Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sauteed pork chops with sweet-and-sour red cabbage

Oktoberfest is coming! Well, in Cleveland it already came in August, and it's gone by now. Sadly, even my best friend's efforts to take me and celebrate it a month ago did not result in me taking part of the festivities. Not that I had anything against going or anything; I mean, do you really think I need an excuse to go out and drink beer? No, I don’t; but I was busy and I couldn't go. Well I guess that as strange as it sounds, I may have to celebrate it now, closer to (gasp) October.

We don't have much of a German influence back home, not even when it comes to food. In fact, most staples of the German cuisine have been foreign to me for the longest time, except for sauerkraut. But it’s not like we eat much sauerkraut in Puerto Rico. Even today you won't find much sauerkraut being sold in the Island except for the tiny cans sold in the supermarkets, and giant cans sold in the Sam's Clubs, Costco’s and the likes. The reason is that sauerkraut is only used to top hotdogs, and for nothing else.

We don't have many foods that are sour in our cuisine, at least not that I remember. So, when people eat sauerkraut, they just use a teaspoon to top a hotdog, and that's the end of it. My mother may remember this better than me, but I think that as kids it took a bit of convincing for us to eat the poor sauerkraut. So she decided to make eating sauerkraut “cool” and “fun” and started telling us that the sauerkraut was a fancy Italian onion (cebolla) and we started pronouncing the name as if it was Italian (cebollini). We finally started eating the sauerkraut, and all was well... That is, until I went to buy a hot dog and had to ask for it myself. Imagine the hot dog guy's face when I asked for the cebollini and he had no clue as to what I was asking for. Even worst, picture my face when I was told that was cabbage… Sadly, I wasn't a kid when this incident happened so it wasn't cute at all; it was just sad, very sad. 

Turned out we don't have a fancy name for sauerkraut. We simply call it repollo (cabbage). No one gets confused (but me) since we barely eat cabbage anyway, except for an occasional slaw, and as an ingredient for sandwiches. To this day, I still don't eat much white (or green) cabbage, but I do eat a lot of red cabbage. I love red cabbage. I eat it fresh, in slaw, braised; you name it I eat it. I've been eating red cabbage so much lately that I had an accident cooking it a few months ago. I sliced off the tip of my finger shredding red cabbage. Thankfully, even though I don't watch Grey's Anatomy per sé,  I've heard enough episodes from a safe distance that I was able to get the pieces back together and I fixed my finger myself (sorry about the visuals). Anyway… This weekend we had friends coming over for dinner and I thought we could have some sweet and sour red cabbage with sautéed pork chops. 

I started by frying bacon. I used the bacon drippings to sauté the onions for a couple of minutes, and then I added cubed red cabbage, and coated it with the drippings. I added water, red-wine vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper and caraway seeds. I braised the cabbage covered at low heat for 35 minutes. Half way through I added half of the bacon (chopped) and I used the other half to garnish the dish at the end.

In the meantime, I made the pork chops. I seasoned them with salt and pepper. Since I wasn't using any more condiments, I seared the pork chops in a tablespoon of butter to get that flavor as well. After searing, I transferred the chops to a shallow baking dish and roasted them for 8 minutes at 450F. 

It was kind of funny, but just like in the cooking shows, as the timer went off our friends arrived. Is there a better way to receive someone than with pork chops? I don't think so. We had a chance to catch up while enjoying a delicious meal. 

The pork chops were great, but the star of the night was the cabbage. The taste was great, the texture was beautiful, and the aroma was excellent. I know what you're thinking: "hey, how is this healthy? I heard bacon, pork chops and butter". Well this dish has only 505 calories, and it's rich in protein. I liked it so much and though it was so good for me, that I made it again the next day!

On the road shortcut
·         Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine (September 2006)
·         6 bacon slices, chopped
·         1 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
·         1 medium onion, chopped
·         1 small red cabbage (1 3/4 lb), halved lengthwise, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
·         1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
·         3/4 cup water
·         2 tablespoons sugar
·         1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
·         1 1/4 teaspoons salt
·         3/4 teaspoon black pepper
·         4 (1-inch-thick) bone-in rib pork chops (2 1/2 to 3 lb total)
·         Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 450°F.
Cook bacon in a 4- to 5-quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Measure fat and, if less than 2 tablespoons, add enough vegetable oil to bring total to 2 tablespoons. Heat fat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until it begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and turn with tongs until coated with fat. Stir in red-wine vinegar, water, sugar, caraway seeds, 3/4teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and braise cabbage over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 25 to 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, pat 2 pork chops dry and sprinkle both sides with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (total). Heat 1 tablespoon oil (I used butter) in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown seasoned chops, turning over once, 5 minutes total, and transfer to a shallow baking pan (1 inch deep). Season remaining 2 chops and brown in oil remaining in skillet in same manner, transferring to baking pan. Roast chops in oven until thermometer inserted horizontally 2 inches into center of a chop (do not touch bone) registers 145°F, 5 to 8 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir half of bacon into cabbage, then finely chop remaining bacon for sprinkling.
Let chops stand in pan, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes. Serve chops over cabbage, with any pan juices spooned over and sprinkled with bacon.

505 calories, 26 g carbs, 27 g fat, 43g protein. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pork chops and squash with pumpkin seed vinaigrette

OK, so fall is here. I know I’ve been whining for quite a while about how much I would miss the summer, the fruits and so on. Please, don’t take my whining so seriously. The truth is that I do like fall. What is there not to like? We get pretty colors, nice cool temperatures, concerts, the theater season, and most importantly, my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving; it’s all fall. So I don’t just like fall, I love fall. Turns out it’s not just me; many people love autumn. Last year during a meeting at work we got sidetracked and started talking about all the fun things we do during fall. Apple picking at the local farms and harvest-related endeavors, camping and everything nature seemed to be popular among many. Of course, I had to open my mouth and leave everyone speechless (except for some eye-rolling from my boss) when I said that I didn’t do any of that because fall was the best fashion season, so I only invested my time in activities that involved dressing up. Of course, after my comment we just went back to talk business.

There are many fun things I love doing during fall. I love hiking (both in nature and in the city) because not only the foliage is beautiful, but because the lighting itself is just ravishing and it makes everything look somewhat magical. So I walk and ride my bike to enjoy the sights, but also, I do it to prepare myself for all the eating I do throughout the season. I love fall food, especially everything squash. Since I grew up in Puerto Rico I wasn’t familiar with most squashes except for Caribbean squash (Calabaza) until quite recently, so I never had any pumpkin pie, roasted squashes or anything of the sort until I moved to the States 6 years ago. Now that’s what I call a crime against humanity (so Obama, if you are reading this, when you are done worrying about Syria, let’s make a plan to deliver pumpkin pies throughout Puerto Rico).  Since then I discovered the almost magical flavors of butternut squash, acorn squash, and many, many others. I’ve been hooked, and life has never been the same. So now, as soon as fall begins, the squash related dishes start making their appearances on our table as a beautiful countdown to that glorious day when the turkey is king.

I saw a simple, yet promising, recipe in Augusts' edition of Bon Appetit that I wanted to try. To me, it sounded like the perfect welcoming to fall, so I planned on waiting until the beginning of fall to try it. It was pork chops and squash with pumpkin seed vinaigrette, and just its name makes my mouth water every time I read it. It seemed delicious, and I was certain that it would be easy enough to be made as a weeknight dinner. The game was on. 

I started by toasting pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) in the oven for the vinaigrette. I was surprised to see they were green since I used to buy them to eat as snacks when I lived in Puerto Rico and they always look whitish, the same as when you see them in any other pumpkin or squash. Oh well, I tasted them and they were great so I proceeded with my recipe. I toasted them using a rimmed baking sheet and removed them after a few minutes. They had a beautiful brown color, and an even better scent.

Next, I did the time consuming part of the recipe: roasting the squash. I used a little over 3 pounds of acorn squash, which were two medium sized acorn squashes. I halved them, seeded them and cut them into 1- inch wedges; I drizzled them with olive oil. I kept the flesh of the squash on because it’s edible (of course, if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it). I reused the rimmed baking sheet to roast the squash and roasted them in the oven for 35 minutes. I turned them around twice during that period, making sure they were covered with the olive oil the whole time. I set up a timer for 20 minutes, so I would start prepping the pork chops then.

While the squash was in the oven I worked on my vinaigrette. I chopped the roasted pumpkin seeds, and transferred them to a small mixing bowl. I added olive oil, chopped cilantro, finely grated garlic and lime juice, and whisked them together. I added a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper, and whisked again. My vinaigrette was ready.

When the squash still had 15 minutes left in the oven, I seasoned my pork chops with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. I heated a heavy skillet and when it was hot, I added the olive oil (that way the olive oil won’t burn). Almost immediately, I added the pork chops and cooked for five minutes. I flipped them and cooked for an additional 4 minutes. The color was beautiful and they were perfectly cooked, so I took them off the skillet. At this point my squash was also ready. The only thing left to do was plating.

This recipe turned out really well. The vinaigrette was great, the flavors of the pork were fantastic, and the squash… well, it was perfect. It was such a nice dish. The best part is that we still had two chops left to eat the next day. We reheated them in the oven (covered in foil for 40 minutes at 350F) and they were even better then! Awesome! Nutrition-wise this was also a hit. The whole dish only has 470 calories per serving. That was a very generous portion for such a small amount of calories. There’s no trick with this recipe, but it’s quite a treat!
Enjoy your fall!

On the road shortcut

(As provided by Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 pounds winter squash (such as acorn, kabocha, delicata, or butternut), halved, seeded, cut into 1" wedges
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 1"-thick bone-in pork chops
1/2 small garlic clove, finely grated
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro plus leaves for garnish
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lime juice
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread out pumpkin seeds on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing once, until just beginning to darken, about 4 minutes. Let cool. Coarsely chop; set aside.
Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil on a large rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast squash, turning occasionally, until golden brown and tender, 35-40 minutes.
When squash has been roasting for 30 minutes, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper and cook until brown, 5-8 minutes. Turn over and cook until pork is cooked through, about 3 minutes longer.
Whisk garlic, 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons lime juice, reserved toasted pumpkin seeds, and remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a small bowl to combine. Season vinaigrette with salt, pepper, and more lime juice, if desired.
Divide squash and pork among plates; spoon vinaigrette over. Top with cilantro leaves.
Per serving: 470 calories, 28 g fat, 7 g fiber