Monday, March 16, 2009

Indoor Grilled Pork Chops

No dry, tough pork here... look at these deliciously juicy Indoor Grilled Boneless Pork Chops. Mmmm - you want some don't you? Good news - you can have as many as you like, but you'll have to make them yourself. Don't worry, they're easy, but plan to make extra because you'll crave them the next day like my kids do when they come home from school. Have you every heard of kids begging to eat leftover pork chops for their after school snack? It's Crazy!

Funny story - a relative was visiting recently when I served these chops for dinner. He went on and on about them... asked me what I did to make them taste so good. I told him nothing special, I just seasoned them with salt and pepper. He responded, "Are you sure?". Me, "Yep, I'm very sure". I could tell he wasn't satisfied with my answer, but he nodded slowly and continued eating.

Over the next couple of days he mentioned the pork chops quite a few times - I was so pleased that he liked them. As his visit came to an end, he asked one more time, "What did you say you put on those pork chops?". "Just salt and pepper" I said. Again he started nodding slowly... "Really, that's it?" Then I nodded slowly and said, "Really, that's it!". He obviously thought I was holding out on him because as he walked out the door he stopped nodding and started shaking his head saying, "I sure don't know what you did to those pork chops... you say just salt and pepper, but I don't know". Then he shrugged his shoulders as if giving up in defeat... he's such a character!

Well, it's true... just salt and pepper... really!
Of course, not over cooking the chops helps a lot too. :)

There's no real recipe here... just a couple techniques that can be applied to as many or as few pork chops as you wish. I like to cook BIG, so I went to my favorite store Costco and purchased this huge vacuum packed pork loin. This sucker weighed 8.5 pounds - enough for 18 (yes eighteen) thick pork chops... and it cost less than $16. You can't buy dinner at a restaurant for that.

Okay, start by preheating the oven to 350F. Don't forget to do this! Now cut the loin into 1 1/4-inch thick chops. If you buy a big loin like I did, you'll need a couple of large cutting boards. Or, feel free to purchase pre-cut boneless pork chops. Whatever works best for you. Just be sure they're about 1 1/4-inches thick.

Trivia Question: what's the difference between a really good restaurant chef and your average home cook? Answer: a restaurant chef knows how to properly season, while most home cooks don't. So, season both sides of your chops well with Kosher salt and pepper (remember, these guys are pretty thick). Btw, Kosher salt is much less salty than table salt so be very careful if you use table salt.

Now, I preheat my non-stick grill pan over a med-high flame for a minute or two - just long enough so the meat sizzles a bit when it hits the pan - you definitely don't want your non-stick pan to be screaming hot. Overheating non-stick pans will ruin their coating and make them emit harmful but odorless fumes, so save super high heat for stainless and cast iron pans.

This is an All-Clad Double Grill Pan. I LOVE this pan - it leaves nice grill marks on everything, is oven safe up to 450F, and it cleans up like a dream.

When your grill pan is hot, place your chops on the pan diagonally and DON'T TOUCH THEM for at least 4 minutes, then you can take a quick peak to see how brown your grill marks are. Flip them when those grill marks are nice and brown (brown equals flavor - they should cook on the first side for a total of 4-5 minutes). As soon as you turn the chops, turn off the burners. If you have an oven safe meat probe/thermometer, insert it into the center of the thickest pork chop now, and transfer grill pan to the heated 350F oven.

Cook until the internal temperature reaches 160F (about 12 minutes). Remove from the oven and let them rest for 4-5 minutes before serving. Mmmmm, so good!!!

I hope you give these a try - they're really, really delicious!!!

One final note - I just recieved an email from Foodgawker. This photo was rejected too (big surprise, huh?). Their reason: "photo/food composition".

Chicken Noodle Soup - Italian Style

My homemade chicken noodle soup has a lot of fans. I attribute its popularity to several key ingredients - rich, garlicy homemade chicken stock, loads of dried parsley, tons of chicken, and really thick country style noodles.

First I start with these wonderful Country Pasta egg noodles. They're not your ordinary noodle, no... they are extraordinary and well worth finding. What makes them so special you ask? The fact that they're really thick and hold up extremely well in soups and stews. They have a real textural quality when you bite into them. They're sold all over the country at grocery stores and price clubs. Because these noodles are so much more substantial than other brands, they take twice as long to cook, so I boil them before assembling the soup (use a large stock pot because these guys puff up quite a bit). Be sure to salt your water well, or they'll taste very bland (water should taste like the sea).

I always make a huge batch of this soup because it's so popular, but you can easily reduce the ingredients for a smaller batch. First I start with about 6 quarts of Homemade chicken stock.

Then I add lots of shredded chicken - for a batch of soup this size, I would suggest the meat from 1 1/2 to 2 chickens. I like to roast my own chickens, but feel free to use rotisserie chickens if you like.

Now I add frozen mixed veggies - I like this organic brand from Costco. I use about half of this 5lb. bag.

Don't forget to add salt and pepper to taste, and throw in a decent palm-full of dried parsley - another Costco item I can't live without. Then just heat and serve.

Italian Chicken Noodle Soup
recipe serves 26, but can easily be reduced

6 quarts homemade chicken stock (recipe here)
1 lb. County Pasta, cooked in well salted water
Leftover shredded meat from 1 1/2 to 2 roasted chickens (recipe here)
2 1/2 lbs. frozen mixed vegetables
2-3 tbsp. dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste
finish with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese (optional)


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Recipe Review - Amy Sedaris' Vanilla Cupcake

I just had to try this recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes by Amy Sedaris after reading "my cupcakes were voted second best in the city by New York Magazine".
The recipe is posted here on

I found these cute cupcake papers at Michael's.

Start by creaming the butter...

Then add the sugar, blend and scrape... you know the routine... add the eggs, vanilla, dry ingredients, etc. Blend, scrape, yadda, yadda.

I used vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract. They measure equally and can be used interchangeably, so feel free to substitute it anytime you like.

See the little vanilla seeds? They looks so cute in the batter! (note - the vanilla seeds weren't that visible in the finished cupcakes, so reserve this paste for things like Panna Cotta, buttercream, whipped cream)

I love ice cream scoops for jobs like filling muffin tins. This is a number 20 scoop (did you know these scoops have numbers on the sweeper arm thingy???). The number indicates how many level scoops equal one quart. I have 5 of these scoops in various sizes, although one is currently MIA - I suspect Mr. 15 year old knows more about it than he's telling me. Anyway, they're great for scooping cookie dough, portioning rice, filling dessert glasses, and so on.

See how neat these cupcake wrappers were filled... not globs of batter anywhere!

The recipe instructs baking these cupcakes for 20 minutes in a 375F oven. I thought 375F was a bit high, but I followed the instructions anyway. Here they are after about 5 minutes in the oven... they look fine, don't they?

Here they are after baking for the full 20 minutes. Much too brown for a 'vanilla' cupcake if you ask me...

They flattened out quite a bit too. So I decided to make a second batch, but baked them at a lower temp.

What a difference 25 degrees can make! Overall, these cupcakes were okay, but I wouldn't call them the second best in NYC. The vanilla flavor is pronounced, but the cupcakes are a bit on the dry side, even when baked at the lower temp of 350F.

I served these cupcakes with a dollop of super easy to make chocolate ganache, which tastes so incredibly good and just melts in your mouth (btw, none of my guests commented on the cupcakes, but everybody loved the ganache!).

To make this easy ganache, you'll need roughly equal parts chocolate and heavy cream (the ratio can be varied somewhat, but this is a good place to start). You can use whatever chocolate you like best... I'm a dark chocolate fan, but I actually used Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips here.

Simply heat the chocolate and heavy cream together in a double boiler, over barely simmering water, stirring constantly until the chocolate and cream are fully combined. That's it. Use it warm as a drizzle or glaze, or set it aside and wait about 8 hours for it to thicken to a spreadable or pipe-able consistency (pictured above).

Even if you don't try making these cupcakes, definitely try the ganache... you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Homemade chicken stock for just pennies per gallon!

How do you make a gallon of homemade, uber flavorful, super rich chicken stock for just pennies? First start with the leftover carcasses of two roasted chickens - skin, bones, pan dripping, the works (neck bones and giblets too, but no livers please).

I used the worlds juiciest oven-roasted chickens ever for this batch, but rotisserie chickens work wonderfully as well. I'll spare you a photo of the carcasses :), but put all the icky bits in a really big stock pot; I like a 12qt, heavy duty.

Incidentally, you can make this stock with uncooked chicken, it just won't be nearly as colorful, and it won't be quite as flavorful, but hey, it'll still be way better than the canned stuff.

Additionally, you'll need 3 peeled carrots, the leafy top 2 inches of a bunch of celery, 2 jumbo onions, 1 head of garlic (yes a whole head), 15-ish peppercorns (no salt yet), 2 large bay leaves (Turkish please, California bay is way too strong), and a good palm full of dried parsley; like 2 tablespoons (or a bunch of fresh parsley stems if you happen to have them). I'll also add the following if I have them on hand - mushroom stems, a few sun-dried tomatoes, scallion trimmings, parsnips, leek trimmings, etc.

Okay, time to prep the veg - chop the onions into big chunks, leaving the skins on - they add wonderful color. Cut the head of garlic right in half - skin and all. Use the top 2 inches of the celery bunch and the white inside stalks and leaves (lots of yummy flavor there). Peel and trim the carrots and chop into 1-inch piece.

Now throw everybody into the stock pot and cover with water. Crank up the heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to barely simmering (if you're making this with raw chicken, you may want to skim the scum off the surface after 15 or 20 minutes). Simmer, uncovered, for at least 2 hours, but you can let it go for as long as 10 or 12 hours; add more water if you need to, but if you're simmering on a low enough heat, and you're using good heavy stock pot, you shouldn't need to.  Warning:  Your house is going to smell amazing!

Mmmmm... see how the onion skins have turned almost a mahogany color? That color equals tons of flavor. Yum!

Now strain all the bones and veggies out of this rich, nutritious, delicious liquid gold.
Be happy I didn't post a photo of that step - not pretty!

Now, add salt to taste (very important!), and there you go... the most amazing homemade stock imaginable. So easy to make and SO much better than anything you can get at the store... and let's not even attempt to compare it's virtues against that other stuff... you know... that stuff called bullion (please don't say that word out loud - there are impressionable children all around).

You can easily cut this recipe in half, but why make a little when you can make a lot. Did I mention it costs mere pennies to make a gallon of this stuff? Literally, this huge batch of stock cost me less than a buck. You can't even think about buying a vastly inferior can of the grocery store stuff for less than a buck, forget about 8 cans. Stock your freezer, and you'll never have to settle for less again! Stay tuned for my quick and easy chicken noodle soup.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Homemade Pink Applesauce

pink applesauce, homemade applesauceHow do you get your kids to eat those last locally grown organic apples left abandoned at the bottom of the fruit bowl...

the ones that have aged to the point where they're starting to get a little, uh, "squishy"?
Make Pink Applesauce!

I started with 5 Rome apples. See how the skin is rippled? Yes I know, ripply skinned apples are not very appetizing, but I thought maybe that red skin of theirs might lend some of that rich color to a much more appetizing, perfectly pink applesauce.

So I cored and chopped the apples into approximately 1-inch chunks. Put them in a pot with
about 1/2 cup water over medium heat; stirring and smooshing every now and then.

After about 10 minutes the apples were softening nicely, but I noticed the skins weren't looking so good... their ruby red color was fading fast, completely disappearing in a few places.

Uh oh, was I about to have an even less appetizing mess on my hands? Only time would tell, so I kept cooking, and stirring, and smooshing for another 15 minutes. Yuck is what I was thinking, but....

I let the mucky mixture cool and then I put it through the medium disk of a hand held food mill (great gadget, by the way).

And Voila! The most cheerful and yummy applesauce imaginable! Sadly, 5 apples only made about a pint of applesauce, but the 6 of us had a good time sharing it. If you make a large batch, it freezes very well.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that this applesauce was perfectly sweet without adding any additional sugar. I'll definitely be doing this again!