Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

DSCN5358Wow.  It’s been a month since I last posted a recipe.  It’s not that I’ve become a slackass or anything – quite the contrary, actually.  I started running this summer, so have shaved some width off my volumps, plus I’ve seen a marvelous uptick in my evening social life – all of which are delightful developments I never expected to see in my 40’s.  I mean, I have been cooking; in fact, I’ve got several recipes in the queue, so to speak, that I still need to write up.  But I’m skipping those and going for the meal that I’m still licking off my lips.  It was a crispy baked and breaded thick cut pork chop sitting atop smooth spiced beer-braised beans and melted spinach which filled my belly with just what I needed after a lunch-free day, a couple bike rides, and a quick run around the block.  Oh, and Clayton’s out of town, so I needed comfort food because: lonely. And considering the near-freezing temperature already descending upon Boston, the warmth steaming off the plate was pretty damn welcome for more reasons than one.

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Pork and Beans and Greens and Beer

1 center cut, 1″ thick, bone-in pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
8 oz fresh spinach leaves
6-8 cloves garlic
1 medium white onion
1 tbs butter
3-4 tbs EVOO
10 oz beer
1 egg
4 tbs flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
sea salt, cracked black pepper, paprika, parsley flakes, crushed red pepper, Chinese 5-spice
freshly grated parmesan cheese

DSCN5343I start by crushing and peeling my garlic cloves, then dicing my onion.  This I set aside for a few minutes.

DSCN5345I then salt and pepper my chop, then first dipping it in flour…

DSCN5346… then coating it with beaten egg…

DSCN5347… and finally pressing breadcrumbs into the meat, coating it thoroughly.

DSCN5348I heat up an oven-safe skillet and melt my butter and EVOO into it until it foams.

DSCN5349Then I sear my chop on every meat-surface I can.  This means front, back, and the exposed fat “seam” along the narrow edge by holding the chop up by the bone (which I frenched, BTW, to make it a better handle) and sear/rolling it in fat until it crisps to a golden brown.  Then I throw the pan into the oven, which is preheated to 325°, for 15 minutes, flipping once to evenly cook through.

DSCN5350Meanwhile, I’ve sauteed my onions and garlic briefly in another glug of EVOO before dumping the can of beans into the pan.

DSCN5351I had intended to use chicken stock, but alas!  I was out.  So I grabbed one of Clayton’s crappy beers, just to add some depth of flavor.

DSCN5352I add a little more than half the can.  It’s foamy.  I let this simmer on high while the pork chop roasts in the oven, and while I clean and trim my spinach.

DSCN5353Oh, right — and I add spices!  Paprika and parsley and lots of black pepper and a few shakes of crushed red pepper and a dash of sea salt and a smattering of 5-spice.  This all thickens up nicely while the beer boils off.

DSCN5354When I have about 3 minutes left, I press and mix all my spinach leaves into the beanpot.  It overflows at first, but…

DSCN5355… they melt beautifully.

DSCN5359At the last moment, I decide to grate some lovely parmesan cheese off a block onto the whole plate.  My beans and greens are the gravy, and my crispy, crunchy, tender, moist, flavorful, and hearty pork chop is the main course.  I tucked into this plate with complete abandon, savoring every unctuous bite. Frankly, I couldn’t eat it all – but I sure as hell tried.

Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

DSCN4347Those of you wonderful people who follow my blog know I have a weakness for anything cooked in a cast-iron skillet.  There is something so old-timey about cast iron, and I love how they serve today as both cooking equipment and serving platter – as they do in my house.  Maybe it’s the weight of them; maybe it’s just the tradition of them — I don’t know, but everything seems to taste better in cast iron.  No wonder, then, that tonight’s offering is a one-pan meal: a mixed grill of seared scallops, shrimp, and cod filet, served with piping hot cheese grits and some quick wilted spinach.  Light, healthy, and warming — just the thing for a chilly winter’s night.

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Scallop, Shrimp, and Cod Skillet with Parmesan Grits and Spinach

6 large shrimp, peeled
2-4 large scallops (8oz total), adductor muscles removed
1/2 lb cod filet
6 oz spinach
1 cup grits
4 tbs butter, melted and divided, plus 1 tbs butter, cold
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lemon

This meal was inspired largely by the super-huge scallops on display at Whole Foods.  They were simply enormous, and my soul ached for them at first glance, but my pocketbook was unprepared for the hefty price-tag which came along with them.  So instead of doing without entirely, I purchased the two fattest bivalves I could find (they came to almost 1/2 lb on their own!), and augmented them with some more reasonably priced seafare — some large tiger shrimp and a nice codfish loin.  The shrimp I peeled while raw, and the fish I cut into bite sized pieces.

DSCN4333This is actually a *very* quick meal, and super-easy — it’s just  the expense that sort of knocks it out of the Weeknight Wondermeal category.  I started by melting my butter, which rather cooled back to room temperature before I started cooking in earnest, while I assembled everything else.  I wash and spin dry my spinach, grate my cheese, and get my grits all measured out.

DSCN4339I divide my melted butter roughly into 6ths, placing 1 dollop into each skillet, which I then position over hot burners.  As soon as the butter has begun to brown, I layer in my seafood, starting with the scallops and fish, which I let sear on one side for about 4 minutes, before flipping each piece carefully.

DSCN4340I then add the shrimp, with a dollop more butter on top to melt over them, which I cook for 2 minutes on each side, making a total of 4 minutes for the fish and scallops.  Y’see, the shrimp doesn’t take as long as the other stuff …

DSCN4341I remove the protiens briefly to a warm plate, which I cover with plastic wrap for a few minutes.

DSCN4338The skillets remain on the heat with their butter still bubbling hot.

DSCN4342In goes my spinach, which I sort of roll around in the butter and let wilt over the heat.

DSCN4343Meanwhile, I’ve made my grits according to the package directions (1 part grits to 3 parts water is the magic ratio), and have added my cold tablespoon of butter and most of my grated cheese, reserving a bit for garnish.

DSCN4344After only a few moments, my spinach is almost completely wilted, with some bits browning and crisping nicely on the pan’s surface.  I push all this to one side, and divide my grits between the two skillets, pouring them next to the spinach.

DSCN4345The fish, scallops, and shrimp get placed back into the skillets, with my last dollops of butter placed on top, before I throw both in a very hot oven for about 8 minutes to heat completely through.

DSCN4346A dash of salt, a sprinkling of pepper, a cross-hatching of shredded cheese, and a wedge of lemon are all the compliments needed for this rich, warm, satisfying seafood dinner.  Each protein brings something different to the plate: the cod is flaky and tender, the shrimp is fresh and firm, and the scallop is sweet and seared to a crisp.  Along with the stick-to-your ribs corn grits and helping of verdant greenery, this is a complete dinner in virtually no time at all.  Dig in and enjoy, my friends.  I sure did.

Pan Seared Skate Wing, Molten Cheddar Grits, Wilted Spinach, and Spring Onion Hollandaise

Oh hai Spring!  It’s March in New England but my windows have been open for days, and today I rode through Brighton in a tank-top, getting some much needed sun on my oh-so-pale shoulders. This false spring, as Hemingway called it, is so alluring that I fight against the voices that whisper “global warming” and just bask in the day while I have it.  Of course, with the forecast heralding sunny low 70’s all week, it looks like we’ll be having it at least until next weekend.  To welcome the warm breezes and clear skies, I purchased two angelic skate wings at New Bedford’s seafood mecca, Fisherman’s Market. I draped them in a silky snappy golden hollandaise, and served them with some spinach and grits extraordinaire.  Light fish, rich sauce, cheesy starch, and good greens — what more could a girl want on a perfect Sunday night?

Pan Seared Skate Wing, Molten Cheddar Grits, Wilted Spinach, and Spring Onion Hollandaise

2 skinned, boned, cleaned fresh-smelling skate wings
flour, for dredging
1/2 cup grits
1 1/2 cup water
4 1″ cubes cheddar cheese
2 sticks butter, divided
1 lb fresh spinach leaves
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt, black pepper, EVOO
1 large spring onion
(ignore the caperberries in the picture — I ended up not using them)

Good grits require a 1 to 3 ratio: 1/2 cup grits + 1 1/2 cups water = perfection.  While I bring my water, salted, to a boil, I liberally butter up two 6oz ramekins and measure out my grits.

After 10 minutes or so, stirred occasionally, set covered over low heat, with a tablespoon of butter – and they’re perfect.

I fill each ramekin halfway, drop a couple nuggets of a nice raw milk cheddar on top…

…. then fill to the brim with the rest of the hot grits.  These will get set into a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, right before serving, to puff up and bake.

I think I’ve mentioned before how much Clayton and I love animation, cartoons, and comic books.  So we couldn’t resist getting Puss In Boots on demand recently, and we laughed our heads off.  I loved the texture of Humpty’s skin/shell — the perfect representation of an egg’s unique spherical smooth bitty bumped roundness.  My camera doesn’t get as close as I want it to; I need to upgrade.  Anyway, I need the nuclei of four of these babies.

Like so.  (I’m terrible at cracking eggs.  I never get whole yolks, and I never miss getting shell. Sigh.)  I squeeze half a lemon into the bowl and whisk very very well.

Along with a stick of melted butter, whisked over a double boiler, my lemon-juiced eggs froth and firm and double in volume.  I add tablespoons of hot water if it gets thick, and more melted better until I have it…

… just right.  Frothy and rich, I add some chopped spring onion greens, salt and pepper, and set aside until service.

The final – and easiest – component of this meal is the skate wing.  Skate is a type of stingray, a creature of which I have nightmares (as I do of most aquatic life – a mild phobia), but in which I do like to indulge when I see it.  One has to be careful with skate — it can stink of ammonia, so be sure to smell it before buying it (the fishmonger should be happy to hold a filet up to your nose).  I’ve made it before when ammonia permeated the flesh so thoroughly that I had to scrap the whole thing.  But when it’s right, it is a beautiful, delicate, and delicious fish.  All I do is sprinkle both sides with salt and ground pepper, and dredge it in flour.

A couple tablespoons of butter, and a few glugs of EVOO go into my largest non-stick fry pan, set over high heat until it froths.  (At this point, I put my two ramekins of grits into my preheated oven to bake.  They’ll need about 10 minutes – just enough time to finish the fish and spinach.

Both filets lay like angel’s wings, sizzling the second they hit my hot fats.  I recently purchased a crescent shaped spatula, which I flattened against the center of each piece when it began to buckle in off the heat.  About 4 minutes on this side…

…before flipping each to reveal perfectly toasted golden brown deliciousness.  Cook for another 4-5 minutes before moving to warm plates, reserving the leftover grease.

I press my washed spinach leaves into the pan, and turn them over a few times with tongs until they are completely wilted.  I salt and pepper them liberally.

My fish is plated, my spinach is ready, and my little bundles of cheddar and corn are popping out of their dishes.  They’re hard to flip (because they’re hot and slick), but flip them I do.

My plate is a study in swirls: the striated flesh of my skate wing shoulders a swathe of oniony rich thick fluffy golden butter cream, and a coiled nest of wilted greens, and a locus of corn grits with a sharp melting center.  In the light of the setting spring sun, Clayton and I each tuck our napkins under our chins and poise our forks above our dinners.  With a smiling look at each other, and a deep sigh — the kind only the satisfaction of spring can bring – we eat.  And we eat well, dear readers — very, very well.

Crispy Braised Pork, Manchego Grits, and Garlicky Greens with Lime Cream

It’s a brand new year!  Astute as I know you to be, dear readers, I’m sure you’ve figured that out by now, and I hope that you forgive my recent absence from the blogisphere, but for the holidays I gave myself the last few weeks off from cooking, more or less.  One of the drawbacks to being the house cook is that if I don’t make it, nobody does — and sometimes even Lolita lacks inspiration and motivation.  Hence, we became quite good friends with a troupe of delivery drivers, ate many large lunches out, and other than my spectacular Christmas dinner (which I may post for next year’s Noel), I didn’t do diddly squat.  But now that I’m back to work,  I’m back to cooking, and last night’s dinner was the perfect home-cooked meal for a first time back behind the stove.  Braised pork butt, stewed to tender and seared to crispness, served over some rich, nutty grits and wilted garlicky spinach, all topped with a cooling zesty crema.  As the temperature outside my windows dropped to the ‘teens, the warmth inside my belly grew with every hearty bite.

Crispy Braised Pork, Manchego Grits, and Garlicky Greens with Lime Cream

2lb pork butt
2 shallots
1 qt chicken stock
cumin, black pepper, sea salt, oregano
1/2 cup grits
1 bunch fresh spinach
1 head garlic
2 limes
EVOO
sour cream

The dish I am essentially making here is carnitas, that savory shredded citrusy pork often found in Mexican cooking.  It is, quite simply, my favorite filling for tacos, quesadillas, and well, my mouth.  But traditionally, preparing this perfection out of  pork butt takes hours and hours and hours of slow braising, and I just couldn’t wait that long.  And I didn’t have to!  Because these little meat morsels can be relatively quickly prepared in smaller quantities with more rigorous heat, with just as succulent a product to enjoy afterwards.  I start with a nicely marbled 2lb pork butt, which I cut into largish chunks.  I also chopped my shallots, the only aromatic I’m going to add at the onset.  The citrus and garlic will come towards the end of the cooking process.

A glug or two of EVOO goes into my largest, heaviest pan, which I heat to sizzling.

In goes those perfect pink pork chunks and my shallots.  Almost immediately, the kitchen fills with the aroma of searing meat and melting shallot – and it is out of this world.

I also add about 2 tbs of ground cumin, 2 tbs cracked black pepper, 1 tbs dried oregano, and a dash of salt, which kicks the already amazing smell past the cosmos and straight to heaven.

I move everything around every once in a while, aiming for browned edges on all the sides of each meatwad, while trying not to burn the shallots.

When all my meat has been kissed by the heat, I add enough chicken stock to cover — which leaves me about a cup leftover to use in my grits later.  I lower the heat to simmer, cover my pan, and walk away for about 90 minutes.  The liquid will permeate the meat, melt the fat, and breakdown the connective tissues between the muscle, yet it takes patience.  Go drink a couple beers and watch some Bones reruns on TBS; that’s what I did.

An hour and a half later, the liquid has reduced to less than half, and two forks easily shred the meat.  Awesome, but still not quite ready.  At this point, the meat has a bit of a grainy texture; to remediate that, I remove the cover so the rest of the liquid can start to boil off, and the circulation of air through the now browned meat will tenderize it even more.

It’s the perfect time to start my grits on the back burner.  1/2 cup of ground corn, 1 cup stock + 1 cup water, all set to simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

The major flavors on the plate will be garlic and lime, and it’s time to get them in the pan.  I first chop about 5-6 large cloves of garlic, then zest both of my limes.

Half the garlic and half the lime zest goes into the meat and stirred around well to incorporate all those snappy flavors.  Adding the zest – instead of juice – really kicks up the deliciousness; the oils released from the citrus will blend with the oils left in the pan once the rest of the remaining stock boils off, which will permeate the pork as it crisps during the final stage of cooking.  Adding fresh garlic at this point, instead of having added it when I started the braise, will ensure its flavor and pungency while still allowing it to mellow by virtue of a few minutes sautee.

After said few minutes, I raise the heat to high to finally boil off the last of the stock, leaving nothing but the EVOO and pork fat in the pan.  This starts to sizzle, and the meat against the surface of my stainless steel starts to sear and crisp.  I scrape the pan a few times, trying not to break my largest chunks of meat any smaller while trying to add that perfect crunchy richness which offsets the fork-tender; it is the synthesis of these two textures that make carnitas so delectable.

The last cooked component is my greens, so I add the rest of my garlic to another few glugs of EVOO in my large non-stick sauté pan, and sweat this until just translucent.

In goes my washed and dried spinach.  This particular foliage shrinks up madly when cooked, so I just overload my pan and toss gently until it wilts enough to fit.

This marvelous manchego cheese was a Christmas gift (included in a basket full of awesome vittles) from the other two men in my life, bosses TT and WA – thanks boys!  After noshing on it on New Year’s day, this leftover lump of lactic loveliness was exactly the cheese my grits needed.

El Claytonious shreds about half of it for me, which I add to my now thick and rich grits, along with some salt and pepper to taste.  Beautiful!

 The final component is my crema – a simple blend of sour cream, the juice from both my limes, and the rest of my lime zest.  I mix all this together well right before plating.

A molten bed of silky grits enriched by nutty Spanish cheese; a nest of garlic-riddled, wilted spinach; a pile of perfectly tender, crisp-edged, citrus scented, and super-savory pork; and a dollop of lime crema to add coolness and contrast to this rich repast.  “Pork and grits,” Clayton queried, “where’d you get that idea?”  After snidely reminding him that bacon is pork, and we eat bacon and grits for breakfast, like, all the time, I finally sheepishly admitted that I had been somewhat inspired by a similar dish offered at the new Firebrand Saints in Kendall Square, where their porchetta plate with polenta and wilted kale set my imagination in motion.  Theirs was delicious, of course (as are their burgers and cocktails!), but my interpretation really fit tonight’s bill of fare.  Hearty and wholesome – all in about 2 hours.  If this first real meal of the year foreshadows what’s yet to come, Lolita and her lover will be eating REALLY well in 2012.  I hope, dear readers, you too enjoy as much digestible deliciousness as possible this year.  If you find yourself falling short – drop me a line and I’ll make you dinner myself!