Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

Osso bucco.  Those four syllables are synonymous with “the brightest delights of heaven concentrated on the tongue in a symphony of rich savory flavorful meat and vegetable loveliness” … or something like that.  And when the veal is from the inestimable Cato Corner Farm, in Colchester, CT — a place more known for its cheese than its equally fine pork, veal, and beef selection (thanks to H & W for taking us there after last weekend’s epic pig roast!), and the carrots were grown by my husbandman Farmer Clayton in Concord, MA, then the waxing poetic effect really kicks in with a vengeance.  I’m not sure why veal shanks braised in tomatoes and wine always commands such a massive price on restaurant menus, especially when superlative meat is available for $7.99/lb, like it was at the farmstand — which I why I make the dish at home whenever I can.  The enjoyment to be gleaned from this dish, however, is worth any price: a homestyle, chunky tomato sauce full of fresh farm flavors, draped over tender morsels of sweet meat falling off round smooth bones shot through with rich, delicious marrow.  Traditionally, the meal is served with a saffron-scented risotto and topped with a snappy garlic/parsley gremolata, but I wanted to capture more of a rustic feel, so I stewed the sauce with oregano and sage and served the dish with some beautiful gnarled roasted carrots.  (Clayton has been collecting the ugliest carrots he could find, digging them up all week.)  Hearty, honest, silken, savory and warm; we might not live on the farm, but we sure know how to bring, and use, the best of the farm home with us to the city for dinner night after night.

Gnarly Roasted Carrot Studded Osso Bucco

4 cross cut veal shanks (mine equal about 1 3/4 lbs)
EVOO
several celery stalks
8-10 carrots — the more gnarled, twisted, and mutant, the better!
1 small red onion
1 small white onion
1 head garlic
1 cup red wine
1 qt beef stock
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 handful fresh sage leaves
1 small loaf french bread
grated parmesan cheese
black pepper, sea salt

This dish starts like many other braised meat recipes: I rinse and dry the yummies, dredge them with flour, salt, and pepper.  I roughly chop my celery, onion, and a couple of my least interesting carrots (read: anything straight enough to have purchased at the supermarket ), then separate, crack, and peel all my cloves of garlic.  A swirl of EVOO goes over medium-high heat in my largest, deep-sided pan.

Searing the meat does several things: it locks in juices and flavor, it caramelizes cut sides of muscle, jump starting the cooking process, and it adds a crusty fond to the pan, which will contribute deliciousness (and thickeningness) to the sauce.

Using tongs, I flip them shanks when the bottom side has developed a healthy brown sear.  The house already smells good.  When both sides are properly encrusted, I remove them from the pan and set ‘em aside for a few moments. I return the pan to the heat and …

… dump in my chopped veggies.  They get stirred around over the heat until they just start to soften.  The smell in the kitchen just intensified to fantastic.

Here’s where I add the wine.  This is just a nice table red; Clayton enjoyed drinking the rest of the bottle with his dinner later.

I splash about a cup into the pan and stir well, scraping up all the nice brown bits of meaty meat clinging to the hot surface.

I coulda shoulda woulda used fresh tomatoes today, but I done forgot to ask Clayton to pick some.  It would have added about an hour to my cook-time, too – and given the hour plus I needed to braise the veal, that would have meant a very late dinner.  So, a can it is; this brand is organic and quite tasty.

We don’t have to get our herbs from the farm, since our little roof-deck garden is still producing sturdy rich oregano and robust sage leaves.  I don’t bother removing these from their stems…

… I just throw them, stems and all, along with my quart of beef stock, into the pan.  After a good stir, encouraging the wine, tomatoes, and stock to get to know each other and submerging my herbs in their luscious liquid, I reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and walk away for an hour — during which time the fantastic aromas emanating from the stove shoot heavenward, ascending all the way to “maddening”.

Now that’s what I call a chorus line.  Look at all them legs!  Clayton’s collection of heirloom ugly carrots are a delightful study in what vegetables really look like.  Not only are they more visually stimulating than the typical, perfectly conical, dully orange Bug Bunny carrots, but they taste richer, more carrot-y, too.  I scrub them very well, using a vegetable brush, and paying close attention to the little bits of stem left.  No – I don’t peel them.  It’s rusticity I want; my carrots don’t need denuding.

These lovelies get laid Walton-family style in a sweet little package of aluminum foil, draped with EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and a sprigs’ worth of oregano leaves.  I wrap the package up tightly, being careful not to pierce the foil, then I put this on a baking sheet and throw it into a 350° oven.  They take about 35-40 minutes; just enough time for me to finish off the rest of the meal.

It’s been an hour, and my veal is so tender it has already begun to fall off the bone.  I remove the lid so that the liquid can reduce…

… and so I can melt some butter.  I don’t have a microwave, but I do have stainless steel bowls I can float over already boiling stuff to jerry-rig a quick double-boiler.  What?  It’s efficient! I add about a tablespoon of fresh minced garlic, and mix well.

This gets spread across my split french loaf.  Add some healthy sprinklings of grated parmesan cheese, chuck in the oven for 10 minutes, and I gots me some toasty cheesy garlic bread for sopping.

Didn’t I mention the meat was falling off the bone?  Or perhaps it’s more apt to say that the bones are falling out of the meat.  Either way, it’s ready.

I remove the meat from the sauce to a warmed waiting serving platter.  Using a deep spoon, I transfer the sauce from the pan to a large deep bowl.  Although I could serve it chunky like this, I like a smooth sauce for my Michael Shanks..

I’ve used a variation of this trick to pound peppercorns in my mortar and pestle without scattering them all over the kitchen, and it works for hand-blending, too.  This bowl is too big for a single-width of cling-wrap, so I tightly affix two overlapping sheets to the bowl’s edges, sliding my hand-blender through the open pocket.  Then I happily whirr away, enjoying the sensation of *not* flicking my eyes, face, clothes, and kitchen walls with hot tomato sauce.

See?  All these spatters are *not* all over me.  And I have a perfectly pureed garden tomato sauce!

The last step is to plate my carrots, which are absolutely tender and slightly caramelized when I unwrap them from their foil sleeping bag.

An aromatic hour and a half later, and I have a full platter of richly stewed tender veal shanks with roasted sweet carrots.  The flavors are hearty and wholesome, warming to the core, fulfilling and comfortable.  Clayton summed up my cooking just right the other day; he called it “urban comfort food” – and I couldn’t agree more with him.  My place in the city serves the farm on a plate, and this married-to-a-gentleman-farmer-redneck girl loves it.

Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins


One of the first jokes I heard when I moved up here to Boston sounds more like a mantra than the one-liner it is: If you don’t like the weather here in New England… wait 5 minutes.  This week has, thus far, personified that way of life.  The down-home-cooking pictured here was prepared by yours truly and served up on Monday night, after a long, dark, dreary, windy, extremely wet and surprisingly cold August day. Tuesday was patches of the same, interspersed with random periods of clear blue sky and warm breezes.  But today… today it’s brilliant, cloudless, sunny, and HOT – a true summer day. I’ve gone from a long-sleeve sweater and sweatpants to tank-top and tap-pants in a matter of hours.  So even though just thinking of turning on my oven today makes me all sweaty and anxious, I sure am happy I did to make Monday’s dinner – even if we were too sodden to shop, and so only used the few things we had in the house and a boner recently bought at our go-to ghetto grocery store, Johnny’s Foodmaster.  But as this is Lolita’s riff on a standard chicken n’ dumplins, I did fancify it with a bit of ham and swiss cheese (stolen from Clayton’s luncheon meats supply) – just to make the mundane a bit more special. With a quick, two-ingredient salad and some garlicky “cheater” cheese muffins, this steaming hot and supremely satisfying pot-pie au gratin totally took the cold out of our bones, while culinarily combining our old Southern roots with our new Northern exposures. In the background, on the telly, Brigit Fonda is ostensibly contemplating killer crocodiles loose in Northern Maine (ala Lake Placid, a little gem of a movie), but she’s really thinking about the steaming chicken goodness just waiting under that crust of bubbly baked Swiss cheese. Back off, blondie!  This bowl’s MINE.


Chicken n’ Dumplins Cordon Bleu, with Arugula and “Cheater” Cheese Muffins

1 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1.5 lbs)
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1 onion
1 stick butter
1 qt chicken stock
garlic powder
1 package flour tortillas
arugula
fresh mozzarella cheese
EVOO
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 can large buttermilk biscuits (yes, I used a can.  Sue me.)
shredded romano cheese


I started with a pat of butter and a large hot pan.


Just as my butter started to froth, I placed my large washed, patted dry, salted, and peppered chicken breast skin down into the pan, and I let it sear for a good 10 minutes, until the skin was brown and crispy and the breast had started to cook through. Meanwhile, I peeled and chop my onion, carrots, and celery.


I flipped my bird, moved it to the side of the pan, and dumped my aromatics into the pan, stirring well so the browned butter coated all the veggies thoroughly.


After the veggies softened slightly, I flipped my bird breast down again, added the quart of chicken stock to the pan, and using a wooden spatula to scrape up all the buttery fond, lowered the heat to medium, and put on the lid.  I let my chicken cook for 30 minutes this way, trying hard not to keep lifting the lid to inhale the amazing aroma.


Although I know they’re likely full of preservatives and stuff, I have always loved bread from a can – from the light and flaky crescent rolls to the super Grande buttermilk biscuits.  We try to keep a can on hand, just for days like Monday when going to the market just isn’t on the agenda.  They’re great in a pinch.  Still, as you may have seen before, dear reader, if you follow this blog, Lolita doesn’t like to just slap them on a cookie sheet — oh no!  I do a little something something to make them extra special.  A can comes with 8 biscuits; I used 4, and put the rest back in the fridge with the hope that I’d use them the next day (which I did, actually).  I first cut them into quarters…


… then I tossed them with the dry ingredients into a large zipper bag: a few shakes of garlic powder (not garlic salt), and some shredded romano cheese (about 1/2 cup).  I threw all this around until each little bread nugget was studded with flavor.  I then added 2 tbs of melted butter, sealed the bag, and tossed it around some more to fully coat everything.


Four nuggets per tin transformed these biscuits into savory muffins, and an extra helping of cheese on top makeed them crisp up.  See?  “Cheater” muffins – not from scratch, but they taste like it! They took 15 minutes to bake on 350° — just as much time as I needed to bake off the casseroles, so I set them aside until I was ready.


After 30 minutes, my chicken was fully cooked through and ready to be pulled off the bone.  Using tongs, I removed the breast from the pan, and set the heat to high so the chicken broth could continue to boil off and concentrate.


I carefully removed the meat from the bone, and it was luscious, juicy, and tender.  I roughly chopped it, making sure to keep some of the flavorful skin attached, and blended what little dark rib meat there was with the abundant white meat.

Using the ramekins I planned to serve in as templates, I cut perfect little discs of tortillas out of their larger selves.  My country mother-in-law revealed to me many years ago how well tortillas work in place of traditional dumplins – they have the same basic ingredients, and since they’re not dried like pasta-style dumplins, they don’t need as long to cook.  (I could make them from scratch, but it wasn’t that kind of night.)  They also create the unique texture one wants from the starch in this dish – soft and pillowy and a bit sticky.

These ramekins are 12 ouncers, I think (I don’t know why volume isn’t imprinted on the bottom of all kitchen items), just large enough for a decent sized dinner each. I buttered them down completely.  I did the same with a large muffin pan, so I could cobble together my white-trash “cheater” cheese muffins.

 


The first layer was an ounce or so of chicken broth, with a few of the veggies, too.


Then, I fit a layer of tortilla over that, studded the tortilla with a handful of chicken, then drowned it in chicken stock and veggies.  I repeated this layer about 5 times, until I reached the inner upper edge of the dish.


Knowing these would settle during cooking, I topped them with more chicken and veggies and set them on a cookie sheet and – along with my muffin tin – I threw everything into my oven for 10 minutes.


After that time, I pulled them out and happily saw that the top tortilla was fluffed and sodden but still intact, and that the edges had started to bubble over a bit.  I layered one slice of ham on top of each ramekin…


… and two slices of Swiss cheese, allowing the edges to hang off, on top of that.  I removed my muffins from the oven, turned the heat up to broil, then set my ramekins (on their cookie sheet, to make them easier to handle, and to keep the cheese from dripping) right under the heating element for 3-4 minutes.

 

I whipped together some arugula, the last of my North End fresh mozzarella (see Saturday’s post), some EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper for a salad – just the cold peppery milky compliment for the rich, savory main course.   A crispy, melted crust of nutty Swiss cheese and sweet ham revealed a steaming casserole of tender, flavorful chicken chunks nestled in between layers of ethereally soft white dumplin blankets, pillowed with pieces of barely-firm carrot and chunks of softened celery. My muffins bloomed on the plate; four little nuggets of buttery, garlicky,and cheesy stuck together to create crunchy outside/flaky inside bundles of joy.  It may have been cold outside, but with our favorite killer crocodile movie as the backdrop, and this yummy on the plate, it was warm and welcoming inside – and that’s all that counts.