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.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

DSCN5172This summer has been all cockamamie.  We had a sweltering June, but August was remarkably temperate, and now – less than a week into September – it’s already pretty cool out.  I usually don’t find myself making anything soupy or stewey until November, but after a chilly walk home yesterday, I was compelled to break out the wok and the stock and craft some comfort yumminess.  This is a riff on my “Warm Chicken Lovejoy” – the only thing it’s missing is the chicken.  As a weeknight wondermeal, it’s cheap (less than $15), quick (less than an hour), uncomplicated, fairly light, and super soul-satisfying and delicious.  Some smoked pork chops simmered in turkey stock with soup beans, potatoes, fresh veggies, and lovely wilted kale is everything the body needs to bravely face the change of seasons.

Warm Smoked Pork, Beans, and Kale Lovejoy

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced
3-4 small red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 qt turkey stock
1 can mixed soup beans and barley
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 smoked pork chops (preferably bone-in)
sea salt, cracked black pepper, garlic powder, EVOO

DSCN5159I forgot to take a set up shot, so let’s just jump right into it.  I start by adding a roughly diced mirepoix (that’s onions, carrots, and celery for the uninitiated) to a glug of EVOO in my hot wok, which I sautee until fragrant and slightly translucent.

DSCN5160Then I layer my potates on top.

DSCN5161Then I dump my can o’ beans on top of that.

DSCN5162Then I place my pork chops on top of THAT.

DSCN5163And finally, I pour my quart of stock over the whole mess, then add some salt, a whole mess of black pepper, and a dash or two of garlic powder.

DSCN5165I let the pot simmer on medium low for about 30 minutes, stirring occaisonally, and allowing the liquids to reduce.  Once they’re soft enough, I squoosh a few pieces of potato with a fork against the side of the pan, which thickens the sauce.

DSCN5166I’ve washed and de-stemmed my kale, which I add to the pot, pressing down on the leaves with a wooden spoon to submerge them in the simmering liquid.

DSCN5167After 10 or 15 minutes, they’ve nicely wilted, and enough of the liquid has boiled off to yeild a nice rich gravy. This can now hold for a while if necessary (Clayton took *forever* getting home from work, so I kept this simmering on low for another 20 minutes or so) — all it does is make the flavors that much richer.

DSCN5169Along with some toasted garlic bread for sopping, this deep bowlful of beany meaty greens-studded stew fills the belly with wholesome heartiness and homestyle goodness.  This is one of my go-to dishes: any combination of pork (sausage, chops, boneless ribs), stock, beans, and greens always hits the spot when simmered slow and low.  Clayton and I dug into this meal like badgers, and weren’t done until we’d sucked every morsel of sweet smoky pork meat from the bones and sopped up every molecule of fragrant, savory gravy.  The fact that it’s so easy makes it all that much better.

Weeknight Wondermeal: Sweet Sausage and Grapes

dscn5094This is, quite possibly, one of the easiest meals I’ve ever made.  And it could even be simplier, if you don’t care about adding rice or rosemary to it.  6 basic ingredients, and less than an hour on the stovetop: what could be easier?  So this one goes out to all my friends who say they can’t cook.  If you can’t make this sweet, savory, satisfying recipe, you may be dead — which would explain a lot of things…

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Sweet Sausage and Grapes

1 lb sweet italian sausage links (or 1/2 sweet, 1/2 hot)
1 lb mixed red and green seedless grapes
1/4 cup EVOO
1/2 cup red wine
1 tbs butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 tbs balsamic vinegar
white rice
crusty bread (for sopping)

DSCN5086The first thing to do is gently blanch the sausages by boiling them for a few moments in hot water.  Why?  This cooks out a lot of oil, and it helps keep the sausages from splitting open.  I used the same pan I was going to cook the whole meal in, and just wiped out the water between the boil and the sear.

DSCN5087To sear the sausages, I got my EVOO hot in the pan (which is high-sided and large enough for the whole meal), then cooked the links – rolling a quarter turn every couple minutes – until they were nicely browned on all surfaces.

DSCN5089Then I added my wine, using a spatula to scrape up the sausage fond while the liquid reduced for about 3 minutes on high.

DSCN5090Then I added my grapes.  Mmmmm… grapes.

DSCN5091Then I added my knob of butter and my stems of rosemary.  Then I covered the pan, and let it simmer on the stovetop over medium-high heat for 40 minutes.

DSCN5092I got my rice working on a back burner, then checked my pan.  The liquid content has increased dramatically with stewed grape juice, and the sausages are fully cooked through and tinted a deep purple from the red wine.  I remove the lid, raise the heat so the liquid will reduce and thicken, and I let it simmer another 10 minutes while I heat a baguette in the oven for dippin’.  When the liquid is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, I plate up my sausages and grapes, leaving the liquid in the pan before adding my balsamic vinegar to the mix.  I let this simmer for 5 minutes, stirring well to incorporate everything and to scrape up any nice brown bits from the base of the pan.

dscn5097The marriage of rich, tangy sweetness and rich, porky unctuousness in this dish is just heavenly!  Most of the grapes have cracked into  juicy pulpy packets of flavor, but some burst on the tongue with hot insistence, exploding into the mouth like atom bombs of delight.  The rosemary adds just a note of woodiness, and the balsamic vinegar brings balance to the sugar.  The sauce is thick and viscous, just begging to be mopped up with crusty bread and studded with slices of tender Italian sausage.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: sometimes, simple = perfect.  And this recipe is proof of that.  Enjoy!