Lemony Pork Chops

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There has been a lot of lemon love in my kitchen. I finally broke into my preserved lemon jar from a while back, and have a couple of more almost ready to go. So, everything is getting a hint of lemons -- salad dressings, grains, chicken and also these wonderful pork chops.

I made these for Armenian Christmas, our final dinner by the tree, before it was chopped up for firewood and compost.
 I used my butter-basting method.
Roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes on the side.
Lemony Pork Chops

2 thick-cut pork chops, if you can get some bone-in even better
1/2 of a preserved lemon, chopped and a few teaspoons of juices
2-3 sprigs of rosemary, half chopped finely
1/2 tbsp brown sugar
1-2 tbsp of butter
salt and pepper
3-4 garlic cloves
olive oil

1) Combine lemons, chopped rosemary, sugar, salt and pepper and a little bit of olive oil to make a paste and spread on your chops. Marinate for at least 15 minutes to a couple of hours. Go easy on the salt or skip it, since your lemons will be salty.

2) Heat a cast iron pan, add butter, a dash of oil, garlic and the remaining rosemary sprigs. Add your chops, and cook about 5-8 minutes per side, basting often with butter. The time will really depend on the thickness of your chops. I like to sear my chops, then reduce the heat to cook through.


Galupsi or Dolma (Depending on How Russian You Are Feeling)

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I do not often tackle the food of my childhood or eat Armenian/Russian food outside of my parents house. Simply because the parents have their dishes down. They are always good, they are always almost too salty, and I find there's absolutely no need to mess with recreating them.

But the other day, I was on the obligatory phone call with my mom, and she started talking about making her stuffed cabbage rolls, which she calls galupsi (like a good Russian, the Armenians just call it dolma, and she's adamant what she makes is not dolma), with savoy cabbage instead of regular cabbage, and I got a craving and decided it was time to roll up my sleeves and cabbage as well.

What I like about my mom's cabbage rolls versus the many others I have tried (some regrettably) is that they are spiced well. My parents do not fear the salt shaker. They also are a bit fanatic about grinding their own meat. My dad has a general distrust of ground meat from the store, and as long as I remember, they have always had an electric meat grinder so they don't have to rely on the suspicious ground meats from the market. My mom grinds her onions into the meat as well, which she says makes the meat mixture extra juicy.

I liked the idea of using savoy cabbage as well, which my mom found a little easier to work with. I did not grind my own meat. What I should have done is mixed in some pork for additional fat and flavor. Instead I bought ground beef from the store. The rest I ball parked. It was a learning experience. My galupsi were good, but not at my mom's level. I needed fattier meat, and to salt my broth a lot more. A decent first effort.
We served a few other Russian/Armenian favorites -- cold bean salad, sujuk, pickled herring, sour cream -- and we had our friends over for a little taste of the USSR. A highlight was the husband's delicious rye bread.

1.5 - 2 lbs of ground beef (the fattier the better)
1/2 cup or less of white rice (my mom uses short grain, I used long grain since I didn't care to make a trip to the market), rinsed
1 onion, chopped fine (I also added a shallot)
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
dill and parsley, chopped
dried basil
salt and pepper
head of savoy cabbage, blanched (I had some meat leftover, so I also stuffed a couple of peppers and zucchini)
1, 8 oz can of tomato sauce
chicken broth and water

1) Combine meat, onion, garlic and rice. Add herbs to taste, half the can of tomato sauce and season your meat. Mix all the ingredients together with your hands.
2) Prepare your cabbage leaves for rolling, removing the core and cutting leaves in half if necessary. Place a spoonful of meat on each leaf and roll. There are great YouTube videos if you've never done this. You basically want these tight, but leaving some room for the rice to expand.
3) Pack rolls into a dutch oven. Cover with a combo of broth, water and the remaining tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
4) Bring to boil, then simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until rice is cooked. You can always do a taste test. Husbands are great for this.


Quiche-Style Pizza with a Lentil Sardine Salad

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Dear Readers,
Had I known there would be such a poetic write-up about this quick and humble meal, I would have set my phone aside and pulled out the camera, or maybe just tried to take a few decent shots outside of our dim dining room, but I had no clue the husband was connected to the dinner at this level. That's the beauty of marriage, you can't be paying attention ALL THE TIME. 

I was however paying attention to my cooking that evening, and want to point out an oversight by Mr. Poetry -- during the last five minutes of baking, I drizzled blackberry balsamic syrup on the pizza. This of course married all the flavors, and added a tinge of sweetness. Besides this minor neglected fact, I think the husband really captures all his complex emotions about sardines, speeding tickets and relying on his garden (considering he doesn't do the grocery shopping).

I awake with a singular and confounding craving: I want a quiche pizza.  I don’t necessarily need the eggs (which the wife later points out makes a quiche), but I want the rest of that gooey, hearty-greens-and-cheese filling sitting atop a baked dough.  Often, I dream up a meal out of combination of food in the fridge, freezer, and my garden.  Rarely does my mental construction become a dinner.  But, I could actually make this pizza.  I know I have some leftover homemade pizza dough lurking somewhere (freezer, thankfully, where 3 month old dough should safely lurk), some leftover gruyere and parmesan cheese (fridge), and a healthy amount of mixed greens (garden).  This thought process all occurs before 7AM, so all I need to do now is wait about 10 hours and make it for dinner.  Oh, the suspense. . .

Traditional Chinese astrology asserts this is the year of the Horse.  For me, however, it is the year of the Sardine.  I actually like the taste of these little guys, but there’s economic reason for the decision, too, which involves me, Tony Bennet duets, and ultimately a speeding ticket (jazz standards really get the heart pumping, and the pedal too close to the metal for me at 6:30AM).  Anyway, the much-maligned fish is extremely versatile, and I think what better complement to the savory pizza I’ve thought up than a nice sardine salad?  The wife and I had encountered just such a salad in Point Peyes, the sardines accompanied by beluga lentils, and I think, “she can probably do that, especially when I give up.”

The dinner prep hour finally arrives.  I pick greens from the garden, the wife makes a tantalizingly light, citrusy dressing for the salad.  I shape the pizza dough, she cooks down kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, and in a stroke of inspiration I can’t even imagine (marry somebody who sees things you can’t, and you’ll be happy), she adds in some radicchio, too.  The pizza quiche topping is exactly what I hoped for.  I par bake the crust, and we add gruyere and parmesan, the wilted greens, and a dash of olive oil and throw the completed pie into the oven for about 8 minutes.  This is the result:
A delicious dream fulfilled, for sure.  The lesson here, folks, is to dream neither too big nor too small when you cook.  Instead, dream of things you already have lying about, just waiting to be seen anew and reconfigured.  It can lead you to creative places that established recipes in cook books rarely tread.  And don’t forget to spice it up with some sardine action.  That never hurts.  Just check out the nutritional value on them!   


Tomales Bay Holiday

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After Christmas, we packed our bags, and flew north. Destination, Tomales Bay. One of our favorite places. We started going six or seven years ago, always in November and December, and the magic of the Pt. Reyes Seashore got to us -- isolated, foggy, and serene. I love seeing the cows in the pastures (except when they run, moving cows totally creep me out), hearing the owls at night, and taking misty walks through the forest.

This time around, it seems others have discovered the area as well, so there were more people (boo!) and the weather was a little too sunny (we missed the rolling fog). But despite these setbacks, we had a great time hanging out on the marsh land, hiking, and eating dozens and dozens of oysters.

With not much to do after dark, we spend cozy evenings in our historic little motel, reading and watching House Hunters. It was a nice change of pace, and a fun way to say goodbye to the year.

 Osteria Stellina in Pt. Reyes
 Picnic at Mt. Vision, with wild boar salami
 Oyster shucking concentration
 Drake's Oyster Farm
 Elk Grove
 A memorable meal at Saltwater 
 Bolinas Lagoon
Bass Lake
Burger and beers at Marin Sun Farms. The husband was advised that his selected beer was really foamy.
Champagne in bed. Not a bad way to welcome 2014.


Holiday Season Recap

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When we arrived home last night, after a much needed trip to Point Reyes, the house smelled like pine, and gift bags were thrown about. Despite the mess, which makes me anxious, I relaxed and exhaled. We were home, and all the holidays were behind us.

This year, we hosted a record number of holiday parties. Starting with Thanksgiving, it's been wonderful to cook and see friends we haven't seen, drink festive cocktails, eat delicious food, and spend time with people we love. But, it's also exhausting and messy. The husband has washed more dishes than he'd care for, and we've gotten a little too familiar with BevMo's aisles. It's time to get back to small dinner parties, and soup nights at home. But, before I move on to 2014 and eating dinner in pajamas at the coffee table, below are some highlights from all the hosting.
Thanksgiving cocktail, cider and rum punch via Bon Appetit.
Soup and salad: coconut carrot soup with cilantro cream and kale and brussels sprouts salad. This salad was the talk of the dinner not only on turkey day, but also Christmas, when I made a modified version. I'm not sure where our families have been for the last several years, but it seems kale has not made it's way into their Whittier kitchens. Not until now.
 Serious looking plate, and serious looking dad, slicing the bird.
 At long last, a not-so-blurry Thanksgiving picture together. This has been the first year where EVERYTHING flowed the way it should, and we were relaxed, happy and tipsy.
 We then moved to the husband's week-long birthday festivities, which included tree shopping.
 We had a mini reunion with old coworkers and friends.
We enjoyed potato, leek and corn chowder, and a Cesar's salad for our favorite event of the season, Friends Xmas Eve Eve. And we continued our tradition of hamming it up in front of the Christmas tree. This year's photo shoot proved to be especially excellent (see first photo as evidence).
The husband and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at home on Christmas eve. I stir fried crab and sauteed a giant slab of rib eye, and he gathered greens from his winter garden. And, we both ended up gifting each other steak knives. I think this means more steak for 2014.
And then it was Christmas, where we gathered the families again, and enjoyed lots of food and even more wine.
 I made this delicious gravlax.  And we grilled pork tenderloins wrapped in prosciutto.
And although this photo didn't make it on the Xmas card, it came in a close second.