October 2011

Apricot Balsamic Pork Chops

apricot-balsamic-pork-chops
Fall is my favorite season. The changing of the leaves, the crisp cool air in the morning, and the unmistakable smell of winter coming. Unfortunately, Dallas doesn’t experience any of these. The temperature is 75 every day and the only leaves changing color are the ones dying from the brutal summer. Sad.
So, if fall can’t come to Texas, I can at least have it in my kitchen. This recipe is fragrant, deeply flavorful, and hearty – a perfect fall comfort food. The sauce is the highlight of this dinner – I think it would be equally good on chicken, if you prefer that.
Recipe:
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Sprig thyme leaf
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 heaping tablespoons apricot preserves
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 pork chops, about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Dust the pork chops with flour (if cooking gluten-free, you could definitely skip this part).  Place the pork in the pot and brown all sides.
Transfer the pork to a plate.  In the same pot, cook the diced onion in the butter, about 10 minutes.
Pour in the balsamic, and let it reduce a little – just a few minutes. Add thyme, apricot preserves, and brown sugar.
Stir the sauce until combined, and simmer for a few minutes longer. Add the pork chops back into the pot, and add the chicken broth.
Simmer for about 20-25 minutes.
I served this with asparagus risotto, a salad, and a great bottle of red wine! We also turned down the A/C really low and made a fire. Fall has arrived at 5815 Velasco, even if it’s man made.
grilled-lamb-chops-with-rosemary
I had no idea grilled lamb chops were so easy. Turns out, they’re the easiest thing on this blog. Lamb has a very distinct flavor so it doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles.
I bought 8 lamb chops from Central Market, and let them sit at room temperature for about a half hour before grilling. I heated the grill to high, and picked fresh rosemary from my miniature herb garden. Well, it was a miniature herb garden until my basil plant grew into the size of a small evergreen, thanks to my husband’s diligent watering and manicuring of his beautiful yard. Anyway, I digress.
I chopped up about 1/4 cup rosemary (a food processor is the easiest way to chop into very small pieces), then mixed with 2 teaspoons salt.  I brushed the lamb chops with olive oil, then with the rosemary salt.  Of course, you need to add pepper too.
Place the lamb chops on the hot grill. Close the cover, and grill for exactly 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, flip over and grill for 3 minutes. Remove from grill, and let sit for a few minutes before serving.  These turned out perfectly medium to medium-rare, which is the best way to eat lamb.
Yes, those are shrimp hanging out with the lamb. Very strange combo but I had a few left over so I let them join the party.
peach-whiskey-barbecue-chicken
If you love a sweet and tangy barbecue flavor, you will love this recipe. Loooove this recipe.  If you don’t love a sweet and tangy barbecue flavor, I don’t want to know you.Recipe

  • 2-3 lbs bone-in chicken breasts, thighs, or legs (I prefer skin off)
  • 1 sweet onion, diced
  • Several tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional)
  • ~1/2 cup to 1 cup whiskey (or however much you have)
  • 1 jar peach preserves
  • 1 bottle sweet barbecue sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire
  • S&P to taste
Start by heating the olive oil and butter in a large pot.
I used a combo of drumsticks, thighs, and breasts. I thought the drumsticks were the best. The breasts were definitely the least tender/moist. I bought them with bone-in and skin-on, but I had the butcher remove the skin. I feel like the sauce gets to the meat easier that way.  Place the chicken in the pot and brown on all sides.
 Remove the chicken to a plate. Add in the onions. Let them cook until translucent.
Next, good ol’ Jack shows up to the party. I do not like the flavor of jack daniels, but trust me you will in this recipe. Jack did some amazing things to this chicken.
 Pour in a bunch…and let it reduce a little.
 Take out a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce – ours is Austin’s Own or Rufus Teague (honey sweet).
 Pour in the whole bottle. Stir around.
 Next, add a whole jar of peach preserves. Yes this jar says peach and mango. That was a mistake. A lovely mistake.
Fill the peach jar halfway with water, dump it in.  Sprinkle in some Worcestershire.  Whisk it alllll together. Add the chicken back in. Right now your kitchen will smell so good you’ll want to marry it.
 Finally, throw it in the oven at 300 for 1 1/2 hours so the chicken gets very tender and delicious. If you don’t have that much time, I think you could bump it up to 325 for an hour.
 Pure awesomeness.
asparagus-and-mushroom-risotto

I went on a major risotto kick in Italy. I seriously couldn’t stop eating it – suddenly I wanted it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with shrimp, with marinara, with asparagus, with squash. Lobster? Throw it in there, I’ll eat it.

I am back from Italy now, and back to reality. At least risotto reality. Shrimp and lobster seem a little time intensive when not prepared by the authentic Italian chefs of Lake Como, and I don’t think I could get John to eat butternut squash risotto (though I intend to try). Thus, that leaves me with asparagus risotto – simple, delicious, and a real crowd pleaser. Yes, I’ll make that.  Added bonus: Risotto is naturally gluten-free, for those concerned.

Even though there are a million things you can do to dress up risotto, it is all cooked the same way for the most part. You melt a little butter, coat the risotto in it, and then continuously add liquid (chicken broth is the best choice) for about 20 minutes, until the rice is fully cooked. Here, I will outline the whole process for you, as I didn’t realize it was that simple until I made 6 different varieties and connected the dots. Ahhhh, boy am I smart.

Let’s get started….

Recipe:

  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 3 tablespoons 1 tsp melted butter
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper

First, prepare the asparagus. Chop them into about 1/2 inch pieces (or larger if you prefer – I don’t know how big your mouth is). Bring a pot of water to boiling; throw the asparagus in there and blanch for 2 minutes.  Remove them with a slotted spoon and immediately throw them into a bowl of ice water. This keeps them looking green and pretty, which you would recognize in the photo below if I were a better photographer. Bright green.  Drain and set aside.

Melt 3 T of the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook for a few minutes until translucent
 
Add the arborio rice, and stir to coat, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the stock in a large pot (if cooking gluten-free, use gluten free stock).

Next, add the wine, and stir until absorbed by the rice. From there, add the heated stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring each time until absorbed. The amount of stock in the recipe is approximate; continue cooking rice and adding stock for about 15-20 minutes, until the rice is tender (but not mushy). I used exactly 3 1/2 cups stock and it turned out perfect. During the last round of adding chicken broth, I threw in the mushrooms so they would cook in the broth for a couple of minutes. When the rest of the broth is absorbed, add the asparagus and turn off the heat. Stir in the remaining butter and parmesan.  Generously salt and pepper.

Serve immediately. Or, serve to yourself chilled the following day. Or the next day. Thank you, Italy, for reminding me why we should all be eating more risotto.

Macaroni and Cheese

macaroni-and-cheese

Our wedding was a blast. Yes, I am biased, but I truly believe that overall, everyone had a blast. I clearly did, as evidenced in this photo:

And this photo:

In my mind, there are 3 essential elements for a successful wedding. Plenty of booze, good dancing music, and delicious food. As this is a cooking blog and not a drinking or dancing blog (although maybe it should be), I would like to focus on the food aspect of our wedding.

People are still talking about the dinner that was served at our wedding – I have received so many compliments not only on the deliciousness of it, but the choices.  The food really was amazing, Chef Danny at our Country Club is one ridiculous cook. But the choices were really the key – they were fun, different, and everybody found something they loved. Our approach was to do all of ‘our favorite things’….well, not ALL of our favorite things, as we clearly did not have room for 97 different options – but some of our favorite things. We wanted to combine a little bit of Texas, since we live here now, and a little bit of Wisconsin – since the wedding was there and I’m from the lovely state. The menu consisted of BBQ brisket sliders, roasted pork tenderloin, grilled corn on the cob, a giant cheese display (yeah Wisconsin!), Southwest caesar salad, shrimp cocktail (I’m not sure where that fit in, but I really wanted it), and last but not least: gourmet macaroni and cheese. Yes, tons of food. While most people bring a second pair of shoes for post-dinner dancing, I actually had to bring a second dress – in a bigger size.  Just kidding. But it would have been nice to have.

Ok, now to the point of this blog. The mac ‘n cheese was a total hit. I decided I wanted to make it on my own, so I started doing some research. It turns out there are 11,674 macaroni and cheese recipes out there. I combined a number of the recipes, and I am convinced this has to be the best one. It was divine.

Recipe

  • 4 cups pasta – I prefer the shells
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2-1/2 cups milk – preferably whole
  • 2 teaspoons ground yellow mustard
  • 1/2 pound grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 pound grated fontina
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • paprika
  • panko bread crumbs
The cheese sauce in here does magical things to people. It made my husband help me clean the kitchen after dinner. It made me want to skip dessert. It turned my mom into the best dancer at our wedding. It could probably even help Obama figure out how to fix the economy, if only he would try it.
Start by cooking the pasta. You’ll want it very ‘al dente’ – it bakes in the oven for quite a while and you don’t want it to get mushy. I checked the pasta after about 6 minutes of boiling, and I think I left it in for another minute or so. You want it slightly underdone.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Make the roux. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Don’t burn it! Sprinkle in the flour and whisk together. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes.
Next, add the milk. Don’t be a wimp here – use whole milk. Skim is for sissies. Whole milk really adds to the creaminess of the cheese sauce. Whisk together, then add 2 heaping teaspoons of ground mustard. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the mixture gets very thick and gravy-like.
Reduce the heat to low. Next, you need to ‘temper’ the egg. Basically you need to introduce some of the gravy mixture into the beaten egg first, to avoid cooking it when you add it to the pot.
Using a 1/4 cup, retrieve a little of the gravy mixture from the pot. Add it to the beaten egg, and whisk constantly to avoid cooking it. Keep whisking until the mixture is cooled.
Then, pour slowly into the large pot, whisking constantly.
This is when it starts to get really good. Time to add the cheese! Add all but 1/2 cup. I forgot to do this, I can’t be trusted when in the presence of excessive amounts of cheese.
 Oh my god.
Stir until totally melted, then turn off the heat.
YUM. Don’t lose focus yet, you need to keep going. You can do it. Now is the time to add extra spices if you desire. I added paprika, and it was a very good decision. Also add the salt and pepper here.
Pour in the drained, undercooked pasta and stir until combined. Transfer the mac ‘n cheese to your desired baking dish, and top with remaining cheese. Since I used all of my cheese, I used string cheese! The mozzarella addition was amazing – highly recommend it. It looks sort of stupid though.
Finally, prepare the bread crumbs. I think I used about 3/4 cup bread crumbs, and mixed with about 2-3 tablespoons melted butter. Spread over the macaroni and cheese. Almost there!
Bake for 25 minutes! So close!
DONE! There are no words. Make this if you want to be voted Person of the Year. Or, if you want to have a really fun wedding.

Applesauce Muffins

applesauce-muffins
These wonderful and simple muffins are my mom’s recipe. An absolute family favorite growing up, these are perfect in the morning with a cup of coffee, or warmed up and topped with ice cream.
Recipe
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 t. all spice
  • 1/2 t. cloves
  • 2 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 jar applesauce (about 1 cup)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a standing mixer. Beat in the egg, then add vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, spices, and soda. Add to the butter mixture, alternating with the applesauce.
Line muffin pan with muffin cups, or spray generously with Pam. Fill each cup about 3/4 full – this recipe should make 12 muffins.
Bake for 13 minutes, or until the muffin tops are firm.
Enjoy!
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