pork

Crispy Pork Tacos (Paleo)

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On Sundays I always look to something special for dinner, which comes from my upbringing. Huge family dinners filled with love and hours of cooking and food – food – So Much Food! Now, my numerous cousins are scattered amongst different states, different countries. I’m not sure what many of them do for their Sunday dinners now, but I know that we do still all love food, sharing, nurturing. Which brings me to what I call The Absentee Dinner. I make something simple, but a little more involved than the other days of the week, something with protein, something that’s going to be delicious and worth savoring. I make something special. I do it in honor of my family, my upbringing, and I invite dear friends over whenever possible, just so we can eat in each others’ company. And maybe watch a little Doctor Who.

With the reminiscence complete, let me say that while I like the depth and complexity of Asian flavors – sweet yet sour, spicy yet cool and crisp, you don’t have to follow this style. A great alternative to this, perfect for Game Day at your house is RECIPE RECOMMENDATION MISSING. Hmmm. I’ll tell you what: if you want that full recipe from me you’re going to have to wait until next week.

Crispy Pork Tacos, Asian Style

1-1.5 pounds Boneless Pork Loin Center Chops

2 TBSP minced garlic, divided

1 TBSP low sodium soy sauce

1/2 TBSP Hoisin sauce

1/2 tsp chile oil

2 tsp Sriracha

1 tsp black pepper (or red pepper flakes if you like it spicy)

Juice of one lemon

1TBSP water

1 TBSP white vinegar

1 TBSP brown sugar

2 tsp freshly grated ginger or 1 tsp ginger powder

1 Napa cabbage, leaves cleaned. Cut about 2 inches off the bottom of each leaf.

1/2 corn starch (if making “extra crispy”, see below)

2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil

Topping

Pre-shredded Broccoli slaw

1 cup bean sprouts

1/4 red wine vinegar

2 tsp salt

1. 5 tsp black pepper

3 tsp sugar

About an hour or two prior to cooking, marinate the pork. Slice the pork in large bite sized pieces, I like strips, and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together half of the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chile oil sriracha, pepper, lemon juice, water, vinegar, brown sugar, and ginger. Add the pork to the bowl and tossed making sure each piece is coated. Let marinate for 1-2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

While marinating, make the crispy slaw topping. You can swap the slaw for kimchi. Toss the pre-shredded slaw mix, bean sprouts, salt, pepper, and sugar in a bowl, and set aside. This can sit some time and the flavors will just continue to marry while staying bright. Toss periodically in the time prior to serving.

Once the pork is marinated you have the option of sauteing or pan frying. On this night Chip and I made our Crispy Pork Tacos extra crispy, but you certainly simply dump the entire marinade mixture into a sauce pan heated with with the oil over medium high heat, cooking about 7-9 minutes. For extra crispy, however, remove the pork from the marinade and toss in the corn starch until evenly, but lightly coated. Discard the marinade, and heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Pan fry the pork about 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a paper toweled plate to drain for a minute or two.

Taking one of the napa cabbage leaves, we set to work assembling our “Tacos”. We topped our pork with a sprinkling of slaw, a bit of the remaining minced garlic, a little chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and even some fresh diced mango. Serving with a wedge of lime, this would be perfect with a side of tropical quinoa or rice. Of course, we ate ours with squash, though, because I’m trying to will it to be Autumn here in Austin.

Pig & Fig 2: Spicy Fig Glazed Grilled Pork Chops

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I’ve started mixing sweet with savory just for the thrill. It’s taught me a lot about food, made me a bit more adventurous, and aids me in cooking. With a recent bounty of figs I knew I had to come up with a few new creations before the figs went to the great fig tree in the sky, i.e. went bad. Working on something sweet, I originally made a fig sauce for dipping chicken into or pouring over fish, but the moment I tasted it I knew: This sauce was born for charring pork. My buddy tasted it and said “It’s good,” and then proceed to dunk a grilled chicken tenderloin into it. “Mmmm!…Yeah, okay,” he said while still chewing. “It would be best with pork.” Yes, padawan. I know.

Fig Sauce/Glaze:

1 1/4 cup roughly chopped figs

1 1/2 cup water

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 TBSP soy sauce

1 TBSP Ponzu

1 tsp red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup orange juice

Throw everything into a sauce pot and cook down over medium high heat until it’s reduced by at least a third to half. It’s going to be pretty thick. Set it aside to cool.

While the sauce was marrying post simmer, I took two gorgeous, thick-cut bone in pork chops, about 6-8 ounces each, rinsed them, and patted them dry. Once the sauce cooled a bit (you can make this sauce a few days in advance if need be and keep it in the fridge in tupperware for 3-5 days) I blended it with an immersion hand blender, you can also use a potato masher. It’s fine if the sauce is still pretty chunky.

I then slathered the chops with the fully cooled sauce and let them sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. These were thick and needed to come to room temperature before I through them on the grill.

I operate on one speed: Fast. The also means that I generally cook on one temp: High. I preheated my grill, cleaned the grates, and slathered the pork just a bit more and cracked fresh black pepper over them before putting it on the grill. Now these chops were about 1 1/2 inches thick, so they had to cook a while, and though I wanted a char, I didn’t need dry pork. No one needs that. After 4 minutes on one side my friend gave the chops a quarter turn and left them for another 4 minutes.  We dripped a bit more sauce on the top and topped with black pepper again prior to flipping them and lowered the burners to medium-high. After about 4 minutes, there was a quarter turn and they were done two minutes later. You want your pork to register at 145 degrees – YES, this is safe – and remember that as it rests, it will continue cooking a bit.

This was a lot of pork for 2 people, so I served it with simply an arugula and summer greens salad dressed with olive oil, quartered figs, and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, which really intensifies the natural flavor and sweetness of the ripe figs. It was a perfect, protein packed, low fat dinner for a summer evening. This is great for everyone, but it’s also paleo friendly and excellent for South Beach or Atkins

The sauce and char makes ’em!

Science in the Kitchen: Fennel, Red Beans, & Chowdah

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This week was incessant. Stressful, disappointing, overwhelming. It’s been months since I’ve written so little, but time keeps passing and life goes on. At the same time I’m writing so little, my brother is writing more than ever, hysterically documenting his trip to Thailand and parts beyond. The pictures are great and the writing very sarcasticly funny. I recommend it.

So after a shitty, no good, very bad week, the weekend arrives in an attempt to break me out of my funk.

Saturday morning grocery shopping reminds me that weekends are for experimenting!

Tomorrow is game day! I have no idea what that means! All I do know is that most of the thirteen original colonies are so bad at American Football (a sport I abhor, by the way) that many of them had to apparently band together to form a single team: The New England Patriots. And what an intimidating mascot that is. A guy who really likes his country can defeat a Giant, no problem. I guess they operate under the power of positive thinking. Yeah, that’s totally super cool and masculine.

Sorry, bit of a rant there. So for this weekend, my husby is making a new red beans and rice recipe and I’m making clam chowder and sauteed fennel.

Today I’m going to post the fennel and beans.

My It’s So Good That It’s like Salty Candy Fennel:

2 TBSP olive or vegetable oil

2 heads Fennel, sliced in 1/4 – 1/3 inch slices

2 medium to large garlic cloves, sliced thinly

2 small or 1 medium shallot, sliced thinly

1 TBSP ponzu

freshly ground black pepper

Growing up in a stereotypical Italian-American family, meant much of my youth was spent in or around a kitchen. My grandparents had an impressive garden, and as a kid bouncing around with a million cousins amongst the many legs of mother, aunts, and grandparents it was common for a hand from above to drop slices of fennel, tomatoes, figs, or hunks of other veggies in our paths. The flavors of ripe fruits and vegetables were abound, building a deep respect of their versatility in me at an early age, yet I didn’t have cooked fennel until I was a teen.

Often the flavor of fennel is described as a more delicate version of black licorice. I happen to like black licorice, but not because I like fennel. Fennel does have a unique flavor, but when it saute’s, it caramelizes, becoming sweet and a little smokey, much like an onion does. Generally when cooking, the first thing that hits the pan once the oil is hot is garlic, but in this super simple and quick recipe, garlic comes last. And this recipe is so quick that the longest part is the prep in slicing everything.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a skillet. Once the oil moves around the pan easily toss in the fennel, trying to keep the slices in one layer. Let them sit for 3 -4 minutes and then stir – or toss if you’re skilled – to continue caramelizing. After the fennel has been in the pan for about 5 minutes, add the shallots. After an additional 1-2 minutes, add the sliced garlic. You want the garlic to warm, but not brown. Add the Ponzu and continue cooking for an additional minute, stirring to coat. You want the fennel to be just tender, caramelized on the outside, but with a good bit of bite in the center. There’s nothing worse than mushy vegetables.

This is crazy delicious. It’s sweet and salty, it has bite, it’s just a little spicy from the barely cooked garlic, and it’s got great texture. It’s the dish that changes a dissenter’s mind about fennel. Now this as it is makes an excellent side dish and if you’re on Weight Watchers it’s next to Zero points. Immediately upon diving into this for lunch all I wanted was to have thrown in some shrimp the last 2-3 minutes of cooking and served with brown rice. Perhaps even a dash of Srirachi. That would have been a mega simple, quick, filling, and healthy dinner!…In fact, stay tuned for that recipe later in the week.

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My husband has a bit of a man-crush on John Besh. And who can blame him. It’s impossible not to fall in love with all things N’Orleans and Besh is certainly an integral part of their current food culture. Chip likes to make his lunches for the week on the weekend prior and as I’ve gotten more interested in new recipes so has he. What used to be his standard Yakisoba or hummus and veggies lunch, has evolved to include homemade bean salads that change with the seasons, and now red beans and rice.

But this is serious red beans & rice. Chip choose to double the amount of red beans, added an extra ham hock, a little extra water and bacon grease, but otherwise his loyalty remained intact. Rendering bacon fat is easy, but it does make you house smell strongly of bacon. I only like to smell bacon right when I’m eating it. Then I need all evidence of it being cooked to disappear. This is because of one time when we were house hunting a few years ago. Chip and I walked into the most claustrophobic, messy home and it just reeked of bacon. We took one look at our realtor and read each others mind at once: Get Out! Ever since I just can’t stand the smell of that stuff, but I put the dislike to the side for today.

Rendering bacon fat is easiest if the bacon is cut into 1-1 1/2 inch chucks and cooked over low to medium-low heat. I did not cut up the bacon ’cause I didn’t want to smell like bacon for the rest of the day. No matter how many time I wash my fingers I swear they’ll smell of bacon for hours. You want all the fat to cook off, but you don’t want the grease to cook into brown bits.

John Besh’s  Red Beans & Rice with “Chip Tweaks”

2 onions, diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced

1 stalk celery, diced

3 TBSP rendered bacon fat

2 pounds dried kidney beans

3 smoked ham hocks

3 bay leaves

1/2 cayenne pepper

3 green onions

salt and pepper

3 cups rice

In a heavy stock pot, Chip sweated the celery, peppers, and onion until the latter was translucent over medium high heat. Then he threw in the kidney beans, ham hocks, bay leaves, and dash of cayenne, and gently stirred everything together. After a few seconds of stirring, Chip poured water into the pot until the beans were submerged by 2 inches of liquid. Some items may float to the top, but that’s cool, let them do their thing. Just do you best to measure 2 inches above the beans.

At that point he cranked the heat to high and water for a boil. Once there was a good boil going, Chip turned the heat to low and covered to simmer for 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Everything needs to be covered by at least an inch of liquid at all times, so adding water periodically might be necessary, though I’m sure you could use chicken broth or low sodium stock as well. When the beans are crushed to a creamy consistency easily with the back of a spoon, everything was done. Chip removed the ham hocks, easily pulled the meat off the bone, roughly chopped it into small chunks, and then added it back to the pot.

He continued to reduce down the mixture until it was the consistency Chip wanted. You can make this as souped or thick and creamy as you want. And, yes, red beans are healthy for you, but when they’re cooked with ham hocks in veggies that were sauteed in bacon fat, I make no promises of their diet power.

For a final touch he added chopped green onion, salt and pepper, and hot sauce to his liking.

Red Beans & Rice finished and very tasty, rich and hearty without seeming too heavy. An excellent alternative to the usual winter stews and chicken soups.

Clam Chowder tomorrow!

Christmas Eve Dinner: Banh Mi Baguettes

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Banh mi’s are delicious Vietnamese pork sandwiches. The pork loin, hot off the grill, sweet and spicy, is topped with crisp, cool slaw and layered on a fresh baguette with mayonnaise. Each bite is filled with different complimenting flavors and the heat of the pork is cooled perfectly with the creamy mayo.

I’ve tried these sandwiches at three different restaurants in town, each serving very authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I took what was traditional, what I liked from each, and brought those flavor ideas home to create this recipe. That’s the fantastic thing about cooking recipes like this: You taste it as you go along and can tweak it so it is uniquely you. And a person should never be afraid to try new recipes. The worst case scenario is that they don’t come out properly and you have to get take out.

First assemble the slaw.

3/4 cup julienned carrots

3/4 cup julienned radishes

1/2 cup julienned cucumber

1 cup thinnly sliced red cabbage

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

1-2 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

1/4 rice or white vinegar

a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Next I marinate pork loin for an hour or two. The marinade varies and, again, this is all up to your personal tastes, but what I do is based on the flavors of the pork from the Vietnamese sandwich shops here.

2 pounds pork center cut loin chops, pounded thin

1 tsp sesame oil

3 tbsp teriyaki glaze

2 tbsp sriracha chili sauce – this is the heat

1 tbsp minced garlic

Tonight I cooked these on high heat in a cast on pan; it’s December, it’s cold, it’s rainy. This caramelized the sweetness of the teriyaki perfectly into charred deliciousness on the edges of the pork loins. Once all the pork was browned, juicy, and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side, I allowed my guests to make their own sandwiches. Each was given an entire demi or half of a full fresh baked baguette and was free to pile it high with pig, slaw, and Christmas joy. I served this with bacon and shallot braised Brussels sprouts and baked sweet potato fries. The perfect very relaxed, very delicious Christmas Eve dinner.