Weeknight Wondermeal: Pork Chops Pizzaiola

dscn4743It’s been a while since I’ve posted a good Weeknight Wondermeal, which I characterize as having very few ingredients (less than $20 worth) and very little effort or time.  Y’see, I work at Harvard with a slew of excellent undergrads, and as they go off into the real world clutching their diplomas and dreaming of a future wealthy with either success or fulfillment (hopefully both), they need a little help transitioning.  And this is a dinner I expect any of my Harvard kids to be able to execute.  Hell, if they can do a Western blot, they should be able to figure out how to braise a pork chop in tomato sauce and boil water for pasta.  Once they do, they’ll be able to feed their bodies as much as they’ve fed their minds.


Pork Chops Pizzaiola

2 6-8 ounce center cut pork chops (about 1/2″ thick)
2-3 tbs flour
1 medium/large white onion
1 can diced tomatoes in juice
8oz button or baby bella mushrooms
1 qt beef or chicken stock
4 slices provolone cheese
1 cup pasta
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 tbs butter, divided
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN4732Start by rinsing and patting dry your pork chops, before sprinkling them generously with salt and pepper.  Dust them with flour, too.

DSCN4735Get a large skillet nice and hot, and add 2 tbs butter and a glug of EVOO to the pan.  Place your pork chops on the sizzling surface and sear for about 4 minutes.

DSCN4736Flip your chops, and sear on the other side for another couple minutes until nicely golden brown.

DSCN4737After peeling and dicing your onion, and washing all the dirt from your mushrooms, chuck all that into the pan, too.  Mix around a bit to heat through.

DSCN4738Add the tomatoes…

DSCN4739… then add the broth.  Your chops should be just submerged under the broth.  Get everything to a nice simmer, then chuck the whole pan into a 350° oven to bake for 45 minutes.  (This is a little long for a Weeknight Wondermeal, but considering how little effort is required to make this dinner, I figure it still qualifies.)

DSCN4741After said time, your chops should be practically falling off the bone, the tomato sauce should be nicely reduced, and your mushrooms should be plump and pregnant with juiciness.  Lay 2 slices of provolone cheese over each chop, then throw the pan back in the oven for about 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

DSCN4742This dish goes with pasta, rice, or mashed potatoes.  I like it best with pasta.  These shells have been cooked to just al dente, then tossed with butter, a little parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.

DSCN4745Juicy, tender, unctuously delicious pork chops draped with ooey-gooey smoked cheese, and served with its sauce over pasta.  A dash of parsley to add color to the plate will make you look all fancy-pants, too.  Serve this with some crusty bread for sopping, and you’ve got a dinner worth that Harvard degree!

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

What a weekend!  I’ve been busy busy busy – socially, professionally, culinarily, and intellectually.  I’ve been grading the scholarly work of others, and others have been grading me in a vastly different arena.  Challenges abound.  But I’m thrilled to say that it’s been a good weekend, one I will be proud of for quite some time.  You don’t necessarily need to know why, dear reader, that I am so happy right now, but you do have lots to do with it, and I thank you for loyally visiting Lolita’s dinner table week after week to see what I’m serving for my supper.  I’m plumb tickled every time someone tells me they tried one of my recipes, and tickled to hot pink whenever I hear someone say they felt comfortable enough to futz with my how-to in order to make the dish their own masterpiece.  Teaching you all how to enjoy the fruits of the land, the sea, and the grocery store is almost as good as eating my own creations.  Cooking is creativity, friends — nourishment for the body and for the soul.  Cook, eat, drink… and be happy!

Tonight’s dinner was launched on something of a whim.  I wanted to use some perfect tenderloins purchased again at Blood Farm, in West Groton, MA (our new favorite meat purveyor – sadly, but charmingly, lacking a website) as our main course, and I wanted to do something technically challenging, stick-to-your ribs, rich and delicious, but elegant, too: to celebrate! What else but Beef Wellington?  Several recipes I looked up called for mustard, several for foie gras; I couldn’t reconcile the sharp,vinegar taste of the former with the savory, ethereal aspect of the latter, so I split the difference by purchasing a slab of pure duck liver paté mousse with black truffle.  Fancified home-cooking, here we come…

Beef Wellington with Cream and Sherry Duxelle Sauce

2 1 1/2″ thick fresh filet mignons (beef tenderloin steaks)
1 stick butter
4 shallots, diced, divided (about 1 cup total)
an assortment of beautiful wild mushrooms (about 2 cups total, chopped)
4 oz chives (about 1 bunch), chopped roughly and divided
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup dry sherry
4 oz paté (this is duck liver mousse, with cognac and black truffle)
3 cloves crushed garlic
8 oz puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a dash of water
watercress, tossed with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice

This is the second set of tenderloins I’ve eaten from Blood Farm, and it is the second best steak I’ve ever eaten at home.  Seriously.  Not only because of how tender and flavorful it was, but because at a little more than $8/lb, it’s cheaper than any tenderloin I can find.  Anywhere.  And this was seared, cooled, then baked in pastry – not an easy thing to get just right, requiring really fresh, wonderful meat to make it happen.  I pat these very dry before sprinkling them liberally with fresh crushed black pepper and sea salt.

In a hot, bubbling mixture of EVOO and butter (a glug of the former, 2 tbs of the latter), I sear all the sides of my steaks for about 1 minute each: that’s top,…

… bottom, and – using my tongs…

…I rolled them across the heat on all their cut edges.  I’m looking for a lovely brown fond on all surfaces – sealing in the juices and par-cooking the steaks before the final bake.

Meanwhile, I’ve scrubbed and trimmed my mushrooms, and skinned and chopped my shallots.  I have a delightful blend of fungi: shitake, chanterelle, and wood ear mushrooms.  Whole Foods had ’em, and I bought ’em.  Given that the tenderloin was so cheap, these represented the largest chunk of tonight’s bill, but mushrooms don’t weigh much, so a handful of each (at from $10.99 – $21.99) at the market still only rang in at less than $10.00.  Totally worth it.

I remove my steaks from the pan and set them aside on a dish to cool (they need to reach room temp before they are wrapped in pastry), collecting all their lovely red beefy drippings to use in my sauce later.  My ‘shrooms and shallots get chucked into the hot pan where the fat is still sizzling, and I stir everything around really well to get it sweating.

A dash of chopped chives add color and snap.

If you haven’t already guessed it, this lovely fungi mixture is my duxelle, to which I’m adding the sweetness of sherry and the weight of cream.  Once the fungus has begun to soften…

 … a little of both (about 1/2 cup of sherry, and 1/4 cup of cream) gets added to the pan, which I set to a low simmer to reduce, burning off all the liquid.

 Like so.  I remove this from the heat so it, too, can cool before being layered into my puff pastry.

Speaking of which, it’s time to prep the pastry wrapping: that which makes this beef “Wellington.”  I break out my rolling pin, and dust my crappy Formica counter with flour.

I admit, this is just Pillsbury puff pastry, and I didn’t love it.  It lacked the buttery flavor I expected, but it certainly puffed nicely.  I’ve been defrosting it in the fridge for a few hours, then on the counter until it reached room temp.  I carefully unfold it, then roll it out to a nice, square, uniform thinness.

Using my paring knife, I cut two nice squares, just large enough to fully encase each steak without leaving too much overlap.

It’s high time I gave credit to The Review Lady, whose Beef Wellington posting largely contributed to this recipe.  Thanks for the inspiration, especially the great instructions on how to wrap the steak: I’d screwed that up before.  Based on her recommendation, I start by spooning a few tablespoons of my creamed, sherried, sauteed wild mushrooms in the center of each pastry square.

Foie gras is the idealization of the flavor of rich duck deliciousness, and it is expensive and not usually found in your workaday supermarket – including Whole Foods.  I can get it at Savenor’s, usually in small enough cuts to not blow the bank, but I couldn’t get there today.  I’ve made this recipe before, but have been turned off by the flavor of mustard with the duxelle, thinking it overpowering and out-of-place.  Lacking liver, but rejecting mustard, I opted for a savory, whipped mousse of foie savored by cognac and studded with flecks of black truffle, wrapped in aspic.  I have to resist the urge to just dive into this with a water-cracker and a side of triple-cream brie…

 A layer of paté is laid over the mushrooms…

 … and the steaks are layered over that.

 I first wrap each corner of pastry over the steak’s center, sealing everything with beaten egg/water wash and a basting brush.

I entirely seal the steaks in pastry dough, using the egg wash to glue all the seams together, and forming the Wellingtons with my hands by shaping the dough package into smart squares.

I have too little experience forming shapes with dough. What I thought would be a vaugely off-set layered leaf effect ended up looking like a swollen nipple – to be blunt. I’ve learned: don’t cut your pastry shapes too small.  Still, it looked promising!  I brush the whole package down – top and sides – with egg wash, then I set both Wellingtons on a parchment lined cookie sheet before throwing it into a 400° oven for 25 minutes to roast through.

Now to the sauce.  A few tablespoons of butter melted in a large saucepan…

 … and my minced garlic, sweetly sweated over medium heat.

Remember how I said to reserve the drippings off the steaks earlier?  The Review Lady’s recipe called for beef stock, but I just used these couple tablespoons of lovely lovely juices.

Beef juice + garlic butter = one hell of a gravy base.  I add 1/2 cup of sherry, and reduce to half.

Here I deviate more from The Review Lady, since I have another 1/2 cup or so of duxelle leftover from topping my steaks.  It seems such a waste to not use it, so I add it to my pan and stir well.

For the last long simmer, I add about 1/2 cup of heavy cream.  With a sprinkling of salt and pepper to taste, and another shot of chopped scallions, my sauce makes for a perfect douse.

After my sauce has thickened, and my puff pastry has browned, I have a perfect package of protein shot through with savory deliciousness and layered on a bed of tender mushrooms enrobed in creamy sherry sauce.

With a simple salad of salted and oiled watercress, my Beef Wellingtons sit pretty on their pillow of umame enjoyment.  From start to finish, this meal took only 90 minutes to make, but the impact was timeless.  A perfect, flaky pasty shell wrapped around a tender, medium rare (if only the picture had turned out!), thoroughly juicy, mushroom caked and richly-moussed prime steak — a dinner perfectly suited to crown an excellent weekend.  Dear friends, my readers, how I hope you begin and end each span of time in your life – be it a moment, or an eon – with such eager anticipation and equally enriching fulfillment, as I enjoyed these past few days.  Eating well, by the one’s own labors, is one of life’s true pleasures.  Try it for yourselves — you won’t regret it.

Maia’s Bulgogi in Fresh Lettuce Cups

I have an awesome job.  After years on the job market, doing everything from mucking out stables to slinging hash to chronicling history happening in hallowed Ivy League halls, my current job is, by far, the best I’ve ever had.  Why, you ask?  Is it the money? (No.)  Is it the extensive travel? (No.)  Is it the glamour and fame? (No.)  You could keep guessing, or I could just tell you: it’s the PEOPLE.  Universities are full of stuffy muckity mucks, many of whom I like quite fine, but it’s really the students that make such schools so wonderful.  And with this job, I get to know some excellent students – young men and women hurtling towards levels of greatness I can’t even fathom – and I get to help them along their path in my own small administrative ways.  Once they graduate – as my first crop of kids did just recently (meaning the first students I’ve ever gotten to know during their senior year) – our relationship can graduate to friendship, and then they can do what my dear young friend and trailblazer Maia did this past week: recommend a little something something for Lolita to craft in her crazy kitchen.  From Korea, Maia sent the following missive: “i’ve decided that your korean influenced meal should be bulgogi or a japchae spin-off with a delicious kimbap side!” along with a few links (like this one, from another WordPress blog, Hyunjoo’s Cooking Korean, which gave me the basics).  I jumped on suggestion #1: bulgogi.  I’ve eaten Korean BBQ once or twice, but never made it myself, and since the farm-fresh lettuce we’re getting right now is so perfect, I thought a helping of sweet n’ spicy marinated grilled pork with tender rice, pickled carrots, and kimchi might be just the message I could send back to Maia — one of deliciousness!  Thanks for the idea, sweetie – it would have only been better had you been here to share it with me!

To get all the requisite ingredients I’d need for my marinade, I rode my bike to Inman Square’s Reliable Market: a Somerville Mecca for all Asian gustables.  I must have walked by this place a million times before I noticed it was a grocery store, then I kicked myself quick vigorously in the arse until it was committed to memory.

I mean, look at this place! They have tons of fresh produce, walls of frozen product…

 … aisles of spices, teas, canned goods, packaged goods, wines and sakes, ice creams, Pocki, fresh fish, noodles, rice, sauces, and even thinly sliced raw meats — just like what I’d need for my bulgogi.  I didn’t want to snap too many pictures – I was afraid I’d piss someone off, but trust me when I say this market is *awesome*!

My groceries came to $22, and I would now have a good collection of Asian flavors to add to future recipes.  Nice!  Here’s what I used for tonight’s meal:

Maia’s Bulgogi in Fresh Lettuce Cups

1 lb very thinly sliced pork butt or shoulder
6 tbs mirin (or sweet sherry, if you must), divided
6 tbs rice wine vinegar, divided
4 tbs sugar, divided
2 tbs red pepper paste (Gochu-jang)
2 tbs fermented soybean paste (doen-jang)
soy sauce, to taste
black pepper, to taste
salt, to taste
3 tbs minced ginger
3 tbs minced garlic
3 tbs sesame oil
1 small white onion, 1/2 finely minced, 1/2 diced
1 bunch scallions, greens chopped, whites left whole for grilling
1 tbs white sesame seeds
1 tbs black sesame seeds
1 head Boston bibb lettuce
3 large carrots, julienned
If my understanding of bulgogi’s significance in Korean cuisine is correct, it’s about as special there as Hambuger Helper is here.  That’s not to say that it isn’t delicious – but it does rather explain the reaction of the nice lady at Reliable who helped me find the right tubs and bottles labeled with characters that dizzied me and made my eyes crossed (ignorant American that I am).  Upon her asking what I was looking for, I excitedly leaned in and proudly whispered to her that I was making bulgogi for the first time, and wasn’t that exotic of me!?!  I expected enthusiasm and giddiness, I got “m’eh”.  She shrugged, and walked me to the little cubes of fantastical flavor pictured above (after pointing out where I could buy bottles of “bulgogi” or “Korean-style BBQ” marinating sauces – all very delicious, she said), yanking down first the red pepper paste and then the fermented soy bean paste.  I guess if a nice Korean lady approached me at Star Market and said she was making tuna casserole for dinner, I’d be less than impressed, too.  But I’m now the proud owner of over a pound of each of these foreign ingredients – so I need to find some more recipes that use these flavors, stat! The kimchi — the world’s most popular condiment, apparently — filled a whole refrigerator wall at Reliable; this tub was the smallest I could buy, not knowing whether Clayton and I could take the heat (since we’re woosies).  The mirin, which is very sweetened rice wine, ended up being surprisingly thick and syrupy, which is why I added rice wine vinegar to my marinades (to thin it down without diluting the flavor).  Ok, enough yammer; let’s get started!

If you can’t find thinly sliced pork butt like this, you can buy a boneless butt or shoulder, freeze it for about 20 minutes to stiffen it up, and then slice it as thinly as possible across the grain.  Or ask your butcher.  You can use beef, too, or flank steak, or chicken – I saw recipes for just about every cut of meat.  (I betcha duck would be delicious!)  Then, toss those slices into a zipper bag or a large bowl, and mix them with 2 tbs of sugar, 2 tbs mirin, and 2 tbs rice wine vinegar.  Let this rest of a few minutes, while you prepare the rest of the marinade.

 In a medium bowl, mix 2 tbs red pepper paste, 2 tbs soy bean paste, 2 tbs rice wine vinegar, and 2 tbs mirin together.

 Add your minced ginger…

… and your minced garlic…

… and your minced onion…

… 2 tbs each soy sauce and sesame oil.

A healthy sprinkling of black pepper, and it’s ready to mix.

The red pepper paste gives it a deep scarlet color, and the flavor is fresh, nutty, sharp, and spicy.  Add this to your bag of sugar-coated meat strips, and make sure everything is deeply doused.

This bowl or bag of yummy goes into the fridge to marinate for at least an hour – mine goes for a few.

You can use that time to quick pickle some carrots, too.  I have to julienne mine on my mandoline, then use my chef’s knife to slice those slices into thin sticks.  They go into a zipper bag, too, with the rest of the sugar, more rice wine vinegar, 1/2 cup of EVOO, and a healthy sprinkling of sea salt.  I nestle them next to my bag o’ meat in the fridge, where the sticks can soak up all the snappy goodness.

You can choose to skewer your pork slices, like I did, so they’ll be easier to maneuver on the surface of the grill.  I get about 4 pieces of meat on each stick, and life is good.

On to the grill they go, along with the stems of my scallions (just ‘cuz).  It ends up taking about 20 minutes for these to cook to a nice char, so I close the lid and head back in to prep the rest of the ingredients.

This perfect head of lettuce hails from Busa Farms in Concord, now appearing at the Lexington, Arlington, and the Friday and Sunday Cambridge, MA farmer’s markets.  The lettuce leaves are full and deep green, soft and buttery.

I wash my lettuce leaves thoroughly, dry them well, and lay them out on a plate set with my minced scallions, kimchi, diced onions, pickled carrots, and sesame seeds.  These are my taco fillings, so to speak.

Oh, I’ve also made some rice, which is warming on the lid of my grill while my BBQ barbeques.

Speaking of the BBQ – my meat is cooking perfectly.  Little sears are forming on the edges, and when I flip the skewers, the sizzling aroma is astounding.  A few more minutes on the grill, and they’re ready to be served.

I dish up my rice, sprinkle everything with some sesame seeds for crunch, and sensuously slide my moist meat off its wooden pole.

A wad of tender, sticky rice, a nest of sweet pickled carrots, a sprinkling of snappy scallions, a perfect piece of pork, and a bit of spicy kimchi – all wrapped in a fresh leaf of lettuce.

The kimchi *is* spicy, but it is tempered by the sweetness of the meat and the the carrots.  Each bite is an explosion of flavor — fresh and light, filling and warm, steaming hot inside and crisp and cold outside.  I am sold on Korean BBQ, and feel rather a fool that I haven”t made this before.  Thanks, Maia – for schooling me on this deliciousness.  I told you you’d do great things in your life!  Teaching me something about cooking is one of the greatest things I can think of!