There’s everyday food and then there’s special occasion food. Homemade ravioli are not the sort of thing most of us are going to whip up on a weeknight. Or – let’s be realistic, here – even an average weekend.
But a while ago, I started daydreaming about making a very small batch of ravioli. Something manageable and fun and even a little zen rather than a marathon all-day affair with flour everywhere and pasta drying on every flat surface. I imagined tender little pasta pillows with a really savory filling and a simple sauce. I pictured myself rolling out a small sheet of pasta dough with my rolling pin. No pasta maker required was a must in this fantasy, since I gave my pasta maker away years ago to a friend – may she get more use out of it than I ever did!
I continued the scenario in my mind with two artfully arranged plates, music in the background, and candles on the table.
In support of this fantasy, I ordered a ravioli cutter from Amazon.
Then I made a batch of rich homemade ricotta cheese.
It was go-time.
Ricotta and wild mushroom ravioli
1-1/2 cups flour (plus more as needed)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh, whole-milk ricotta
1/2 cup chopped wild mushrooms (reconstituted dried mushrooms work fine)
To make the dough:
Mound the flour on a work surface and sprinkle with the salt. Make a deep well in center of flour. Pour oil into well and crack the egg into it. Use a fork to gently mix the egg and oil together, then gradually incorporate surrounding flour a little at a time. As egg mixture absorbs flour, add water one tablespoon at a time, just until the dough becomes wet and sticky. Generously sprinkle the dough and work surface with additional flour. Knead the dough, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking, until it’s elastic and smooth, about five minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside to let rest for half an hour.
To make the ravioli:
If you have a pasta maker, use it for this step. If not: divide dough in half and work with one half at a time. On a well-floured piece of parchment paper, use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a large oval, as thin as you can get it (about 1/16 inch thick).
Spread a generous layer of ricotta cheese over half of the pasta oval, leaving about a 1/4 inch margin. Sprinkle with wild mushrooms. Fold dough over filling.
Pressing firmly, run ravioli cutter around outside edge of entire half oval of dough. This will crimp edges together and cut off a narrow strip of dough. Run ravioli cutter the length of the dough packet, in about 1 inch strips, then repeat in the other direction. This will crimp and cut your ravioli into squares.
Repeat with second half of dough.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully add ravioli, then cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for about 8 minutes. Pull out a ravioli and test. If it tastes tender, cooked, and not doughy, the ravioli are done. Turn off heat and remove ravioli with a slotted spoon, rather than dumping into a colander.
Top with sauce (this pesto is a great choice) and eat. Leftovers will keep well for lunch the next day.
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Juicy, tasty, healthy, and – best of all – quick, tuna steak kabobs don’t require an outdoor grill. Just stir together some olive oil, lime juice, and Dijon mustard for a tangy-spicy marinade and load up some kabob skewers for a few minutes under the broiler.
Tuna steak kabobs, or use your favorite fish, is a fast go-to dinner for a busy weekday night.
Serve along side rice, pasta, or some butternut squash flavored with butter and brown sugar. (Tip: If you don’t have time to roast the squash simply halve a butternut squash, scoop out the seeds, cover in plastic and cook in the microwave for 8 minutes. By the time the kabobs are finished you can scoop out the tender squash and serve.)
Tuna steak kabobs
For the marinade:
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
For the kabobs:
1 lb. tuna steak cut into 1-inch cubes (or use halibut, scrod, swordfish, salmon, or scrod)
1/2 green pepper, cut into wedges
1/2 red pepper, cut into wedges
1/2 red onion, cut into quarters
4-8 cherry tomatoes
Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade. Pour over the tuna cubes in a nonreactive (glass) dish, cover, and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Turn to coat cubes and refrigerate for an additional 5-10 minutes. (Tip: If you are using bamboo skewers, soak these in water while the fish is marinading so they don’t burn in the oven!)
Preheat the boiler.
Assemble the kabobs by threading a cherry tomato, tuna cube, green pepper, red pepper, and onion layer. Repeat until the kabob is full, finishing with a cherry tomato. Brush the kabob with any remaining marinade and place on a foil covered baking pan under the broiler for about 3 minutes.
Turn the kabobs, brush with marinade, and broil an additional few minutes until the fish is no longer translucent and the vegetables are crisp-tender.
This post has been a long time coming. Between a few freelance writing projects and my curatorial debut, I have had very little free time left to finish this post. Plus I have managed to forget butter the last three times I went grocery shopping. Without it, these pretty madeleines would have been very sad tasting. A madeleine is a small sponge cake that hails from the northeast of France – the Lorraine region to be exact. The cakes are distinctive for their shell-like appearance and are made with a dedicated pan especially for madeleines, available at most home-ware shops.
Vincent van Gogh composed "Still Life with Basket and Six Oranges" in 1888 while he was in Arles-sur-tech, France. At this time he adopted a brighter palette and his paintings were saturated with yellow, ultramarine and mauve. The still life above epitomizes the natural vibrant light of the landscapes in the region. The sun-drenched fields and azure water of the Mediterranean are echoed in the background of the painting.
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Yield: 16 madeleines
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
5 tablespoons butter, melted
In a bowl, add the flour, baking powder and salt – mix well. In another bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together for around 4 minutes. Add the honey, vanilla and orange zest to the egg mixture and mix well. Slowly fold in the flour mixture and once incorporated, add the melted butter and gently mix.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F., and position a rack in the center. Prepare the madeleine molds by rubbing a bit of butter in each one. Drop around 1 tablespoon of batter in each mold and slide into the oven for around 7-10 minutes. Once they appear golden, test to see if they are done by poking a toothpick in the centre of the madeleines, when it comes out clean they are done.
When removing the madeleines from the oven, quickly remove them from the pan, do not let them sit and continue to cook. Serve either warm or at room-temperature.
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I love apples. I eat one almost every day as one of my fruit servings. Fujis are my favorite but I'll eat almost any other kind as long as the texture isn't mealy (Red Delicious is a nonstarter – not crisp enough). Apples are also one of the few fruits I'll bake with so I was quite open to this recipe for apple fritters (meaning: "Deep fried and I can pretend it's good for me because it's got apples in it? Winner!")
The batter was easy to put together. Make sure your oil is hot enough or your fritters will absorb too much grease while it's frying. Don't overcrowd the fritters in your pan and I recommend making them small. I used an ice cream scoop to drop what was supposed to be uniform-size balls of fritters into the hot oil but let's just say, I got the rustic look on these whether or not I was trying to. But that's OK, they're not meant to look picture perfect.
I do recommend frying these long enough to make sure they're cooked on the inside. The outside will brown quickly but keep frying them an extra couple of minutes or so to make sure the insides are cooked. You also want the outside to be a bit crispy. If you don't fry them long enough, they'll be brown but will still be on the soft side when they cool.
After frying, let them drain on paper towels then cool slightly. Cover or dunk in the glaze and let set. These are best eaten soon after they're made. I only had a couple and tried saving the rest but they softened up too much the next day, especially with the glaze. But fresh out of the fryer, they were good.
From Seemingly Greek
1 generous cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt
1 – 2 teaspoons cinnamon (depending on how much you love cinnamon, I used 1-1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1/3 cup milk, plus more if needed
1 – 1-1/2 cups chopped apple, your favorite kind for eating, cut to peanut-sized or smaller
oil for frying
milk and powdered sugar glaze for dipping or just powdered sugar for dusting
(About 1 cup powdered sugar + 1 tablespoon milk or more)
1. Heat oil in a pan with high enough sides to immerse the fritters in oil.
2. Mix all dry ingredients together then slowly add the wet ingredients minus the apple.
3. Carefully mix until well combined but do not over mix. Gently fold in apple pieces. The batter should be the consistency of a light cake mix.
4. Once the oil is ready (when a test drop of dough floats to the top of the oil, a drop of water sizzles, or a piece of white bread browns in 60 seconds) then using a cookie scooper or soup spoon, place four or five balls of dough into the oil. Be careful not to overcrowd and watch carefully for the underside to turn golden brown, then gently flip over and continue frying until done.
Adjust cooking times based on size of fritters and temperature of your oil, ideally around 365 degrees F. It is always a good idea to test one to ensure it comes out like you are expecting.
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Autumn is officially here, though the weather may be lagging behind a bit. I saw my first lovely russet-hued oak leaf blowing across the patio the other day. And I am ready. I am ready for soups and stews, winter squash, apples, pears and maple syrup. I am ready to get the soft blanket out of the linen closet, to curl up on the sofa with a warm mug of something steamy. I know that, theoretically, here in Memphis sweater weather is a while away, and the coat will probably stay in the closet until Christmas. But I can capture to the feeling of fall in the kitchen. And fall means comforting, classic cooking.
Creamy pot pies are a perfect homey comfort food. But I worry that the concept has been tainted by years of bad, processed, pre-packaged and even fast food versions. And recipes that call for condensed soups and canned chicken. None of that sounds the least bit appealing to me. Now when you mention pot pie, many people get that glazed over look, imagining the foil pan of gloopy, doughy, microwaveable mess. For some people I know, pot pie is no longer a dish they make with pride, but a guilty secret from a box they only eat when no one can see them. What a shame.
Ah, but freshly made pot pie, with quality ingredients and a homemade crust will warm your heart and your tummy. I created this version to showcase the flavors of autumn, with a unique sweet potato crust that is both delicious and beautiful. I streamlined the filling so the unique crust shines and each of the carefully selected ingredients meld together for a perfect fall flavor. Tender chicken, sweet caramelized onions, salty bacon and woodsy sage, the herb that speaks to me so strongly of fall.
Chicken and Bacon Pot Pie with Sweet Potato Crust
Serves 6 – 8
For the Filling:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
10 strips of bacon
1 medium yellow onion (to make about 2 cups diced)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1-1/2 cups chicken broth, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the crust:
2 sweet potatoes (about 11 ounces each)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter
1 – 2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
For the Filling:
Drizzle a little oil in a baking dish and place the chicken breasts on top. Rub a little oil on top of the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake until the chicken reaches 165 degrees F., internal temperature, about 25 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate to cool completely. When the chicken is cool, cut it into bite-sized chunks.
Dice the bacon into small pieces (I find scissors a great tool for this) and sauté in a large skillet until crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Let the bacon grease cool a little, then carefully pour it into a measuring cup and set it aside. Let the skillet cool until it is safe to touch, then wipe out any burned bits or dark brown spots. Return the skillet to medium high heat and pour in two tablespoons bacon grease. Add the diced onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent, being careful not to burn or brown the onions. Pour in one cup of water, cover the skillet and cook the onions until they are soft and begin to turn a golden color, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally and add a splash more water to prevent sticking as needed. Remove the lid and cook until all moisture is evaporated and the onions are lightly caramelized.
Add 1 tablespoon of bacon grease and the butter to the onions. Stir well, and when the butter is melted, sprinkle over the flour. Stir everything together until there is no trace of flour visible. Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth (measure them together in a four cup measuring jug), scraping the flour from the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped sage, nutmeg, a generous pinch of salt and lots of ground black pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the chicken and bacon pieces, making sure everything is well coated with sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Scrape the chicken filling into a two-and-a-half quart baking dish and smooth the top. Cool completely. The filling can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.
For the Crust:
While the chicken is cooking, prick the sweet potatoes with a sharp knife a few times and microwave until soft, about 10 – 12 minutes. Hold the potatoes with an oven mitt or tea towel, then cut them in half and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Mash the flesh with a fork until you have a smooth puree. You need 1 cup of mashed potatoes. Leave to cool completely. (Alternatively, you can bake the potatoes in the oven until soft, about 1 hour).
Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl with a fork. Cut the butter into small cubes and drop it in the flour. Toss the butter in the flour to coat, and then using a pastry blender, two forks or your clean hands, rub the flour and the butter together until it is blended with a few pieces of pea-sized butter visible. Add the sweet potatoes and the egg and, using a fork, blend together. Get in there with your hands and knead the dough together into a cohesive ball. Dump the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap, pat it into a rectangle, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pastry out into a sheet that will fit over the top of the filling. Drape the pastry over the top and tuck the sides around the filling. Cut a few slashes across the top to let steam escape.* Brush the top with a thin coat of buttermilk and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake the pie for 40 – 45 minutes until the crust is golden, the filling is hot through and bubbling. Serve immediately.
*I usually serve this in a rectangular baking dish, but you may use a deep round or square dish if you prefer. The easiest way to use the crust is to simply roll it out and drape it over the filling, but if you want to get creative, use a cookie cutter to cut the vents on top of the crust, or cut our shapes and layer them on the top, touching each other. I used a nice fall-themed leaf-shaped cutter for the picture above.
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Supposedly, summer bade us farewell several days ago.
The signs are all there: the sun dips lower in the sky, shadows lengthen, and the occasional nip in the air gently reminds me that summer is winding down and autumn is nudging its way in.
However, all around me, nature is playing tricks on me. Blackberries still peek out from their brambly bushes. The Seattle sky remains clear and blue, with daytime temps lingering in the 70s. And the tomatoes in my dad’s garden continue to grow plump and heavy on the vine, their green hue merging into red.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m relishing each day I can still bare my legs and zip out the door without a coat on. And with every satay stick I grill on the barbecue, I’m hoping it won’t be my last just yet.
This past Saturday, we took a ferry across the Puget Sound and spent a sunny day in Poulsbo where we ate fish and chips al fresco and my son chased seagulls around the marina. The next day, I turned my dad’s ripe tomatoes into a refreshing Burmese-style salad. It was a lovely way to commit the last flavors of summer to my taste memory.
Truth be told, I’m not ready to say goodbye.
And you, how are you stocking up on summery memories?
Burmese-Style Tomato Salad
This tomato salad is loosely based on a Burmese salad Alvina Mangrai once made for me. She is one of those amazing women. Alvina is my friend Manda’s mom. She migrated from Burma in 1972 and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her salad comprised shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, lime juice, dried shrimp powder, fried garlic, and the fragrant oil leftover from frying the garlic. I took a few liberties, borrowing some ideas from this recipe on Pranee’s blog. Because I already had store-bought fried garlic bits in my pantry (and yes, because I’m lazy) that’s what I used. But I can vouch for the deliciousness of frying your own..
Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons lemongrass vinegar
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 medium tomatoes, cut into crescents
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 small sweet onion, cut into thin crescents, soaked in water for 30 minutes to tame its bite
1 tablespoon fried garlic, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon fried onions, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon roasted pistachios (preferably unsalted), crushed, plus more for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish
In a large salad bowl, whisk the lemongrass vinegar, canola oil, and fish sauce together vigorously. Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Sprinkle with fried garlic, fried onions, pistachios, and cilantro, with or without abandon. Serve.
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Some days, prepping food for the week feels like so much work.
I’m standing in the kitchen, roasting beets, peeling and roasting squash, processing pepper, toasting squash seeds for a healthy snack or salads, making beans, toasting raw cashews, blah blah blah. When it’s all done, I don’t even have a meal! I hate feeling unproductive. I feel unproductive if I’ve cooked and have no meal.
But we can’t be productive all of the time.
As a friend once told me, to “be” human is to BE. Or was it, we are human “beings” and I need to work on the “being.” What ever the verbiage she used, she said it much more eloquently than that. But you get the point.
That being said, after all that cooking, I realize how grateful I am in the end. When I go to put dinner together it takes almost no time at all. It took around 8 minutes and was less than zero on the stress scale.
Then I remember why I prep for the week. It means that the rest of the week I can put meals on the table super fast and spend a little more time “being.”
This cumin spiced squash recipe is one of those meals. Sure it requires roasting squash and cooking beans, but that doesn’t have to happen on a prep day. In all honesty it can be done on any evening that you’re sitting around watching TV or cleaning the house.
I hope you decide to give this a try. It’s super flavorful and comes together easily. It can be served on lettuce wraps (like we did), but if you do this, cut the squash in smaller cubes, it will be easier to eat that way. Or serve it on a bed of brown rice, that would be super yummy.
Cumin spiced squash with white beans and scallions
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups roasted squash (any variety)
1/2 cup cooked white beans
2 scallions or green onions cut on the diagonal
1 red chili (or other hot pepper) thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium frying pan, toast the cumin seeds on high heat for about one minute or until fragrant. Add the oil, squash, beans, scallions and sliced chili to the pan. Heat until warmed through, approximately 5 minutes.
Serve with the avocado yogurt sauce in lettuce wraps or over rice, sprouted beans, or couscous.
Avocado yogurt sauce
1/3 cup plain full fat yogurt (use coconut cream for vegan substitution)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and pepper
Slice the avocado in half and remove the pit and skin. Place the avocado, yogurt and lemon juice in a blender. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Roasting squash: Peel the squash using a knife or carrot peeler. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds and cut into cubes. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of oil, and two crushed garlic cloves (optional) and salt and pepper. Roast at 375 degrees F., for 45 minutes to an hour, or until tender.
Cooking white beans: Place 1/2 cup of dry white beans with 3 cups of water and 3 tablespoons of vinegar. Let soak for eight to 24 hours. I let them soak overnight. Rinse the beans very well to remove the vinegar. Place the beans in a pot with three cups of water. Bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes to an hour or until tender. Depending on how long the beans soak will determine how long the beans take to cook, along with how old the beans are.
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The problem with tortilla chips is that they come in a giant bag. A giant bag of greasy, salty goodness. And I’m just one person, but I will eat the entire bag if given half a chance. I’ve often wished that tortilla chips came in little snack-sized bags, but if they do, I’ve yet to find them.
Admittedly, there are worse problems in life. But the good news is that this is a problem with a quick, cheap, and easy solution that involves oil and salt. The best kind of problem and solution, really.
I have mentioned before that I worked doing prep in a Mexican restaurant for a few years while I was in college.
I spent mornings back then at my prep table, drinking Mountain Dew while rock music rattled the stereo speakers and cool morning air wafted in the open back door. I cut up a lot of things, including corn tortillas for chips. I would take a thick stack of tortillas, cut through it quickly four times like a pizza, shove the triangular pieces off my table into a giant tub, then grab another stack and repeat this process until the tub was full. This wasn’t precision work, so my mind wandered or I shouted insults back and forth with the guys at the grill while my hands hustled. Throughout the day, the fry cook took handfuls of those tortilla triangles and plunged them into the fryer, poked them around a bit with a long set of tongs, then at the perfect moment, turned them out of their basket, all hot and crispy, into another tub.
Even if you don’t own a deep-fryer, this is an incredibly easy process to replicate at home. It only takes about ten minutes, and the chips are so much better than anything you can buy in a bag.
Here’s how: A wok is ideal for this, but you could also use a largish heavy-bottomed saucepan in a pinch. Either way, just keep a close eye on your oil during the process and don’t walk away.
Pour about two inches of vegetable oil into the wok, and turn heat to high (or more like medium high on a gas range). Place a stack of six or so corn tortillas on your cutting board, and cut them in half, then in fourths, then eighths. You should now have a pile of tortilla triangles. Continue to cut as many tortillas as you want.
Check your oil by tossing a drop of water in. When it sizzles hard, try a tortilla triangle. It should fry madly, but if the oil is starting to smoke, it’s too hot—turn it down a little. Gently toss in a handful of tortilla triangles. The sizzling and boiling should really escalate. Agitate them around a bit with a slotted spoon or a spider, if you have one.
Chips only take a few minutes to cook. Fish one out when they look crispy but not yet brown and try it. If it’s crunchy they’re done. If it’s leathery, give them another 30 seconds. If they start turning brown, you’ve gone a little too far but they are probably still pretty edible.
Scoop cooked chips from the oil–this is where the spider is especially handy. Put chips in a bowl, salt lightly, and toss another handful of triangles into the oil. Continue this process until you have enough chips—or a little more than enough. Because you’ll be amazed at how delicious they taste. You may not decide to make your own tortilla chips every time, but they are well worth the effort every now and then.
IN PICTURES: Fun fried foods
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In my working class family, meat was strictly the cheap cuts. When I was growing up, beef was chuck turned into burgers or meatloaf or spaghetti sauce – or the occasional pot roast, slow cooked so the fat melted into it and the toughness cooked out of it (as much as it does). Chicken was chicken, all of it relatively inexpensive back then, cooked and consumed with the skin on. And pork was most often chops, well marbled with fat before that was even a term used in households. Which probably explains why I like meat so much.
The cheap cuts are where the flavor is, in every juicy, chewy, sometimes stringy bite. Home cooks have known this pretty much forever and have developed techniques to bring out that flavor while taming the toughness that often accompanies these cuts – is indeed built into their muscle fiber.
Some of that big flavor and most of the juiciness comes from fat. And that’s a problem when it comes to pork chops. Pork producers have worked hard at slimming down their pigs in an effort to make pork “the other white meat,” closer to chicken in fat content than to beef. And they have succeeded. Some cuts are as low or even lower in fat than chicken. But the success comes at a cost, particularly when it comes to pork chops. With so much less fat marbled through the meat, chops often cook up dry and tough. Braising chops in liquid sometimes helps, but not always.
Brining chops – soaking them in a salt water solution for several hours before cooking – is a more reliable way to restore juiciness and tenderness. Brining is something of a balancing act, though. Besides the salt, sugar is required for the process. Too much of either or both can make chops taste like ham. So can brining meat for too long.
For this recipe, I took a conservative approach, both with ingredients and timing. The resulting chops were tender and juicy, with no hint of hamminess.
Which brings me to the plums. Pork loves fruit, more than any other meat. There’s an underlying sweetness to its savory flavor that makes pairing it with fruit a natural. We’ve made the most of this fact over the years, teaming various forms of pork with peaches, apples, cherries, mango and pears (twice). So it seemed like a good time to try plums.
Italian plums are one of those rare truly seasonal fruits that show up in markets for a short time late in the summer. They’re also called Italian prune plums, because that’s their primary use, being dried into prunes to be enjoyed year ’round. They’re smaller, firmer and less juicy than other plum varieties. This makes them less popular for eating out of hand, but perfect for baking. Marion’s always popular Plum Cake is a luscious example of that use.
And then there’s grilling. Halved and tossed with a little olive oil, they cook up quickly and take on a sweet, smokey taste. Since I was working with Italian plums, I took the chops in the same direction, adding tarragon and garlic to the brine. The result was subtle, letting the meat’s flavor shine through. As grilling season begins to wind down, the combination of the seasonal plums and flavorful chops tasted like the end of summer.
Grilled Pork Chops and Italian Plums
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 generous tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dry)
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine (see Kitchen Notes for substitutions)
4 bone-in pork chops, about 3/4 to 1 inch thick (about 1/2 pound each)
freshly ground black pepper
12 Italian prune plums
Brine the chops. Combine salt, brown sugar, tarragon and garlic in a saucepan or heatproof bowl. Add one cup of boiling water. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. Let sit for five minutes for flavors to steep. Stir in wine and one cup of iced water. Cool completely.
Place chops in a large zippered plastic bag. Add brine to bag and seal, forcing out as much air as possible. Work brine around the chops and refrigerate, occasionally turning the bag and working the brine around the chops, for at least five hours and up to 12 hours. The brine won’t keep the chops totally immersed in the bag; you can either increase the brine ingredients proportionally or turn the bag as I did.
Grill the chops and plums. Prepare your grill for direct grilling. About half an hour before you’re ready to grill, remove the chops from the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Meanwhile, prepare the plums. Rinse them and pat them dry with a clean dish towel. Halve the plums, removing the pits, and place them in a large bowl. Drizzle with a little olive oil and toss gently with a wooden spoon.
When the grill is almost ready, remove the chops from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Multiple paper towels. They will have taken on a lot of moisture and are now ready to exude it. Season generously with ground black pepper. Oil the grill grate and place chops directly over the coals. Cook uncovered for a couple of minutes and then close the grill. After five or six minutes of total cooking time for the first side, turn the chops, cover the grill and cook for another five minutes or so. By now, they will probably cooked through (a quick read thermometer should register 145 degrees F). Mine were still a little blond looking, so I turned them and cooked them for another minute. Don’t overcook them, though – it’s not needed, and you’ll undo all the juiciness you brined into them.
Transfer to a large plate and tent with foil (kind of stack them – they lose less heat as they rest). Give the plums another gentle stir to coat with oil, then place them on the grill cut side down. Let them grill for 2 to 3 minutes, then start turning them, using tongs and a spatula. If they haven’t taken on grill marks yet, let them cook another minute or so. They won’t all take on those beautiful grill marks, despite your best efforts. Move on. After you turn them, they only need to cook for a minute more. Transfer to a plate. The skins will want to slip off them; try to keep most of the skins with their original owners.
Transfer the chops to a serving platter. Arrange the plums around them, gently pushing skins back into place as needed. Serve.
Experiment. Play with the aromatics, trying different herbs or adding onions. Substitute apple cider or a little vinegar for the wine. Just keep the salt and sugar in balance. You’ll find lots of helpful brining basics and some additional recipe ideas here at About.com.
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The collages and paintings by Maz Dixon featuring “The Big Things of Australia,” will be featured in the upcoming curated exhibition “Art + Food: Beyond the Still Life” at Brenda May Gallery in Sydney. Beginning in the early 1960s, monumental objects ranging from giant fruit to prawns and pelicans began to litter the landscape of Australia.
Personally, the first “Big Thing” I encountered after moving to Australia was The Big Prawn in Ballina, which was constructed in 1989. In reality, the bubblegum pink crustacean emerges on the horizon of the roadside much in the same way it pokes out of the surf of Dixon’s "Monument (Prawn)." Here the vintage feel of the artwork is echoed in the recipe with the retro-classic, prawn cocktail.
In her artist statement about the work, Maz Dixon writes, “Our view of the landscape is heavily mediated by mass-produced travel ephemera such as maps, souvenirs and postcards.” The small series of paintings and collages in “Art + Food” explore the “gap between a traveller’s expectations and the reality of a place. Using the language of postcards and souvenirs, [Dixon is] going through a process of re-exploration, mapping the many layers of cultural detritus burying the destination.”
"Monument (Prawn)" can be viewed at Brenda May Gallery starting on Tuesday, Oct. 2, as part of the curated exhibition “Art + Food: Beyond the Still Life.”
Retro Prawn Cocktail
Yield: 3/4 cup of sauce suitable for around 500 grams (about 1 lb.) of prawns
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1/4 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons horseradish purée
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
500 grams (about 1lb.) cooked prawns
In a small bowl, mix all of the ingredients well. Serve with cooked prawns. Sauce will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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Megan Fizell is the curator of the exhibit “Art + Food: Beyond the Still Life.”