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sweet + tangy meatballs

For a long time I have played around with Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatball recipe, which is a great addition to a Christmas Eve supper, or a Christmas lunch. The combination of sweet (lingonberry preserves) and creamy (heavy cream) and tangy (pickle juice) with the rich meatballs is just the perfect holiday mixture.

When I make meatballs, I like to make a lot. It’s a pretty labor-intensive—not to mention messy—process. You can always freeze them for later and then have the benefit of having messed up the kitchen only once. When I started making these meatballs, I would fry them in oil on top of the stove. But with the larger batch, I find that it’s dramatically less messy than frying in batches, and I can make sure the meatballs are cooked all the way through. Sure, the resulting meatballs are kind of flat on one side (the side sitting on the baking sheet), but this is a price I’m more than willing to pay to avoid a grease-coated kitchen. If you’re dedicated to producing the cordon-bleu version of these, by all means fry away!

While the meatballs are cooking, you’re cooking up a sweet, tangy, and then ultimately creamy sauce on top of the stove. After the meatballs are cooked and the sauce is thickened up, you can combine them right away in a slow-cooker on low or on top of the stove on low, to coat the meatballs and allow the flavors to mix. After that, you can reheat or keep warm at will. If you’re freezing part of the meatballs, you should freeze them after baking in the oven, and make up the sauce when you’re ready to use them.

Samuelsson’s recipe is based on his family’s Swedish traditions. In my family, molasses is a traditional ingredient in just about anything. And we get the best molasses in the world from Center Market in Cambridge, Md. I keep lots of it in the house this time of year. I played around with using it here in lieu of honey in the meatballs themselves, and I added them to the sauce, just like I do to my barbecue sauce. The result is a nicely browned meatball, and a rich and sweet sauce. (By the way, if you prefer, you can make up the meatballs as below and make the barbecue sauce recipe to dress them. Also delicious.)

Enjoy serving these to your family and friends—and adapt the recipe with traditional ingredients in your house this time of year.

Sweet + tangy meatballs

Based on Marcus Samuelsson’s Swedish meatballs, which is a great recipe

Meatballs:

  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large or 2 medium red onions, finely sliced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 lb. ground veal
  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • pinch of cloves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Line two large baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside. Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and half-and-half and allow to rest, stirring occasionally while sauteing the onions. Set up food processor fitted with metal blade.

2. In a large saute pan, melt olive oil and butter together over medium heat. Add sliced onion and saute until soft and transparent. Do not allow to caramelize. Scrape contents of pan into food processor. (Set pan aside without washing to make sauce later.) Add soaked bread crumbs. Pulse about 20 times until onion is finely chopped and mixture is well combined.

3. In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, ground meats, molasses, eggs and spices. Using your hands, combine until mixture is consistent, but use a light touch. Do not squeeze or manhandle the mixture. Take your time. When combined, set aside and wash your hands.

4. Place the meat mixture and baking sheets on a work surface. Wet your hands and begin to form meatballs the size of golf balls. Pinch off a suitable amount of the mixture and lightly form them into balls by smoothing between your hands. Line meatballs up, not touching, on the sheets. When all meatballs are formed, place the sheets into the oven and lower the temperature to 400 F. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature of meatballs is 170 F. Remove from oven and set aside.

Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chile powder (this is not the same as chili powder, which should not be used)
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 c molasses
  • 1 and 1/2 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or pickle juice
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

1. While meatballs are in the oven, make the sauce. Using the saute pan you used for the onions, warm tomato paste and ketchup over medium-high heat. When mixed and bubbling, add chile powder, cayenne, and allspice. When these are mixed in, add molasses and stir until bubbling and combined. Slowly add apple cider and whisk until mixture is smooth and combined. Cook this mixture until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Adjust heat lower if boiling too rapidly.

2. When mixture is thickened, add salt, chicken stock, and vinegar. Whisk again until very smooth and continue simmering until reduced and thick, another 10 to 20 minutes. Taste sauce and correct seasonings. Remove pan from heat and stir a few times. Slowly add cream, whisking constantly, and bring back to a simmer. Keep warm until ready to combine with meatballs.Taste again and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

3. To finish the dish, place the cooked meatballs in a large heavy Dutch oven or sauteuse with high sides. Cover with sauce and gently combine until meatballs are coated. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Serve as hors d’oeuvres, or with mashed root vegetables, mashed potatoes, or egg noodles.

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smoked pork shoulder prepared like ham

Upon hearing that I had made this dish, my sister exclaimed, “Oh my god! You went straight from using a slow-cooker to those recipes that use soda!” It is true that this practice is very alarming, especially in a slow-cooker novice. But I remember years ago seeing Nigella prepare a ham by boiling it in a giant pot of soda, and for some reason this made sense to me. There will be some confusion about cuts of pork in your grocery store. You can make this recipe with a bone-in fully cooked ham, or, as I did, with a fresh smoked pork shoulder. Keep in mind that my slow cooker is quite large; if you have a more normal-sized one, you’ll need to use a smaller cut of meat. Likewise, if your shoulder has a substantial cap of fat on it, you’ll need to make sure the melting fat doesn’t overfill the crock of your slow-cooker.

(I apologize that there are not more photographs of this wonderful concoction, but they are truly hideous! A giant hunk of meat is really ugly! Therefore, I break up your winter with this gorgeous picture of plums basking in the sun in Vila Real, Portugal.) This dish came out just as I expected: not at all sweet, but tender and melting. The leftovers and scraps—the shoulder simply falls apart, so there will be bits that are only fairly characterized as scraps—are marvelous in this soup. Which brings me to why I’m posting this now: it is the time of year when many of us are running from holiday party to errand to event, and we need a dish like this, which will last for several days, and then make another quick supper when we turn it into soup. And don’t forget, you can always freeze the leftover bits and make your soup later.

Smoked pork shoulder prepared like ham

This recipe works in a 6.5 quart slow cooker, which is very large. Adjustments will need to be made for smaller slow cookers.

  • 1 smoked fresh pork shoulder, approximately 5 – 7 lbs., bone in
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 can Coca-Cola

1. Take the pork and remove any netting. Make sure it fits in your slow cooker. Trim the meat to fit in the cooker if necessary. Alternatively, place the pork in a large roasting pan with a lid.

2. Combine dry ingredients and rub all over pork shoulder. Replace the pork in the slow cooker, making sure the fat side is facing up towards the lid. Pour in the can of Coca-Cola.

3. Place the lid securely on the slow cooker. Set to cook on low for 10 to 11 hours. If you are using the oven, bring pot to a simmer and then place in a 300 F oven for four to five hours. Check it at least once to make sure the liquid level in the cooker hasn’t risen too high due to fat melting. Carefully scoop out a bit of liquid if it has risen too high.

4. When pork has finished cooking, set a baking sheet near the slow cooker and remove meat carefully to the baking sheet. (It will have completely fallen apart.) Discard bones and scraps, or use for beans or soup. Slice meat carefully and serve with grainy mustard. Discard cooking liquid.

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pork loin roast w bacon, apples + onions

I never really thought I would become a slow-cooker person. But the demands of my job are fairly unpredictable. At the same time, I have noticed that having something good to eat at a reasonable hour (and by “good to eat” and “reasonable hour,” I mean not Indian delivery at 9:30 p.m.) contributes to the general happiness of the household. A few weeks ago I purchased a slow cooker. I have been learning to use it—what is good and what is not—and have been noticing that it definitely contributes to the net joy in the house. It is such a relief to come home and remember that, oh wait, supper is already done! Not only that, the cooker I got is large enough that it guarantees leftovers for at least another day or two.

In the process, I have realized that a lot of what I prefer to cook is, really, slow-cooker fare. I do a lot of low-and-slow braising on weekends, anyway. All it means, having a slow-cooker, is that I can have these meals during the week, too. The good news is that if you do not have a slow cooker, you can still use these recipes in the oven. Just remember, you can’t leave your oven unattended the way you can the slow cooker. This dish, in particular, is a genre of pork roast that I’ve made in various permutations for years. It works great in the slow cooker and in the oven. When the pork is finished the lean loin cut has become fork tender, and in the process it has produced its own remarkable onion- and apple-scented sauce. Here’s to civilized weeknight eating.

Pork loin roast w bacon, apples + onions

Serves about 6

  • 2 slices of thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon, cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • boneless pork loin roast (the whole loin roast, not just the tenderloin)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground dried chile
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large apple, unpeeled, cut into wedges
  • 1 to 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1. In a large skillet, warm bacon over medium-high heat with oil. When shimmering and bacon is beginning to render its fat, turn heat to medium and add the loin roast. Brown the loin roast very well on all sides (this takes 8 to 10 minutes per side) and then place in the crock of your slow cooker. (Alternatively you can place it in a large oven-proof Dutch oven with a lid. In this case, preheat the oven to 275 F.) Rotate the roast and sprinkle with the salt, ginger, and ground chile.

2. Return the skillet to the stove. If it does not have enough oil in it to fry the onions and apple, add another glug of vegetable oil. Warm the skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion and apples. Give the pan a few shakes at first and then let the apples and onions sit and get very brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Then stir the apples and onions and continue cooking until very brown. Scrape bacon, onion, and apple over roast in the crock of the slow-cooker.

3. Return skillet to stove. Add 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock and scrape assiduously with a spatula or spoon to get all the brown bits from the pan. Simmer for about 1 minute and then add to the roast in the crock. At this point assess how much liquid is surrounding the roast in the slow cooker. Liquid should be about half-way up the side of the roast. Add more stock if necessary. Make sure the top of the roast is exposed and is not covered with apples or onions (push them to the side if necessary).

4. Turn slow cooker to the “high” setting and cook for 3 to 4 hours, or cook for “low” from 8 to 9 hours. Internal temperature of pork should be at least 160 F before eating. (In my experience, after 4 hours on “high” the internal temperature is well over 200 F.) (If cooking in covered Dutch oven at 275 F, bring entire pan to a rolling boil and place in the oven. Cook with lid on for 3 to 4 hours and then proceed with recipe.)

5. Remove pork to a cutting board to rest. Place a bowl in the sink or on the counter, with a sieve over it. Pour everything left in the pan or crock into the sieve and collect in the bowl. Take a spoon and press the apples and onions against the sieve, pushing much of the liquid and passing some (now pureed) solids into the broth. Take the liquid in the bowl and pour it into a saucepan or skillet. Bring to a boil and reduce until a thick sauce is formed. Taste for salt, and add more if necessary. (This will depend upon how salty your bacon was.) Serve pork warm with some of the sauce.

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leek, goat cheese + bacon tart

In many ways, fall is the ideal time to be making tarts. Fall vegetables like cauliflower, butternut squash, leeks, hardy greens, and potatoes are all very low in water content and therefore play very well in egg custard. (A tart or quiche with tomato or zucchini is always welcome, but you have to do a bit of work with salt or roasting to pull a lot of the water out first; otherwise you end up with an egg custard that oozes water. It tastes okay, but I really hate the little channels of moisture running through the custard.) As with most egg dishes I prepare, this one was the result of scrounging around in a more or less bare cupboard. I had lovely fresh leeks and eggs, and an odd nubbin of Humboldt Fog cheese kicking around the refrigerator, as well as a couple of scrabbly pieces of bacon. If that doesn’t scream “tart!” to you, I don’t know what would.

I give two options for tart crust below, but you could also buy a tart shell in the grocery store or pull one out of your own freezer. I like my tarts—especially if they are for lunch, which this one was—to be quite eggy, so you will see this recipe has a much higher ratio of egg-to-dairy than most tarts you’ll find in your cookbooks. It sets up quite quickly in the oven, and it terribly filling. You could add more cheese—I simply didn’t happen to have any more suitable cheeses around—and make it more savory. In the recipe below, when I say to slice the bacon into “batons” I simply mean that if you have regular slices of bacon, slice them crosswise into thin strips. That way, when you slice into your tart, the bacon won’t get caught up in between slices the way longer pieces would.

To clean the leeks properly, simply trim off the green top end and the root end, and slice the leeks thinly. Then, after they are sliced, dump the slices into a big bowl or tub of cold water. Put your hands in there and agitate everything. The grit and sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl, and the leeks will float at the top. Scoop the clean leeks off the top, and into the pan they go.

I made this for lunch with a salad, but you could just as well serve it for breakfast with fruit. I think some of the season’s nice pears would be perfect. If you have a slice left over, it makes an excellent supper washed down with a glass of wine.

Leek, goat cheese + bacon tart

  • a prepared tart crust of your choosing (suggestions below)
  • 3 slices applewood-smoked bacon, cut into batons, or 2 oz. pancetta, sliced into batons
  • 2 large or 3 small leeks, trimmed, washed very well, and thinly sliced
  • a little butter, if needed
  • a knob of goat cheese (about 1 oz.) – I used Humboldt Fog
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper

1. Prepare a tart crust of your choosing in a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. There is a great one here and my standard crust here. Or you could buy a prepared one and thaw it according to package directions. You may also have to par-bake it a bit before filling it. Once the crust is set into the tart pan, put it in the refrigerator to hold it.

2. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Meanwhile, place chopped bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Cook until bacon is browning and fat is rendered. Add the cleaned leeks and stir occasionally for 8 to 10 minutes, until leeks are softened and cooked. If your bacon was too lean to render enough fat, add a little butter if necessary to cook the leeks. Set cooked mixture aside.

3. In a medium bowl combine eggs, half-and-half, nutmeg, and a few grinds of black pepper. If your bacon is salty, you do not need salt, most likely.

4. Place tart crust on a baking sheet on the counter. Scrape leek and bacon mixture into the shell and distribute evenly. Distribute dollops of goat cheese around the tart. Pour in the egg mixture carefully. Put the baking sheet with the tart pan into the oven. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 F (without opening the oven door). Bake for 20 more minutes, or just until the center of the tart is set. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes; cut into wedges; serve. The tart can also be served later, at room temperature.

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potato salad w grainy mustard and thyme

I know potato salad isn’t the first dish that leaps to mind when the weather turns cool, but there is something to be said for making the dish even more savory than usual with the addition of musky herbs, such as thyme, or sage, and lots of grainy mustard. It pairs well with nearly every main course, year round, and is particularly amazing with these pork chops.

If you’re an inveterate potato-salad maker, you know that there are as many ways to make potato salad as there are moments in time. Lots of crunchy vegetables can—and in my opinion should!—be added to the mix. You can try finely diced fennel, celery, snap peas, or carrots, for example. You can leave out the mayonnaise and use Greek yogurt; you can make a dressing of olive oil and vinegar like you do for other salads. Most people have their own way to make potato salad and I’m no exception. I learned from my grandmother (no measurements, of course) and in the summer I still use her method when I’m making a traditional summer meal with fried chicken, or hamburgers. This recipe is a variation on that theme, with the addition of a lot more vegetables and a healthy dose of grainy mustard. The market is brimming, still, with yellow and red bell peppers, potatoes, and thyme, so now is our moment. Granny wouldn’t like this potato salad much, I can tell you. But for the rest of us it’s a great fall option that keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days, and gets better with time. I’d make a double batch this weekend, if I were you.

Potato salad w grainy mustard and thyme

Serves 4 as a side

  • 12 small potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1 small bell pepper, any color, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup grainy mustard
  • Leaves stripped from 12 stalks of thyme
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • up to 1/4 cup red wine or apple cider vinegar

1. Place potatoes in a pan of cold water, with enough water to cover. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil and boil gently for about 25 minutes, or until a sharp knife inserted into one of the potatoes slips in very easily with no resistance. Drain potatoes and cool. Quarter potatoes with a sharp knife, removing any skin that peels off, but keeping skins that cling to the potatoes.

2. While potatoes are cooking and cooling, combine the remaining ingredients except vinegar. Mix vigorously to dissolve sugar. Add vinegar 1 tablespoon at a time until the dressing reaches the consistency you desire. (Remember you want the dressing a little runnier at this point, as the potatoes will absorb some dressing.) Taste the dressing and add salt if needed, 1/4 teaspoon at a time. If dressing is too tart for your taste, add another teaspoon of sugar. When potatoes have cooled, combine them very well with dressing. Refrigerate until you plan to serve it, and stir very well before serving.

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dew on the rose

I’ve been having a bit of fun lately with the infused syrup I made from a fresh shipment of rose geranium leaves that found their way back to New Haven from Maryland in Ty’s bag. The leaves of the rose geranium plant are edible, but are really too thick and dense—and intense—to use by chopping up the leaves, as you do with other herbs. They are great for infusing into a tisane (just add boiling water) or flavoring sugar. But if you boil them into a simple syrup, they are a great trick for your bar this time of year.

The rose geranium syrup plays well with gin because gin already has a decidedly botanical nature. What’s a bit of rose geranium to a spirit that already likely contains juniper, anise, angelica, coriander and savory in it? The floral overtone of the rose geranium is just gorgeous, and it mates well with the lime. I’m sure a more gifted mixologist than myself (which is basically everyone) could come up with something more interesting than this drink. But on a cool September night, with the dew setting, you’ll find it exactly the thing.

Dew on the rose

  • 1/2 ounce cold rose geranium syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 and 1/2 ounces Bluecoat gin
  • club soda
  • slice of lime
  • ice

1. Combine first three ingredients in a Collins glass. Add ice cubes to your liking and stir. Top with club soda, garnish with a slice of lime, and serve.

Rose geranium syrup

  • 20 to 30 rose geranium leaves
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

1. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.

2. When mixture boils, add rose geranium leaves, rubbing each between your fingers or palms before adding to the pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Allow pan to cool off of heat. Strain cooled syrup into an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to one month.

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rose geranium sugar

When you live in a house with an herb garden—whether a modest one or an extensive enterprise—you can take this time of year for granted. All of the herbs are in full leaf, and with frequent and generous trimming, it seems like the supply might be never-ending. Perhaps the basil is fading, but the sage is really taking hold, the rosemary is flourishing, the thyme is thick and hardy.

But if you are me, and you don’t even have a yard, and the only sniff of really, truly fresh herbs you get is when your mother-in-law sends them on the train all wrapped up in your better half’s golf bag—well, you really appreciate the herbs that you can get your hands on. Last year, I met a friend at a city bus stop in order to get a giant shopping bag of fresh sage she’d hacked out of her garden at the end of the season. (It made for the best of the end-of-season herb rubs, as I dried it at 120 F in my oven for several hours and then made it last for two or three months through what can only be described as parsimonious perseverance.) Another co-worker brought me a giant bag of oregano, cut back at the end of summer and preserved (same oven-drying technique) for as long as I could stretch it out.

For certain herbs, drying in the oven isn’t quite the thing. Ty brought home a giant bag of herbs from his mother last week—including a healthy bunch of rose geranium. Drying the leaves wouldn’t do very much good, unless you planned to use this to infuse into tisane. So, some of it went into an infused simple syrup (for cocktails) and the rest went into this delightful and fragrant infused sugar. It is terrific sprinkled on berries, used in crumble topping, or stirred into iced tea. It’s the best way I know to bank some of the amazing herbal, savory, and, yes, flowery fragrance of rose geranium leaves for the winter. It seems at a shame to trap the leaves in a jar, smothering them in sugar. But I promise you’ll change your mind the first time you sprinkle it on top of sugar cookies, or a pound cake. And in the dead of winter, when your verdant herb garden is but a distant memory, you’ll be so very glad you put this sugar by.

Rose geranium sugar

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 20 to 25 rose geranium leaves

1. Select a clean pint jar (like a Ball canning jar or something similar, with a fairly wide neck). Pour 1/4 cup sugar into the bottom of the jar. Rub 3 or 4 rose geranium leaves between your hands to release their scent, and place on top of the sugar in the jar. Add another 1/4 cup sugar, and another 3 or 4 rose geranium leaves, and repeat until the jar is full, rubbing the leaves between your hands or fingers each time before adding them. Finish by completely covering any leaves with sugar.

2. Close jar and let sugar infuse for 2 weeks before using.

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brined pork chops w garlic pan sauce + crispy sage

So here is a recipe that I cannot believe I have never posted. Many years ago, my sister bought me Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I find that really great cookbooks affect you in both the short and long term. In a great cookbook, you’ll often find a tiny handful of recipes—maybe one or two—that are immediately enlightening and useful at the same time. These are the recipes that change your life right away. They change the way you approach weeknight meals, or dinner parties, or a certain ingredient. You turn on a dime, and things are never the same in your kitchen again. Then, as you live with a great cookbook, you are influenced by it in more subtle ways. A variety of recipes from a great cookbook infiltrate your cooking over time; you work with them, change them, play with them. Eventually, a great cookbook—through immediate sea changes and long-term evolution—changes your approach to food. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is certainly one such cookbook for me. And this brine for pork is certainly an approach that took me by storm, with no going back.

Boneless pork chops can be tasteless. And if you cook them quickly, the exterior is overdone (dry) before the interior reaches a safe temperature. If you cook them too slowly, they can be tough and flavorless; virtually boiled. This brine changes all that. It distributes flavor and moisture throughout the chops. But even when you pat them dry and put them in the pan to cook, the brine caramelizes on the outside (it has sugar in it) and creates a lovely fond in your pan. You can eat the chops all on their own, but it is worth a few extra minutes to deglaze that pan and turn the fond into something truly spectacular. Either way, I don’t serve pork chops much anymore without brining them.

About that brine: if you don’t have allspice berries, or juniper berries, use whole cloves, or skip it. If you don’t have chilies, don’t sweat it. The key ingredients are water, salt, and sugar. Everything else is window dressing. Delicious window dressing, but easily skipped nonetheless. Another detail about this recipe—you can leave out the fried sage part for weeknight suppers. Just go ahead and cook the chops (having brined them the night or morning before) and make the pan sauce. But if you’re having a special meal, or a dinner party—and if you’re lucky enough to have a glut of sage leaves—I’m going to go out on a limb and say that having crispy sage croutons on your pork chop really will make your day.

Brined pork chops w garlic pan sauce + crispy sage

Method adapted from Judy Rodgers, Zuni Cafe Cookbook

  • 5 or 6 center-cut boneless pork chops
  • 5 cups room-temperature water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 dried chili peppers
  • 4 dried bay leaves
  • 8 to 12 allspice berries
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 20 or 30 fresh sage leaves
  • 3 large cloves fresh garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup dry white wine

1. At least 8 hours (and up to 48 hours) before you plan to cook the pork, whisk together the water, salt, sugar, chilies, bay leaves, allspice berries, and crushed garlic. Whisk vigorously until sugar and salt dissolve completely. Add pork chops and cover well. Place in refrigerator for 8 to 48 hours.

2. When ready to cook pork, pour olive oil into a nonstick skillet. Warm it over medium-high heat until quite hot but not smoking. Add sage leaves (leaving room between leaves) and fry until very crisp and just turning brown, turning leaves once. (If oil is very hot, this takes about 5 minutes.) Remove sage leaves to a paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle with fleur de sel. Turn burner to low. Add thinly sliced garlic and stir until just beginning to turn golden in color. Pour olive oil and garlic into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup. Leave thin sheen of oil in pan, and place over medium heat.

3. Remove chops from brine and pat dry. Place into hot pan. If needed, weight chops down with another heavy pan. After 10 minutes, flip chops and weight down again if needed. Continue to cook until chops are nicely caramelized and internal temperature reaches 155 F. Remove chops to a plate and let them rest.

4. Turn heat under pan to medium-high. Add white wine and boil, scraping all browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce by at least half, until wine forms a somewhat thick reduction. Remove from heat and add cooked garlic and olive oil mixture, stirring well.

5. Slice pork chops and place one on each plate. Spoon garlic and wine sauce over and top with crispy sage leaves.

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charred pepper + tomato soup w seared scallops

We are all in our kitchens trying to figure out what to do with all the gorgeous stuff coming from the market, are we not? When I walk to work in the morning, when I am standing in line waiting for an iced tea in the afternoon, when I am on hold, when I walk home at night, while I am in the shower, all I think about is what to do with all the tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, peaches, nectarines. Anything that stretches vegetables with other ingredients like breadcrumbs, cheese, onions, pasta—these are all out of the question. I need recipes that pack the highest density of produce into each increment of volume.

Therefore, readers, I give you this soup.

We made this for our friends Erin and Geoff, who were visiting from San Francisco week before last. In her past life, Erin headed up our local farmers’ markets (I was on the board), and even though they were coming on a Friday, I knew we had to have an absolute feast. Feast we did. This dish was a complete fabrication, and it was the first course of our meal. (Followed by the freshest possible flounder with sauce grenobloise, mashed local potatoes; then a salad of tomatoes, Greek-style; then cheeses; then blueberries with champagne zabaglione.) Given the whole Friday situation, I made the soup (which is to be served cold or at room temperature) on Thursday and it really did benefit from the time in the refrigerator. The flavors married beautifully.

Go to your fishmonger and get whatever is freshest—scallops or shrimp would work well here. Frankly, the soup would be brilliant on its own, or simply with the corn garnish. A little avocado cut up into the corn would not be amiss. The soup itself is absolutely smoky and the intensity of the peppers and tomatoes really shines through. The sweetest corn is the perfect partner, punctuating the dish with flavor and texture. If you’d like to use up some vegetables, you’re on the right trail here, and the recipe easily doubles. In fact, I heartily recommend it.

Charred pepper + tomato soup w seared scallops

Serves 4 as a first course.

  • 3 enormous or 4 large red bell peppers
  • 8 plum tomatoes or 4 regular tomatoes, trimmed and halved
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 to 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
  • 12 sea scallops
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • handful of fresh cilantro, minced

1. Turn a gas burner or two on the oven to high. Place one or two peppers on each burner and leave over flame until one side is totally blackened. Using metal tongs, flip peppers to blacken remaining surface. Be patient and turn as necessary until peppers are blackened all the way around. This generally takes about 20 minutes. Place peppers in a large metal or tempered glass bowl and cover with foil; set aside for 30 minutes or so.

2. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler to high and adjust top rack to 3 inches from broiler flame. Arrange halved tomatoes, cut side down, on a baking sheet lined with foil. In a medium bowl, combine onion slices and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and then arrange onion slices in a single layer next to tomatoes on baking sheet. Wrap garlic cloves, drizzled with 1 tablespoon oil, in a corner of the foil lining the pan. Slide this baking pan into the broiler and cook (moving pan as necessary to distribute heat of broiler) until tomatoes are blistered and blackening, and onion is browning, roasted and soft. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. Set up a food processor fitted with the metal blade, or a blender. When peppers are cool enough to handle, place them on a work surface and remove as much of the charred outer skin of peppers as possible. Do not rinse with water, as this will diminish the peppers’ flavor. Open the peppers and remove the stem, seeds and membranes. Place the pepper meats (without the charred outer skin) into the food process or blender. Add the roasted tomatoes and onion. Squeeze garlic out of the papery covering into the food processor or blender.

4. Add 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable stock, salt, both paprikas, and Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper to blender or food processor. Cover and pulse carefully to obtain a puree. Then turn to high speed and fully puree the mixture until it is smooth. If it remains too thick, add the remaining vegetable stock and continue to puree. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. (*) Place soup in the refrigerator to allow flavors to blend.

5. Set a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add the corn and cook for 6 minutes. Remove corn on the cob and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes. Use a large and very sharp knife to remove the corn from the cob. Reserve it in a bowl and toss with a few pinches of salt, lime juice, and the cilantro. Set aside.

6. In a large, nonstick skillet, heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and butter. When hot, but not yet smoking, add sea scallops. Cook until a dark golden brown on the first side, then flip to the second side. Allow to continue cooking until second side is very well browned and scallops are opaque.

7. Dish 1 cup of soup into a wide serving bowl. Place 3 seared scallops in the center and top with one-quarter of the corn-cilantro mixture. Repeat with 3 remaining bowls and serve.

* At this point, the soup can be refrigerated for up to two days.

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kale w bacon + garlic

I recently read, in a fashion blog I follow, that kale is the new “It veggie.” While I’m not entirely sure what that means, I am delighted to hear that I am for once in the vanguard of fashion. If breadcrumbs become the new It topping, or thighs become the new It chicken part, I will be on the cover of Vogue in no time flat. In any case, these days we are eating kale on alternating days with gigantic Greek salads. You might think this would be boring, but in fact it is delightful. By January we will long for these days.

For the past few weeks I have been meaning to bake some kale chips à la Stay at Stove Dad. You know what they say about good intentions, though, and it seems to be true. I always have these little odd bits of bacon around the house or in the freezer, and when I run home from work at night and pull a big bunch of kale out of the refrigerator, well, the bacon, it calls to me. (That doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t have a simple kale salad, or a more complicated salad with kale.)

I suppose everyone knows that greens love bacon. (Well, except my mother, who prefers that pork be separated from both greens and beans. This will forever remain one of our few culinary disagreements, I am afraid.) And given how classic that combination is, it is very hard to screw up. If you feel, though, that your hearty greens—and you can use kale, collards, turnip or other greens here—are lacking that certain something, try following the directions below precisely. I find that cooking the bacon over medium heat (instead of trying to hurry with high heat) really caramelizes the bacon’s exterior and renders all the fat. Then blanching the kale quickly, cooling it and squeezing out every possible drop of water helps intensify the flavors of kale and bacon in the pot. Rather than steaming in its own moisture, the kale really picks up the flavors of the garlic, bacon, and crushed red pepper. The mixture stays very dry, but these means that you don’t lose any flavor in the pot liquor. In cooler weather I love having the pot liquor from braised greens, but by August I am ready to embrace this more intense version. And really, isn’t intensity the very least that an It vegetable deserves?

Kale w bacon + garlic

  • 2 bunches kale, any type, washed
  • 4 to 5 slices smoked bacon
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • kosher salt, if needed

1. Place a large pot of salted water on to boil. When it comes to a boil, immerse kale in the water and black until kale is wilted and bright green, about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove kale from pot to a colander to drain. Let it cool until it’s easy to touch. Then squeeze the kale to remove most of the moisture. (*)

2. In a skillet or shallow pan over medium heat, fry the bacon. Let it cook slowly and turn very dark brown on each side. Meanwhile, chop the kale and set aside. When bacon is cooked, if the pan has plenty of rendered bacon fat in it, proceed with the recipe. If not, add the olive oil to the pan and then proceed.

3. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, and saute until garlic is just turning color and is quite fragrant. Then add chopped kale and toss vigorously, taking care to scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until kale is heated through. Taste for salt. Whether you need to add more or not will depend entirely on how salty your bacon is. If you taste and the kale needs more salt, add it a little at a time. Serve kale piping hot.

* To make this dish ahead, you can refrigerate the kale at this point for up to 4 days. When ready to proceed, remove kale from refrigerator and proceed with recipe, draining any additional liquid that has accumulated in the meantime.

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