime-honey butter.

You may not know it yet, but compound butters are your friend.  Mix them up, roll them in a sheet of waxed paper, and keep the log in the freezer for when you need a little hit of flavor and fancy.  That simple, with practically endless permutations.

Just do it.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

ANCHOVY GARLIC BUTTER

adapted from Epicurious

I always make a whole stick’s worth of this stuff and keep it in the freezer, because it’s fabulous on any kind of grilled meat, especially steak or salmon. If you like, though, you can easily cut this recipe in half.

ingredients:

1 stick good-quality unsalted butter
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T anchovy paste
juice & zest of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients with a spoon until combined.  Use to top grilled meats and vegetables or toss into pasta.

LIME HONEY BUTTER

We grilled broccoli for the first time because of this recipe in Food & Wine, and I can promise you that we will be grilling it all summer—the stems retained their snap, while the florets charred deliciously in places—even better than roasted broccoli (a previous favorite), with the bonus of not having to turn on the oven!

To grill the broccoli, just trim the stems a little and cut it into large “branches.”  Drizzle with olive oil before grilling over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, then toss with the lime-honey butter while still warm, and top with queso fresco or feta.

This butter would also be killer with grilled corn or fajitas.  Feel free to ramp up the Tabasco level as you see fit!

ingredients:

1 stick good-quality unsalted butter
1 T chipotle Tabasco*
1 ½ tsp. honey
juice & zest of 1 big lime
pinch of salt

Mix the ingredients together with a spoon until combined.  If making ahead, store in the refrigerator or freezer before using.

*We only had regular Tabasco on hand, so I used ½ tsp. of that and added a ½ tsp. of the sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo.

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FATHER’S DAY 2011: KEEMA HAND PIES

In some alternate world in my mind, I am going to be making these meat-filled pies for my dad.  He’ll sneak into the kitchen after his afternoon nap, grabbing a pie before he’s really supposed to, consuming it while it is still impossibly hot, and grin in that way I hope I will never, ever forget.

This week, I was given the opportunity to write a Father’s Day post for Desi Living, a Houston-based blog dedicated to exploring the Indian-American experience.  It was, as it always is, powerfully difficult but tremendously rewarding to write about my dad.  Between that piece and the first longer essay published here on the blog, it’s been quite a week for sharing writing; it feels so good, in no small part thanks to enthusiastic responses from so many of you.

And while I wish so badly that I could celebrate with my own father today, I have to say there is no shortage of incredible men in my life: some who have eagerly and chivalrously served as my surrogate fathers, many whom I admire tremendously for being thoughtful and dedicated in their parenting, a handful who are about to become dads for the first time!, and a group that we are counting on to serve as father figures for the child we hope to bring into our life soon.

I know not everyone has a rosy relationship with their own dad, but I hope that everyone can think of at least one man they know who is a father or father-figure worthy of acknowledgment.  Call him up, and tell him so.  Happy Father’s Day out there!

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: KEEMA

If you, like me, are always looking for something new to do with ground beef—voila.  The flavors in keema are fantastic and addictive; if you like, you can add some frozen peas at the end of the cooking process for a traditional take.

What to do with your keema once you’ve made it?  Well, you can fold it into scrambled eggs, serve it with naan or rice, spoon it on top of baked potatoes, combine it with wanton wrappers and fry some samosas, or make meat pies like I did.

I used this Rose Levy Beranbaum recipe for pie crust, subbing in half whole wheat flour for added heft.  I rolled the dough out ¼” thick, cut it into rectangles, filling one with keema, then topping it with a corresponding dough piece.  A crimp along the edge with a fork, a brush with egg wash, and a decorative studding with sunflower seeds, then 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Admittedly, Beranbaum’s recipe is pretty fussy, but if it does yield fantastically flaky pastry.  If you’re not up for the trouble, you might try this empanada dough or (shh, I won’t tell!) use pre-made pie or pizza dough.

Last but not least, if you’d like some chutneys to go with your meat pies, I’ve got a couple of recipes for you (one for cilantro chutney, the other for tamarind) over here.

ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef or lamb
1 medium onion (red or yellow), diced
2 T ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup tomato sauce
1 ½ tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. cayenne, if you want some heat
pinch turmeric
vegetable oil
salt

fresh cilantro

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Once the oil is shimmery, add the cumin seeds and listen for the hiss that means they’re cracking.  Toss in the pinch of turmeric, then the onion, ginger, & garlic.  Turn the heat down a bit to medium-low and sauté until translucent.

Add the ground beef and break up large clumps with the back of a big spoon or spatula.  Up the heat to medium-high and cook until the meat browns, no traces of pink remaining, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the ground spices and turn the heat down to low.  Add the tomato sauce and stir, cooking until the sauce is completely incorporated into the meat mixture and looks “dry.”

Remove from heat and garnish with chopped cilantro.

GUEST POST: PANKO-CRUSTED PORK CHOPS

Within forty-eight hours of me tossing out the idea of guest blogging to my friend Marynelle, she had sent me her first post  That’s just the kind of woman she is—capable, generous, incredibly witty and wicked smart.  She’s been my friend for a l-o-n-g time and I am thrilled to have her blogging for me this week!

Not only is her writing voice fantastic, this pork chop recipe is, too.  For the photographs, you’ll see that I use boneless pork cutlets, which are thinner than chops, but the taste was still delicious.  As a side, I cooked some Farmers’ Market chard, adapting this recipe from Sprouted Kitchen.


There Will Be Other Pork Chops

I’ll be straight with you up front—I have no culinary credentials.  I am the Novice of Beginners.  My favorite thing to make is dip, because the preparation generally involves only chopping and stirring, thus evading the “applying heat” step of cooking that could result in undercooking (AKA salmonella) or overcooking (AKA burning down the house).  While Nishta ending up with her own Food Network show is a colorable possibility, my doing so is not.  Not least because I can’t chop fast enough.

Now that I’ve been sufficiently self-deprecating, you’re probably wondering what exactly I’m doing here.  It’s like a headline from The Onion:  Ivy-League-educated lawyer manages to cook herself a pork chop without setting off smoke alarm.  So what?  How does this earn me a guest blogger spot on an award-nominated food blog?  The point is that I have started to cook.  Regularly.  And my food usually tastes good.  I’m here to give a nudge to those of you who are, like me, at the preschool stage of cooking and might like a little hand-holding.

I have the worst personality type for cooking:  I’m a Type-A perfectionist who is a stickler for precision and has logged far too many hours watching cooking shows.  This means that I attempt to following recipes to the letter, even if I have to make three trips to the grocery store (substitutions are scary) and measure things like how much parsley I’ve chopped.  I want all pieces of my diced onion to be exactly the same size.  I want to know precisely how many minutes I should sauté the onion.

I had lots of other reasons for not cooking.  It’s a pain in the ass to cook for one person.  The leftover ingredients go bad and then I have to throw them away, which is a waste of money.  There’s not enough room in the refrigerator because I have three roommates.  My kitchen tools are cheap.  I’m in law school.  I’m never home.  I don’t have time.

But it was really about the perfectionist thing.  I get frustrated when my version doesn’t look like the one on TV.  I do not like it when I am not innately good at something.  What if it doesn’t taste amazing the very first time I make it?  Well, clearly, I have failed as a human being and should be smitten from the earth.

I decided a few months ago that cooking for myself was within my grasp.  I mean, I graduated from law school with honors.  I passed the bar exam.  I should be able to cook a pork chop.  All those reasons I had for not cooking started to resolve themselves.  I finished law school, I no longer spend weekends at my now-ex-boyfriend’s place (where preparing anything other than pasta and scrambled eggs required considerable effort and big trip to the grocery store), and I work from home.  I buy staple ingredients and basic proteins and then figure out what to do with them, rather than buying stuff to make one particular recipe.  (Recipes from Blue Jean Gourmet are exceptions.)  I cook for my roommates instead of just for me, which creates the added bonuses of dinner-table company and confidence-boosting compliments as well as constructive feedback.  (For the record, we’ve had no problems with salmonella to date, and the house is still standing tall.)  And since I spend many, many hours a day staring at a computer screen, the TV screen is a lot less appealing than it used to be.  Doing something with my hands while singing along to Bruce Springsteen is more fun.

But what if I didn’t chop the parsley fine enough?  What if I put too much oil in the pan?  What if it doesn’t taste amazing?  Most of the time, it still tastes pretty good.  And if not—there will be other pork chops.

PANKO-CRUSTED PORK CHOPS

This recipe comes from the Whole Foods Market website, the result of intrepid Googling.  I generally figure out what to do with my proteins by running a search on Tastespotting, Food 52, Epicurious, etc. and look for a recipe that consists primarily of ingredients I already have and looks relatively simple.  “Relatively simple” for me usually translates to (1) chopping (2) mixing/stirring, and (3) cooking in one pan or dish, either on the stovetop or in the oven.  Also, don’t be embarrassed to measure, even though you know the amount doesn’t have to be precise.

You’ve got to learn what half a cup looks like somehow.

ingredients:

1/3 cup flour
Salt & pepper to taste (for me, about ½ tsp. salt & ¼ tsp. pepper)
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
1 T water
¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
2 T finely chopped parsley (or 1 tsp. dried parsley)
1 T fresh thyme, chopped (or ¾ tsp. dried thyme)
[Note: 1½ tsp. herbes de provence would work too]
4 boneless pork chops
2-3 T canola oil (enough to cover the bottom of a large skillet)

Combine flour, salt, and pepper on a plate.  Combine mustard, honey, and water in a bowl – you’ll be dipping the pork chops in it, so add a little extra water if it seems thick.  Combine bread crumbs and herbs on a plate.  Line the plates up in that order—flour, mustard, breadcrumbs—and put an empty plate at the end for the breaded chops.

Dredge pork chops in seasoned flour to coat, then shake off excess.  Dip pork chops in mustard and drain excess.  Dredge chops in breadcrumb mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

Preheat a skillet large enough to fit all four pork chops.  (I don’t use nonstick for this, partly because it doesn’t brown as well and partly because my nonstick skillets are too small.)  Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, about 1-2 minutes.  Cook pork chops 6 minutes per side.  If the coating starts to look a little dark, lower the heat to medium.

MUSTARD-CREAMED CHARD

This side dish originally calls for a topping of breadcrumbs, but given that I was serving them with crumb-crusted pork, I opted out.  I also substituted buttermilk for half-and-half, because that’s what I had on hand, and I really liked the tang that it brought to the greens.  Just be sure to keep the heat very low so you don’t curdle the liquid.

ingredients:

1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves rinsed & rough-chopped (save the stems for pickling!)
1 ½ T Dijon mustard (or any spicy, whole-grain mustard)
¼ cup buttermilk or half & half
salt & pepper

Wilt the chard in a large skillet, using a bit of water and a lid.  As soon as the chard has wilted down, remove the lid and cook off any remaining water.  Turn the heat down to low and add Dijon mustard and buttermilk/half & half.  Stir and cook everything together just a few minutes to thicken.  Remove from the heat, season with salt & pepper, and serve.

 

 

Marynelle Wilson was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, where she and Nishta attended the same high school, took in midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and devoured many pints of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream.  A graduate of Columbia University and American University’s School of Law, she works as an Intellectual Property attorney in the District of Columbia.

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