Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where's my pork chop? ... a tale of a stolen pork chop and our first fall dinner...

Fall arrived overnight here in Colorado.  After months of blazing hot weather, I woke up yesterday to a gray and drizzly day in the 50s.  If only I had checked the weather before leaving for work in flip flops and no jacket - my toes were chilly all day.  But I do love this weather - the crackling leaves, the crispness in the air, curling up on the couch under a blanket, Jamie's blue plaid flannel PJ pants, everything to do with pumpkins, warm and hearty soups...  I can't wait to share all my fall recipes on here that I've been saving up.  Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin pecan bread, pumpkin streusel cake, almond pound cake, sausage and sweet potato soup...  Can you wait?  :)

Last weekend, we made our first fall meal:  apple and goat cheese stuffed pork chops, baked mashed sweet potatoes, and a sweet and savory apple, fig and goat cheese tart.

Pork chops always bring back a wonderful family memory for me.  We didn't eat a lot of meat when I was a kid - beans and rice were more affordable - so when we did have meat it was a nice treat for dinner.  But one night my mom made pork chops, and of course since there were five of us, she only bought and cooked five pork chops.

I remember my brother not being a really enthusiastic eater as a kid - he was the sort who had to be reminded to eat his dinner instead of daydreaming at the table about running off to play, usually with his Legos, which he cleverly carried around in his motorcycle underwear (yes, while he was wearing the underwear) to free up his hands.  Funniest sight ever was that kid walking around the house, his underwear bulging with Legos!

But one thing he did love was pork chops.  As we all sat there that night talking and eating, my sister quietly excused herself to go to the bathroom, and when she came back a few minutes later, she sat down in her chair, stared at her plate with a look of confusion, then looked at the rest of us and asked, "Where's my pork chop?"  I suppose everyone thought someone was playing a trick on her, but none of us had noticed anyone taking it, when my brother calmly stated, "I ate it."

He was so matter of fact about it, and really couldn't understand why we thought it was so strange that he considered her pork chop free for the taking when she left the table (even though she was coming back).  In his mind, he was hungry, he liked pork chops, so therefore, he ate hers.  Simple as that.  :)  I love the way kids' minds work.

The stuffed pork chops I made were good, but I'll admit I overcooked them, so be sure to watch them for doneness - I tend to stick things in the oven and forget all about them.  As much as I liked the filling for this recipe, there is still something to be said for the classic method of lightly breading a pork chop and grilling it that it doesn't really need any fancier preparation.  We tried both methods, though, and although the breaded, grilled pork chop was much more moist (we watched the cooking time much more carefully), I still like trying new ways of cooking an old favorite.

The baked mashed sweet potatoes were fluffy and creamy, and with a little brown sugar and pecans on top, they would have tasted much like my mom's sweet potato casserole recipe that she makes for Thanksgiving.  There are two kinds of people in this world:  marshmallows-on-top-people and brown-sugar-butter-pecans-topping-people.  I've always preferred the latter.  However, we didn't add the topping, and they were still completely yummy.

There was one sheet of puff pastry left in the freezer, so I decided to experiment with a slightly sweet (apples and fig butter) and slightly savory (goat cheese) tart - I so love it when my experiments turn out.  The flaky golden crust topped with fig butter (see recipe in previous post), a sprinkling of crumbled goat cheese and thinly sliced apples lightly sweetened with brown sugar was a very easy and very delicious addition to the meal.

On Thursday night I start getting excited for the weekend to begin, and I'm looking forward to making a new banana bread recipe on Saturday - happy fall baking this weekend, everybody!  :)

Apple and Goat Cheese Stuffed Pork Chops
  • 1/2 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 3 pork chops
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, combine apple, onion, celery and tarragon.  Add a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium-low heat until apples are softened, about 20-30 minutes.  Add the goat cheese and set aside.

With a sharp knife, cut a slit in one side of each pork chop to create a pocket - as big as you can without cutting through the other three sides.  Scoop the filling into each pork chop; tie with kitchen string if needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 (or cook on the grill if you prefer).  Season the meat with salt and pepper, and heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Brown the pork chops for 2 minutes on each side.

Transfer pork chops to a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until cooked through, 10-15 minutes.

Breaded Grilled Pork Chops
  • 3 pork chops
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
Preheat the grill to medium high.  Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.

Arrange a "breading station" with separate bowls for the flour, egg and bread crumbs.  Coat each pork chop with flour, then dip in the egg, and lastly coat in bread crumbs.

Grill until cooked through, 10-15 minutes.

Baked Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 package cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
Boil the potatoes until tender and drain.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Spray a square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.  Beat until smooth and creamy.  Spread evenly in the baking dish.  Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

These are delicious just like this, or before baking, sprinkle with a mixture of 2 tablespoons softened butter, 1/4 cup self-rising flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup chopped pecans.  Yummy!

Apple, Fig and Goat Cheese Puff Pastry Tart
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons fig butter
  • 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg, plus 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 tablespoon coarse turbinado sugar
Preheat the oven to 350.  Gently unfold the puff pastry, dust lightly with flour and roll/press out any creases.

Place the pastry on a silicone mat on a baking sheet.  With a fork, prick the pastry all around the edge, about 1 inch from the edge, then prick a few times throughout the center.  This will help to keep the pastry from puffing up too much.

Core the apples, but do not peel them.  Slice them into very thin, almost translucent slices.  In a bowl, toss together the apple slices, lemon juice, and brown sugar.  Set aside.

Spread the pastry with the fig butter, leaving a 1-inch border all around.

Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the fig butter.  Arrange the apples in any pattern you like.  Sprinkle the apples with cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water.  Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash all over the edge of the pastry.  Sprinkle the edge with the turbinado sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until puff pastry is golden and apples are softened.  Slice and eat right away.