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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KALE CAESAR SALAD

I know, I know, I know.  More kale.  I gotta be kidding you with all this healthy green shit, right?


Last week, when Jill received “no go for chemo” blood work results, we set about bulking up her diet, in hopes that we would boost her white blood cell and iron counts in the process.  Spinach in smoothies, tons of black beans and other legumes, a little steak sneaked in for good measure.  I bought bunches and bunches of kale.

Maybe it was all just psychosomatic; maybe a week’s worth of rest alone would have pushed her numbers back up to the “good to go” levels where they were this Monday, but one thing I find to be consistently true about life (with or without cancer) is that the little rituals, talismans, and superstitions can make more of a difference than you might think.

If you read Jill’s blog, you know that early in her treatment process, she christend her chemotherapy regime “Hurricane Kali,” after the Hindu goddess associated with death, destruction, and regeneration.  Jill shared the name on Twitter and Facebook; we put a picture of Kali, fierce and fearsome, on our refrigerator.  Our friends bought us all Kali necklaces, which we all wear daily in solidarity.

When Jill was cleared to start chemo again, we both said “Okay, Kali, do your thing.”  Amazing how a seemingly small and silly idea has taken on so much power in our lives.

I think this is a human thing—we find things to believe in, we latch on to what we can, we imbue our actions with meaning.  And sometimes, as in the case of Caesar salad dressing made from scratch, those actions are delicious.

KALE CAESAR
from Tartine Bread, one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning

Because this recipe came out of a bread cookbook, you’re of course supposed to make the croutons from homemade bread.  I promise to do that one day, but this time I was lazy and cheated with a store-bought loaf.  I did, however, make the croutons instead of buying them, and in doing so was reminded how silly of me it is to ever pay for pre-made croutons or breadcrumbs, because it is SO EASY and much tastier to make your own.  (Unless we’re talking panko breadcrumbs, because I purchase those shamelessly by the pound).

If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, I’m betting you could make this dressing with a food processor.  You’re not going to feel like as much of a badass, though.  So really, this is the excuse you’ve been waiting for to buy yourself a really handsome mortar and pestle.  You know you want to.

Last but not least, please do not make the “ewww gross!” face about the anchovies.  You just think you don’t like them.  Anchovies are, in fact, delicious.  Like this salad.  Trust me.

for the salad:

1 bunch black kale*, stems removed and torn into pieces
2/3 cup aged Parmesan cheese, grated
croutons (see below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons.  Pour the dressing over the top, sprinkle with Parmesan, and toss to coat.

for the dressing:

2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
6 olive-oil packed anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
salt
olive oil (1 ½- 2 cups)

Grate the zest from one of the lemons.  Cut both lemons in half.  Place the garlic, anchovies, & lemon zest in the mortar and pound with a pestle to make a paste.  Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir to combine.

Continuing to stir, pour in ½ cup of the olive oil, drop by drop.  The mixture should look smooth and creamy.  Begin adding the oil in a slow stream; the dressing should thicken.  Periodically stop pour in oil to add a squeeze of lemon.  Taste the dressing for salt and lemon and adjust as necessary.  Once it’s ready, add small spoonfuls of water, stirring to thin the dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

for the croutons:

3 slices day-old bread, sliced 1-inch thick and torn into 1 ½-inch chunks
2 T olive oil
salt
½ tsp. herbes de Provence (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.  Toss the torn bread with olive oil and a pinch of salt.  If you are using the herbs, add them too.  Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes.  Midway through baking time, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

*also called lacinato, Tuscan kale, or dinosaur kale
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