Thursday, March 31, 2016

Roast Pork with Mushrooms and Pan Jus


Simple is better -- especially on a weeknight.  A couple of days ago, I noticed that one of my favorite chefs, Eric Ripert, had a new season of his show, Avec Eric available to watch on his website.  While I have never been to Mr. Ripert's restaurant in New York, I have heard give a presentation several years ago.  He has a wonderful philosophy on food and life.  Anyway...I digress.  Instead of watching the third season, I went back to the very first season and the first episode.  Towards the end of each episode, he demonstrates a dish.  In this first episode, it was Roast Pork with Mushrooms.  Continuing on my pork "thing", I knew instantly that it was going to be on our menu board this week.  After having it last night, it is going to be on our menu board more often.

This is simple enough for a weeknight meal but also fancy enough for company.

Roast Pork with Mushrooms
Adapted from Eric Ripert

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2 pound pork loin
2T olive oil
1 head of garlic, separated
2 bay leaves
3 sage leaves
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper
12 oz assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced.
2T canola oil
2T butter
1 small shallot, minced
2t garlic, minced
2 sprigs thyme

1.  Eric used kitchen twine, once lengthwise and then every inch crosswise.  I only had a one pound piece of pork and didn't have twine, so I left this step out.  Season well with salt and pepper.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium high heat.  Sear the pork on all sides.  Add the garlic cloves; the skin still on them.  Lower the heat, cover and continue to cook for 20-25 minutes.

3.  In another pan, combine the oil and butter.  Salute the garlic, shallots and thyme for three minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms.  I used a combination of shiitake and oyster.  Cook for five minutes.

4.  When the pork reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, transfer the pork to a plate and let it rest while you finish the sauce.  To the pan with garlic, add bay leaves, sage and white wine.  Deglaze and reduce by half.  Add chicken stock and reduce slightly.  Add mushrooms and remove from heat.  Let it sit for five minutes.

5.  Place three slices of pork on a plate, top with mushrooms and a bit of the jus.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Insalata Caprese with Prosciutto

     Here is your secret weapon condiment:  Balsamic Glaze.  Balsamic vinegar is reduced until it becomes thick.  The flavor is concentrated and a little goes a long way.  Sometimes, other flavors are added such as figs or truffles.  Truffle balsamic glaze is wonderful but if you cannot find it...go with the standard.

     We drizzle Balsamic Glaze on our pizza.  Sometimes, I use it in place of salad dressing or as a little decoration on a bowl of risotto.  However, my favorite way to use Balsamic Glaze is to drizzle it over a plate of tomatoes,  mozzarella cheese and Prosciutto.  It is one of my "go-to" lunches.  Oh, if you have some arugula, place a handful on top.  Its peppery flavor adds a nice punch to the dish.
     A note on tomatoes:  Yes, it is April.  No, it is not tomato season.  So, yes, it may be a bit odd to have a tomato salad when you can only find dreary hot house varieties.  But wait, there is hope.  I have found that containers of Campari tomatoes are quite delicious.  They are known for their high sugar content. Larger than a cherry tomato and smaller than a roma tomato with a deep red color, they make a excellent substitution for summer's bounty.

Insalata Caprese with Prosciutto

Friday, March 25, 2016

Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room

It makes total sense to me that on the day that my bacon article was published that we would celebrate with a plate of bacon candy at Proper Brick Oven and Tap Room.

Located on 7th Street downtown, this upscale pub boasts that most of its dishes are made completely from scratch.  They are passionate about sourcing locally and on this second visit, our good vibes about this place continued.

But let's get back to the bacon candy.  Pork belly is cured in-house and is then covered in a glaze of brown sugar.  The black pepper crusts adds both depth and texture.  It is seriously, seriously addicting and everyone in the family always vies for the last piece.

Continuing the pork theme, our second appetizer was pancetta wrapped shrimp.  On a bed of garlic spinach, one of my favorite vegetables, four jumbo shrimp wrapped in pancetta were perched just waiting for us to pounce on them like starving maniacs.  The subtle sweetness of the balsamic glaze contrasted very nicely with the saltiness of the pancetta.

Pleasantly satiated by our pork blitz, Dear Daughter surprised us all by selecting the Forest pizza as our main dish.  I am just learning to like mushrooms and this was a wise choice.  Proper's crust is spongy and flavorful.  Heaped over the top was a heaping of carmelized wild mushrooms and shallots.  The drizzle of balsamic glaze, my absolutely favorite condiment, was a perfect addition.  Dear Husband and I managed two small pieces each which Dear Daughter polished off the remainder in record time.

Dear Sister opted for the Short Rib Bolognese.  Served over a bed of pappardelle, the wine braised short ribs served as the base of an incredible sauce.  Small bits of purposely undercooked carrots added a nice texture.

Dear Daughter raised her eyebrows when the server mentioned the possibility of dessert.  What was delivered a short time later was a second meal!  Carrot Caramel Cheesecake came as four large pieces of carrot cake filled with carrot cheesecake and topped with a decadent cream cheese icing.  A not so lightly drizzle of carrot caramel and walnuts completed the dish.  Wow!

We love the selection of beers.  I had a Spencer Trappist Ale, produced by St. Jospeh's Abbey in Massachusetts.  In 2014, it was designated a Trappist brewery, one of only 10 in the world and the only one outside of Europe.  Dear Husband opted for a beer from nearby Millvale.  He liked it so much, I suspect we will be making a trip to the brewery this weekend.

Service is attentive and helpful.  We were one of the first to arrive for dinner and pub is modern yet cozy.  By the time we left, it was very crowded...and very loud...which seems to be normal these days.

Proper gives a new definition to the term gastro-pub.  Good vibes and great food.  Looking forward to the next visit, which will be soon!  Proper is teaming with Draai Laag brewery in Millville for a five course dinner matched Draai Laag's Belgian styled ales on April 4th.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Country Quiche

     There is the chalkboard that I painted in my garage, which is supposed to keep me organized concerning what is in the large freezer.  I do a pretty good job of keeping it updated but the other day, I noticed that while my supply of lamb and beef was diminishing, my list of pork was long.  How can that be when we eat a lot of pork?  Could be that I keep buying it!  


     You know by now that we love quiche.  Normally, I use try to upscale it a bit...Gruyere cheese, french cream, leeks, etc.  However, with a pound of pork breakfast sausage in the freezer, I figured that I had to scale back a bit.  I thought about making a breakfast casserole but did not have all the ingredients on hand so I opted for this quiche.  It was super easy and as it makes two...we have more on hand for a quick weeknight dinner.

Country Quiche
Adapted from Trisha Yearwood

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6 large eggs
2 cups cheddar cheese (or a mixture of cheddar and jack)
1 tsp baking powder
20 grape tomatoes, halved
2 green onions, dark green parts sliced
1 pound breakfast sausage
2 refrigerated pie crusts

1.  Cook the breakfast sausage breaking it up into small pieces.  Drain off the fat and set aside.

2.  In a bowl, combine the cheese, tomatoes, green onions.  Season with salt and pepper.

3.  In a second bowl, combine the eggs.  If you want, add a tablespoon of cream.  

4. Combine the eggs with the cheese mixture.  It will be thick.  Add the sausage.  Divide the mixture between two piecrusts.

5.  Bake at a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Pork Ramblings: Day 1

Say, for the sake of a simple example, someone told you that when you were engrossed in a television show, you would vigorously tap your left foot.  "What are you talking about?  I don't do that," you would undoubtedly protest.  Then a little later as you are watching tv, you glance down and sure enough...there is your tapping foot.

On two different occasions, my sister-in-law has told me that we cook with a lot of bacon.  I am lucky that she reads this blog and she indicated one afternoon, that I have bacon in a lot of my recipes.  Then, she expanded her thought at a recent brunch..."You eat a lot of pork."  "What are you talking about?  We don't eat a lot of bacon.   I don't have a lot of recipes with bacon in them.  We don't eat a lot of pork," I protest...just a little...because suddenly then, I realize...she's right!

It is appropriate that for my first paid writing gig, the focus of my article would be...bacon.  On a sleepless evening, troll through Google and search for a beautiful magazine called Edible Piedmont.  Find the Spring 2016 issue.  "Road Trip to Bacon Heaven" centers on my trip to Benton's Country Hams located near Knoxville, Tennessee.

Clearly I am in a state of hog bliss.  I was paid for writing about one of my favorite foods!  While I do not have a hard copy of the article, I am clogging up the Internet by heading over the site several times a day to digitally scroll over to the page which contains my by-line. I HAVE A BY-LINE!

So, in celebration I plan to write about pork until I run out of ideas.  I may lose a loyal reader but it must be done.

Stay tuned for my homage to pork!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bratwurst and Gruyere Salad

    I wish I could remember where I found this salad recipe but I cannot.  It has been in our repertoire for many, many years.  It is super easy and makes for a very tasty light dinner or lunch.  Round it out with a baguette and a nice glass of white wine.  It is a lavish touch on a busy weeknight and takes only a few minutes to put together.  Trust me.  This may be your next go-to salad.

Bratwurst and Gruyere Salad

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1 lb cooked bratwurst, sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
3 oz Gruyere cheese, diced
Salad greens

For the dressing:
1T good quality Dijon mustard
Olive oil

In a bowl, combine the mustard and 1/4 cup olive oil and whisk until emulsified.  Taste and add more oil if needed until you have a thick and tasty dressing.

In this same bowl, add the shallots, cheese and tomatoes.  Stir to combine.

Place greens on plates.  Top greens with dressed ingredients.  Add a bit of salt and pepper and serve.


Sunday, March 13, 2016


     Admit it.  Who doesn't like melted cheese?  What if I told you that there is a deliciously easy dish where melted cheese is the star...where you are allowed, even encouraged, to just eat melted cheese...where you enter cheese heaven.

     A long time ago, Swiss shepherds from the French speaking Valais region of Switzerland needed food that was cheap and would not spoil easily...something that could be easily made on a campfire after a day of herding sheep.  At the end of day, they would gather around the fire and roast some potatoes.  Then they would take a big piece of cheese and put it close to the fire.  Once it started melting, it would be scraped onto the finished baked potatoes.  It was filling, nourishing and delicious.  In French, "racler" means to scrape and so Raclette cheese was born.  Today, it not only popular in the ski regions of Europe but all over the continent and while you can eat this cheese cold, it really is at its best when it is melted.  Frankly, this is better than fondue.

     Dear Husband and I were introduced to Raclette back in the early 1990's and I remember purchasing my first Raclette grill back in 1997.  Back then, it was incredibly difficult to find the cheese, especially where we were living in Georgia.  However, every so often, we would find some and then dance a little jig, giddy with the excitement of our impending dinner.  Once we moved to Washington, DC, it was easier to find and we had the dinners a little more often in the winter months.  Dear Daughter, at that time, refused to eat the cheese, but she loved scraping it onto our plates.

     Then we moved back to Europe and our first appliance purchase was a European Raclette grill.  The cheese was far more abundant.  Not only could you find it at the cheese counter but you could find various presliced varieties that were quite tasty.  The dinners increased and Dear Daughter finally decided that it was pretty good.

     When we moved from Germany to Belgium, we hit the Raclette jackpot!  The Belgians love the stuff.  Food stands at local fests would serve piping hot, melted slices of the cheese.  The grocery stores would stock varieties of Raclette...Alpine Raclette, Raclette with pepper, Raclette with wine.  Our consumption of Raclette dramatically increased.  Dear Daughter actually became a bit weary of the dinners.  "Mom, we have had it four times this month already."  I held on to my Raclette grill until the day before we left the country.

     So, what is the big deal?  It is just cheese.  For us, it is an experience.  It transports us to other times.  It is a time for us to gather around the table and spend time talking.  It is relaxed and social...not to mention, delicious.

     Here is how it goes...We have found both French Raclette and Swiss Raclette at Penn Mac here in Pittsburgh.  We prefer the Swiss version.  We purchase a pound, which sound like a lot and perhaps it is.  On the evening of the dinner, I slice the block into thin slices, which is a little difficult as the cheese is semi-soft.  We enjoy the rind, but you can also remove it.

     We always serve Raclette with potatoes.  Sometimes, we set out those small pickled cocktail onions.  Then we decide on a meat. Normally, we cut up cubes of steak but we have also used shrimp. In Europe, charcuterie is frequently served but I have been told that we eat a lot of pork so I will keep this post pork-free!

    Still having difficulty picturing it?  Here is a photo although my expert photographer was not it seems a bit off...but you get the idea.

     While the potatoes are crisping and the meat is cooking on the top, the cheese is melting underneath.  When the cheese is ready, take a few pieces of potatoes and meat and put them on your plate.  I take a moment or two to cut these a little smaller and then I scrape the cheese onto the mixture.

     This isn't a fast meal.  That is one of its appeals.  For us, we spend about an hour around the table, cooking and talking.  It is totally relaxing and while it makes for a great weekend meal...sometimes, it is luxurious to have this on a weeknight.  We was last Tuesday's dinner!

     Make your next appliance purchase a Raclette Grill.  If you cannot find the cheese, order it online.  Transport you and your family to the Alps, if just for a little while.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Shrimp Wonton Triangles


     This is a take on one of our favorite tapas that we would always order when visiting La Azotea in Sevilla, Spain.  While there is no way to completely replicate the Langostino Rice Triangles as they appear on the menu, this is close and always brings a smile to our faces as we remember the fantastic trips to an amazing town.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit Spain, you must go to Sevilla and you must dine at La Azotea.  You will be immediately hooked.

Shrimp Wonton Triangles

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1/2 pound shrimp, deveined and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped scallions, green parts only
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup plain cream cheese, softened
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1T olive oil
2 t sherry
1 to 2 drops hot sauce, optional
Wonton skins
1T water
Vegetable oil for cooking

1.  Heat olive oil over low heat.  Add the garlic and lightly saute.   Do not let the garlic burn, just let it infuse for about 2 minutes.  Add the shrimp and cook for two minutes.  Add sherry and cook until sherry has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

2.  In a bowl combine 1/2 cup cream cheese, scallions and hot sauce.  Add shrimp mixture and combine.  Add hot sauce if using.  Season with salt and pepper. Add more cream cheese if desired.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

3.   Place water in a small bowl.  Lay out a few wontons skins on a dry work surface.  Place one teaspoon cream cheese filling in the center of each wonton.  Lightly paint each side with a bit of water.  Bring sides of wonton together to make a triangle and pinch to seal.  Place on a baking sheet until all wontons made.

4.  Heat 2 inches oil in a heavy skillet.  Once hot, add the wontons and cook until lightly golden.  Flip carefully with a slotted spoon and cook until other side is lightly golden, about 3 minutes total.  

5.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels to drain.  Keep warm and continue with remaining wontons.  Serve immediately.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Beef Carpaccio


     Ask my husband or my daughter about me and they will tell you that I am NOT adapting well to living in the States.  I will admit that I seem to be in a perpetual "funk".  I think to myself, "Good grief, woman.  You have been back almost a year!  Get over it and get on with it."  It works only to a minor degree.

     This morning, I received an email from my old editor in Europe.  That sounds very glamorous but I wrote as a volunteer for a publication aimed at military families.  I typically wrote on European destinations and I would like to think that some found my articles interesting.  This morning, my editor sent me a beautiful pdf file of an article I wrote nearly three years ago about a visit to Versailles.  Oh, it is beautiful and it plunged me back.

     Honestly, I have to admit that just going to the grocery store in my village was an adventure and believe me, I spent a lot of time in the grocery store.  One of our favorite meals was a simple carpaccio.  Carpaccio is an Italian dish of very thinly sliced raw beef.  In Europe, it is typically served with arugula tossed on top along with drippings of olive oil and shavings of Parmesan.  It is so popular that you can find it either in the frozen food section of the grocery or frequently packed in the fresh meat section.  The quality of the meat was actually superb and it became a favorite light lunch or dinner.  One of the legends of its beginnings indicates that it was created in the 1950s when a women walked into Harry's Bar in Venice and told the chef that she was no longer medically allowed to eat cooked meat.  The chef made this dish and served it with a thick sauce.

     Once we were in Reims, France visiting the cathedral where at one time, the coronation of all of the Kings of France occurred.  As we walked in the lively downtown area looking for a place to have a light lunch, we came across a Sports Bar.  This was something that we had not seen in Europe and we were intrigued.  There were televisions mounted on various walls and it looked like the food of choice was the iconic hamburger.  We had not seen hamburgers served outside of McDonalds so this was definitely a place to stop.  One thing we instantly noticed was that the French handled a hamburger very differently than an American.  It was NOT picked up with hands.  A knife and fork was used to slice through the bread and into the meat.  To us, it was an odd sight but too each his own.

     I cannot remember what everyone had for lunch that day but I do know that I ordered carpaccio.  It was a large portion, very well presented and of very good quality.  As we finished our lunch, the waiter came over and asked if everything was ok...if we enjoyed it.  "Oui, Oui.  C'est bon!"  He did not seem to believe us and it took a minute to figure out why.  He lifted my plate away and there stood another plate of carpaccio!  How did this happen?  Well, evidently, it was a double order.  One plate on top of the other!

     So, why am I fixated today on carpaccio?  In digging through the pantry, I located packets of oil that accompanied presliced carpaccio in Europe.  Somehow, I had brought them with us to the U.S. (just the oil, not the meat).  One packet was just olive oil.  The other was a very tasty basil infused oil.  Memories again...will they ever go away?  However, it did get me thinking.  This is one dish that I have great difficulty finding over here except in an Italian restaurant.  "I wonder if I could make it?"  A quick look at the Internet and I learned which cut of meat to use and I was off...on an adventure to the grocery store.

     Back at home, I thinly sliced the meat and plated it for dinner.  Adding some arugula, shaved Parmesan, the basil olive oil and salt and pepper...for a moment, we were transported somewhere else.  Maybe, this is how I adapt for the moment.  

Beef Carpaccio

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Easy Lunch Ramen

     A colleague asked me recently if I always make lunch when at home.  I did not have to consider the answer as it was, "Definitely".  If we are home for lunch as a family, then we sit down to a lunch together.  If I am at home at lunchtime, then I take the time to make a lunch,  sit down with a book and enjoy it.

     Recently, I have been on a ramen-binge.  I know that sounds a bit odd but I really enjoy noodle based soups.  So, I buy the cheap $0.20 packages of ramen that many of us lived on in college.  However, I just use the noodles.  The flavor packet, for the most part, gets thrown away - way, way too much sodium and I find the flavoring too intense.

     So,  here is how I change it.  I heat up 2 cups of high quality chicken broth and add a teaspoon of sesame oil.  Sometimes, I break open the flavor packet and add just a wee bit...a wee, wee bit.  Once the broth comes to a boil, then add the noodles and cook them for another minute or so until the noodles are cooked.  I pour it into a bowl and add whatever leftover meat I may have in the refrigerator and some sliced green onions.

    I use chopsticks and slurp up the noodles - in complete foodie heaven.  It is simple. It is comforting.  It is much, much more than the $0.20 I spent on the soup packet.

     Yesterday, I found an udon soup in the pantry and did the exact same thing.  Except instead of adding cooked meat, I had a few slices of filet from making carpaccio.  Once the noodles were cooked, I added the raw meat to the soup and the heat of the soup just cooked the outside of the meat.  Super, super tasty.

     Go ahead, throw a couple of cheap ramen soup packets in your grocery cart the next time you are shopping.  You won't regret it!