Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dead Simple

Maybe you are a fan of the Naked Chef - Jamie Oliver?

To follow is a recipe I tried from his next to newest collection, "Cook With Jamie". In this book Oliver points out that Great Britain consumes more prepackaged food than the rest of the EU put together, which he feels indicates folks have lost the information they need and the confidence as well perhaps, to cook simple good food at home.

I think much the same might be said about many Americans. With so many take out options available, it is daunting some days to pick up a spoon and try to put together something that will look, smell, and please the local palates to greater extent than anything that could be handed out of a drive-through window.

Controlling the ingredients going in to our meals, and thereby into our bodies, is a first step toward healthier living. That, combined with the knowledge that we all need to find ways to significantly lessen our environmental impact, is often all that keeps me inside the kitchen and out of my car. That, and recipes like Oliver's "Old School Pork Chops with Apple and Sage".

This recipe is typical Oliver style - what he often refers to as "dead simple" (read: easy). Aside from his own take on colorful phrases denoting amounts, (Oliver coined "glug" where I typically use the term "sploosh" to refer to enough olive oil in this instance, to just put a sheen on the bottom of a pan), the ingredient list is not long, the components are readily obtainable, and there are no fancy techniques involved. I had to adjust the timing slightly to accommodate the smaller chops I could find, and I swapped a less tangy parmesean for the recommended Stilton, but the results were still delectable.

Without further ado here is the recipe:
Old-School Pork Chops with Apple and Sage
- serves 4 -

Four 9-ounce pork chops, preferably free-range or organic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 good eating apples (e.g. Mcintosh or Cox), unpeeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges
A knob of butter (a couple of tablespoons)
A handful of fresh sage leaves
3 1/2 ounces good strong cheese like Stilton or taleggio (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. What I like to do is to lay the pork chops out on a board and, using a sharp knife, make 1-inch-deep cuts all along the fatty side of them. You can even ask your butcher to do this for you if you like. It helps to render the fat out and will also make the skin crispy. Sprinkle the chops with salt and pepper.

2. Pour a glug of olive oil into a hot pan. Carefully place your chops in it and cook them for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. If you need to, open out the little pieces of fat along the edge so they don't stick together.

3. When the chops are nearly done, lift them out of the pan and put them in an oiled baking pan. Add the apple wedges and a knob of butter to the pan and fry until lightly golden. Lay 4 wedges of apple on top of each pork chop. Dress your sage leaves in a little olive oil and top each apple stack with them. Sometimes I like to top it all off with a knob of Stilton or taleggio. Put the baking pan into the oven for 4 to 6 minutes until everything is golden and melted.

And here is the result:

One other caveat - I did not have a "handful" of fresh sage leaves available from my garden. Here in Central Texas we have been ranging from 92 degree highs to 29 degree lows within the space of two days. That, combined with a lack of measurable rainfall in 2008 so far, has my sage plant, along with nearly everything else, just puttering along, waiting for some sort of seasonal break. Since my hubbub doesn't particularly care for the bite of fresh sage, I simply took the few leaves I could harvest and quickly fried them in the skillet along with the apple slices and then popped them on top as a garnish for my plate at the end.

All substitutions were minor but typical for a home cook accommodating the palates at the table that night. This recipe performed brilliantly despite that, and will become a "go to" for our meatier dinners. As part of our attempt to eat less meat, this recipe proves a good option because the combination of flavors and textures slowed our all too typical "bolt it down" pace somewhat, allowing us time to enjoy the meal, and fill up comfortably on less. Give a try and see for yourself...

Credit Where Credit is Due:
I first spotted this recipe on the website "Serious Eats", and while I am not NEARLY so "serious" as many who frequent this site, I do appreciate the ongoing source of recipes, nods towards products or recipe collections that have been kitchen tested by other foodies, and the general give and take of folks who may have something they "need" to cook some way for dinner, or who have other questions about how to substitute for an ingredient they can't find (or won't eat).

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